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I...lightly tussled with the GMAT (700; 41v; 44q; 90th %ile)

This topic has 3 expert replies and 6 member replies

I...lightly tussled with the GMAT (700; 41v; 44q; 90th %ile)

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First and foremost, I wanted to write to everyone out there who reads and responds to these forums that you guys are hands down the reason that I felt at all motivated to succeed on the GMAT and informed about the many issues that confront test-takers (content, strategy, stress management, etc) when sitting the test itself. Knowing that there is a concerted group of people out there going through the same oft-aggravating (albeit sometimes inspiring) process really helped me feel motivated and ready to roll every time I sat down to study. And, more importantly, every time I didn't sit down to study, I felt so guilty and short-sighted that I'd sack up and hit the books a little.

So, here is a table of contents for what I'm sure will be an inanely long post on [First] my experience sitting the test (most useful for future test-takers), [Second] my practice regimen leading up to the exam (definitely not the model of a diligent student), and [Third] final thoughts.

[1] Test Experience (Wanted to do this first because I just got out and it's still somewhat fresh in my mind):

To begin, sitting the GMAT in Austin, TX is an unusually pleasant experience. I took the exam downtown at the Guaranty Bank Building which sits only a few blocks from Austin's City Hall and the state Capitol on Congress Avenue. I was nervous, though this was somewhat alleviated by the fact that the proctors for the exam were very nice and responsive, and more importantly, there were very few other test-takers in the office that day. It is my experience that taking the exam during the day time at the end of the work week is the best time to take any standardized exam: everyone else is at work or doesn't want to bother just before the weekend. A quiet testing room is an ideal testing room. And, after I was done, the nice proctors recommended an excellent little taco place around the corner where I grabbed a burrito and a Dr. Pepper.

While sitting the exam, I noticed that my attention did flag and I was zoning in and out every so often, especially on the Quantitative section. More importantly, because I was so focused on one or two problems in the middle of the Quant (and so not focused on other parts of that section), I didn't answer the last two questions of my section, which I recognized at the time was a big problem. I'm sure you all know how costly it is to not answer questions on this test. I imagine if I had--even if I had guessed--my score/percentile would have been 10-20 points higher, and certainly, my Quant percentile (69th) would have improved as well.

During the Verbal Section, I felt comfortable and did well, though not as much as I might have. I am a strong reader and "sentence corrector", but my ability to analyze arguments remains my great weakness on the Verbal Section, and so I have no idea how I performed on those questions. Some I felt quite confident about, while others, not so much. The key thing that I noticed during the exam was maintaining my focus on the question at hand. The one before did not matter; neither did the one to follow. This allowed me to not be so concerned with what I perceived as rising and falling difficulty levels. I never thought to myself, "Nuts, I just got an easy question. Another one bites the dust." Instead, I told myself only once that the logarithm that governs the GMAT sometimes tosses a softy to its test-takers no matter how they're performing. Not such a big deal then.

I took full advantage of the break times offered during the exam. Man it felt great to get up, stretch my legs, get some water, and let my head rest. I even had the unfortunate experience of walking out into the lobby and looking at a young woman who was crying as she left. For some reason, in retrospect, I remember telling myself to ignore her--not because I wasn't empathetic, but because I knew I was going to be too empathetic. So, rather than allow myself to be distracted by another test taker's experiences, I just focused on my own, got some water, and returned to the test room. In retrospect, I was self-centered, but, in the long-term, she wouldn't have been consoled by me telling her "It's gonna be ok!" and I wouldn't have done any better on my test. If she's going to succeed, she'll take the test again and that'll be that.

When I got my scores (700 @ 90th Percentile; V=41 @ 92nd Percentile; Q=44 @ 69th Percentile), I was both happy and a bit ambivalent. The score is good and I'm content with it; I think ambivalent because it now feels like I've hit the end of the road. Were you ever involved in a long-term project that, once it culminated, you'd have nothing to really focus on for a while? That's how the GMAT was for me. I kind of feel like I'm saying good-bye to a relatively newly-made friend for a little while. Which goes to show you how lame I am in real life.

