From 620 to 760 -- I OWNED the GMAT

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From 620 to 760 -- I OWNED the GMAT

by myohmy » Mon May 18, 2009 9:09 pm
Hey guys!

I'm fairly delirious right now since I just got back from my test. I am SO excited, but I will do my best to write a coherent debrief.

A little background
I am a rising senior at a well respected liberal arts college in the U.S. I'm an English major, and I haven't taken a math class since high school. In fact, I took AP Calc AB in high school and scored a 3 on the exam, and dropped the class because I was flunking. I also failed geometry in high school. So quant is DEFINITELY not my strong suit and I am far from a quant jock. While I may have gone in with some advantage in verbal, I was definitely lacking when it came to basic quant skills.

First GMAT preparation experience
My adventure with the GMAT began last September when I stumbled across the Harvard 2+2 program (I'm a rising senior in college). When I read what they were looking for in an applicant I realized that those qualifications described me to a tee. Even though I'm an English major, I've known I wanted to go into marketing for a while now, so this seemed like a great opportunity. HBS requires to GMAT, but since I did well on the SAT, I figured that was no biggie. Little did I know...

I planned to take the test in February to allow adequate time for a retake in case I did poorly, but honestly, I wasn't that worried. Because my school is in a rural location, there were no in person GMAT classes I could attend, so in December, I signed up for the Princeton Review's online course.

I started the course a few days before New Year's, and took my diagnostic practice test. To my dismay, I scored a ridiculously poor 480 on my PR diagnostic CAT. That got me pretty worried, but I figured, I didn't understand the format of the test, it would be better next time.

Well, throughout the month of January, my scores on CATs improved until I was consistently scoring in the high 600s, which was encouraging, but not necessarily where I wanted to be. (I'll note that I was also taking a full courseload while prepping and my test date fell around the same time as the first round of tests, so I was pretty busy leading up to it.)

The materials I used prior to my first exam:

- Princeton Review GMAT Online Course
Because I chose not to have a course with a live component, this course provided lessons through the Princeton Review website. I would log into the student center, watch/click through a recorded lesson, do a drill and finish the homework. This course was great in terms of getting my basics back up to snuff - because I'm not a quant person, test taking strategies like plugging in/using the answers were invaluable since it took me a lot longer to figure out the quant algebraically. The course is nice in that it gives you a broad mix of stuff to do each week, rather than focusing only on one thing (when I do this, everything else gets worse -- I have to keep doing a little of everything to get better at one thing and not get worse in all the others). They sent me a proposed schedule, which I stuck to. They also offer 5 CATs (the 5th is optional but I did it) so it is definitely possible to prepare well this way. While I found the PR math CATs representative of the test, their lessons did not focus much on advanced math, so I found that it was difficult for me to get the 700+ level questions right. It was also very helpful because they evaluate each essay you do, usually with a <24/hr turnaround. They provide suggestions to improve as well, which definitely helped me realize exactly what the GMAT was looking for in the essay score. Overall, I would recommend this course, especially if you're just starting out and want to add some structure to your studying.

- Princeton Review Online Student Center
By enrolling in a PR course, you get access to this student center. It's invaluable in terms of the sheer number of problems it allows you to access in the practice section. Beyond the CATs or the actual course materials, the practice section allowed me to do 10 problems in the morning quickly, or if I had some time before my friends came to meet me for dinner, do a quick drill. I cannot recommend PR's practice section enough, and unlike the course material, they do have an advanced math section that is probably at least 780+ --- super hard, and gives you great practice. Granted, I didn't *touch* this section before my first exam.

- Princeton Review Online Problems
This came with the course. It was just a book of problems not available online. I found it kind of lackluster since there was no info on how to solve, etc, just straight problems. It was used primarily for homework and I didn't do much with it.

- OG 11 (orange)
TBH, I really didn't do much with the OG. PR didn't assign much homework in it, and I don't think I realized how valuable it was. I think I did maybe 20 problems total from the OG prior to my first exam.

I took 7 practice tests in total before my first exam in February:
Princeton Review
490 (30V, 29Q)
650 (40V, 40Q)
660 (43V, 39Q)
670 (41V, 42Q)
680 (39V, 45Q)

700 (44Q, 41V)
710 (49Q, 41V)

You can see from above that I was doing pretty well on my tests. I wanted to score 700+ but would have been happy with a 680, honestly. I felt pretty confident that I would end up in this range, and really wasn't that stressed about taking the test.

