660 to 710: My (detailed) encounter with the GMAT

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After reading numerous motivating debriefs on my journey to the GMAT, it's about time to write one. As a result of my parents' encouragement to take the first step towards my MBA goals, I bought the official guide for GMAT fresh from the bookstore in 2013, during the second year of my undergraduate course. Back then, GMAT preparation was just an interesting distraction from the monotonous course of college life. Then there were semester exams, internships, placements and work life which took all the interest away from this apparent distraction. It was finally in 2018 when I decided to focus on getting an MBA and scheduled my first GMAT in mid-November that year.
As the first step, I noted down all the information necessary to get well acquainted with the entire GMAT process. The syllabus, the format, the sub-sectional time division and so on. Two key things that I got to know by doing this was that passport is required to take the test (the only approved id for the test in my country) and that I should trust only the official test material for preparation. Based on these, I prepared for the test by learning the concepts from the Manhattan Guides and solving questions from the official guide. While I was able to hit a consistent score range of 650-720 on the official mocks, I didn't realize that I lacked some key timing strategies. As it happened, I was not very confident on the test day. I opted for Quantitative as the first section and started the test with a healthy pace. However, I lost the track of time during the end of the section and I guess-marked the answers for the final 9 questions. Just when I was about to hit submit for the last question, the screen timed out with a disclaimer. That was when I lost it. Knowing that the GMAC punishes test takers for not finishing a section on time, I was almost sure that I would get a below 40 score in quant. Took the break and calmed myself down for the remaining part. Verbal was manageable, and I was able to tackle SC well, because at that time, I thought SC was the most important sub-section for a good verbal score. When I was almost done with the test and was writing the AWA, I could feel that the next screen would hold something disappointing. Anyway, I continued with the AWA and hit the next button. It was a 660 (Q43, V38, IR 3), which wasn't bad but not the score I had aimed for. Accepted the score but couldn't accept it completely. After coming back from the center, I somewhere kept thinking that this is not the end. It felt like that was just another mock. After taking a few days to recoup, I decided to retake the test with a new approach. I bought the ESR, analyzed my performance and noted down some key observations. Things were not going well on the personal front as well, so I took a break for three months. As days started getting better, I picked up from where I had paused and decided to gear up for a retake. The analysis of my first take told me that while I was adequately verse with the concepts, I was poor with the test strategies. Hence, I took a month's subscription of an online course, EmpowerGMAT, that was based on a strategy-based approach to "Assassin the GMAT". And simultaneously, I rescheduled my GMAT for a week post the end of the course. The course helped me learn some very efficient tactics to deal with certain typical questions on the GMAT and save time while doing so. The best thing that I got to learn from this course was that I could triage or guess certain twisted questions, which typically cannot be solved within the given time restrictions. It helped me cut that string of attachment off from the tougher questions and save time for the ones that I could solve using conceptual knowledge. Also bought the official mocks, Manhattan Mocks and Veritas Prep Mocks.
Once the course ended, I took a leave from work, gathered all the materials I had, went to my parents and started revising the concepts while solving their corresponding GMAT Prep questions (with the help of GMAT club search tags). A topic a day. Though I felt that I should have done this earlier, it helped me even in the last few days of the preparation. For quant I focused mostly on absolute values and geometry, as according to the ESR of the previous test those were my weak areas. I was trying to use the strategies instead of blindly following formula-based approach while solving the questions. For verbal, I was practising questions on sentence structure and comprehension, specially focusing on the RC passages. This verbal strategy helped me a lot. RC is the key.
With all that effort and investment made, I could feel the pressure of a retake growing each day. The Manhattan and Veritas mocks were showing a consistent below 700 score and I was getting more and more paranoid. Then I talked to Rich, the quant instructor at EmpowerGMAT, and his encouragement helped. For the last 8 days before the D-day, I didn't take any mock (yes wasted a lot of money). This worked well for my stress levels. However, a day before the test, I didn't want to cram, just wanted to see the instructions and get adapted with the real-test environment. Hence, I went to a nearby computer lab and took the official mock 6. To my relief, I scored a 710 (Q48, V40, IR 7). This helped me ease the pressure and gave me good vibes for the next day. I didn't prepare separately for the IR and AWA sections this time, which wasn't a very wise thing to do. But I was in a better shape of mind as compared to that during the previous take. Owing to my anxiety levels, I couldn't sleep the night before the test, but I wasn't panicking. The sun came up and it was time.
This time I went to the test center with my parents and they kept me away from the test anxiety with their light conversations (such as my embarrassing childhood stories). I went inside the center well in time and waited patiently to be called for the instruction review. I had the company of just one other test taker. Finally, they called me in and I went through the process with a smile on my face (the center administrators were probably thinking that I'm retarded). The test started with medium to high level quant questions. However, towards the end, out of the fear of not completing the test, I marked some very easy ones wrong. The final 5 questions were 550-600 level and I knew that I had messed up again. But I was happy that I finished the section before it timed out. Took the break, had some dark chocolate (my only weapon) and went inside with full determination to nail the verbal section. The section was going well, and I could feel the level going higher. But again, 12 minutes were left for last 10 questions. I immediately guessed the next two lengthy CR stems and reached the final RC passage, which was fortunately comprehensible. I had sworn not to skim through the passages, but I had to do so for this last RC passage. Selected the options that seemed better than the rest and reached the 36th question with 2 minutes on hand. It was a SC stem and I completed the section just in time. This time when I took the break, I felt light. I was not able to judge my performance at all, but I was not disappointed. I knew that I had done all that I could, and the rest was not in my hands. Went back and finished IR. Then came the only sad part of the test. The AWA question was quite twisted, and I had never practised such a question. I might have paused, erased and rewritten my points for at least 5 times in those 30 minutes. I managed to sum it up 5 minutes before the timer went off and did a quick revision. With the last 1 minute left I was contemplating if I should click on next or wait for some more seconds. A reflex caused me to click the submit button and there was a 710 (Q45, V41, IR 7) on the screen. The same score that I had got on mock 6 the previous day. I couldn't think anything because I couldn't judge whether this was a good or a bad score. Yes, there was an improvement from last test, but I had prepared for more. I accepted the score and left the center with mixed feelings. (Got a 4 on AWA as compared to 4.5 on the previous take). Quant didn't go as planned. But it was not disappointing.
This was my (not so brief) encounter with the GMAT. More than for the score, I am happy for the encouragement and support that I got from the people who told me that I could do this. While I might give GMAT another shot if time permits, it has been a good journey so far. The best part about this test was that it taught me time management skills, helped me learn some crucial facts about dealing with stress and gave me an idea about the level of hard work it takes to achieve a good MBA education.