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From ~740 on practice exams to 570 on real exam

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I took the GMAT this weekend and scored so far below what I was expecting that I really don't know what to do next...

I scored a 700 and a 740 on the GMAT Prep practice exams (Q48, V42 on my last one). I have a very solid grasp on all the quantitative material. I slept well the night before and felt good during the test. I didn't panic, I didn't freeze up, my answer pace was on par with all of my practice exams, and my guessing was also inline with my practice exams (2-3 questions per section). Everything felt like it was going my way... and yet when I saw my scores I couldn't believe it.

Total 570. Q: 36, V: 33.

My jaw dropped and I sat there staring at the monitor for like 5 minutes. I could not believe my score had dropped that far down...

I understand practice exam scores aren't a guarantee of your actual score, but this is so much lower than where I was testing. I don't know what went wrong. I know the material. I had enough time. I didn't panic or feel rushed. I felt good throughout the whole exam, all of the numbers were clicking and my logic felt sound.

I feel like I did something wrong during the actual test. Could I have read all the questions wrong? Could the "real" questions be so much trickier than all the practice material (did not seem that way...) Could there have been a technical glitch during the test (not ruling that out yet). I don't know what went wrong and I need to figure it out before I take the test again.

Anyone have a similar experience to this? Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks!

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by ken3233 » Mon Mar 16, 2009 9:28 pm
I find your story to be shocking. I cannot understand it. It seems that the majority of the posters here claim that their performance on the GMAT Prep tests was consistent with how they performed on the real test.

I have not taken the real exam yet, so I do not know what to say.

As for me, I just started studying recently, and I took the two GMAT Prep exams plus four old paper-and-pencil exams (real GMATs) just to see how I'd perform cold. My scores on the both sets of exams were nearly identical (GMAT Prep: 640 and 660; paper-and-pencil: 630, 640, 650 and 700).

Hence, I would have expected GMAT Prep to be an excellent indication of how someone would do on a real GMAT.

Again, I am baffled as to how you could have scored only 570 given your performance on the GMAT Prep.

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by ken3233 » Mon Mar 16, 2009 9:31 pm
Now that I think about it, I believe I know what happened to you. You must have gotten the hard questions wrong at the beginning of each section, so the test algorithm probably locked you onto the average/low scoring track. That would explain why you scored only a 570 despite feeling completely in control of your performance.

Did the questions seem too easy for you?

That is scary.

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by gmat700plus » Tue Mar 17, 2009 6:48 am
If I missed a bunch of the earlier ones, I can see why it would pull me down at first, but wouldn't the test adjust itself by the end?

I was averaging a little under 10 wrong on quant and 7-8 wrong on verbal during the practice tests. I know how to do every single math question in the OG, so I think I have a good understanding of the math material. SC is my weakest area on on the verbal side, CR and RC never seemed to throw me off.

Not sure... definitely need to re-work something in my test taking strategy...

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by ken3233 » Tue Mar 17, 2009 8:39 am
If you missed many of the early questions on each section, that may have been enough to cause the algorithm to lock you onto the low-scoring track. I do not know if the algorithm adjusts upward as the test progresses.

Did you notice that the test questions were too easy as the test progressed? Usually that is a unmistaken indication that something isn't right.

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by VP_Jim » Tue Mar 17, 2009 8:11 pm
That is indeed shocking. Most people score within about 50 points of their last GMAT Prep test...

One thing I might note is that if you think the test is going well, it's actually probably not. Remember that the test is adaptive, so no matter how well you're doing, the GMAT will be throwing you questions that are challenging at your specific difficulty level. If you think that the questions are easy/straightforward, chances are that you're missing something.

My only explanation is that due to excitement/nerves/jitters/whatever, you misread some questions and fell for traps, making the test seem easier than it actually was. There's a very good chance that this score was an outlier. Keep up with the prep and go in and retake in 30 days and you should adjust back up to your practice level range.
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by NethraN » Wed Mar 18, 2009 4:05 am
It is indeed very shocking and sad too.

How many times did you take GMATPrep? What were the other practice test scores?