The First Attempt at the GMAT
Well, the best laid plans and all of that. Three or four days prior to my GMAT I got sick. Not just the sniffles, but really sick. I had a fever, my head hurt, and my voice was completely, 100% gone. Unfortunately, GMAC does not allow you to reschedule the exam within the seven days prior to your test, and frankly, I couldn't afford to throw away that $250. So I pushed through. But it seemed like everything was going wrong.

Not only was I sick, but I had two exams the Monday after my test. I had scheduled it during winter break, electing to take it at 8am Saturday morning since I had classes M-F. The testing center was 45 minutes away, but I figured, I could get up early, no biggie. So the week leading up to my test was stressful at best, since I was constantly exhausted, took two practice CATs, was writing a paper and attempting to study for my exams.

The night before my test, I was really nervous. My voice still hadn't returned and I thought a good night's sleep would help. I crawled into bed around 9pm and stuck in a DVD, hoping to fall asleep to it. But I realized quickly that I really hadn't thought this through well.

I live in a college dorm. It was a Friday night. Directly outside my extremely unsoundproof door there was a HUGE party. Beer pong, music, dancing, puking, the works. Of course, nothing's wrong with partying on a Friday night, but I realized that the noise coupled with my nerves meant I definitely wasn't going to get the sleep I wanted.

That night, I probably conked around three or so (the party was still going strong) and slept fitfully, waking on and off and thinking of quant problems and CR questions, then falling back asleep. I woke up at 6, took a shower, went to Dunkin' Donuts, then headed off to my test, hoping against hope that I would still do okay, even with the lack of sleep.

At the test center, I'm pretty sure they felt sorry for me. I couldn't even say my name out loud to the woman working behind the desk -- I had to write it down. I apologized to her, and she was really sweet. She allowed me to bring my cough drops into the exam, which was a lifesaver.

Once I sat down and finished all the introductory screens, I started on my essay. I was surprised at how strong I felt while finishing the essays. I was comfortable and relaxed and by the end, I was pretty tired so I left to take my break. I think this is where my body started to go downhill and I was just zapped of all the energy left in me. I felt exhausted when I sat down to do the quant section, and extremely worried when I realized the questions were substantially easier than the ones I had been doing in my prep. I also felt REALLY guilty since the testing room was really small and there were several other people taking exams in there with me while I was hacking up a lung. I'm sure they all left sick and were cursing me the entire exam. :wink:

After taking a break and eating an Odwalla bar, I returned to do the verbal section. Here for some reason, I really felt that things had turned around and I was doing better. I felt like I was getting tough passages and CR questions and answering well, so I thought maybe I could make up for some of the issues I'd had in Q in this section.

Then came the moment. My brain was fuzzy and exhausted from the test and I answered all the demographic questions in a daze. It didn't even enter my mind to try and cancel my scores - I honestly didn't think I had done that poorly. So I said that I wanted to see my scores and then... there they were.

620 (40Q, 35V) 6.0 AWA

I think I just sat, slack jawed, staring at the screen for a minute. I could not believe that I had done so poorly - this was lower than EVERYTHING except my original diagnostic. I was in a daze while they checked me out and printed out my score report. I got into my car and immediately burst into tears. I didn't know how I could have done so poorly after feeling like I was so prepared. I think I sat in my car crying for a good twenty minutes before mustering up the energy to drive home. I don't think I've ever felt like more of a failure than I did at that moment. The GMAT had definitely beaten me.

Second GMAT preparation experience

To say I was disheartened at my first GMAT attempt would be an understatement. I didn't want to think, see, hear, feel, or taste GMAT ever again. While my boyfriend tried to keep me on my game by asking me to reschedule, for the better part of the next two months, I pretended that the GMAT didn't exist. The only concession I made to my boyfriend and my mother was rescheduling the exam for May. I did not look at any material between February and April. I focused on school and did well in my courses and extracurriculars and decided that I didn't give a crap about the GMAT.

