12 days, 50 points?

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12 days, 50 points?

by southhobart » Mon Feb 18, 2008 3:57 pm
Hello, everyone! I'm taking the GMAT on March 1--just twelve days from now--and my test scores seem to have plateaued in the mid-600s (most recently a Princeton Review prep test on which I scored Q39 and V41, for a composite score of 650). I have scored as high as 670, and I would like to use my final days of preparation to make a run at joining the 700 club. Any advice on how I can do that?

I see two courses of action...any comments on which would be more effective?

1) I work as a grant writer for a non-profit organization, so my professional experience has given me an edge on the verbal portion of the test. I have spent almost no time preparing for it, and I'm still scoring well into the 90+ percentile range. Given the lack of preparation to date, and given the potential of leveraging one of my strengths, should I focus on the verbal section during my final days of study?

2) Alternatively, I have an adequate background in math, but I was severely out of practice before I started preparing for the GMAT. As such, I have spent nearly all of my GMAT prep time on the quantitative section. It seems to be paying off, with my scores improving from Q24 on December 1 to Q39 on my last two prep tests. Given this progress, and given that I still have much more room to improve in this area, should I keep working on this portion instead?

Also, how intensely should I study during these final days? I have received conflicting advice on this point. One school of thought claims that it's best to relax and taper because cramming is ineffective, induces last-minute doubts, and kills confidence. Others say it's time to buckle down and really push for the finish line. Any thoughts on this?

Many many thanks for any advice you can provide....

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by beatthegmat » Mon Feb 18, 2008 8:16 pm
Hi southhobart:

The good news is that it seems like you're in striking distance of your goal to get a 700+. Getting a 670 on a practice test certainly gets you near the line.

With regard to your study options, if you are feeling comfortable about your verbal abilities and have been scoring well in that section on your practice tests--then you may be better off going with your second option, where you focus on improving your quant score. This seems to be the low-hanging fruit to helping you achieve your goal.

There is no right or wrong way to spend your final days. I tend to have the bias of gradually easing up your studies as you get closer to your test date. In my perspective, the GMAT is a very physical test to take--sitting in one place for 3.5 hours with intense concentration is physically draining, so I usually recommend people to rest up before the test.

If you'd like to see more advice on how you can spend your final days, I recommend checking out https://del.icio.us/beatthegmat and examining the GMAT Strategy section--there are some great resources available for you there.

Best of luck and please let us know how it goes!
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by southhobart » Tue Feb 19, 2008 5:35 pm
Awesome...thanks for the detailed response. I agree with your call--the quant really is the low-hanging fruit, and it makes the most sense to try reaching for it, even if I've plateaued in this area over the past few weeks.

As for the game plan for the next week and a half: I think the best approach is to study like crazy this week, then take another prep test on Sunday. (I had planned for yesterday's to be my last trial run, but I feel terrible going into G-Day with a 650--ie, going in reverse when I should be moving forward). I'll spend next Monday and Tuesday analyzing the results and reviewing errors. The rest of the week, I will do basic review and a few easy questions each day to stay fresh while resting up for the big day.

By the way, it should be said that the GMAT is like crack for geeks--I can't believe how addictive it is! When I started three months ago, my goal was to break 600 so I could get into a respectable part-time MBA program near my home in suburban Philadelphia (eg: Villanova, Temple, etc.). Now that 600 is almost certainly in the bag, it's 700 or bust...for no good reason! It's not like hitting that magic number is going to compel me to put my life and career on hold for two years to attend an elite full-time program. And yet...I can't leave well enough alone! Children are starving in Africa, and I can't stop trying to hack out another 30 to 50 points on this thing. Do I need to get a life, or what??

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by beatthegmat » Wed Feb 20, 2008 10:01 pm
Haha, I love your description--GMAT is crack for geeks.

Completely agree--I take the cake for the ultimate geek, I took the freakin' test 3 years ago and I'm still talking about it! :)

Good luck with your prep, and please let us know how your test goes!
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by southhobart » Sun Feb 24, 2008 3:13 pm
Good news: the intensive push on the quant side seems to be paying off. Thanks to the snow storm that miraculously hit the northeast on Friday, I ended up with a three-day weekend--and I spent virtually all of it studying. Specifically, I completed and reviewed all 48 problems in the OG's "Diagnostic Test," completed and reviewed Manhattan GMAT's free online prep test, and finally capped it off with one of the old PowerPrep tests. At the end of it all, I scored Q44 and V40, for a composite of 680. Still a little bit off my goal of 700...but I saw dramatic improvement on the quant side, up five points from my previous best of Q39. So, all is going according to plan...

Six more days to 700!

