I've been looking forward to making this post since I started studying for the GMAT!
It's been a long journey:
Although I initially wasn't planning on applying for schools this year, in early November (2017), I realized I would pretty much be free until the New Year, so I decided to tackle the GMAT. Since I was free during that time, I figured I could put in 6-8 hour days on weekdays and 4 hour days on weekends and get it all done, so I initially booked my exam for December 11th and decided to follow the one month plan on Empower-GMAT. I picked an afternoon test slot (2:00 pm) because I am not much of a morning person and took all my CATs at the appropriate time. Through detailed scheduling and lots of discipline, I completed the Empower 1-month crash course on December 6th and was ready for the real thing - my last four practice test scores on GMATPrep were all 760 or above, with the last one at 790 (Q50;V51).
Unfortunately, Pearson had to sort out an issue with my ID documents (there was a feature on my passport that made it invalid for their purposes). They then rescheduled my exam while they sorted it out. Then rescheduled it again. Finally, they told me they sorted out the issue and came to the conclusion that I would have to wait until a new ID document was issued. Pearson then cancelled my exam and gave me a refund for everything I had paid. Since my plan was primarily based on all the time I had in November and December, I was quite disappointed. Although an Empower customer service rep told me that this is really a blessing, I knew that practically speaking, I could not devote even a similar amount of time to GMAT training and that maintaining my performance gain was going to be a big challenge.
What's more is that I had application deadlines looming , so I knew that I would need to take the test at the soonest possible date. I was waiting on my identification document, which I was told would arrive sometime in late January. The situtation was far from ideal; I had to prepare for a test that I had not scheduled and would need to do at a moment's notice. Although I could no longer devote entire days to GMAT training, I committed to putting in a couple of hours every 2-3 days and completing third-party CATs every 2-3 weeks. Since I would need to be able to make any exam appointment (08:00/10:00/14:00/16:00) on any given day, I adjusted my sleep schedule so that I'd be able to make an 8:00am exam after having been awake for at least 2-3 hours, since that's how long it takes for most people's brains to wake up. Like I said, I am not a morning person, but I don't think there was any other way for me to be truly prepared for a morning exam.
Finally, my new ID came in the mail yesterday afternoon (February 1, 2018), so I scheduled my exam for today at 8:00am. I knew that my performance might suffer because I am not a morning person, took all my practice CATs in the afternoon, and did not have a lot of time to mentally prepare for it, but the application deadlines warranted my actions. I was definitely, a bit nervous (and relieved) that it was finally happening - all the uncertainty had somewhat desensitized me to the whole concept. After booking the test, I spent a couple hours doing questions from the OG Quant and Verbal Review books (2018 edition) and the Manhattan prep Advanced Quant Book (my biggest weakness in the Quant was advanced geometry) and then just took it easy the rest of the night and went to bed early. My last test-before-the-test was that the surge protector that my phone was charging off of turned off and my phone, alarm clock, and Alexa all died during the night, so I had no alarm. Fortunately, I woke up on time by myself because I had already changed my sleep schedule, a decision that really did save me.
Although I felt more prepared in December, overall the exam went well enough; 730 is a good enough score to get into pretty much any school, so the logician in me is satisfied with the score. However, I am quite competitive and always shoot for my personal best, so I was just a little bit disappointed that I scored a bit lower than most of my practice tests. My main "big picture" takeaways from this are:
- Adapt to uncertainty: I had to be prepared to take any exam slot with a day's notice. My score would have suffered had I not been physically and mentally prepared for a morning test.
- Have a fixed test day: Knowing when my test was and what time of day I was doing it definitely made my preparation in November/December feel more tangible than my "contingency planning mode" in January. Don't wait "until you feel ready," just make a study plan and schedule your exam within a week of your study plan ending. After getting the news from Pearson, I had a standstill, so waiting was unavoidable in my case. However, for the love of everything you hold dear, please do yourself a favour and schedule your exam before you start investing significant time in prep. You will get much more out of it - trust me.
- Control what you can and don't worry about the rest: Have a plan, stick to it, and don't fret over things that are in other people's control.
- Dump that hard question , EVEN IF YOU ARE AHEAD OF SCHEDULE: During practice tests and earlier on the actual test, I was already in the habit of dumping certain questions, but towards the end of the Quant, I was an extra couple of minutes ahead and decided to spend some more time than usual on a super hard question. Mistake. I should have stuck to the plan (like I had done earlier) because I ended up spending an extra 4 minutes on that question while only intending to spend the 2 extra minutes I had. This poor choice resulted in me having to guess on the last two questions, which were totally within my skillset. I'm guessing those last two questions cost me at least 1-2 scaled points.
- Learn how to take a punch: You win some, you lose some. Rather than separately considering every question/practice CAT/scheduling mishap, start seeing them all as investments in a nicely diversified portfolio. Some will be losers and others will be winners - just keep trying to make the best decisions and you'll end up with a net positive return on your investment
OG 2018 (Borrowed)
OG Verbal and Quant Review (Borrowed)
Manhattan Prep SC Book and Advanced Quant (Borrowed)
Empower-GMAT: Would highly recommend. Rich is a great teacher. Try to follow the timeline in a way that is congruent with your actual test day; I felt I had nothing to do on the website after my 1-month study plan was over so I resorted to more independant study. Since Empower is very focused on strategy, try to make sure their course leads up to your exam. I think GMAT prep (and test prep in general) is kind of like a loan in which you start off paying mostly interest and end up paying mostly principal. In the case of test prep, you start off focusing on having a good knowledge base and then your focus would gradually shift more towards tactics and strategy.
Hope you folks beat the GMAT too!