Today’s article is written by our guest author, Puneet Mundhara. Puneet is a Stanford admit for the class of 2014 and the owner of Puneet’s blog.
This article is for all who might want to take GMAT at some point in time in their lives and are Phobic to it the way I was. This is written based on the current pattern of GMAT which is set to be changed in July 2012.
GMAT – the sheer thought of this word used to make me nervous and make me sweat. This was when I did not even know what might be required to take the exam and hence the title – ‘GMAT Phobia’. The notion that GMAT was a test that has a huge focus on English gave me nightmares. I knew that I will have to face this exam someday but did not have enough courage to even register for it. It was mid 2010 when most of my friends were taking this exam and were encouraging me to register for it too and get it out of my way. I always used to come up with some lame excuses that I was too busy to take the exam and would take it sometime later. I kept on procrastinating. They say, “Time flies”, I confirm – it really does.
2010 came and went, but neither did I take the test nor did I apply to schools. Many of my friends applied and made it to U.S. B-schools at that time. I promised myself that I will take this exam early 2011 so that I have ample time to focus on a proper application. Before I realized it was mid 2011. I kept procrastinating till July 2011. It was around then that I got news that I had been selected as a finalist for the Reliance Fellowship Program. I had to apply to Stanford in R1 in order to be considered for this fellowship. Even after making it to the list of finalists, the GMAT phobia did not decrease and I almost made up my mind that I will not apply to Stanford in R1 and let this fellowship pass. After lot of debating and pressure from well wishing friends, I decided in the beginning of August that I will at least take a shot at GMAT before R1 deadline of Stanford. If it does not go well, then I will do it again in November and apply in R2 without the fellowship program. I started my preparation in August not knowing how I will be able to get a good score in GMAT. I started based on the 60 days beatthegmat.com study plan and took it off from there. I prepared for the month of August and September and took a 2-week break from work to prepare. I steadily prepared for the exam and improved a lot in those 2 months. The deadline for Stanford R1 was approaching (12th Oct) and my worries escalating. After much ado, I took my first official guide test on 25th September and scored 740. I had been taking other tests earlier, but had saved the official tests for the end. That was quite reassuring and I took the leap and registered for the exam in the last minute (on 28th September). I had my GMAT on 30th September afternoon session. During the exam I was so nervous and in fact I thought of canceling the score in the end. Luckily I did not do that and ended up pressing “calculate score” button of the screen. I scored 730 in GMAT and just could not believe it. It was one of the most thrilling moments of my life. Before I get into the details of my preparation strategies, I would like to share that I did apply to Stanford by completing my application in those 12 days and did make it to Stanford GSB with Reliance Fellowship. I am writing this blog to clarify to my friends that GMAT is not a test of Verbal but a test of right strategy and fair preparation.
Now let’s deep dive into my preparation strategies and what I think can be helpful to people who are starting to prepare for GMAT. Key to scoring well in GMAT is to get your basics right and work in a structured approach towards it. The details of the approach are:
1. Quantitative: This section consists of 2 types of questions – Problem Solving and Data Sufficiency. A total of 37 questions are tested in 75 minutes. This section is to test your basic IQ level and does not require anything more than high school mathematics. The best way to start this prep is by reading the quantitative section theory from The Official Guide for GMAT. On top of this, some specific help might be required for areas such as Probability or PnC etc. This help can be sought through regular Google search and internet sources. Professionals from engineering background will not need to do anything more than the questions given in the Official Guide. Non-engineering background professionals should practice from Princeton Review and the Official Quantitative review book. Overall time required is 10 hours to review the concepts and 15 hours to practice all the questions in Official Guide. My suggestion here is that do mark all the questions you get wrong and practice them again after 10 days. J
2. Verbal: This section consists of 3 types of questions – Sentence Correction, Critical Reasoning and Reading Comprehension. A total of 41 questions are tested in 75 minutes. For me, the difficulty level of these 3 types was SC>RC>CR. Therefore, I needed to spend the most amount of time on Sentence Correction.
- Sentence correction is the area which is tricky and requires a lot of practice. The main caution to exercise is not to just go with ‘feel’ but to know why one option is correct whereas other one is wrong. Therefore, the first task to start the verbal preparation is to familiarize yourself with the grammar rules. The good thing is that all the relevant rules are summarized very well by Manhattan guys in the ‘Manhattan Sentence Correction’. Thank God and them for doing itJ. This book as ~15 chapters and it will take approximately 30 hours to read it and solve all the questions. Please try to understand logic behind each question, rather than just solving them mechanically. The intention is to not to get all the questions in this book right in the first time, but to understand all the concepts well. Take a separate print of the idioms chapter and try to at least go through them every day of your preparation. Those idioms are so important for the final exam and I cannot emphasize more.