I came home in mid April knowing that I would need to put some focus into the GMAT before my next attempt. I'm not as organized as many of you so I didn't write down a coherent plan, just had an idea in my head of what needed to get done. Since I don't start my summer internship til' June, I figured I could devote myself wholeheartedly to the GMAT, with nothing else on my plate. I had spent some time in this forum, so I realized the importance of the OG and decided to spend a significant amount of time studying that.

I also was EXTREMELY fortunate to be able to get some private tutoring. PR sent me an email that the office in my town was offering discounted rates ($500 for 5 hours) if I wanted to brush up on my skills. I decided to take advantage of this and met with my PR tutor twice in two weeks.

This go 'round, the materials I used were:

- Princeton Review Private Tutoring
If you have the option to get private tutoring, I really strongly recommend this. It was extremely helpful to me since we were able to go over problems for two and a half hours straight and he was able to "dumb them down" so to speak and help me understand the solutions. He was also really encouraging and gave me some tips on what I should be focusing on (spend more time on geometry instead of permutations/combinations since that shows up more, etc). I honestly do not think I would have done this well without getting private tutoring. I came up with a list of questions before each of our sessions, and we were able to go through a question, or go over the basics of a topic I was still unsure about. We spent most of our time focusing on quant so I don't know how much tutoring can help with verbal.

- Manhattan GMAT CATs
Because I had already taken all the PR CATs, I elected to purchase the MGMAT set of 6 CATs so that I could have a new pool of questions to work with. I took the first before my first tutoring session and scored a 670. I was disappointed but not surprised -- I hadn't taken a CAT in two and half months. MGMAT material is phenomenal - I found their explanations, particularly in verbal, to be easy to follow and understandable. The PR online explanations were nowhere near as good as the MGMAT ones. Their quant explanations rely on you understanding their method to solve the problem, so since I didn't have any MGMAT books, I usually googled the problems - answer explanations are all over the web. The Q was harder than I encountered on the actual test, however, leading me to worry that I wasn't doing that well. I do think the MGMAT CATs were incredible, and if their other material is similar in quality, you can't go wrong with it.

- OG 11 (orange)
After spending some time here, and understanding just what a great resource the OG is, I was determined to spend some time on it. I spent the first couple of weeks I was home just doing every single problem in the OG which paid off big time -- I noticed at least 4 or 5 problems which were exact replicas of OG problems with different figures. DEFINITELY spend some time reviewing this and make sure you understand how to do every problem in the book.

- Princeton Review Manual for the GMAT
The gave this to me with the tutoring, and I think it's given out for all their live courses - I don't know if you can buy it separately. It provides some extra problems and also a lot of great explanation and if you're hoping to score in the mid-600s, this would probably be a good book to take a read through.

- Princeton Review Online Student Center
It was nice to still have access to this since I could just pop into the lessons for a reminder of the summation formula or how to solve a specific problem. Also nice to have the drills, even though I had completed most, I did a few of them again when I had a spare moment.

Before this test, I took 7 practice tests:
Manhattan GMAT
670 (46Q, 35V) -- May 7
730 (45Q, 45V) -- May 10
740 (46Q, 45V) -- May 11
720 (47Q, 41V) -- May 12
710 (42Q, 44V) -- May 13
740 (47Q, 45V) -- May 14

770 (48Q, 51V) -- May 16

The dip in my scores in the MGMAT CATs, I think, was likely due to my starting to do the AWA with the practice exams. I did them with the PR CATs since they were graded, but I didn't bother with the first three MGMATs since they weren't and I wasn't at all worried about them. I realized by the fourth that I needed to be prepping for endurance as well, so I started putting effort into doing the essay for each exam.

You'll noticed the closeness of the dates in my MGMAT CATs. I did one each day (except for Friday) the week preceding my exam. Because I was consistently all over the map in terms of what I got wrong (I'd do great on standard deviation questions in one exam and then get them all wrong on the next) focusing on specific areas wouldn't have helped. Doing each practice test was important. Afterward, I wouldn't just look at the score. I would go through each question I got wrong and try and understand why, and if I didn't, mark it down to go over with my tutor. Also, by that point I had finished everything except 100 PS questions in the OG, so I didn't have a lot of extra material to just do problems. I think doing practice tests often really helped my score (and if you skip the essay, they aren't that stressful), but if I didn't have the basics down, it wouldn't have. The week leading up to the exam, doing it that way was perfect.

