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780 - Debrief and Takeaways

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780 - Debrief and Takeaways

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So, while I really want to score 800, so far I did manage to score 780.

I started preparing around the beginning of last spring, slowed down during the summer and dug back in late summer and fall to take the test in late October.

Years ago, I had taken a GMAT Prep official practice CAT after a little studying and managed to score 740.

The quant kinda beat me up on that test. I don't remember my score on quant, but I do remember feeling as if I didn't have enough time to finish and as if there were questions I had almost no idea how to tackle.

The verbal went a little better for me. Still, to score higher I needed work.

Part of my strategy on quant has been to become more familiar with question types, and thus cut down on time needed to figure out problems. To that end, I did every problem in the Veritas question bank, did most of the OG math problems, and took various practice tests I was finding online. I also used BTGMAT and GMAT Club and got many useful ideas. Also the BellCurves question bank, while chock full of errors, was a pretty good source of rather cool quant, if not so much verbal, practice.

One thing that really seems to work on quant is seeking out problems I am afraid of, or get queasy even thinking about. For instance, I realized that when a data sufficiency question showed up, I was not a happy man. So, I did dozens of data sufficiency questions until doing data sufficiency questions became second nature. I did the same with other problem areas. I would be like "A mixture question, ohhh nooo." So I would do mixture questions, next thing might be penny flipping questions, on and on, until I was confident in areas that I had been worried about.

I guess the strategy started working because after a couple months of work I started scoring 770 or 780 on practice tests. I was a little surprised and didn't trust the scores, because at that point they were on tests created by little, unknown test prep outfits, but those scores turned out to be pretty accurate.

I think I spent too much time studying tougher quant types like permutations and not enough time on algebra and arithmetic, because on Veritas practice tests, after months of studying I still wasn't finishing quant. So one recommendation I can make is this. Make sure on quant you cover basic topics and problem types. You won't see more than a few of certain tough problem types. So if you focus too much studying on those types you may shortchange yourself.

Also, beyond learning how to get to answers, working on speed and efficiency themselves may be a key part of the project.

I did find that on the official practice tests somehow the math was less time consuming and I was able to finish or come close to finishing quant on those.

As far as the verbal goes, reading comp kept tripping me up. It seems simple enough, just read and answer, and yet some of the tougher types of reading comp questions can take a little getting used to. So I worked on reading comp, and found some great questions through various online sources including the Veritas question bank.

I took a PowerPrep test, those old tests sure are useful, and scored 780. So I felt as if I was getting close, but maybe plateauing.

More studying and I scored 51 51 800 on my second PowerPrep.

I thought I was set, but afterward, after more prepping, on a Veritas practice test I scored only 780 and I guess that was a good signal. I was still having trouble getting through the quant on time. Crazy.

I studied some more and kept taking unofficial and official tests and kept scoring in the 770 780 range. I was hoping on test day maybe I would step it up somehow and score 800.

Finally I sat for the real test. I was stressed from work that day, so I really took time signing in, reading the directions, etc., seeking to calm down and get some mental rest. Might have made a mistake though, as I thought I was gaming the system by not going directly to the test when the directions ran out of time and I think in doing that I used up some of my test time.

On quant, sure enough I ran out of time. For one thing, there was a groups question with so many numbers and I hadn't prepared much for that type and I burned all kinds of time doing that one question. In addition I had lost time starting a little late after the break and may have lost time by not starting directly after the directions ran out of time. On the other hand, the first six questions or so seemed so easy compared to what I was seeing on practice tests that it actually threw me off a little. Maybe I got cocky.

On the other hand, I can say this. I have had some success on quant by just taking time to get questions right, even if I don't really finish or if I guess on the last few. In other words, there is some merit to a strategy of just getting a bunch of questions right, even if you don't finish on time. While the 49 I got on quant is not stellar in percentile terms, it's still pretty high.

