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Just scored a 730... Here's how I did it

This topic has 2 member replies
NC Esq Newbie | Next Rank: 10 Posts Default Avatar
14 Sep 2016
2 messages

Just scored a 730... Here's how I did it

Post Wed Sep 14, 2016 8:51 am
On my first GMAT attempt this month, I walked out with a 730 (96%). Breakdown = Q-48(78%), V-41(94%), IR-8(92%), AWA-6.0(90%). I've always been a good standardized test taker, but I put more effort into this than I have with any other. Here's my story, which I hope will provide encouragement to others and perhaps some preparation tips along the way.

First, a little background on me. I'm 36 years old, American, and a partner in a small law firm in North Carolina. I graduated from a top 10 liberal arts college and a top 40 law school. I've been a practicing attorney for 10 years, but have decided to pursue a different career opportunity. I'm in the process of starting an industry-specific management/consulting business with a partner and hope to attend a Weekend EMBA program once it is off and running (and I have left the practice of law). I need the finance/accounting/marketing/management knowledge of an MBA program, but not so much the networking/career services side of things (I think!).

I have two young children (under 5 years old) and a demanding law practice, so my GMAT prep would have to be efficient and focused. I started in May and took the exam over Labor Day Weekend, meaning my total prep time was approximately 3.5 months. This was by design, as I had an important trial on the calendar in mid-September and didn't want my practice and studying dragging on to the point of burnout. I recommend a timeline in this ballpark, as you will probably grow weary of this type of intellectual work if it drags on for six or more months. I know I would have.

Starting Out
Eons ago, a Princeton Review book helped me a great deal with my SAT prep, so that's where I started. The problems contained in their Cracking the GMAT book provided a good, encouraging start, especially since I had not done any real math since high school. Small aside: I was once a very talented math student, but burned out by focusing so intently on it in high school. I excelled in AP Calculus, to the point that I never had to take any math courses in college. There's no math in law school, so the only quant work I've done with any regularity since the 1990s are day to day tip calculations and personal finance figures. The Princeton Review quant problems were interesting enough that they tickled my dormant mathematical brain, but simple enough that I did not get frustrated or discouraged.

I expected my verbal skills to be fine, as I spend my days reading, writing, and slicing arguments. When I took a short, free quiz online (sorry, can't recall where), my suspicions were confirmed: I could coast on verbal, but would need to put in a lot of work on quant. I think this particular quiz estimated my total score in the mid-500s range.

I turned to this forum to learn more about prep strategies and materials. What a valuable discovery that was. It became evident very quickly that Princeton Review was just not going to cut it as a primary text for someone with 700 ambitions. What I read elsewhere on Beat the GMAT has proven true - advanced test takers looking for advanced scores are not well served by an entry-level book like PR's Cracking the GMAT. I needed more.

Getting Serious
After reading tons of threads in this particular forum and scouring online reviews, I jumped in with Manhattan Prep. I ordered the complete set of (6th edition) books. I went through every page and problem of the 5 quant books. I would spend approximately 2 hours each evening, carefully reading a chapter or two, then doing the problem sets in the Manhattan books. Most importantly, I did all of the mid-book and final quizzes for each topic using the problem sets from the OG that Manhattan provides. I would do the "Moderate" and "Harder" quizzes, so I would have about 40-45 OG questions each time. This was the most useful practice I undertook. If you do nothing else, get an OG book and work the heck out of it! I used Manhattan's very helpful web interface (The "Navigator") to track my results on all of my OG practice. I found the stats it provided very useful in focusing my work on my weaker areas.

I can't be sure that my methodical slog through the Manhattan quant books was the most efficient use of my time. But I do think it was critical for me to get back in "math-mode." I live in a smaller town, so live prep courses were not a feasible option for me. I needed to self-study and the Manhattan books were a great content-based means for doing that. I fully recommend them to everyone, but admit that I don't have much comparison (other than the Princeton Review book, which isn't really even comparable).

For Verbal, I did a thorough read of the Manhattan Sentence Correction book, which is as great as everyone says it is. I skimmed the Critical Reasoning book, which did provide some helpful analysis framework. I didn't open the Reading Comprehension book, as I always did well on those questions in my practice tests and problem sets.

Two Additional Recommendations
(1) I downloaded the iPhone app that Manhattan Prep produced. It was expensive - $39.99, I think - but completely worth it for the additional drilling it provided. As I've said, I needed to shake off a lot of math rust and this really helped me sharpen my skills. I could open it during any free time - downtime in court, on flights, or at home - and do a whole bunch of drills and exercises that proved to be very useful. I'm talking about mental arithmetic, reducing fractions, combining exponents, etc. I know they run promotions where the app is half price sometimes; it would be a steal at that cost.
(2) Brett Ethridge is the guru behind the website, Dominate the GMAT. He has a bunch of free material out there, particularly his series of excellent YouTube videos. I would wind down practice sessions in the evenings by watching one or two of them before bed. I watched only his free content, but I'm positive that the paid stuff would be great for anyone needing additional assistance. I really had some strategy stuff click for me in a big way after watching his lessons. Brett, if you are out there, thanks so much for making some high-quality content available for free online.

