A Story of Persistence - 740 (3 Years and 3 Attempts)

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I've been a long-time lurker on this forum and always dreamed of writing my own debrief of a successful GMAT attempt to give something back to this community that was so helpful over the course of my studies. The time has finally come: here's my story.

I'm a European non-native English speaker working in consulting. My GMAT preparation started back in 2010 and I have since attempted the GMAT three times. For each attempt I invested approximately 400 hours of self study time. Yes, I really wanted that 720+ score badly as I'm targeting the top 10 U.S. schools and wanted to at least hit the average of those schools.

2013: 740 (Q45 / V47 / AWA 5.5 / IR 7)
2012: 690 (Q45 / V38 / AWA 5.0)
2010: 610 (Q39 / V35 / AWA 5.0)

Looking back it truly was an exhausting experience but I never gave up and it eventually paid off. The following quote by Thomas Edison (which I picked up while browsing these forums) really helped me to keep up my motivation. I printed it out and put it up on my wall:

"Many of life's failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up."

The GMAT tends to punish those who want it the most. From my personal experience, the beast can best be tamed by one putting equal emphasis on each of the following four aspects:

1. Theory and Concepts (25%)
2. High Quality Practice (25%)
3. Time Management (25%)
4. Coping with Anxiety (25%)


Every individual is different, some people might not have any trouble with anxiety and others might feel the need to put more emphasis on theory and concepts. Nevertheless, I would advise anyone to keep these four aspects in mind throughout his/her preparation and fine-tune whenever needed.

Let me elaborate on each of these aspects and show you the respective approaches that I believe work best, some under the assumption that you have sufficient time to devote to studying (3 months or more if you work full-time).

1. Theory and Concepts


Two words suffice: Manhattan GMAT. Nothing beats the "MGMAT Complete Strategy Guide Set" (10 books) when it comes to theory and concepts. I supplemented this set with "MGMAT Math Foundations", "MGMAT Advanced GMAT Quant" and "Aristotle SC Grail 3rd Edition".

In hindsight, I was well prepared for each of my attempts regarding the theory and concepts of the test as I made only slight adjustments to the study materials. I simply went over and over the materials to grasp all the nuances of the test and to not forget anything (don't stretch your study period out too far!).

2. High Quality Practice

There are tons of sources for practice out there but you should make the most of your study time and therefore focus on the highest quality materials. Official GMAC materials obviously lead the list of sources with high quality questions. For practice questions I would recommend to pick up the following and to maintain an error log:

- Official Guide for GMAT Review 13th Edition
- GMAT Prep Question Pack 1.0 (probably closest to the actual GMAT in both Quant and Verbal)
- GMAT Verbal Review (optional)
- GMAT Quantitative Review (optional)

When it comes to CATs, take them under real testing conditions. If you get easily distracted, take one or two tests in a library in order to get used to the feeling of having people around you while taking the GMAT. I personally believe the following to be the best sources for practice tests:

- GMAT Prep 2.0 (Quant, very similar to actual test / Verbal, a little too easy)
- MGMAT Cats (Quant, more calculation intensive than actual test / Verbal, a little too easy)
- GMAT Club Tests (Quant, brutal but really force you to pay attention to details, don't put too much emphasis on the score)

3. Time Management

My score increase from 690 to 740 can be mostly attributed to optimized time management. The following approach worked for me: in general, hide the clock but check your timing position every 5 questions. If your timing is off by 3 or more minutes, take action as soon as possible to correct your timing, e.g. an educated guess or a random guess on a weakness question. Memorizing the following timing table helped me tremendously on test day.

Image

Why is it so crucial to manage your timing on the GMAT properly? The reason is simple: if you fall behind on time you will start to feel rushed. Your brain is usually not able to function with the same level of efficiency and thoroughness when this feeling sets in. The same is true with regard to anxiety, but more on that in the next section.

4. Coping with Anxiety

Many people underestimate this aspect when it comes to the GMAT. I never experienced test anxiety in school or college but I sure did before and during the GMAT, even in my third attempt. For the most part it was my own fault because I put too much meaning on this test. Certainly, going into the third attempt, knowing that my 690 would still give me a shot at good schools relaxed me somewhat, but the best piece of advice came from MGMAT's GMAT Roadmap: Don't let outside motivators affect your performance on test day. If you go into the test worrying that you need to score above 700 to get into a great business school or that you really want to tell your friends the good news of a superb score then you lose focus. Pro athletes don't continuously worry about how their performance during the first game of the season will affect their chances of winning the championship. You have to be in the moment and focus on the question in front of you - nothing else. Drown out that voice in your head.