- Reading Comprehension is indeed a test of your ability to comprehend and comprehend quickly. The RC part of GMAT is very different from CAT (a test in India for IIM’s). In CAT, RC is more about ability of comprehending quickly, whereas in GMAT it’s mainly about comprehending. The length of the passage is much shorter and the language is more challenging. Whenever you read an RC, the objective is not to read it very quickly but the objective is to get an essence about what is being talked in the minimum possible time. People with non-native English background, it could be very challenging and I recommend that you start reading some of the good English magazines (Economist, TIME) from early on (say 6 months before you think of taking GMAT). It’s a good habit to continue with the habit of reading those even after GMAT. One should read concepts of how to approach an RC from the Manhattan Guide for Reading Comprehension. It will take <10 hours to gain all the concepts to approach RC’s. After that, start with Official Guide 11/12 and get going.
- Critical reasoning is all about your ability to think rationally. Understand the difference among Statement, Assumption and Conclusion! You can master the art of critical reasoning by practicing questions and by thinking rationally. In order to hone your CR skills, you should always first read the question carefully and understand what is being asked before you move on to the answer choices.
One should practice all the official guides OG10, OG11, OG12 and OG13 (recently launched). There is a fair bit of overlap in these books and that helps you revise some of the concepts and questions. You might not need all of them, but it will help if you do at least 3 of 4. My approach was to do OG12 in the end as that was the most relevant and I wanted to build some concepts before I tried the most relevant questions. One should try to get hold of the Official Verbal Review also and practice that once done with all the OG’s.
3. Analytic Writing Assessment (AWA): This is the section which I ignored completely and read about it only 1 day prior to my exam. Don’t neglect it like I did. It is not difficult, but awareness to the type of questions is very important before you face the exam. AWA consists of 2 separate writing tasks – Analysis of an argument and Analysis of an Issue. Time limit is 30 minutes for each essay. This section assesses your ability to write analytically. Read instructions from The Official Guide for GMAT to get a feel of this section. This section is the easiest and does not require much effort. But, do not ignore this! AWA does impact your overall MBA application. The best approach to tackle this part of the exam is to have a clear standard template for both the essays in your head (topic agnostic) and just fit in logical stuff in that based on the topic of the essay. I think I had pretty easy topics and just used the set template which I had thought of for both the essays and scored 6/6 in the final exam.
Practice is the key to the whole game. One should practice most of the Official Guides available to him. But be careful, it’s not about solving 1000 questions, but is about learning those 100 concepts and be able to apply them in the exams. Therefore, reading explanations to the answers is very important and adequate time should be spent analyzing problems and their solutions. Always mark the questions which you get wrong and come back to them and revise the concepts. Overall, I think if someone studies for 2 hours a day for 2 months, its more than enough to have a fair attempt at GMAT. Caution would be, when I say 2 hours, I really mean 2 hours of real study (solving questions and reading explanations). Take help from all the resources available around, but don’t get bogged down with too many books. The official guides are the most relevant and should be done with utmost care. I took help from Beat The GMAT free 60days GMAT planning tool to keep track of my progress. Their study plan is not ideal, but helps keep track of things. J
Last but not the least, practice tests are very important to give a finishing touch to your preparation. I used 800 score tests (5 Quant and 5 Verbal) to continuously evaluate my preparation. I would strongly recommend buying them / taking them from a friend and use them during your preparation. These tests are flash files and are easy to transfer to one another. Take the first test when you are done with doing one of the OG’s once and then keep on taking continuously once in a while. On the top of them, as you must be aware of, there are 2 official GMAT tests which are designed by GMAC. These tests are very precious and should be taken once you are fairly confident about your level of preparation. Everyone around me (sample size >15) has scored within ± 20 in the final exam of what they scored in Official Tests at home. Therefore, my strong recommendation is to attempt the official tests only you have good confidence in your preparation.
It is worthwhile to spend some time at the forums to read motivating stories and thing which work on the final day of the exam. J In summary, I would like to say that don’t be afraid of the exam as I was and give it a fair try. Please don’t procrastinate it for months / years like I did and take it by July of the year you want to apply properly. If you prepare structurally and put in the right effort, it’s a simple exam to crack.
Good luck with your efforts. You can find more articles on the MBA/GMAT topic on my blog.