---------
[2] Study Habits

I do want to address my background and my study habits which had an overwhelming effect on my performance, though in unexpected ways. Firstly, I am a GRE and SAT instructor here in Austin, and I work almost full-time doing that. This is to say that, almost every day of the week, I explain and work with 3 of the main question types found on the GMAT (Quant - Problem Solving; Verbal - Sentence Correction, Reading Comprehension). I'm very used to sitting for long periods of time taking a standardized test and so my mental stamina is not bad, but more importantly, I've learned to parse things out, to save energy on work when I can, and identify problems with some speed. This was hugely important for my performance: even when I wasn't practicing for the GMAT, I was still practicing for the GMAT. Moreover, if you're looking for extra support on developing your reading skills (either for Quant or Verbal), it's not a bad idea to look into other test materials because they're actually more similar to the GMAT's content than you'd imagine otherwise. Even doing the fairly easy SAT sentence correction questions helped me just get into the habit of understanding what a "good sentence" looks like.

Also, I have an M.A. in Comparative Literature and I studied Psychology and English as an undergraduate. So, I'm very accustomed to reading long, boring, dense, coma-inducing passages about obscure topics. I know there's a general thought around here saying, "Read The Economist and you'll do better!" I have no idea if that's really the case, but what I can tell you is that literature students are required to hone their analytical skills in ways that other major-types often aren't. What I recommend is not just reading a ton to get ready for the GMAT, but reading grammatically well-structured books and building your attention span as much as possible. The GMAT is a time-, stress-, and energy-management exam: you've got to be able to turn up the juice to 110% when necessary and keep up that level as long as possible.

Now, to address the great shame of my work ethic: because I teach standardized exams full-time, I work 12 hour days and rarely have time to study myself. I have taken four practice exams (12/1/09; 12/23/2009; 1/14/2010; 1/21/2010) and studied haphazardly. I outlined a study plan for myself--30 problems a day of various types, culminating in one hour of actual work, followed by an hour of reviewing concepts that I apparently didn't know--but didn't follow it. It was a dumb move, and here is why: My first diagnostic score was a 650 (Using the free downloadable GMAT software). My second diagnostic score was a 700. My third diagnostic was a 720. My fourth diagnostic was a 680. During the period between my first and third diagnostic exams, I studied somewhat regularly, though rarely for more than 3 days in a row. All of my latter practice exams were taken using MGMAT's online materials.

I know that my score is "inflated" based on the fact that I teach standardized exams for a living. By extension, the logic follows that I'm a "good test taker" (however one measures that). But, what should be noted is that I did not improve tremendously from start to finish. In fact, if I had continued working after peaking at 720, I might have scored higher, and perhaps this too leaves me feeling some ambivalence about my current score. My exceptionally strong advice is not to be lazy like I obviously was: taking a month off in between my last diagnostic test and today was a stupid move and I am lucky to have gotten off so lightly. The only reason I was able to do so, again, is because 3/5 question types on the GMAT are found on tests that I work with regularly. It is strange to note that the very habits that I work so hard to cultivate in my students--diligence, patience, consistency, time sensitivity--I simply forsook on my own road. And it really didn't pay off.

------------

[3] Final Thoughts:

As far as test materials, I used the Manhattan GMAT online bundle. I stand convinced that these online tests were the only reason that I studied at all and the only reason that my score increased to the small extent that it did. Their tests are comprehensive, accurate, feel much like the real exam does, and, more importantly, they provide detailed answer explanations for literally every question you answer. Although I did doubt initially how accurate MGMAT's scoring logarithm is, I have to admit it pegged me very well. As far as the practice problem sets, I did some practice with each of the question types and found that it really helped to look over the questions--even the ones I got right--to get a sense of why some answers were right, some were wrong, and why others looked right but were, in fact, incorrect.

I also used the OG 12, which was nice. I acquired the OG Verbal and Quant guides but never looked at them. They're brand new on my desk and I imagine they'll make for nice bookshelf fillers for a little while. I think that the answer explanations found in them are actually fairly good, though if you're not of my mind, I do recommend buying that pdf file that is available that goes through each problem piecemeal.