Moreover, don't tell anyone your test date and if possible, stop by the testing center a couple of days before the actual test to familiarize yourself with the location. This will help to take some pressure off your back.

Concluding Remarks

Don't let the GMAT become a daunting experience. You have to enjoy at least some parts of the journey, otherwise you won't be able to keep up your motivation. Make sure that you continue to do things that you enjoy throughout your studies such as working out or meeting with friends.

Furthermore, browsing through these forums, one could easily get the impression that pretty much everyone strolls into this test and scores a 720+ on the first attempt. Sure, some people do, but fact is that most don't. I was always more inspired by people who first got beat by the GMAT but who worked relentlessly until they reached their goal.

When that 740 showed up on the screen, I knew that it was all worth it.

Time to move on to the next steps in the journey.
Last edited by Gshine on Sun Apr 28, 2013 7:59 am, edited 3 times in total.

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by charu_mahajan » Sun Apr 28, 2013 7:20 am
Love your debrief !! Kudos and Congratulations :)

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by reylo11 » Sun Apr 28, 2013 7:44 am
Man...what a great story. You really put me back on track. I am also using MGMAT guides (all of them) but I have a question about these guides.

As soon as I finish with one guide I start doing some exercises from OG 13th edition that appear in the last page, but they are too much, then, I continue with another guide and do the same thing. I know this is a good way the go but it is endless. How do you studied regarding this?

I have all the official guides for both Q and V and I am planning on doing all of the exercises form those guides as well. I am also a non native speaker having trouble with the Verbal section..

Thank you and I am sure you´ll be in the school you want. That`s a great score you got..

My best
Reylo11

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by Gshine » Mon Apr 29, 2013 12:40 pm
Thanks a lot guys, I really appreciate it! I'm glad that my post proves helpful for you.

With regard to the MGMAT Guides, I experienced the same problem: You go through one guide after another and by the end of the 6th guide you have forgotten many things from the 1st guide and once you're through the entire set you could basically just start over. This is especially true if you work full-time and can't devote more than 1 to 2 hours to studying during the week.

The way I dealt with this problem was by taking notes. I summarized each of the guides in 10 to 20 pages. I think it still makes sense to go through some of the guides twice, for example the one on Sentence Correction. Notes on each of the guides will make it less cumbersome to repeat and memorize all of the concepts. This is true for any book.

The large increase in my Verbal score in my last attempt was mainly due to keeping my composure. I always had very high Verbal scores in my mocks but because of increased stress during the actual test, fatigue set in halfway through the Verbal section in my earlier attempts.

In order to master the Verbal section, I'd just stick to what is recommended in the MGMAT guides:

CR

- Know the different question types.
- Always read the question first.
- Take notes and highlight the conclusion.
- Work from wrong to right.

SC

- Scan the responses vertically and find the splits.
- Try to solve easy questions within 45 seconds and don't use more than 90 seconds.
- Don't second-guess yourself.
- Work from wrong to right.

RC

- No matter how boring the passage is, you need to tell yourself that those are the most interesting lines you've ever come across in your life.
- Read articles on science topics in Scientific American, Harvard Magazine etc.
- Pay close attention to the beginning of a passage, especially if it's a long one.
- Summarize each paragraph with one short sentence.

Best of luck!
GShine

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by bpolley00 » Mon Apr 29, 2013 1:16 pm
Great debrief. Congratulations! :)

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by mrigank_bhushan » Tue Apr 30, 2013 8:16 am
Bookmarked! Its that good.

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by surendarkc » Tue Apr 30, 2013 8:39 am
Awesome debrief !

Which material are you referring to for the below comment ? Is it Manhattan or OG ?

GMAT Prep 2.0 (Quant, very similar to actual test / Verbal, a little too easy) :arrow: :arrow: :arrow:

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by Gshine » Tue Apr 30, 2013 10:08 am
GMAT Prep 2.0 is the official software from GMAC that you can download on mba.com.