On verbal I finished with a few minutes to spare, but there were a few I had trouble with. It seems that there are always some sentence correction or reading comp questions where it's really tough to figure out what they want in terms of the "right" answer.

The upshot, Q 49 V 50 Total 780.

I guess that's a relatively high score but it's interesting to me that as well as I understand the math, I didn't really have enough time to do all the questions. Lately, after the test, I have noticed how I burn time on math questions by reading things over and over and by letting myself bog down in other ways. Also, while I had gotten myself to be an expert in concepts like permutations and probability, there were less sophisticated question types for which I had barely prepared.

On the verbal, I guess those ones I was not sure of got me. Truth is I didn't spend that much time preparing for the verbal section, and as some say, you can be unsatisfied with the score on your stronger section if you don't prepare for it well. Since taking the test I have done some more work on verbal and already I am clearer on some things. So my takeaway is don't get cocky with the preparation on your strong section, even if it can be tedious because you already mostly get it. You can to a degree figure out where you might be weak in the strong section and tighten that up. Having said that, sometimes on the tougher verbal questions the right answer is really a tough call, no matter how much one might have prepared. Since taking the test I have noticed on Beat the GMAT a couple of resources that seem geared toward addressing just that. I will probably check them out.

There is one more general thing to address. There is no partial credit on the GMAT and essentially the GMAT is about seeing how many questions one can get right. So maybe in addition to learning concepts, developing skill in getting to answers and figuring out how to do problems quickly and efficiently, there is another key aspect of rocking the GMAT. That aspect is not making errors. So having that aspect in mind as I did practice questions and playing the test a bit like a video game where the object is to not blow up have composed a key part of my strategy.

So that's my story, and in the process of preparing for and taking the test I feel as if I learned lessons that I and anyone else can use to do better.

(Note: Partly by using what I learned from this test experience, I succeeded in scoring 800 on the next official GMAT I took.

Here my debrief for that test. http://www.beatthegmat.com/rocked-the-gmat-scored-800-q51-v51-via-meditation-t282365.html

Here's an interview I did in which we talked about what I did to prepare and to maximize test day performance. http://www.beatthegmat.com/mba/2015/05/24/gmat-geniuses-real-life-success-strategies-qa-with-marty-murray)



Last edited by Marty Murray on Mon Oct 26, 2015 5:30 am; edited 11 times in total

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Hi Marty Murray,

A 780 is an exceptional score, and it's a remarkable accomplishment. You sound almost disappointed though, so I'm curious about a couple of things:

1) What schools are you planning to apply to?
2) After scoring 740 on that first practice CAT, why didn't you take the GMAT then?

Regardless, congratulations - you've performed at a level that most Test Takers will never reach. This score should open up a number of options for you, including scholarships.

GMAT assassins aren't born, they're made,
Rich

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Rich.C@EMPOWERgmat.com wrote:
Hi Marty Murray,

A 780 is an exceptional score, and it's a remarkable accomplishment. You sound almost disappointed though, so I'm curious about a couple of things:

1) What schools are you planning to apply to?
2) After scoring 740 on that first practice CAT, why didn't you take the GMAT then?

Hi Rich.

I am not planning to apply to any schools. Rather, I have been involved in tutoring and GMAT prep and want to get more into it. So I decided to take the test myself.

That also mostly explains why I didn't take the test after scoring 740 on that first practice CAT. That score might be plenty for getting into a school. Beyond the challenge of doing better just for the sake of it, I wanted a higher score for some cred in the GMAT coaching scene.

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Congratulations on a great score. Thanks for a great de-brief.

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Although this is an 'old post' (since you obliterated it the second time - and congrats for that!), I was wondering how you structured your study sessions:

Did you just devote a week to cover a topic (maybe 1 week doing DS/PS, next week working on CR), or perhaps 3 days working on one type of problem? if you could please elaborate, it would be really helpful.

I found very interesting the way you broke down the test in its entirety and worked each part individually until you familiarized yourself with what was being tested.