In sum, again, I would like to thank you all for being here, even remotely. I can't imagine how this process would have gone if I had been "alone" doing it. That there are others out there with my sensitivities, anxieties, hopes, and goals really made all the difference. The only reason I never flipped out about my GMAT experience was because I always felt there was a place I could go for advice, challenging problems, or answers to the great questions that haunt all test-takers.

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Also, a couple of other things:

1) I didn't get a great night's sleep last night before I took the exam and, moreover, I had dinner at 5 PM and didn't eat much later on. Cognitive function is significantly diminished without proper sleep and nourishment. Always get your rest, always eat a good meal that gives you some energy beforehand.

2) Success on any standardized exam is as much about attitude as it is about ability. If you tell yourself you're going to do badly, you will do worse than you would have otherwise. This is no big secret; it's the self-fulfilling prophecy. If you regularly pump yourself up and work to your maximum potential, your score will improve immensely.

Alright, I'm off because I'm exhausted and I need to decompress Surprised)

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Congrats ,,looking at the level of preparation you did , i think u pulled it off well .Ofcourse,going by your debrief, the score does not reflect your limits .

Well , for me I am just trying my best to get a similar verbal score on the diagnostics .It seems to be a big challenge .

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mjgoldste thank you for providing this information! it's very helpful!

you said "What I recommend is not just reading a ton to get ready for the GMAT, but reading grammatically well-structured books and building your attention span as much as possible."

i currently have Science Daily as my computer homepage at work and I try to read 1 article a day everyday. Can you recommend something similar that is grammatically correct?

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mjgoldste wrote:
So, here is a table of contents for what I'm sure will be an inanely long post on [First] my experience sitting the test (most useful for future test-takers), [Second] my practice regimen leading up to the exam (definitely not the model of a diligent student), and [Third] final thoughts.

[1] Test Experience (Wanted to do this first because I just got out and it's still somewhat fresh in my mind):

To begin, sitting the GMAT in Austin, TX is an unusually pleasant experience. I took the exam downtown at the Guaranty Bank Building which sits only a few blocks from Austin's City Hall and the state Capitol on Congress Avenue. I was nervous, though this was somewhat alleviated by the fact that the proctors for the exam were very nice and responsive, and more importantly, there were very few other test-takers in the office that day. It is my experience that taking the exam during the day time at the end of the work week is the best time to take any standardized exam: everyone else is at work or doesn't want to bother just before the weekend. A quiet testing room is an ideal testing room.

While sitting the exam, I noticed that my attention did flag and I was zoning in and out every so often, especially on the Quantitative section. More importantly, because I was so focused on one or two problems in the middle of the Quant (and so not focused on other parts of that section), [b]I didn't answer the last two questions of my section, which I recognized at the time was a big problem.[/b] I'm sure you all know how costly it is to not answer questions on this test. I imagine if I had--even if I had guessed--my score/percentile would have been 10-20 points higher, and certainly, my Quant percentile (69th) would have improved as well.

During the Verbal Section, I felt comfortable and did well, though not as much as I might have. I am a strong reader and "sentence corrector", but my ability to analyze arguments remains my great weakness on the Verbal Section, and so I have no idea how I performed on those questions. Some I felt quite confident about, while others, not so much. The key thing that I noticed during the exam was maintaining my focus on the question at hand. The one before did not matter; neither did the one to follow. This allowed me to not be so concerned with what I perceived as rising and falling difficulty levels.-Its important to get this out of your mind. I never thought to myself, "Nuts, I just got an easy question. Another one bites the dust." Instead, I told myself only once that the logarithm that governs the GMAT sometimes tosses a softy to its test-takers no matter how they're performing. Not such a big deal then.

When I got my scores (700 @ 90th Percentile; V=41 @ 92nd Percentile; Q=44 @ 69th Percentile), I was both happy and a bit ambivalent. The score is good and I'm content with it; I think ambivalent because it now feels like I've hit the end of the road. Were you ever involved in a long-term project that, once it culminated, you'd have nothing to really focus on for a while? -I totally agree with this point.That's how the GMAT was for me. I kind of feel like I'm saying good-bye to a relatively newly-made friend for a little while. Which goes to show you how lame I am in real life.

