First attempt: 740 (Q48, V42)

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First attempt: 740 (Q48, V42)

by pg19 » Mon Nov 14, 2016 7:33 am
Hi all,

I recently took the GMAT and scored a 740: Q48, V42, IR 6, AWA 5.5. I feel as if it is only fair to share my experience, as I relied on countless debriefs myself during my preparation. I studied for the test over the course of roughly 4 months with sporadic breaks along the way. Fair warning to those looking for Verbal guidance: I did not prep for verbal at all besides reviewing CAT mistakes. My approach was unstructured, and I think trying to convey it in this medium would do more harm than good.


I began my prep by taking GMAT Prep 1 completely blind, as in, "huh...I don't remember how to do long division," or, "circles have something to do with pi because pies are circular?" blind, and scored 580: Q35/V35. I knew from the outset Quant would give me trouble, and after doing some research I settled on the Manhattan series study guides. I found the content of these study guides very comprehensive. However, very importantly, I found them lacking in terms of test-day strategy.

After finishing the Manhattan Quant guides I took a Manhattan CAT and scored a 690: Q35, V45. While I was excited to score in the 700 area, I was confused by the fact that all of my Quant prep had increased my verbal performance while leaving Quant untouched!?

Frustrated, I began searching around Google and quickly stumbled upon GMAT Club (and later Beat the GMAT!). This website is an indispensable resource, but only if used in the correct way. I downloaded the GMAT Club Math Book, and subconsciously became convinced that my Quant success would be determined by the depth of my bag of little tricks and shortcuts. It was at this point that I made my most fundamental preparation mistake: I started to treat the Quant section as a math test. Despite investing vastly disproportionate time into Quant prep, my quant score was only increasing at a rate of about 1 point a week. In contrast, I began scoring V51 on CATs early in my prep without any formal studying (in hindsight perhaps a little structured study would have let me eliminate some test-day variability). There was clearly something wrong with my approach. I understood the concepts with perfect clarity, at least from a theoretical level. At this point in my prep I was consistently scoring in the 680-760 level on practice CATs, depending on my verbal performance. I distinctly remember Q44 as an incredibly frustrating plateau. With a month left before test day, I knew I had to take a risk and make a big change in my Quant prep.

After reading through several 700+ debriefs, I noticed the use of online platforms as a common trend. I isolated three companies as contenders: EMPOWER, e-GMAT, and Magoosh. EMPOWER caught my eye because during practice I had often noticed Rich's solutions as unique. Many of the experts on GMAT Club tend to provide solutions that are crisp, precise, and efficient. However, most rely on relatively arcane mathematical principles that, in my opinion, are dangerous to rely on in the test day environment. Rich's solutions, in contrast, focused on identifying the underlying patterns upon which individual questions were structured. Quite frankly, I chose EMPOWER because it seemed to offer an approach that significantly contrasted with my approach at the time.
As I progressed through Rich's lessons I was surprised by the comparative lack of specific content: "But if I don't know both formulas for three-overlapping-sets problems how can I make sure I get it right??" However, I took the leap of faith and obediently incorporated every single strategy into my prep. Boom. Q47. In about three weeks using EMPOWER I had roughly doubled my incremental progress. Unfortunately my test day came slightly too soon. I am convinced that if I had another week or two using EMPOWER, I could have hit Q50. EMPOWER is powerful because it first teaches you that the GMAT is not a math test. Then it teaches you how to ruthlessly exploit that fact.

In hindsight, my hubris in preparing for this exam was pride. It took a very long time for me to stop being a hero and trying to do work in my head. Most importantly, I learned that the easy/mid-level questions are where you earn your points. Unless you can consistently hit Q48, don't even think about diving in to those super hard concepts. I probably spent 20+ hours studying 800-level topics that I never saw on the test.

Test Day

My test-day experience was an absolute BLOODBATH. The testing center must have been 85 degrees, and I naturally run hot. Two minutes into AWA I was sweating. IR was harder than GMAT Prep. I botched pacing on Quant a bit and had to run through the last four questions or so. The last question was, no joke: a rectangle has sides 2 and 4, what is the perimeter? At this point I was convinced I would have to retake.

By the time verbal rolled around I'm pretty sure I could have drowned a small mammal in my shirt. I was literally wiping sweat out of my eyes. At some points I felt so dehydrated I could barely even finish a sentence. Also ran into some pacing difficulty here and panicked a bit at the end (interesting point of note: I got every single RC question correct in GMATPrep without any effort...literally. On the real thing the RC passages were far more scattered and the questions far more vague. Maybe it was just a test-day factor).

Final Thoughts

I thought about retaking the test for a while because I know I could score in the 780 range. However, in my mind it's really not worth it. Sure, I could take another few weeks and bump my score by a few notches. However, I think it's important to remember how business schools use the GMAT to assess your application. Once you break 700, schools understand that you have the intellectual horsepower and/or drive necessary to handle the coursework. If you are aiming for a top 5 school and improving from a 720 to a 780 would profoundly impact your application as a whole, then you probably have better ways to invest your time. Just my opinion.

Best of luck to those going through the grind.

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by cubicle_bound_misfit » Mon Nov 14, 2016 12:36 pm
Congrats. I hope if you are planning to go for top 5 B-Schools (HSW+), they wont look at q48 as a weakness.

Could you please point me to EMPOWER and how much does it cost for QUANT ?

I have started reading for GMAT a month ago having scored a 720(Q44, V45) 6 years back ( yes 6 long years!!!)
So any help will be much appreciated.

Cubicle Bound Misfit


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by » Mon Nov 14, 2016 1:47 pm
Hi pg19,

That's OUTSTANDING news! A 740/Q48 is an outstanding score (it's well above the 90th percentile overall), so you can comfortably apply to any Business Schools that interest you! You also seem to understand the value of a strong OVERALL application, which is good. Beyond that point, you also have to make sure that you 'market yourself' correctly to each of the individual Schools that you plan to apply to. You have a GMAT score that will make all of those Schools happy - now you just have to make sure that you properly sell yourself in your applications.

1) When are you planning to apply to Business School?
2) What Schools are you planning to apply to?

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