For the sake of background, I attended a reasonably well-known urban university in the Midwest. I received a humanities degree and was pretty firmly entrenched in the "softer" disciplines, but I also took, and did well in, math courses that required some modicum of effort.
I don't feel that there's much I can add to what's already been said about preparation, but here are a few tips:
- Don't try to rush anything. I started my preparation back in November, and while reviewing material in fits and starts may not have been the best strategy, I feel that it was good to allow for six months. Let the concepts and strategies sink in over time. This probably doesn't jibe with some advice that's been given by others, but this pace worked for me. It's all about knowing how you learn best.
- Way, way too much bandwidth has been expended on discussing prep scores, especially those of Kaplan, Princeton Review, Manhattan GMAT, et al. Use the practice tests to learn about the adaptive nature of the test, feel out the range of question types, and develop an effective working pace, but please don't waste too much effort trying to figure out some company's scoring algorithm.
- Do, however, place greater stock in the difficulty of the questions that you encounter and your raw success rate in dealing with increasingly difficult questions. If you can tackle the hard bins (or at least fully understand your mistakes) in OG11, Kaplan 800, and Princeton Review, or the superb math questions offered by Manhattan GMAT, then that counts for a lot (and way more than any scaled score).
- Similarly, don't stress about the level of quantitative or verbal difficulty that you'll encounter on the exam. Remember, the test is adaptive, so if you study broadly enough and have at least a passing familiarity with all the question types, you will be adequately prepared and won't have to worry too much about difficulty. I would hypothesize that most of the discussions regarding quantitative or verbal material being slightly harder on "the real thing" stem not from the complexity of the questions per se, but from inadequate preparation. For example, so-called "bold-face" verbal questions seem to crop up sparingly, and while probably not difficult in and of themselves, they tend to catch people off-guard due to folks not preparing enough for this question type.
- Be a crafty consumer and buy prep materials and courses selectively. Don't pay through the nose. Between OG11, GMATPrep, Manhattan SC (which will unlock the online Practice Center), and sheets upon sheets of practice questions and notes that freely roam the web you'll be in great shape. Quite simply, the flashcards available here, if properly absorbed, will help you go a long way in tackling the test - and they're free! Dropping more than a couple Benjamins on prep material requires at least a passing gut check. (That the world of GMAT prep and MBA admissions has turned into such an industry always makes my jaw drop.)
- One caveat regarding online material originating on forums: while not always perfect, quantitative questions tend to be of much greater quality than verbal questions, which can get pretty shabby.
- Make sure you're reasonably familiar with the AWA topics. Browse through a handful every day and attempt to make a quick two-minute mental outline as you read each one. You don't need to practice writing these out (unless you feel that your writing is really in need of serious, serious repair), especially in the case of the argument topic, as you'll get pretty good at teasing out assumptions and the like through your work with critical reasoning problems.
- You paid $250 to sit in a Pearson VUE chair for a few hours. Make use of all the time you purchased and get familiar with your environment. This means taking every break, letting the clock run out on your essays (why should you waste time hitting "Next" when your essay is going to record anyway?), and dawdling during the free time you're given when selecting schools. Any time you can use to get a feel for your work space, mouse, keyboard, and test booklet is precious stuff.
- Write five three-sentence paragraphs, use logical connectors/transitions (e.g. first, second, third, finally, because, if, then, so, etc.), know how to spell a few key words (e.g. fallacy, correlation, causation, differentiate, distinguish, problematic, etc.), reign in your sentence length, and presto, you've appeased the E-Rater and received at least a 5.
- My experience was very indicative of a very important lesson that's been properly explained elsewhere: don't even think about trying to gauge your own success in a certain section by the difficulty of the questions you receive. Even with a 50, the last three or four questions I received in this section were easier than any other question I had ever seen in all of my preparation.
- A perfect example of difficulty being more a function of unfamiliarity with a particular question type rather than question content. While I received a mind-boggling critical reading passage that threw me for a considerable loop, the more significant challenge was a series of "complete the sentence" brand of questions that I hadn't really expected. This, compounded with my relatively weak performance on verbal sections of other standardized tests, was the source of some minor consternation.