Also, did you keep an error log? how did you analyze your mistakes? how did you practice timing?

I personally am at a point where I need to strategize - my first approach was completely wrong and plan to write off that investment...

Thanks in advance if you happen to come across this post and decide to answer.

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banker_tiago wrote:
Although this is an 'old post' (since you obliterated it the second time - and congrats for that!), I was wondering how you structured your study sessions:

Did you just devote a week to cover a topic (maybe 1 week doing DS/PS, next week working on CR), or perhaps 3 days working on one type of problem? if you could please elaborate, it would be really helpful.

I found very interesting the way you broke down the test in its entirety and worked each part individually until you familiarized yourself with what was being tested.

Also, did you keep an error log? how did you analyze your mistakes? how did you practice timing?

I personally am at a point where I need to strategize - my first approach was completely wrong and plan to write off that investment...

Thanks in advance if you happen to come across this post and decide to answer.
Toward the beginning I was not so good at and a little leery of DS, as many people are when they start. So I did DS problems one after the other for maybe four days to a week until I was comfortable with them.

Other than that I spent anywhere from one to three days' study time on each quant problem type. Generally I would start out not wanting to see problems of a type, and then after that one to three days I would have become pretty comfortable with that type. During those days, in addition to using GMAT prep focused resources, I used any other resources necessary for deep diving into topics so that I would really get how all the moving parts worked.

I did not keep an error log, although maybe doing so would have helped. What I did do was develop a good sense of what problems I kinda hated seeing. The more I felt sick just seeing a type, the more I needed to work on that type.

In addition to errors, the other thing that matters is time to answer. For instance, maybe I would get overlapping sets problems right, but they would take me way over two minutes to complete. That alone was killing my timing. So time to answer was another signal I used to determine what to work on.

Another thing that was killing my timing was making little "careless" mistakes. Even if I got a problem right eventually, having to go back and figure out where I had gone wrong could take much extra time. Maybe an error log would have helped me notice this and maybe it would not have. I really became aware of this about a week or two before my second test, after I did some meditation on efficiency and doing things right the first time.

To practice timing, I didn't necessarily seek to do problems in two minutes all the time. Quite the contrary. Sometimes I would spend 40 minutes or more on one problem or even go to bed with a problem incomplete and wake up the next day to keep working on it. The idea of that is to get used to hacking my way to answers whatever it takes. Sure, if I had no idea how to do something I might go to the explanation, but if I understood the concepts necessary for answering something, then I preferred to just go at it until I saw a path to an answer, because that's what I knew I would have to do when taking the actual test.

So to practice timing, I was conscious of the time it was taking me to do problems, and I sought to get faster until I was getting them done in the allotted time. I would do problems with two criteria in mind. I was pretty satisfied when I got a problem right, and I was fist pump satisfied when I got one right and got it done in under two minutes.

One thing that I found really useful, for quant only, was a BellCurves practice account. Their thousands of questions are broken into many categories and only toward the end of my preparation did I notice that the categories I had not worked on were the ones that were giving me trouble on the test. Their questions are not always of the highest quality and the explanations range from great to totally nuts, but somehow that question bank is really useful.

On verbal timing was not really an issue, but on quant it was. So another thing I did was take quant only CATs a few times. That helped too.

I didn't have much structure to my verbal preparation. Mostly I just did a bunch of questions of each type. Then for SC, I noticed each time I didn't know a rule or something they test and I deep dived into that topic. Also, if I missed a verbal question I would always look at it again and see how I could have gotten it right, even without knowing one more thing.

I find that people preparing for verbal often get way too deep into learning strategies for answering questions. What you really need to rock verbal is vision. You need to get used to seeing details and to seeing the logic of what's going on. No amount of learning strategies is going to teach you that. Once a guy asked me after he had gotten a CR question wrong what strategy he needed to get it right. I said something along the lines of, "If you cannot tell that there is no way that x is possible if y is the case, then there is no strategy I can show you that is going to make a difference."