We can't change what happened so don’t think too much about it and try again be confident and am sure you can do well.

I am more or less in the same situation as you are. I too could never figure out i was doing bad during my test and ended up with a 570. So I guess along with knowing the material we should know the TEST and its strategies.

Good luck.
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by gmat700plus » Wed Mar 18, 2009 5:00 am
So what are these "subtleties" that we need to look out for? I'd say almost all of my quant answers lined up from my scratch paper to an answer on the screen. Does someone have a list of common pitfalls for each category type?

I just got my "official" scoring back today.... I got a 6 on my AWA! Wow, I barely prepared for that section, and I aced it. Actually, during the test, I even found myself correcting my own writing using my SC skills... too funny.

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by NethraN » Wed Mar 18, 2009 5:34 am
Not sure if you have already but all these "subtleties" can be found in LOGITECH's post go through it carefully. I helped me identify some important things.

https://www.beatthegmat.com/mission-acco ... 31374.html
gmat700plus wrote:Actually, during the test, I even found myself correcting my own writing using my SC skills... too funny.
:) the same happened with me too but I guess even my SC skills were not that good so I score only a 5 in my AWA.
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by Stacey Koprince » Thu Mar 19, 2009 9:24 am
Received a PM asking me to reply.

While it is true that a lot of people score fairly close to their practice tests, many people also experience a score drop. That may not be all that comforting, but at least know that you're not alone. When we're talking 100+ points, there's usually some aspect of one or more of these three things going on:
- timing
- mental stamina
- nerves

So, I think our goal now needs to be to try to figure out what happened so that you can change things next time and feel confident that you won't repeat the same pattern. I have a bunch of questions for you to help us try to figure this out.

When you took your practice tests, did you also take the essays? Did you spend as much time and mental energy on the practice essays as you did on the real essays? Did you take the total tests under full official conditions? (30m each for two essays, 10m break, 75m quant, 10m break, 75m verbal)

Great job on the essays on your real test, by the way. Now that you've got that score locked in, you can try to get a 5.0 next time. (Seriously - don't spend as much mental and physical energy - save it for the main event!)

How was your timing in the each section? Did you generally move steadily through the test, giving appropriate time and attention to each question? (1 to 1.5m for SC, 2m for CR, 2-4m to read a passage, 1m for general RC questions, 1.5 to 2m for specific RC questions) Or did you have to rush at times and possibly make random guesses? If you did have to rush and/or make random guesses, on how many questions would you say you did that? Did you do it on a lot of questions in a row or were the guesses scattered? Alternatively, did you possibly move too quickly and finish with a decent amount of time left over, or notice at some point along that way that you had a lot more time left than you were likely to need? If so, how much time are we talking / how did this play out?

Did you take any practice tests for which you were given per-question timing data? If so, go take a look. How many times did you go more than 30 seconds over the timing we're supposed to use (from above)? What was the outcome (how many did you get right vs. wrong). How many times did you "underspend" on time - shave 45 seconds or more off of the time you were supposed to spend? (eg, less than 1:15 on a quant question.) Did you get some wrong in that circumstance that you thought you were getting right but you made a careless mistake? How many? It's okay to have a couple, but more than that is a problem.

How was your stamina? How did you feel toward the middle and end of the verbal section? Did you have something to eat and drink on the breaks? Did you get up, walk around, and stretch?

When you practiced, how often did you make careless mistakes? Do you know what kinds of careless mistakes you tend to make? (We all fall into certain patterns.)

On the real thing, most of us are nervous, a little or a lot, because we know it counts now. A lot of times, that causes us to mess up some number of things. For example, I might hang onto harder questions a lot longer than I should, while rationalizing that I can just work a little faster on the easier ones. The problem there is two-fold: by definition, I'm more likely to get the harder ones wrong no matter what, and if I work 30 seconds faster than I really should on an "easier" question - I might just put myself into the position of making a careless mistake I shouldn't have made. Do that 4 or 5 times on the test and you put yourself into a real hole, because it is much worse for your score to get a lower level question wrong than a higher level one.

