Debrief - from 420 to 670

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Debrief - from 420 to 670

by stealth87 » Mon Jan 20, 2014 8:13 pm
I hope this post helps others out there.

My scores:

1st GMAT Prep: 420 (after 3 months of studying)
1st Official GMAT exam: 580 (July 2013)
2nd Official GMAT exam: Cancelled my scores (October 2013)
3rd Official GMAT exam: 620 (December 2013)
4th Official GMAT exam: 670 (January 2014)

Studying Materials:

MGMAT study guides
Powerscore CR Bible
Quant Tutor

I struggled with the GMAT. I started studying last February, in 2013, and made some crucial mistakes in my study plan:

1) I did not do practice tests periodically

This decision right here probably crowns me as King Idiot of 2013. I was quite frankly petrified of the GMAT. The first time I actually took the test was in April, after two months of intense study I pulled off an astonishing 420. I literally felt like the dumbest person alive. My fear of this exam was so strong that I avoided taking any other practice exams until I actually took the test on July 25th.

Needless to say, my stamina was way off. When I got to the actual test I scored a 580. I was devastated. I had been studying diligently over 5 months and only managed a mediocre score (according to my standards). I completely froze in the exam, and realized that Quant was my weakness, despite the fact that I work as Investment Banker and make financial models for a living.

2) I went over all the problems in the Official Guide but didn't time myself.

So this was another dumb decision. I realized that I could do most problems and deceived myself into thinking that would translate to total domination on the GMAT. However, I underestimated the psychological effect that the time constraint would have on me. Basically, I approached doing practice problems the wrong way. My focus should have been doing problems in less than 2 minutes.

3) When I finally got to timing myself using the GMAT prep software, I did 2 practice questions at a time and then reviewed the answers.

So my mistakes accrued into one big recipe for failure. I never really built my stamina, and by doing 2 questions at a time, I deceived myself into thinking that my abilities and skills were much better than they actually were, especially under exam conditions.

4) Hired a math tutor

I thought that hiring a renowned quant tutor for the GMAT would make me ace the section. I was sorely mistaken. Now, I don't particularly blame the instructor, so I won't mention his name out of respect. Mostly I believe that I did not benefit from the tutoring, as my style of learning is based more on practicing actual problems than in receiving lectures. Other than that, I hoped that by somehow hiring this quant instructor I would automatically be guaranteed to score higher on the GMAT. Again, deluded thinking, I know. Looking back I just would not hire a math tutor.

5) Did not develop a system to problems until late in the game

So I will expand a bit more on this later, but I do have to point out that I was at a tremendous disadvantage for not having a system on how to break down questions for all the sections in the GMAT. In quant, I immediately resorted to try to plug in numbers to equations I knew or memorized, based on past problems and this was just a horrible approach.

6) Approach to Quant based on plugging numbers to formulas

The #1 reason I struggled so much with Quant was because my general approach to all problems was to just plug numbers into formulas I memorized. I mentioned this on point 5) but this is worth emphasizing, because again it looks blatantly obvious in hindsight, but I didn't see it back when I was studying. Consequently, I kept scoring low on Quant, 35-38. I later learned that this was a totally flawed approach, and the GMAT isn't testing memorization or rote use of formulas, rather it tests how to apply concepts to particular problems, which require a basic understanding of the concepts and what is truly being asked.

7) I underestimated the integrated reasoning and essay sections of the test

In the beginning I took the test lightly, and decided not to study for the essay section and integrated reasoning section. The problem was that when I took the exam, I was out of my depth and spent way too much time and energy on these two sections, that I completely bombed quant and verbal, afterward because I was completely mentally drained.

Ok, having covered most of my crucial mistakes to the GMAT I will now outline what I think helped me to improve my score by 250 points:

1) I finally decided to do practice exams

Like you will see in thousands of posts, here and in other forums, it is pretty much essential to do practice exams. It is the best way to gauge on your actual progress, and work on the weak areas. I used GMAT Focus for quant, to identify the areas I was truly weak on and used the GMAT prep exams only, including the additional 2 exam package that was released in late 2013.

I purchased the MGMAT practice tests, but only did one of those, because I thought that the verbal questions were not an accurate representation of the actual GMAT, and the quant was way harder.

2) I developed a systematic approach to all sections of the exam

I realized that I should spend the least amount of mental energy and stamina for both the essay section and integrated reasoning section. So the only way to do this, was to over prepare for them.

