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760 - 99% - 49Q/46V - How I beat the GMAT

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MQ0451 Just gettin' started! Default Avatar
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760 - 99% - 49Q/46V - How I beat the GMAT Post Fri May 11, 2012 11:06 am
INTRO

I took the GMAT the other week and just got back my formal score (I also got a 6.0 on my AWA), and since I got so much out of this website, I thought I could give back a little. I'll explain my study process, my thoughts on the core GMAT subjects, and techniques I used leading up to the exam. There is not "right" way to study for the exam, and each person will need to figure out how much work they need to put in to do well on their own, but forming a good plan of attack will help you make the most of your time before you take the exam. Anyway, let's get started.

First, a little about me. I'm a 24 year old native English speaking American guy with a background in Engineer and Physics. I had taken the exam once right out of college with very little prep and got a 650. I currently work in an engineering lab and probably put in around 45 to 50 hours a week. Fortunately, it's a small company with relaxed coworkers that understood how important this exam was to me. While talking to your boss about leaving for grad school in a year may not be a good idea for everyone (it will probably mean getting passed up on promotions and receiving reduced bonuses at the end of the year), for me, it let my boss know that I had a lot on my plate already on top of my current work load. Plus, he was actually really supportive, and has started giving me better management level work in preparation for my grad school plans. You'll have to think long and hard, but if you give your boss plenty of time to prepare for your departure, he may be more inclined to give you a glowing ever so important letter of recommendation when the time comes.

In total, I started preparing mid February and took the exam April 21st, so I took about 2 months to study. When I first started studying, I didn't have an exam date in mind - I knew the format of the exam was changing in June, so it had to be before then, but I wanted to give myself enough time to study. My plan was simple - pick a target score (for me that was 700), and don't register for the exam until you can hit your target score on a practice exam. This will give you time to recognize your weaknesses and strengths, and you can assess how much more time you'll need to feel comfortable with the exam. For me, I studied for almost a month before my first test and got over a 740 on my first practice exam. I was stoked, but my next couple tests were closer to 700, so this was probably just a lucky first test. I knew I wanted to focus on my sentence correction and my speed on the quant section, so I decided two more months would give me plenty of time to crush my goal. I think a good rule of thumb for the test is to take an evaluation exam, and then take the difference between that and your target goal, divide by fifty, and that's the number of months you should spend studying for the test.

Materials

During my first attempt at the exam, I used the Princeton Review Cracking The GMAT guide. This was a waste, there are much better books out there. I recommend the following:

The Official GMAT Review - Excellent book filled with lots of practice problems and full explanations. Use this along with the GMAT Error Log that is available on this website
The Manhattan GMAT Series - I bought all 8 of them off of amazon for pretty cheap, and I plan on reselling them to make back most of the cost. These books will cover absolutely everything you need to know for the GMAT. I highly recommend it if you want to get over a 700. The sentence correction section was invaluable.
Critical Reasoning Bible (optional) - A fairly quick read and if you take notes along the way, you will crush any critical reasoning question on the exam (some skills are also applicable to reading comprehension as well)
Kaplan Premiere (optional) - My girlfriend found this by chance at a library book sale for 3 bucks. Definitely worth it for that price, lots and lots of practice problems, and pretty good review of subject material. A good supplement if you run out of questions in the official guide.

Studying Advice

My routine was actually pretty simple. The greatest tool in improving your score is practice problems. The first time you do a proportions problem it may take you five minutes to solve, but as you do more, the faster and more accurate you'll become. I started off by studying and taking notes, and then working through the official guide's practice problems and looking for trouble spots. My routine became this: get up at 8, get to work by 9, study during my lunch break in an empty conference room, work until six or seven, and then go to the library until it closes (9PM most week nights), go home and if I was working on practice problems, review any mistakes and make corrections while eating a late dinner. On the weekend I would spend about 8 hours a day studying at the library. It took me a while to get used to this new routine, but by the time I took the exam, I was studying about 30 hours a week on top of my full time job. I was lucky that my girlfriend has been working on med school applications at the same time, so we've been able to work together at the library. There is no easy way around it - the key to success on the GMAT is time. You may have to make lots of sacrifices in order to make enough time for the exam, but the pay off will hopefully be worth it. Staying motivated is hard, but just keep your eyes on the prize.

After reviewing notes and guides on each section of the exam, I worked my way through every single problem in the official guide. On top of this, take every practice exam you can find. For me this meant the six Manhattan GMAT exams, the Veritas prep test, plus the two GMATPrep tests. You will need to feel familiar with the exam before you take the test. This is huge. Try not to study at your apartment, go somewhere that will be similar to the test center if you can (libraries are perfect, other people working quietly will get you used to how it will feel to take the test).

Practice problems are invaluable. It doesn't matter if you won the nobel prize for mathematics - if you can't complete the math section in time, you won't get a good score. Learn your weaknesses and focus on them. Build up your speed. The last thing you want is to sit down to take the exam and see a question that you're completely unfamiliar with and not know how to approach right away. This is what killed me the first time - I thought being an engineer meant I didn't need to review the quant section. This is false. While I knew the material, I didn't know all the short cuts, and I would take some time to figure out how to approach the problem. I ran out of time on the test!