You guys all advised me not to do any GMAT stuff the weekend leading up to my exam, but I was really uncomfortable taking the exam without ever having doing a GMATPrep test. So I compromised, and did GMATPrep 1 without the AWA. I knew my score would be skewed, both because I was skipping AWA and because I had already taken GMATPrep 1. I had taken it so long ago, though, that the only thing I recognized was one passage, and I didn't remember the questions/answers, so I had to do it cold. So I figured the test was skewed high, but not absurdly so. The Friday, Saturday, and Sunday before my test I did 50 OG problems, not particularly hard, to keep my mind on the GMAT.

Yesterday, the day before my test, I tried to relax, and all I did was go through my CATs and look over what I had gotten wrong, particularly in Q and try and understand why. I tried to calm down and be very zen and reminded myself that I would be okay either way, 500 or 700. I wanted desperately to break 700, so I had to remind myself that I was still a good, smart, intelligent person even if I didn't.

The Second Attempt at the GMAT
Well, let's just say my experience this time was different. I was (and am) in good health and made an effort to eat healthy and get lots of sleep the week before the test. This morning, I decided that because I was taking a test, I was allowed to have cake for breakfast -- so I did.

The only "studying" thing I did today before the test was review a list of idioms and come onto BeattheGMAT and try and answer some questions. Answering questions really boosted my confidence and helped me become more secure in my answer choices on the actual exam so I recommend that if you can start answer questions around here, you do.

I got to the testing center around 3 for my 4:15 exam because I was nervous. Scratch that, terrified. Because they weren't full, they let me start my CAT at 3:30.

This testing center was completely different the other one I used - big, lots of light, LOTS of other test takers, etc. I sat down to do the essays, and really enjoyed my argument one - it was on EMS, which I actually know a lot about, so I felt really confident about it. I wasn't as big of a fan of my issue essay, but I don't have those scores yet, so we'll see. I'm sure I did okay, and I'm not that stressed about getting another 6.0, I just want to be above 4.0.

I decided to utilize my breaks well this time. I had packed bananas and a Starbucks frappucino drink, which I ate during the breaks and I tried to relax, get my mind off essays, and back into quant.

Throughout the quant section, I felt like things were going well. As I said above, there were several questions that were replicas of OG questions. I got a lot of geometry questions, probably 7 or 8 questions about sets, and only one permutation question, disguised as probability. So much for all that perm/comb studying! I finished with about 7 minutes to spare, pacing has never been an issue for me.

I took the second break as well, eating another banana and finishing my drink. I felt like the quant had gone well so I was confident going into verbal when I returned to the testing center.

During my verbal, my confidence was completely shot. The questions seemed WAY too easy, the correct answer choices seemed way too obvious and I was fairly certain I was completely bombing the verbal section, but unsure how to turn it around. My heart started to pound as I realized I might be undoing all the good work I had done in Q. Tip -- don't start to think like this or analyze question difficult during the test! It just makes you nervous and it doesn't help with anything. I gave verbal my best shot and finished with 35 minutes to spare, which I figured COULDN'T be a good sign -- if I had finished that quickly, I must have gotten ridiculously easy questions. Usually I finish V with 20 minutes or so, and 35 seemed excessive.

I finally clicked my last answer and finished the exam. I filled out all the demographic information and then sat in front of the score cancellation screen for almost the full ten minutes. If you can believe it, I seriously thought about canceling my scores. I thought that I had 100% bombed the verbal and maybe it wouldn't be worth it to have this score on my report. I was so nervous but in the end, decided that if I hadn't done well after all my studying, maybe business school wasn't in the cards for me, and that was okay. With trepidation, I clicked "Report my scores" and "Next."

760 (48Q, 47V)
Q: 84th percentile
V: 99th percentile
Overall: 99th percentile

I actually gasped out loud and a few people turned to look at me. I read it three or four times, trying to figure out if it was a mistake. I can barely remember raising my hand to leave, scanning my palm, and picking up my score report. I'm still sort of in shock -- I can't believe it. While I don't know how AWA went, I would never, ever have believed I could achieve a score like this on the GMAT. It's beyond my wildest dreams. I almost cried when I saw the score and my voice is still wobbly.