Best,
Gshine

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by voodoo_child » Tue Apr 30, 2013 11:32 am
Congrats! v38 to 48 is awesome. What material did you use for verbal? Any tips on that? I have already exhausted GMATpreps. Appreciate if you could also talk about tests etc. Appreciate detailed reply! :)

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by celavi » Tue Apr 30, 2013 6:55 pm
What a great brief!

Your post is very helpful to me. I'm a full time employee with very tight schedules everyday. I just finished my first GMAT attempt but the score was pretty bad. I have reviewed my study plan and found that my issues are just as those that you summarised. Now I'm starting to prepare my next attempt. I'll think about your suggestions and make a 400 hours study plan for my next exam.

Hope all your best in the future. Enjoy your journey.

Best Regards,
Celavi

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by Gshine » Wed May 01, 2013 4:54 am
voodoo_child wrote:Congrats! v38 to 48 is awesome. What material did you use for verbal? Any tips on that? I have already exhausted GMATpreps. Appreciate if you could also talk about tests etc. Appreciate detailed reply! :)
For SC I used Aristotle's SC Grail 3rd Edition and MGMAT's SC Guide. The SC Grail is sufficient if you want to cover all of the major aspects but if you truly want to master SC I recommend you pick up the MGMAT SC Guide as well. When you work on practice questions, make sure that you understand why each of the incorrect answers is wrong before you move on to the next question.

For CR I used the MGMAT CR Guide but I also heard only good things about PowerScore's CR Bible. CR is probably the hardest area to improve on in GMAT Verbal. As mentioned earlier, knowing the different question types is key.

For RC I once again used the MGMAT Guide but it's one of the weaker books in the set. Many non-native speakers struggle with RC because they simply take too long to read and understand the passage. That's why it's crucial to read as many articles from quality sources as you can over the months leading up to the test.

For Verbal practice questions I suggest you only practice with official questions from GMAC.

Over the course of my studies I also took a ton of mock tests and had pretty much used up all good resources by the end of my second attempt. Here are my mock scores from the last attempt. I had a couple of repeated questions on each of these tests though:

MGMAT CAT 1, 670 Q43/V38 (without any practice)
GMAT Prep 1 (1st), 770 Q49/V48
GMAT Prep 2 (1st), 770 Q50/V46
GMAT Prep 1 (2nd), 760 Q49/V45
GMAT Prep 2 (2nd), 770 Q50/V45
Last edited by Gshine on Wed May 01, 2013 5:10 am, edited 1 time in total.

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by Gshine » Wed May 01, 2013 5:09 am
celavi wrote:What a great brief!

Your post is very helpful to me. I'm a full time employee with very tight schedules everyday. I just finished my first GMAT attempt but the score was pretty bad. I have reviewed my study plan and found that my issues are just as those that you summarised. Now I'm starting to prepare my next attempt. I'll think about your suggestions and make a 400 hours study plan for my next exam.

Hope all your best in the future. Enjoy your journey.

Best Regards,
Celavi
Thanks!

I once read that people who score 700 or more on the GMAT put in around 120h of study time on average. While this might work for many, it wasn't enough for me to get ready for the test.

There is no blueprint on how much time one should invest. Some people nail this test with 100h, some with 200h and so on. Just make sure that you don't get burned out if you decide to invest a substantial amount of time, that you consistently hit your target score in your mock tests before your actual test and that you feel ready when test day arrives.

Best,
Gshine

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by edufortune » Thu May 02, 2013 9:41 pm
Congratulations- your story is very inspiring and motivating.
There is a lot to learn from it.

Good luck with the apps.

Regards,
Edufortune.
https://www.facebook.com/Edufortune2020
Twitter: @Edufortune

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by Gshine » Mon Oct 20, 2014 3:01 am
So finally, one and a half years after my GMAT debrief, my B-School application journey has ended with an acceptance to the Class of 2017 of Columbia Business School - my top choice.

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by gautamkumar » Thu Nov 20, 2014 7:36 pm
Congrats on you success. These stories only inspire me to look beyond my 600s and try again.

One quick observation though, it seems for a non English speaker your verbal scores were always high and getting into 99%ile was only a matter of time. However, your initial scores were considerably lower in quants.can you put some more light on your quants preparation? Specially,as I am also using Manhattan guides. My approach is that I will do their foundation book first and then move to either Manhattan or Veritas books. Also please tell how you landed a job in Consulting as they like people with very high quantitative skills.