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Reflections on 690

by southhobart » Mon Mar 03, 2008 7:36 pm
Well, don't call me Pat Robertson just yet--no 700 club for me this past weekend--but I came oh-so-close with a 690 (Q42, V42)! I'm thrilled with the result. Thanks for all the help from everyone on this board over the past few weeks!

Some quick notes on my preparation:

Final week: After my “GMAT Boot Camp” the weekend before test day, I did only the bare minimum during the final week to stay fresh—ie, about 10-15 math problems from OG each day. No verbal work at all. Major objective was to maintain confidence, keeping in the front of my mind the major reasons why I had a legitimate shot at 700—eg: I had scored 44 on both the quant and verbal on separate practice tests, I had worked through hundreds of OG problems, I had taken eight practice tests, etc. This isn't about being cocky--it's about pumping yourself up. The little mental pep-talks seemed to pay off. I had virtually no test-day jitters.

G-Day: I had a 12:15 appointment, so I slept till about 8:00. Got up, brewed a cup of coffee, and spent about an hour reading a novel (my normal routine). Showered, made a high-protein, nutrient-dense breakfast (eggs, mixed fruit, and grapefruit juice). Gathered my belongings, and left home around 11:00am. Arrived at the testing center 30 minutes later. Completed the sign-in procedures, and was allowed to begin testing early, after just a few minutes’ wait till a computer became available.

The test itself started with AWA. First prompt was a statement about the benefits of home ownership. With the sub-prime debacle all over the papers lately, I whacked this one like a piñata. The second essay prompt was about whether schools should emphasize or de-emphasize differences between countries and cultures. This one wasn’t a slam-dunk, but I still managed to cobble together a reasonably well-organized essay within the 30-minute time limit.

Quant: No surprises here, in terms of content, but everything seemed to be pitched a bit higher than I expected. I found myself running short of time, with about 10 questions left at 15 minutes remaining on the clock. This forced me to make a number of educated guesses on the final problems. If I had paced myself a bit more tightly early on, I really think I could have broken the 700 barrier.

Verbal: I learned my lesson about pacing, and made a point of keeping a tight schedule on this portion of the test. For this reason, I guessed at one or two critical reasoning problems midway through this section…but had plenty of time remaining to think carefully about the final questions. Fortunately, most of them seemed relatively easy (except for a really abstrusely written RC passage about something called the “conjunction fallacy,” which seemed impossible to parse even after two or three readings).

Overall reflections:

1) Test format/interface is virtually identical to GMAT Prep software. Use it and get comfortable with it.

2) Pacing, pacing, pacing. This is critical. Make sure to incorporate it into your practice. This was my biggest oversight.

3) GMAT Prep and PowerPrep are the two best predictors of actual performance. Other prep tests are fine for practice, but don’t put much stock in the scores, or for that matter, the degree of difficulty in the questions you see. The GMAT is what it is, and nothing else on the market really matches its level of difficulty, its scoring algorithm, etc.

4) Real improvement is possible through focused study, but I think it’s hard to test at elite levels without professional experience in a quantitative or verbal field. I spent three months studying math…and tested only at the 66th percentile. I spent virtually no time studying for the verbal, and scored in the 95th percentile—but this is my specialty, as I write for a living. Face it: if you got it, you got it…if you don’t, you can only acquire so much through a few months of preparation. Respect your limits. If you need a big increase in your score, consider delaying the test for six months or a year to develop solid fundamentals.

5) As a 95th percentile Verbal tester, can I recommend anything to help others improve in this area? Probably not, but here goes anyway: 1) remember Derrida’s dictum, “Il n’y a pas de hors-texte”—“there is nothing outside the text.” Sure, the cranky Frenchman meant something totally unrelated to the GMAT when he said that—but do remember that everything you need to answer a question is always available on the screen in front of you. 2) If you need a non-GMAT prep book to consult, try Mortimer Adler’s “How to Read a Book”—hands-down, the best book on the market to help you become a more attentive reader (and writer). 3) I am a language-learning addict, and I think it can really help to try learning Spanish, Latin, French….anything, if you have a long lead-time for study (ie, one year or more). Nothing else can match the power of learning a new language for developing a thorough command of grammar and a sensitivity to the nuances of word meanings. 4) Read, all the time. Try reading an hour a day as part of your routine, as I do. I also recommend reading the Wall Street Journal every day—it is far-and-away the best newspaper in America, and their writing style strikes a flawless balance of economy and sophistication. Mimicking their tone can help on AWA. 5) Get into the habit of writing daily…I do this as part of my work, but it may be helpful to start a blog, a journal, or some other medium that allows you to write each day.

Anyway, there’s my two cents. Good luck, everybody!

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by jimmy23 » Mon Mar 03, 2008 11:08 pm
You are simply genius and very helpful thanks buddy.