Did you feel noticeably more nervous during the real thing? Did it ever affect your ability to concentrate or your mental stamina?

Oh, by the way - from the above conversation about the test "locking into" a low score. The test won't ever lock you into a score (until the end, of course). If you get some early questions wrong that were lower level, the issue is just whether you have enough questions left to lift your score. Unless you literally get the first 10 questions wrong in a row, you've got plenty of questions left to lift your score. From a practical standpoint, we'd be talking about missing maybe 2-3 questions in the first ten that you shouldn't have missed (and several more that you really should have missed). You can recover from that situation - the test doesn't lock you in after a few questions and prevent you from lifting your score.

If, however, you miss 2-3 questions in the first ten that you shouldn't have missed*, and then you do that again in the second ten (nerves, mismanaged time, whatever), and then you do that again in the third ten... see where we're going here? It's like a slow leak in your kitchen sink - by the end of the test, that's a lot of points down the drain.

*(I'm not talking about missing any 2-3 in a set of 10. You're typically going to get more than that wrong on the test. I'm talking about missing lower-level questions than the score you want to get - questions that you think you were prepared to answer and yet you missed them.)

Anyway, so back to the diagnosis. Please also tell me any other differences can you think of between your practice test experiences and your real test experiences? Anything, no matter how small, and no matter whether you think it wouldn't have made a difference to your score. Any differences at all?

Try to answer all of the questions in my post and we'll see if we can figure out what went wrong and how to fix those things for next time.
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by logitech » Thu Mar 19, 2009 9:46 am
Stacey Koprince, you are truly amazing.
LGTCH
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by gmat700plus » Thu Mar 19, 2009 11:00 am
Stacey,

First off, thank you so much for taking the time to look at my case. I have really been struggling to find out what went wrong on test day.

Since the test I have been writing down everything I can remember from that day, including all the math questions I can remember, all the verbal (mostly RC) questions I can remember, what I did that morning, what I did the day before, how I felt during the test, anything that was different, etc, so hopefully I can answer all your questions with good details.

>>When you took your practice tests, did you also take the essays?
During the practice tests, I did not write out the full essays. I outlined what I would have said, then I moved on. I wasn't too worried about them. On test day the Argument essay was right in my field of work so I knocked it out easily. The Issue essay was actually a repeat of one I had done during my practice sessions! I don't think I spent too much energy on them but I will certainly look to do them on my future practice tests.

>>Did you take the total tests under full official conditions?
Aside from the essays, I did. 75 mins for quant and verbal, with a 5 min break in between (I thought we only had 5 minutes)

>> How was your timing in the each section?
For quant, I worked with a 2-3 minute rule during my tests. If I couldn't get a question during this time I would make an educated guess and move on. For verbal it was closer to 2 minutes. While doing the OG book I recorded the time for each question and reviewed all questions that took me too long.

On my scratch paper (in practice an at real test), I would write down the question number and a start time before I started to work on any question. That way I could see how long I was taking for each question. I also wrote on my scratch paper 'milestone times', with 1/2, 1/3/, and 1/4 marks where I should be time-wise. This way I wouldn't have to 'think' about where I was at, I could simply glance at these 'cheat' items and get an immediate status update.

During my practice exams, if I had extra time sometimes I would spend 1 min more on a particularly hard question, but in general I found that if I didn't get a question right within 2-3 minutes I wasn't going to get it :)

>>Did you generally move steadily through the test, giving appropriate time and attention to each question?
I was on track with my timing on test day. I was maybe 2 minutes ahead during the halfway point on the quant, then was about even for my last 10 questions. Finished quant with a little under a minute left.

On verbal, I was behind 2 minutes at the halfway point. I was hit with a hard RC near the 3/4 mark, and felt I was 3-4 minutes behind at that point. This did affect some of my last SC questions. SC is my weakest point, and feeling a bit low on time, I went by the last 2-3 SCs much faster than I would have liked. I ended up finishing with around a 1:30 left.

>> If you did have to rush and/or make random guesses, on how many questions would you say you did that? Did you do it on a lot of questions in a row or were the guesses scattered?
On the quant there were 2 items that really stumped me. One felt way too early (3rd-4th one), but I wasn't going to let it derail me so I made a guess and moved on. Another was a little past the 1/2 mark. I remember both and wrote them down as areas of future studying.

Near the 3/4 mark I was hit with 2 questions close to each other that I had never seen before. I had a bit of extra time, so I studied them and think I got the first one but felt unsure of the second one. There was also a DS question near the end that could have gone either way. I've written as many details on these as I can remember for future studying.

On verbal... on top of those rushed 2-3 SCs near the end, I did feel uncertain on 2 other SCs, I took longer than I wanted on them and didn't feel 100% sure of the answer. Only 1 CR springs to mind that I may have missed... it was a really tricky bird/dinosaur evolution question. RCs went from easy (animals), medium (finance), then medium/hard,hard for the last 2 (history). I can't remember the other RC. Here, I felt shaky on 1 medium RC question and 1 hard RC question. SC is clearly my weakest area in verbal, so I plan on spending more time there.

>>Did you take any practice tests for which you were given per-question timing data?
I did when I started out with Kaplan tests, but after that I relied on my manual timing during the practice tests and while working on the OG books.


More to come...

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by gmat700plus » Thu Mar 19, 2009 12:28 pm
Day Before
I had taken several days off of work leading up to the test, since I didn't want to be thinking about work distractions while I was gearing up for the test. Friday before the test, I studied during the day (mistake?) and relaxed that night.

My study session on Friday didn't go over anything new, just practice questions I had 'flagged' in the OG book. I had flagged which questions I had once gotten wrong, which ones took me too long, or which ones were 'good' for a particular topic (i.e. a really good probability question). The focus was mostly Quant PS, DS, and Verbal SC.

I get jittery the night before big events, so I take Ambien to help me sleep on these occasions. I got a solid 8 hours of sleep. (Researching whether Ambien affects next-day mental alertness).

Test Day
Woke up feeling good, ate my usual breakfast and prepared for an early lunch before I headed off to the test center (12:15 start time). I started my last 2 practice tests around 1:00 pm to match my real start time and to act as dry runs for nutrition and mental readiness. Ran through a couple 'good' difficult PS questions in the OG to get my math engine warmed up. Took a cab to the test center, got there with plenty of time, and mentally prepared myself for the quant section (ran through the different types of questions in my head and how to approach each one). I wasn't even thinking about the AWA section. Started the test at around 12:15.

>>How was your stamina? How did you feel toward the middle and end of the verbal section? Did you have something to eat and drink on the breaks? Did you get up, walk around, and stretch?
>>Did you feel noticeably more nervous during the real thing? Did it ever affect your ability to concentrate or your mental stamina?

I brought water and a nutrition bar with me to the test center. I don't normally eat anything during the break, so I didn't plan on doing so today, unless I felt hungry.

During the pre-exam and AWA portions of the test, I took the time to prepare my scratch paper. I normally go through 7-8 pages of scratch paper at home so I wanted to make sure I would have enough in the book. I played around with the pen to get a feel for it and wrote out my 'milestone times' on each sheet.

Felt pretty relaxed during the AWAs, like I mentioned before I wasn't too worried about them and they didn't feel too spectacular so I thought I would probably get a 4-5 on them. (How ironic!)

I took my first break. Took a drink of my water. Went to the bathroom, splashed some water on my face, did my quant mental run-through and headed back in.

I did feel nervous at the start of the Quant. I feel I botched the 3rd-4th one, it looked pretty easy but I just couldn't get my math to line up to an answer. I felt a moment of panic but chalked it up as a silly mistake on my part, took a guess, and moved on. The question did linger in my head for a couple more minutes but then I forgot about it. On a handful of questions I found myself glancing up at the clock to make sure I wasn't taking too long. At that point I would assess how much more time I wanted to spend on it before I took an educated guess and moved on (see above).

Halfway through quant my shoes were off and I was muttering to myself like I normally do when I practice (test person came in and asked me to quiet down). I was sweating a bit but didn't feel my heart going any faster/harder than usual so chalked it up to a hot room. There were like 8-10 other people in the room, but we each had headsets to block out any noise.

During the second break I drank more water, and headed to the bathroom again. Splashed water on my face, then did my verbal mental run-through. Gave myself a pep talk. I thought I had done well during the math so I knew if I did well during the verbal I had a chance for an outstanding score. SC is my weakest area, so my verbal run through consists mostly of SC rules (verb tenses, modifiers, pronouns, etc).

Like I mentioned before, I felt I was a bit behind during the second half of the verbal (1-2 questions behind, 2-4 mins). I knew I would have to make up some time, so I did rush through a couple SC near the end. I also remember thinking at this point "so tired of SC, can't wait for this to be over". So definitely by the end I was fed up with SC. I could have done more CRs or RCs, but me and SCs were on bad terms by then.

>>When you practiced, how often did you make careless mistakes? Do you know what kinds of careless mistakes you tend to make? (We all fall into certain patterns.)
I made around 1-2 silly mistakes per Quant section during my practice exams, mistakes where I either read the question wrong, missed a key details, or mixed up a variable/formula. I tried to counter this by writing out on the scratch paper all the details in the question, what was being asked for, and tried to keep my work clean. These mistakes didn't come up as much during my OG work because I would allow myself more time (if necessary) per question and upon re-reading or re-trying the problem I would figure out what I had missed.

On practice exams my quant wrong answers were scattered. 1-2 at the beginning, then some scattered in the middle, some in the end, with long blocks of correct ones breaking them up. I counted a roughly 50/50 split between wrong PS+DS questions. I also flag the ones I had to guess on, and that's generally between 2-3. My guesses vary in accuracy, depending on whether I had to completely guess or make an educated guess.

Overall the real exam quant questions felt like they were on par with the practice exam, some felt 'easy', some felt hard, some stumped me, some I breezed through.

On verbal, I wouldn't miss too many RC or CR questions. There were times when a question would take me a bit longer to do because of the phrasing of the answers (i.e. science or philosophy RC questions), but never really had a hard time here.

SC is another animal. On my practice exams, around 75% of my wrong verbal questions are SC. I have been working on improving this area significantly (verb tenses and idiom still get me), but I still need work here.

During tests, it's hard for me to gauge how I'm doing in verbal, i.e. if the questions get easier or harder (aside from SC), so I don't think about it too much. On the real exam, RC did feel like it got harder towards the end.

>>Anything, no matter how small, and no matter whether you think it wouldn't have made a difference to your score.
So, I might have gone into way too much detail here, but thank you. This has been very therapeutic. I'm still not quite sure what went wrong that day, but I know I just need to suck it up and try again. Definitely on the verbal side there's lots of room for improvement in SC, so that's going to be one big item I focus on for next time.

Anything else jump out at you as an area for improvement?

Thanks,

J

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by pJackson79 » Thu Mar 19, 2009 9:47 pm
I am truly sorry to hear this. A good friend of mine had a similar drop off and he managed to come back on a second try. He also failed to practice the AWAs during his prep.

In preparing to take the test again (if you do), it will probably be very important to take a lot of practice tests to build some degree of confidence.
Last edited by pJackson79 on Tue Mar 31, 2009 2:53 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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by Stacey Koprince » Fri Mar 20, 2009 6:35 pm
Okay, going in order of all of your (very good!) notes.

Essays
It is important to do the essays. I know we don't care about the score so much, but the mental energy it takes to do the essays draws down on your total energy - so you're not as mentally alert for the later portions of the test. As you gear up, make sure to take the essays as seriously on your practice tests as you do on the real test.

Note: don't take them all that seriously even on the real test though! All you want is a "good enough" score! You scored a 6, which is fantastic beyond the obvious reason. Next time go for a 5. Literally dumb down your efforts and save your energy for the multiple choice. (That 6 might also be indicative of something else: you might have blown a huge wad of mental energy to get that 6 - something you weren't accustomed to doing on your practice tests.)

Timing
You mentioned using a "2-3 minute" rule for quant. We have to average 2 minutes, so this seems to indicate that you were going over on some number of questions. How many? For the most part, it's usually okay to go over about 30 seconds (to 2.5m) for some smallish number of questions, because you will also have some you'll answer in 1.5m. But if you were going over the 2.5m mark more than once or twice on the entire test, then there's a problem. And if you were hitting the 2.5m mark more than 5 or so times, that's also a problem. Can you give me some more detail here?

Basically, there's still a timing problem if you are forcing yourself to answer something faster than you want to, even if you still spend a minute or a minute and a half on the problem. Even cutting 30sec off of something when you really shouldn't be doing so can increase the rate of careless mistakes. This is especially problematic because we tend to push ourselves and think "I can do this one fast!" when we see something we think is easier. It hurts your score FAR more to get a lower-level question wrong than a higher-level one. (In fact, it won't hurt your score to get a question wrong that is higher than the level you hope to score. All it will do is prevent you from getting an even higher score. But you won't get to "your" level if you miss enough things that are below that level.)

I'm calling this out because you might think your timing was fine as long as you were finishing on time, but it's still possible to mismanage the time during the section and finish on time.

Ditto for verbal - more detail. Here, we need to be averaging around 1m15s on SC and around 2 for CR. On RC, we need to read in about 2.5 to 3.5 minutes, depending upon length and complexity, and average 1m for general questions, 2m for specific questions. Complicated, I know. I'm most concerned about SC because you also said this is your weakest area - were you also holding yourself to a 2m standard on SC? These need to be a lot faster; if you're averaging 2m on SC, than CR and RC are really suffering from lack of time. From your account, you did also get a bit behind on the time and that affected you on some small number of questions, but the effect could have been even bigger than you realize if the times for different question types were too far off the desired averages.
in general I found that if I didn't get a question right within 2-3 minutes I wasn't going to get it :)
That is so true for all of us - I'm glad that you recognized it!

Let me know on the above timing stuff. In general on the real tests, our habits (good or bad) get magnified, so if your timing was mismanaged then it would've had an even bigger effect on the real test due to the general stress of the situation.

Day Before and Day Of
*Note: this stuff is more subjective; it's my opinion about the best way to do things, but different people think differently. Perhaps others will provide their two cents as well.

Generally, I tell my students they can't do more than 2 hours of very high-level review the day before (and ideally only 1 hour): overall pacing plan, overall strategies for the different major question categories, what to do if you discover you're behind, etc. No real practice questions or topic review - by this point, you know it or you don't, and you don't want to tire yourself out the day before. Sort of like light stretching and a jog around the track on the day before the big game.

Did you spend just a couple of hours or did you study the entire day?

I know nothing about Ambien but looked it up on a drug index, here: https://www.rxlist.com/ambien-drug.htm
Apparently the most common side effect is daytime drowsiness. The percentages are pretty small, but you never know how you'll be affected by stuff like this. I once took some kind of anti-inflammatory thing for a knee injury and it made me so jittery that I couldn't write straight. My doctor hadn't warned me about it because it was an uncommon reaction, but it was still a known reaction to the drug.

I like your plan to do a few warm-up problems, though I generally like to tell my students to do very easy problems. Again, the analogy is a light jog around the track before the game starts. I don't want to risk injuring (read: demoralizing) myself right before it starts.

I also believe it's important to eat something at each break even if you're not hungry. Four hours is a long time and your body needs that caloric energy.

It sounds like, for whatever reason, your energy was ebbing towards the end of the verbal - you were sick of doing SC. That could've been the fact that you hadn't practiced doing the essays first on practice tests, effects of the Ambien, not eating on the breaks - probably some combination of all. And if you were feeling that about SC, then it was probably affecting your mental concentration and performance in the entire section, even CR and RC. So I do think that another major factor for next time is to ensure that you've still got a lot of energy throughout the verbal. (You won't have as much as at the start of the test - that's natural - but more than you had the last time.)
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