I completed an essay template, and practiced a couple of times, so that I knew the exact structure I would use in the exam. I basically did not have to think much at all, and just typed away. My template allowed me to score 6.0 the last two times I took the GMAT.

For the integrated reasoning section, I set my goal on getting a score above a 5.0. That meant that I would only have to score about 6 of the 12 questions correctly to achieve my goal. So, I practiced a couple of times, and realized that I should focus on the following questions: multi-source prompts, tables and graphs. The other questions I just flat out guessed. I did not even bother to even attempt and answer them. I focused on the ones I knew I would get correct. The result: I went from a 2.0 to a 6.0 in my last exam, and wasted minimal mental energy.

For Quant the #1 resource that helped me develop a systematic approach to questions was the MGMAT Advanced Quant book: ... nced+quant

I recommend that book for one reason alone: it teaches you how to build a systematic approach to quant sections. It is absolutely amazing and simple. I went from scoring 35-36, to scoring 44-46 on quant by following the principles laid out in that book.

For verbal, my weakest area was Critical Reasoning. I went over MGMAT guide, and the PowerScore guide, but I still struggled with the section. I got to a point where I realized I just wasn't going to score any higher, so I focused on perfecting sentence correction and reading comprehension. I got really good at sentence correction and really enjoyed it the most, frankly because it was the easiest for me. The MGMAT guide is the best source out there for sentence correction. I bought the GMAT Pill package, but found it to be subpar.

3) Test Anxiety

At one point I scored a 710 on my practice exams. I was completely calm and relaxed when I did the exam, and I noticed that test anxiety did subtract about 50-70 points from my score. So, I decided to seek help. My test anxiety was just abnormal. I would panic and freeze when I took the GMAT the first two times, and would feel absolutely depressed afterwards. I put so much pressure because I know how important the GMAT score is to get into a top MBA program. So, about 3 days before I took the GMAT for the third time, I went to a psychiatrist. She immediately noticed my anxiety, especially because I was extremely jittery and hadn't slept well because the exam was coming up. She prescribed some medicine to help me ease off and calm my nerves.

I have to say it was one of the best decisions I made, and should have done that sooner. There is no shame in seeking help, especially if you feel you are under a lot of stress and anxiety. It made a world of difference for me, and can only speculate as to how my studying could have improved had I taken the meds before. On test day, I took some beta-blockers as prescribed by the doctor, and I was completely calm and relaxed. This played no small role in my final score of 670, because I did not study at all for the exam since the third time I had taken it. My score basically increased 50 points, based on addressing my anxiety issues.

That was my GMAT report. I can only empathize with those who are struggling with the exam. Single handedly it has been the most challenging exam I have ever completed in my life. It can be disheartening to read the many 700 debriefs in the forums if you are nowhere near that score. However, I just want to put it out there, that no matter how hard the exam is for you, there is a way for you to achieve your target score. It involves a huge time commitment of course. But, at the end of the day, you have to figure out what truly works out for you. That is what I did, despite making tons of crucial mistakes. I may not have got a 700, but I am happy with my final score.

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by Gator1214 » Tue Jan 21, 2014 10:32 am
Congrats on your success! Well deserved.

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by jajcanka77 » Tue Jan 28, 2014 8:34 pm
Thanks for sharing! This was much needed. Congrats!!


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by [email protected] » Thu Jan 30, 2014 8:13 am
Excellent debrief, stealth87 - this will inspire a lot of students.

My favorite piece of advice is below:
stealth87 wrote:
1) I finally decided to do practice exams

Like you will see in thousands of posts, here and in other forums, it is pretty much essential to do practice exams. It is the best way to gauge on your actual progress, and work on the weak areas.
Very true!! Plus, it's important to note that the GMAT is a test of your math and verbal skills AND it's a test of your test-taking skills (endurance, time management, anxiety reduction, etc.), and taking practice tests is the only way to improve in this area.

Brent Hanneson - Creator of

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by Nadia222 » Mon Feb 03, 2014 7:05 am
Congrats, I plan on purchasing the GMAt diagnostic tool too.
Last edited by Nadia222 on Mon Feb 03, 2014 12:41 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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by hutch27 » Mon Feb 03, 2014 11:21 am
My favorite parts of the post
There is no shame in seeking help, especially if you feel you are under a lot of stress and anxiety.
My score basically increased 50 points, based on addressing my anxiety issues.
Great job, man! I'm happy for you!