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by black_cat » Tue Mar 04, 2008 6:39 am
Southhobart,

Thanks for your follow-up post yesterday. I enjoyed reading your thoughts on the whole studying/test taking process. Kudos on your verbal score (and total score!). I am a communications professional as well, so I am feeling quite confident about the AWA and verbal sections (although I am still working questions in the books just for the practice). As long as I don't get some ridiculously obtuse RC passage, I should be fine on test day.

Can I ask about your math skills? Were you already fairly good at math before you started studying for the GMAT? My math skills are okay -- not great, but not horrible (I'm oddly brilliant at geometry -- go figure! Too bad I probably won't get more than one geometry question on the test!). I think I've done a good job studying and improving my math skills, but I tend to be a little slow and know I will need to zip through the math problems at a steady pace. Any advice for someone with unimpressive math skills?

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by southhobart » Wed Mar 05, 2008 5:06 pm
Hi, BlackCat!

Thanks for your reply! To answer your question, math isn't my strong suit either. I graduated from college about eight years ago, and took just two math courses while I was there (the most advanced being introductory calculus)--so my background was average to begin with, and I was severely out-of-practice when I began studying. To remedy my deficiency in this area, I spent nearly my entire three months of study preparing for the quantitative section. Specifically, I did the following:

1) Thoroughly reviewed the underlying arithmetic, geometry, and algebra (I used a Barron's prep book, but in hindsight, I should have started with the Official Guide)
2) Worked through virtually all of the math problems in the Official Guide
3) Made a point of reviewing all the problems I missed. I even tried many of them again a few weeks later, just to make sure it all sunk in.

After three months, I improved from about the 35th percentile (Q24) to the 66th percentile (Q42) on test day. So really, I went from being awful to being merely average on this section.

The one thing I did find after months of practice is that the authors of the test are basically a bunch of shysters. Just as they serve up a lot of needlessly complex prose on the verbal section, their math questions are also needlessly complex (eg: "4 to the 200th power divided by 8 to the 130th power=?"). The challenge is to take a seemingly daunting problem and translate it into something you can tackle in less than two minutes. This takes a lot of practice--probably more than the three months I spent working at it. But if you really work at your fundamentals, really work at the OG problems, and really get into the habit of asking yourself, "how are the test-makers trying to pull the wool over my eyes now?," you can definitely see a healthy improvement in your scores over time. And, if you're already very strong on the verbal section, it might just be enough to carry the day.

Anyway, hope that helps! Good luck, and happy studying!

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by black_cat » Thu Mar 06, 2008 4:56 am
Hi Southhobart,

Can I ask you another question? (Or anyone who can help me!)

With 4 weeks left until test day, I have started taking the computer-based practice tests (none of the full-blown simulated GMAT tests until this weekend). Last night I did a timed practice test of the Quant section on 800score.com. I was paranoid about my speed, so I cruised through the test. Unfortunately, I had 15 minutes left when I got to question #37. D'oh! :lol: I got 19 out of 37 right. (On at least 5 questions, I didn't even try to solve them, I just picked an answer and moved on. Again, I was paranoid about the time I had left.) When I went back and looked at the answers, I could have gotten several of the questions right had I not been so freaked out by the clock. (Funny, but when I practice the verbal, I don't have any speed/clock issues! It's a piece of cake.)

Here's what I noticed and what I need to fix before test day. When I see a word problem, I immediately jump into some sort of formula. I make the solutions way more complex than they need to be. I'm trying to remind myself that I can reason my way through some of the questions, which don't even require a whole lot of math. I'm trying to change this annoying behavior of mine. I think the solution is to probably just keep doing the practice tests and get super comfortable with the timed nature of it. Does any of this make sense? Thanks!!

P.S. Too bad the GMAT isn't only verbal. I could probably score a 780-790 on that! :D

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by southhobart » Thu Mar 06, 2008 6:34 pm
Hi, Black cat!

In terms of pacing, the only advice I can offer is to operate in 25-minute increments, completing about 13 (~1/3) of the problems with 50 minutes remaining, and 26 (~2/3) of the problems with 25 minutes to go. Some of the problems will take less than the two-minute average, some will take more...but the 25-minute milestones should allow you to pace yourself in a way that lets you maximize your available time. And it might help with the problem you identified of just diving into a problem by applying the first formula that comes to mind.

Of course, though, the math wasn't my strong suit either....does anyone else have any advice on this?

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by aim-wsc » Sun Mar 09, 2008 10:44 pm
Great Analysis. I completely agree with you southhobart
beatthegmat wrote:Haha, I love your description--GMAT is crack for geeks.

Completely agree--I take the cake for the ultimate geek, I took the freakin' test 3 years ago and I'm still talking about it! :)

Good luck with your prep, and please let us know how your test goes!
You've got one more freak in the gang here! :lol: