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From 740 to 750 after 5 years

This topic has 3 expert replies and 3 member replies

From 740 to 750 after 5 years

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OK, so I just got done with my GMAT 3 weeks back (750, Q50, V41, IR 8, AWA 6). I finally sat down to do this debrief because I'd pretty much put the GMAT aside right after the exam because the prep was so intense and time consuming.

I took my first GMAT back in 2011 and scored a 740 (Q49, V41) . Unfortunately that score expired this June and I had to retake it because my application for an MBA intake starting 2018 didn't go through, and I'll be reapplying in a couple of months for intakes in 2019. Being an experienced test taker, I had a vague (and fuzzy) outline of my test strategy from the previous attempt. I remember reading Ursula's post (which was pretty famous back then too) and following the test strategy very religiously. I also remember struggling with verbal for a VERY long time (especially CR and SC) during my practice, which surprised me because I thought my English was fairly good.

So for my second attempt I knew I'd retain the essential guiding principles: focus heavily on verbal, practice every question on the OG, take lots of practice tests, maintain an error log and a test score log. I know that there are several formats available on this site and others, but honestly I think I wasted too much time trying to follow these templates because essentially all I needed was a quick summary of my progress, and I'm pretty used to maintaining spreadsheets on my job for quick reference on data. I ended up using my own template for maintaining score logs. The OG improvement chart was a big plus though as it had the answers marked on them that was easy to use on the go using my smartphone, without having to hassle about scrolling through multiple pdf documents.

There were a few major differences this time around though.

1
First, I was working now (my previous exam had been during the college break after my final semester), which made it hard to follow a regular routine everyday. I immediately realised I would need some sort of "external" push, so I signed up for the BTG 60 day mailers to give me one topic to find everyday. Initially I started getting really bogged down by the volume that I needed to cover on a daily basis and quickly fell behind schedule, and essentially ended up doing just mock CAT's and reviews once a week on weekends. My prep started around early October and I got a bit complacent because I only had to get started on my applications in February, and also because I was trying to polish up my profile a bit for the MBA application. It also didn't help that I was travelling during the December holidays, so my original exam target of mid December got pushed back to early January, and subsequently end January. The fact that I had not booked an exam date also made my prep progress very iffy and I will advise test takers against adopting that kind of approach unless it can be helped.

The issue I faced with following the 60-day program was that I ended up reading a lot of material that I was already quite comfortable with. The manhattan guides were good for the weak topics, but I was spending way too much time reading that stuff and not actually practicing OG questions. Had I switched this sequence, my reviews would have been more productive and relevant.

2
Second, what I noticed almost immediately was that my verbal was better than I remembered, and my quant a lot worse. My verbal CAT scores remained consistently in the low 40's (hitting 45 on one test though it didn't feel very different!). I remember that doing CAT's was the most effective improvement strategy I had followed on my first GMAT (I think I took 12 or 13), so this time I went the extra mile and bought a 6 series package from Manhattan (I chose MGMAT because my scores were lower on those tests last time around). I decided not to go with Kaplan because I found them too easy the previous time and didn't quite like the interface, I am not very sure what it looks like now. I also ended up getting a free trial of 7 tests from Veritas, and coupled with 3 Gmat Club tests, GMAT Prep software tests (2 attempts each) and one Princeton test, I took a total of 22 tests. In hindsight, I hadn't really planned on doing so many and I think the benefit was limited for most of the time because I was only reviewing questions that I got wrong, along with the Manhattan guides that I was reading (see above). My test scores really started soaring only towards the last 3 or 4, where I scored a couple of 750's and 760's (although a couple of them were "seen" tests as they were retakes of GMAT Prep CAT's), and I think that was largely due to the fact that my reviews of OG were helping me get a "feel" for the questions without worrying about actual techniques to solve a given question. Particularly, knowing the obvious traps helps figure out the answer quicker and rule out doubts when stuck with the last 2 choices.

3
Since I wasn't familiar with IR (my last test was before IR was introduced), I decided to take full-length tests right from the start. This was a bit of a dampener on my test pace because I had to make sure I took out 4 hours + review time every weekend for the test. In hindsight, investing in the IR prep tool would have bolstered my confidence and sped up my progress. I was definitely very jittery about IR because my scores were bouncing about a LOT and I was struggling with pacing myself. Fortunately I spent enough time in the week before the test to sort this out, and on test day I didn't get one of those extra-lengthy 2 page analysis questions right at the start which helped me stay calm through the section.

G-day was pretty tiring, I realized that no matter how many mock exams you do, it's never the same on the actual test because you are 100% tuned in and very nervous about mistakes through the 4 hour period. One bad habit I had during my mock tests was to pause them between sessions and check my quant score (Veritas let you do this!), especially when I felt I wasn't doing so well, and usually a good score would boost my morale and focus during the verbal section (I knew I wouldn't be able to do this on test day but I still couldn't help myself!). I also picked up an unhealthy tendency to worry too much when I found the questions too easy on the quant section, thinking I was messing up really easy questions to end up with such easy quetsions. I found myself in this mindset on most of the quant section on test day, I still don't know how I got that 50 if the questions were really that easy. I also bought the enhanced score report because I was curious to know but to be very frank this report is not worth investing in, the Manhattan and Veritas post-question analysis are more informative in terms of level of questions that you encounter at each step. The ESR only summarizes your progress along the exam in terms of percentage of questions answered right and some graphs with difficulty levels scaled on "low" "medium" and "high", and not on actual percentile or scaled score axes.

