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5 Time Test Taker...The Climb to 750

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5 Time Test Taker...The Climb to 750

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Hi Everyone,

For the past year or so, I’ve been using this website (among others) to help me study for the GMAT. Although I’ve gotten countless tips and resources from this site, I never once posted or contributed anything of my own. Here is my attempt to pay it all back to the supportive community. With that said, I thought a reflection of my journey may help others, especially those re-takers who have been beaten down by this test!

Background:
I’m a management consultant in my mid-20s working out of New York City. In terms of what you normally see from other management consultants at my firm, I come from a non-traditional background in the sense that I didn’t major in business or economics (I was a science major). Among other reasons, I thought getting an MBA would help provide me with a solid foundation to pursue future opportunities outside of consulting. Thus, I started my GMAT journey in April 2017 with dreams of getting into a top-ranked MBA program…

The Journey:
The company I work for has a program that subsidizes GMAT classes in NYC. Given this benefit, it was an easy decision to start with a MPREP 9-week course. During these 9 weeks, I followed the MPREP program and even went above and beyond by finding additional practice problems outside the OGs and MPREP materials (I think I used Kaplan). I was super confident in my progress, scoring 710 on my MPREP practice tests and climbing until I got 750s on last 2 MPREP tests (the package comes with 6). I will say that I felt like the smartest one in the class, especially since my peers rarely did their “homework” and were taking a pretty relaxed approach to the whole process. This “fake confidence” hurt me in the long run: I started to brush past easy problems (literally skipped them) and assumed all the mistakes that I had made wouldn’t happen again. Wrong! I signed up for an official sitting 3 weeks after my MPREP course ended. Long story short, I came out with a 700 (Q47/V38). I cancelled this score on the spot! Lesson from take 1: Be confident in your abilities but don’t let past success blind you.
During my undergrad years, when I didn’t do well on an exam it meant that my work effort wasn’t enough. I used this same mentality/approach with my second going. I studied 3-4 hours after work EVERY DAY for the next 6 weeks, crushing every single OG problem in existence and using the OG Exam packs as my measuring stick for progress. As you might expect, this “brute-force” approach didn’t help me at all. First of all, I really shot myself in the foot by not treating the OG problems like a limited resource. For everyone out there reading this, the OG materials are VERY limited! Make sure you learn something from each problem, especially the ones you get wrong. Secondly, I burned out. By the time my test rolled around, I was mentally and physically exhausted. The mental effort I used for prepping even impacted my work. As a consultant, I work long hours and fly to client sites across America. This hectic schedule, combined with intense studying, took a toll on my body and social relationships. As you might expect, I underperformed again with another 700 (Q49/V37). Lesson from take 2: GMAT studying is all about quality over quantity.

Ok, here I am after 5 months of studying. I cancelled both my previous scores. I’m at square one. I considered getting outside help. Now, this was difficult for me to realize since I have always been the teacher not the student. I taught SAT classes in high-school and served 2 years as a chemistry TA during my time in undergrad. I knew my weaknesses were in verbal so I sought the help of a seasoned GMAT tutor in the NY area. Now, I won’t say that this individual wasn’t helpful in getting me to the next level, but I will say that the attention I received wasn’t exactly personal. He did, however, help me make a sustainable study schedule and taught me a TON with SC and CR. Slowly, I felt like a verbal master, even though I had done the OG problems a few times over at this point and knew the answers without looking at the responses (for RC and CR). I went to the test center, armed with my new verbal skills, and came out with the SAME score of a 700 (Q44/V41). Here is what went wrong: I neglected Quant! I assumed my previous Q49 would hold true. Boy, was I mistaken! Lesson from Take 3: Do not neglect other aspects of this exam even though you have strengths in one area.
At this point, it is already November. I spent the entire summer locked indoors and knew that the same would be true for the upcoming holiday season. I’m beaten down, disappointed, and confused. How can this happen to me? I was the valedictorian of my high-school, graduated magna cum laude from a Top 10 university, and had a great job in NYC. Is the GMAT going to stop me? I desperately sought other avenues of learning- YouTube videos from GMAT Ninja (SUPER HELPFUL!!), expert responses/solutions, and a variety of resources: Veritas practice tests, Target Test Prep, e-gmat free trial, etc. Around this time, I also started to meditate. I would recommend some form of meditation for test-takers, especially those who get test anxiety / nervousness. I spent the holiday season fine-tuning a few basic skills and reinforcing concepts. I scored a 710 in January 2018 (Q48/V39). This time around, I kept the score. My expectations were much lower than they were when I started. I took a day to decompress and realized that I didn’t want to “settle.” The GMAT policy allows test-takers to cancel 2-3 days (not sure exactly) after the sitting so paid a fee to do so retroactively. Lesson 4: Don’t stop until you’ve given it your all!

Alright, so I finally saw some improvement, even though it was a mere 10 points. I started to change the way I worked on problems. During that time, I felt like I was just one last push away from reaching the top of the hill. I knew I needed help to get there. I started by reading expert responses for all OG problems that I could get my hands on. I loved the way a particular expert, Mitch Hunt on Beat The GMAT, broke down verbal questions. I reached out to Mitch in February/March for some working sessions. Mitch was extremely attentive to my needs. Each of our 4-5 session together were customized for me; We spent most of our time on CR and SC. He started challenging me to break my old ways. For example, Mitch noticed that I wasn’t reading the question first when it came to CR questions (I read the entire stimulus and then the question). He urged me to try new methods and really hone in on the premises and conclusions of the prompts. One thing I really appreciate about Mitch is that he is ALWAYS available by e-mail. I felt 100% comfortable shooting Mitch emails about specific questions. I never once waited more than 24 hours for a response! Anyways, I continued to self-study Quant for about 1.5 hours a day on top of my assignments from Mitch. I took all the lessons I learned above into my preparation and set aside the month of March for my 5th sitting in April…

I walked out of the test center with a 750! I almost cried when I left the test center. It took me a full year to achieve that score! If you’re reading this and struggling with the GMAT, I sincerely hope that this story inspires you to never give up and that you learn from my past mistakes. Best of luck to all! Next step for me is to get my apps together for R1 deadlines…

Resources I used and recommend:
• All OG Material, including the exam packs and supplemental Verbal and Quant guides
Veritas Practice Tests
• Manhattan SC book and Practice Tests (for practice only!!)
• GMAT Ninja YouTube series videos
• Certified expert responses on GMAT Club and BTG
• Mitch Hunt!

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Congratulations on achieving an incredibly impressive score! Putting in the work was a necessary prerequisite, but shifting your mindset to focus on good process seems like it was the decisive factor.

Your path worked well for you, but for anyone else reading this, I want to issue a caution - NEVER CANCEL YOUR SCORES!! There may be others out there who follow your lead and cancel a 700, but aren't able to break that again later. Schools truly only care about your top score, so there is no disadvantage to having a lower score, ten later getting a higher one.

In fact, there is evidence that many schools might look more favorably on a 700 then a 750 rather than a single 750; the former shows perseverance and hard work toward an impressive skill rather than just an innate ability.

For you, I can't imagine that there will be any drawback to applying with a 750 rather than 700+700+750. But for anyone else out there... it's much better to keep whatever score you already have (unless disastrously low, e.g. 400, or if lower than a previous attempt) than canceling because it's not your target.

More info here: https://www.manhattanprep.com/gmat/blog/2016/07/14/scheduling-your-gmat-everything-you-need-to-know-about-booking-cancelling-reporting-etc/

_________________


Ceilidh Erickson
Manhattan Prep GMAT & GRE instructor
EdM in Mind, Brain, and Education
Harvard Graduate School of Education


Manhattan Prep instructors all have 99th+ percentile scores and expert teaching experience.
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