So for verbal I mostly just hacked question after question and figured out how to get right answers. When I didn't get them, there was generally something I hadn't noticed. So, in addition to learning some key SC concepts, my focus was on getting better at noticing things. My verbal prep was not as structured as my quant prep, though in the beginning I did spend something like a week on CR, and a few days on RC.

After I had learned how to handle a question type, I would often circle back weeks later to review that type some more, make sure I really understood it, and maybe learn a few more things about it.

That's pretty much it. Feel free to ask for any other details you could use.

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Thank you so much for your reply.

Your feedback is very valuable.

To throw a little background, I took the GMAT last Saturday and got a 510. I tried my luck, but deep down I really knew I was not ready - which showed on test day (regardless of a mistake a made during a break that almost cost me the test itself, but cost me like 15mins in quant).

After that experience, I feel like a general that is preparing for another impending battle: I am aware of my enemy, I am aware of the main terrains where we will wage battle (AWA, IR, Quant, Verbal), and I am aware of what I need to do - understand... practicing won't suffice if I don't understand what the test maker is trying to do - ways in which my enemy would try to trick me, or ways to 'attack' me (using its basic concepts) in such a way that disguises what would actually be a very simple calculation, interpretation, or both.

As I critically think how to best devise a strategy in order to really work on 'fortifying' my offense, I have to develop a warchest - as another GMAT killer in this site quite remarkably described using military analogies, borrowing content from Sun Tzu.

Before the warchest, my goal: 750+ (with all due respect, if you did it, I also can)
Quant focus since I plan to apply to quant schools for a career in finance.

Warchest - as it stands:

OG review 12 (tried to take GMAT a couple of years ago, but did not do it)
OG Quant 2015
PR 1037 practice questions
PR Math Workout
PR Verbal Workout

I have access to Kaplan (since I used its resources) until the 23/24th of May, and perhaps I either underutilized it, or perhaps did not use it as I should have (thoughts?)...
I am debating whether to get the most recent OG - will it be necessary?

For CATs:

I plan to access MGMAT, since I have read in several posts here that their CATs are somewhat skewed towards Quant. In addition to MGMAT, I plan to access GMATPrep CATs, since after doing some research here, are the closest thing to the actual GMAT (any others?).

Given my desire to focus on Quant, I am interested in the Bellcurve Question bank you mentioned to add to my warchest...can you please also advise where to get it? I visited the website, but it was not very clear.

I still have left to structure the execution of this, since I just don't want to start without being able to follow a specific strategy. I definitely want to start with Quant, and will follow your footsteps and do DS first...did you just do DS in general, or did you break the section down by topics (geom, algebra, Numb. Prop, etc.?)

- Sun Tzu said (point 26. in Laying Plans): '...the general who wins a battle makes many calculations in his temple where the battle is fought. The general who loses a battle makes but few calculations beforehand...thus, do many calculations lead to victory and few calculations to defeat...'

I already made few calculations once, underestimated my enemy, and lost one battle...I will not lose again!

Thank you for the feedback provided by now, and thank you in advance for any additional thoughts...

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On test day, another thing to be careful not to do is lingering on the instructions beyond the time given for them. The extra time will be deducted from your test time.

To get to the BellCurves question bank, open a practice account. Click on GMAT then Self Study then Free Practice Account, on the left.

When I practiced DS, mostly I just did a bunch of DS questions from the OG and pretty much all of the DS questions in the Veritas question bank. In neither case did I break them down into topic areas, nor was it possible. Working on specific topic areas is not a bad idea if you have a resource you can use that has that functionality.

By the way, the Veritas CATs are pretty good too, and there's a free one, in case you want to get someone else's take on the test.

You say you are going to focus on quant. All the same, you can rock verbal too. For one thing, you should be able to learn to get pretty much every CR question right, and SC is more logic based these days too. Hmm. Basically V45 - V51 is more doable than people seem to realize.