Overall, I am satisfied and relieved with my score because I spent a lot of time and effort in it but I feel I should have been able to score the same score with just 2 months of prep had I spent time making a more structured strategy in place at the start of my prep. That's all for now folks! I hope I participate more on the MBA admission posts in the coming weeks!!

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CONGRATULATIONS!!! That's a fantastic score! And you broke your process down very thoughtfully, so I'm sure other students will find that helpful. A few follow-up thoughts and advice for others wanting to follow in your footsteps:

- first and foremost, "I worried because it felt too easy" is a common feeling, but such a dangerous one! A) there are experimental questions thrown in, so an easy question might be one of those, and doesn't indicate that you got the last one wrong. B) A lot of questions that feel easy to you might be difficult for others, or others fall into traps. Try to ignore how it "feels" - as you saw, you got an almost-perfect score!

- checking your quant score halfway through sounds like a dangerous pattern to set - other students should be advised not to do it! I always tell people: make practice exams feel as much like the real thing as possible. Take it at a desk, not on the couch in pajamas. Take exactly 8 min breaks, no longer. Don't check your phone or email or anything else you can't do on test day.

- I'm so glad that you found the Manhattan Prep guides useful! I do agree with you that you should be doing OG practice at the same time, and not waiting until you finish reading the guides.

- One way to avoid spending time on topics you already know is to START with the problem set at the end of the chapter. If you get everything right, you probably don't need to spend time reading that chapter. A lot of people don't need to read all of the books beginning to end. That's it's a good idea to start with a diagnostic exam, and creating a study plan for only the topics that need work.

- You pointed out that you only reviewed wrong answers, but there is a LOT of value to deep review of all questions, right and wrong. For the right ones, make sure you got them right for the right reasons, and think about what it tells you about the test's style.

- It's sounds like you were way more worried about IR than you needed to be! That's true for a lot of people. Downloading the GMATPrep software and doing a few Ir practice sets is probably enough for a lot of people.

- you should really only order the Enhanced Score Report if you're going to retake the exam and want to know how to improve. It's better than nothing, but I agree - not as helpful as what you'd get from a prep company. I find it especially annoying that they only divide quant into "arithmetic" and "algebra & geometry." Not exactly a helpful breakdown!

Anyway, congratulations again, and good luck with the application process!

_________________


Ceilidh Erickson
Manhattan Prep GMAT & GRE instructor
EdM in Mind, Brain, and Education
Harvard Graduate School of Education


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Last edited by ceilidh.erickson on Thu Mar 02, 2017 6:53 am; edited 1 time in total

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Ceilidh Erickson
Manhattan Prep GMAT & GRE instructor
EdM in Mind, Brain, and Education
Harvard Graduate School of Education


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Hi Ceilidh,

Thanks for your feedback and critical analysis on the do's and dont's. I did have the exact same thoughts on quite a few of them.

I hope other test takers will find this debrief and your inputs handy in their prep strategy Smile

Cheers
Aproop

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My pleasure!

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Ceilidh Erickson
Manhattan Prep GMAT & GRE instructor
EdM in Mind, Brain, and Education
Harvard Graduate School of Education


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Hi,

Thank you for sparing the time to write such a detailed debrief. I have a few questions specific to the course materials -

1. What resources would you recommend for CR, RC and IR? Would you recommend Powerscore CR Bible?
2. Is there any book that you followed for brushing up your grammar?

Thanks,
Alex

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Hi Alex,

1. I tried to stick to a single source for all my prep for all types of questions - mainly to stay focused and efficient. The BTG mailers referred to Manhattan's guides which I used for theory, however they can be rather tedious to go through. The majority of my prep time was spent on actual tests (the 22 which I've mentioned above). For IR I used mostly veritas as that was the only test package I'd purchased which came with IR practice questions. I think however the official IR package from GMAC will be a worthwhile purchase too, I'd considered it but was already too close to my exam to give it a shot.


2. For grammar (I read that as SC) I used the same approach as above, i.e. the BTG mailers and Manhattan guides. But I was definitely getting stuck a lot on the longer SC questions even after a lot of practice (those hard ones which have the whole sentence underlined). Therefore, I decided not to go for perfection as far as SC was concerned - just spent a minute or so skimming the questions for the structure of the problem (parallelism, idioms and so on). What I found most useful was to ignore phrases that were enclosed by commas in the question, that way you can usually quickly spot the most obvious errors without getting bogged down by detail. You will also be able to figure out from the answers which similar choices can be eliminated. You may find these tips in the Manhattan guide but I'm not sure if that's where I picked it up - you should get it intuitively after solving a few questions under timed conditions.

I think above all ensuring you do all official GMAT guide questions and having enough time to review practice questions that you got wrong will boost your confidence to tackle any type of question. If you want to focus on weaknesses to improve further the BTG mailers give additional reference material for each topic.

Good luck with your prep! Have you booked a date yet?

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