In the end? I am so happy I scored a 620 on the GMAT the first time. There was no way I could have achieved a score like 760 on my first exam, and if I had scored a 690, I never would have retaken it! So for those of you out there that did poorly on your first attempt remember that it's not a failure, it's a second chance to do better than you ever could have on the first.

I think you have to do what works for you - most people said don't study the weekend before and I took a CAT. Most people said don't take multiple CATs in the same week and I did one each day. If you know there's something that works for you then don't pay attention to general advice. USE the OG, since that was probably the best resource I could have had. Utilize this forum - ask and answer questions, do some research, learn from other people's experiences. I know it's been invaluable for me.

So there it is. Sorry for writing this essay and congrats on making it through, and that's my story on how I went from a 620 to a 760. And now I am 100% with the GMAT and all other standardized testing -- for LIFE.

Last edited by myohmy on Mon May 18, 2009 11:41 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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by cramya » Mon May 18, 2009 9:16 pm
Simply superb. Congrats and I am happy for u. 35 minutes to spare is unheard of, seriously....

All the very best for the MBA! By the way u did own the GMAT :lol:


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by aj5105 » Mon May 18, 2009 11:15 pm
Wonderful! Congratulations.

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by thetrystero » Mon May 18, 2009 11:30 pm
holy crap! just imagine if you'd actually canceled it!!! (better not to)

congrats, rockstar.

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by myohmy » Tue May 19, 2009 10:00 am
Thanks guys!

Yes the 35 minutes to spare is what truly scared me. I wasn't paying much attention to time (I always, for some reason, got a little nervous at the beginning of each section that I would run out of time [which I never ever did so it was stupid] and would rush a little more than necessary) and when I looked up at the time, around question 37, I was terrified.

I had 5 RC passages, 3 short and 2 long, which further proved to me that I was doing something wrong -- maybe if I had had mostly CRs and SCs to that point it would have been more understandable but I didn't think anyone could finish with that much time left and have a prayer of doing well.

I am SO glad I didn't cancel my scores. I guess it just goes to show you that with a computer adaptive exam, you really never know how you're doing and you shouldn't waste time trying to gauge it. Now, I can't believe it was even a question in my mind to cancel, but while I was staring at that screen, I thought so seriously about it.

Thanks again guys!

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by antimatter1 » Tue May 19, 2009 10:42 am
Congrats!!! Hope to see you at Harvard...


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by beatthegmat » Tue May 19, 2009 11:14 am
You pwned it! :)
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by hk » Tue May 19, 2009 11:27 am
3 words for you "You OWNED GMAT". You completed the Verbal section in 40mins :shock: :shock: :shock: OMG thats like 1 min a question. How long do you think you spent reading one RC passage. Coz this must be some kind of a record!!! 40mins!!! 35 mins to spare!! OMG 41 ques in 40 mins!!! hmmm. Makes me feel like an illiterate, i take about 9 mins for the RC passage and ques..

Good luck with your apps!!! :)
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by bynddrvn » Tue May 19, 2009 5:23 pm

Your story is similar to one of those "feel good" movies where the crowd stands up and cheers at the end!

Good job!

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by rajibgmat » Tue May 19, 2009 5:33 pm
Seriously....I agree with the previous guy...You deserve a standing ovation.
I am gonna get u my love(GMAT)

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by GMAT12 » Wed May 20, 2009 8:03 am
Outstanding performance...You do own the gmat!

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by myohmy » Wed May 20, 2009 9:44 am
Thanks everyone!

Yes, 1min per question is ridiculous, but it was probably more like 20 seconds for some quick SCs, and two minutes for harder questions.

I'm a quick reader so I usually finish longer passages in ~2-3 min. Still, it was a little ridiculous, I agree.

Thanks again guys!

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by kageman » Wed May 20, 2009 5:13 pm
This is a beautiful debriefing! Congratulations on your fantastic score and thank you for the superb tips and recount.

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by myohmy » Thu May 21, 2009 11:19 am
Thanks so much, kageman!

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by myohmy » Fri May 22, 2009 7:50 am
Just wanted to update you guys that I got my official Score Report today and got a 6.0 on my essay!