Also, maybe you can get some ideas from this. http://infinitemindprep.com/raising-your-gmat-score-by-finding-ways-to-put-points-on-the-board/

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Thanks so much for your reply and your suggestions...duly noted.

Also, thanks for sharing the post...that was very insightful and will keep it in mind during my prep...

Santi

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Hi Marty -

Execution starts tomorrow and I selected my materials:

OG2015
OG Quant 2015
BellCurve (QB)
Veritas (QB)

My question is:

I don't know if I should just jump from one and the other, or if I just focus on 1 source per week.

Meaning: This week, I will focus on OG Quant...next week, veritas...following week, OG2015...and then BellCurve...

I like your approach of DS first and then refine the others later...

I also want to include verbal in the strategy...

Could you please provide some insight as to a suggested way of structuring my studies...?

I plan to focus on Quant first, since I want to apply to quant heavy schools...

Your feedback (or anyone else's for that matter) is greatly appreciated.

Santi

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It's not really about the source.

It's about topics.

You took the test already. I suspect you have some sense of what you are good at and what you are not as good at.

So rather than being too concerned about sources, be concerned about topics.

Start with a topic that you are not so good at and learn it inside out. Then go to another topic.

Some resources are better for this than others are.

Having said that, if you want to start with DS, I guess you do need to start with resources that allow DS breakout.

So in that case, ok fine, work with the OG, OG Quant and with the Veritas Question Bank, and stick with one source at a time.

All the same, once you have done that general DS work, you should have a clearer sense of what quant topics are difficult for you. Then you can do topic focused work.

Doing topic focused work works well for a few reasons, including its providing many opportunities, one after the other, to apply certain concepts. That way you really get to learn about and come to understand all the angles of a topic.

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Thanks a lot Marty -

It's game time!

I will come back periodically to update the community.

Santi

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Greetings all -

So after some studying (started with OG quant 2015 doing just DS), I came across the Awesome Error Log made by Spoilt & Trianglock (excellent tool guys and I highly recommend it - don't know how the mods feel about posting links leading to other GMAT forums but a quick google search will lead you to it).

After some 50 questions worked - all times, with TV on, public places, etc (the more distractions the better), I started identifying the areas where I could improve my concept understanding, or perhaps where my timing is off - also, as per Marty's great suggestion - I would sometimes let the clock run until I arrived at the answer.

In logging my errors, I usually keep track of where the problem is, date, my answer, how I felt (defaults = know, 50/50, don't know), time, concept tested, sub topic, comments (combo used to test you - eg. Inequalities using variables), correct answer, right/wrong, why wrong. However, even though I have been keeping track of every single problem I do, I usually log the result right after I finish the problem. Should I just do a set of maybe 10 and do the logging, checking the mistakes, or perhaps one by one is the way to go?

I know people generally have different study habits, but I feel that one is able to discern several patterns among different test takers to find some sort of common ground on which to build.

Feedback is greatly appreciated.

Kindly,

Santi

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Doing sets of questions is different psychologically from doing one at a time.

Sometimes, especially when working on a topic one is not that familiar with, it can make sense to do one or two at a time. Sometimes it's ok to do five or ten at a time, and the experience of doing sets is more like the experience of the actual test.

So I say mix it up. Sometimes do one at a time. Sometimes do sets of four, five, ten, whatever.

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Hi Marty,

I want to score high to get into one of the top B schools. I will be starting my preparation in Jan-Feb 2016 and appear for GMAT in June. Now after going through a lot of these forums I am thinking of using Manhattan strategy guides (10 books pack) and the Official guide review for my preparation. I will be adopting a self study approach since I am more comfortable with that apart from the fact that it will be hard for me to enrol in a full time course given my professional commitments. Kindly give your feedback on the above (including the study material) and emphasise more on how to use this study material effectively to get the maximum results I.e. Targeting a score around 750.

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