Practice Exam Scores

First attempt - 650 (I realize now how unprepared I was)
GMATPrep - 740 (this got me pumped, but I knew it may have been a fluke, so I reviewed my mistakes and kept going)
Manhattan GMAT - 710 (the MGMAT exams are far more difficult in my opinion than the real thing, but they really help you prepare and focus on your weaknesses and have full explanations)
Manhattan GMAT - 640 (took this right after St. Patricks Day in Boston, enough said, but proof not to mix studying with alcohol)
Manhattan GMAT - 730
Manhattan GMAT - 670
Manhattan GMAT - 730
Manhattan GMAT - 740
GMATPrep - 710
Veritas - 710
GMAT Prep (retake) - 770 (my highest score, not too many repeat problems, got me pumped to take the real thing)
Real thing - 760

Other advice

During the time that I spent studying, I picked up a couple tricks that helped me get ready for the exam and boost my performance. First - get some sleep. This has multiple benefits - first, it will have a serious benefit in your focus, your speed, and your reasoning, and second, it will super charge your memory. I started studying getting 6-7 hours a night, and made good progress, but after I switched to getting 9 hours a night, the improvement was dramatic. Why bust your butt studying as much as you can if you aren't going to do it efficiently?

Second, skip drinking alcohol. This may seem easier to some than others, but meeting up with coworkers for a few drinks after work not only takes away time for studying, but it also slows you down the next day, even if you think you're fine. I drank only water and coffee while I was studying, and it helped keep me focused.

Third, practice and study in locations with no distractions. If you have a roommate at home who watches TV in the next room while you study, you'll have a harder time focusing and remembering what you're studying. Learn all the libraries in your area, and their hours of operation. Study there, and invest in a bag of ear plugs. Get used to studying and taking tests with them so you can use them to help you zone in on test day (the test center should provide some for you on exam day).

This test is all about practice and endurance. You have to move quickly through the questions in order t finish in time, so the last thing you want is to take the test and see a question you aren't familiar with. This is why practice problems are so important - you can't spend extra time reading every question carefully on the exam, especially in the early part of the test where the questions are generally easier.

Test Day

On test day, try to take the exam as close to when you normally would be taking your practice exams. If you took your practice tests in the morning, take the exam in the morning. If you practice in the evening, take the test as late as you can. Eat a good breakfast, but don't over do it, and don't eat anything that will upset your stomach. Something boring is good - fruit and a bagel worked for me. The fruit should have sugar to keep you awake, and something with carbs will keep your stomach full. Bring snacks for all the breaks. I went with candy and fruit so I could get a little sugar buzz in order to keep my energy up for the test. Take at least one day off before the test and be sure not to do any practice problems or anything strenuous. You want your brain to be good as new on test day. This is important. Eat a good home cooked meal the night before hand. Get plenty of sleep (remember, you'll probably feel some anxiety, so go to sleep early since it may take some time to fall asleep). Scope out the test center the day before hand. My test center was in a large building and there were no obvious signs pointing me in the right direction. You don't want to feel any stress before the exam, so get familiar with the center, and get a feel for how long the drive would be, even if something like traffic or a detour were to cause a delay. Don't think too much about the exam until the morning before the test, then spend some time pumping yourself up to build confidence, because with all the work you put in, you'll be sure to destroy this test. Good luck!

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Post Fri May 11, 2012 9:18 pm
Congratulations for such an amazing score!!!SmileSmile It was well deserved, seeing the amount of effort you've put in!!
And thanks for the elaborative description...It's definitely going to be of great help!

gmat_and_me Rising GMAT Star Default Avatar
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Post Sat May 12, 2012 2:24 am
Congrats on an awesome score. 46 in verbal is probably not quoted often.

Cheers

Troika Really wants to Beat The GMAT! Default Avatar
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Post Sat May 12, 2012 2:53 am
760 is an awesome score. Thank you for sharing your experience with us.

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MQ0451 Just gettin' started! Default Avatar
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Post Sun May 13, 2012 11:12 am
Thanks! I'm glad it's over!

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Post Tue May 15, 2012 10:28 am
Awesomeness ! crisp debrief!

Good luck with the rest of the journey mate.

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ebullient Just gettin' started! Default Avatar
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Post Tue May 15, 2012 11:09 am
Awesome score! So well deserved!
Good luck ahead Smile

Thanks a bunch for sharing.

jcrespo1695 Just gettin' started! Default Avatar
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Post Tue May 15, 2012 12:45 pm
Thank you for taking the time to share! Very informative and very helpful. Your score is well deserved. Thanks for pointing out the reality of effort and the sleep factor. Hard to balance these things...you want to study so much, but you have to let yourself sleep too!

tommymoose Just gettin' started!
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Post Tue May 15, 2012 5:43 pm
We seem to have similar backgrounds and study/test history (and both live in Boston?), so this is encouraging! It's funny that you point out how 9 hours of sleep helps you - I thought I was the only one who needed this gluttonous amount of sleep. I've only been getting ~7 since I started studying for the GMAT and was just coming to the realization that I haven't been as sharp because of it. Tonight's the night I'm getting back to 9 hours - thanks for highlighting that! Good luck with your applications!

digvijayk Rising GMAT Star Default Avatar
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Post Wed May 16, 2012 2:20 pm
Congrats and all the best with the apps.

vbulusu Just gettin' started! Default Avatar
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Post Wed May 16, 2012 3:53 pm
Congratulations on an awesome score...Your hard work is an inspiration.Good luck with your applications

ssilver Just gettin' started! Default Avatar
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Post Thu May 17, 2012 12:55 am
Dang... 8 hours a day each day on the weekends!?!? That is some mind-blowing dedication. Inspirational. As others have said, it sounds like you earned every bit of your stellar mark.

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Post Sat Apr 06, 2013 11:59 am
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