Practice Tests
Your purchase of any Manhattan Prep books give you access to 6 CATs online. These are much harder than the actual GMAT! I took three of them (scores below) and found the quant problems to be significantly more difficult and more time-consuming than those on the actual exam. I never came close to finishing the quant MGMAT sections on time, but had no problem with the GMAT Prep quant timing or on the actual exam. All that said, I look at the MGMAT exams as excellent resistance training; by doing these very difficult questions, the actual questions will feel much easier. This was my experience during the real deal, anyway.

My scores:
MGMAT 1 - June 18 - 700 (q42, v42)
MGMAT 2 - July 24 - 650 (q41, v38)
MGMAT 3 - Aug. 20 - 690 (q43, v40)
GMATPrep 1 - Aug. 29 - 730 (q45, v44)

ACTUAL GMAT - Sep. 3 - 730 (q48, v41)

As you can see, the GMAT Prep test a week before the real thing provided a perfect total score prediction for me. It also "felt" the most like the questions I got on the actual exam. While I feel I left a few points on the table by not getting a higher verbal score, I was very happy to get my maximum quant score on the real thing. I know I need to reassure adcoms in that area, as my work experience is exclusively verbal.

A note on IR/AWA. I did practice IR sections on each of my practice exams and always got terrible scores (2-4). I watched the Manhattan Prep online videos on IR that are part of their "Interact" instruction series and improved immediately. These videos are also free with the purchase of any of their books. I never wrote out an entire AWA essay on a practice exam, but knew this would be one of my strengths based on my job. I strictly followed the template developed on this site by myohmy on the exam: http://www.beatthegmat.com/argument-essay-template-if-anyone-wants-it-t38032.html. Thanks so much for that! While the IR and AWA scores are certainly less important than the big number, I felt very proud to score perfectly on both of those sections and hope that it will set me apart from other high scorers.

Final Thoughts
(1) The GMAT is a test you can learn. I admit I had some built-in advantages (native English speaker, daily work focused on reasoning & grammar, etc.). But I set out to get a high score and was able to do it by just putting the time in. The questions get easier and your work gets faster as an automatic result of just doing these types of problems for hours on end. Find an instructor/guidebook to help you with strategy, and then just wear out OG problems. If you put in 100+ hours of focused study and thoughtful reflection on practice problems, you WILL see your score significantly improve.
(2) Try to sample several different content providers to see what you click with. I mentioned Manhattan and Dominate The GMAT above because those were the ones that my learning style gravitated toward. I watched a video or two from tons of providers before I stuck with Brett.
(3) In a dorky way, math can be pretty fun. I began to get some real enjoyment from working an intricate problem and arriving at an elegant solution. You might, too!
(4) There are so many free online resources out there. Beat the GMAT alone can help you immensely. Dedicate a few hours here and there to just browsing and wandering these interwebs in order to gain insight and wisdom from others.
(5) Remember to thank your spouse, kids, coworkers, friends, etc. for putting up with your being a distracted, neurotic weirdo during prep time!

Now it's on to the admissions process. Anyone got any pro-tips for me? My aim is a top Weekend EMBA program within driving distance, which narrows it to Duke and UNC for me. I'd love to land at Fuqua.

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aalsayye Newbie | Next Rank: 10 Posts Default Avatar
22 Aug 2016
1 messages
Followed by:
1 members
Post Thu Sep 22, 2016 7:27 am
Awesome write up and congratulations on getting that impressive score!

The school selections that you have are on point for the type of program you are looking for. I definitely recommend Fuqua.

One question I had for you was your thoughts on the MGMAT CATs. For the most part, are those questions actually tougher than the ones on the real test?


NC Esq Newbie | Next Rank: 10 Posts Default Avatar
14 Sep 2016
2 messages
Post Fri Sep 23, 2016 10:49 am
Thanks, aalsayye!

My answer to your question is yes, the MGMAT CAT questions seemed tougher to me than the ones on the real test. In the Quant section, anyway. I didn't notice an appreciable difference between MGMAT CAT Verbal questions and the real deal.

The concepts in Quant were all the same, of course. It just seemed to me like Manhattan's problems always involved a few extra steps. An additional concept seemed to be added to each question. That made them significantly more time consuming and also provided more opportunity for errors.

Now, I think Manhattan does adjust its scoring algorithm to give a decently predictive score, even though the questions are harder. But the fact that I always ran out of time on MGMAT CAT Quant sections (while finishing the actual exam with a minute or two to spare) makes me think I'm on to something.

As I said above, I do think they make for very useful practice. It's like swinging a baseball bat in the on deck circle with a weighted doughnut. It also made me really focus on time management strategies, which served me well.

Good luck to you!

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