---------
[2] Study Habits

I know that my score is "inflated" based on the fact that I teach standardized exams for a living. By extension, the logic follows that I'm a "good test taker" (however one measures that). But, what should be noted is that I did not improve tremendously from start to finish. In fact, if I had continued working after peaking at 720, I might have scored higher, and perhaps this too leaves me feeling some ambivalence about my current score. My exceptionally strong advice is not to be lazy like I obviously was: taking a month off in between my last diagnostic test and today was a stupid move and I am lucky to have gotten off so lightly. The only reason I was able to do so, again, is because 3/5 question types on the GMAT are found on tests that I work with regularly. It is strange to note that the very habits that I work so hard to cultivate in my students--diligence, patience, consistency, time sensitivity--I simply forsook on my own road. And it really didn't pay off.

------------

[3] Final Thoughts:

As far as test materials, I used the Manhattan GMAT online bundle. I stand convinced that these online tests were the only reason that I studied at all and the only reason that my score increased to the small extent that it did. Their tests are comprehensive, accurate, feel much like the real exam does, and, more importantly, they provide detailed answer explanations for literally every question you answer. Although I did doubt initially how accurate MGMAT's scoring logarithm is, I have to admit it pegged me very well. As far as the practice problem sets, I did some practice with each of the question types and found that it really helped to look over the questions--even the ones I got right--to get a sense of why some answers were right, some were wrong, and why others looked right but were, in fact, incorrect.

I also used the OG 12, which was nice. I acquired the OG Verbal and Quant guides but never looked at them. They're brand new on my desk and I imagine they'll make for nice bookshelf fillers for a little while. I think that the answer explanations found in them are actually fairly good, though if you're not of my mind, I do recommend buying that pdf file that is available that goes through each problem piecemeal.

In sum, again, I would like to thank you all for being here, even remotely. I can't imagine how this process would have gone if I had been "alone" doing it. That there are others out there with my sensitivities, anxieties, hopes, and goals really made all the difference. The only reason I never flipped out about my GMAT experience was because I always felt there was a place I could go for advice, challenging problems, or answers to the great questions that haunt all test-takers.
First of all,congrats for scoring 700 and getting into the 90% bracket.
Secondly,I liked your de-brief very much as it explains in detail how you went about your preparation.
I am quoting the part I liked and from which the community members can benefit from.
Especially the part that lays emphasis on completing the section.[Severe penalisation ]
It is very important that time and again we remember the fact that even though we are getting easy questions,we do not slack off in the test and eventually getting 1-2 questions unattempted.


I have colored the important text-Great piece of advice guys.
Atleast,check the colored part.
It is very helpful.
Thanks again mjgoldste.

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harsh...i think people forget that 25% of the exam doesn't count towards our score, so you may get easy questions but that may not be indicative of how you're performing

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Hey! Congrats on a very good score. Obviously, you're very well versed in English but am somewhat bothered by your use of the word "logarithm" in place of "algorithm". And you've done it twice; so, it's not a typo! I just think someone with a 700 ought to know the difference. Smile Peace!

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What a great debrief--congrats on the excellent performance and thanks so much about the kind words to the community!

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Hey man,

That's a great question and to be honest, I'm not sure what I'd recommend. But, what I can say is this: I read a lot of academic articles for my graduate work and my sense is that 1) they're fairly esoteric and 2) they're very well-edited because they have to pass through an editorial review board for publication. Do you have access to Jstor or Project Muse? You should start reading random academic articles each day.

And when I say "read", I don't just mean passively absorb--print it out, take notes, underline whatever you feel is important. Remember, the more you behave like everything is GMAT-related, the more comfortable you'll be on the test itself.



money9111 wrote:
mjgoldste thank you for providing this information! it's very helpful!

you said "What I recommend is not just reading a ton to get ready for the GMAT, but reading grammatically well-structured books and building your attention span as much as possible."

i currently have Science Daily as my computer homepage at work and I try to read 1 article a day everyday. Can you recommend something similar that is grammatically correct?

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Hilarious--I had no idea of the technical difference between the two. I think I've seen the word logarithm applied to the GMAT so I just applied it myself Surprised) Thanks for the correction!

Mattp wrote:
Hey! Congrats on a very good score. Obviously, you're very well versed in English but am somewhat bothered by your use of the word "logarithm" in place of "algorithm". And you've done it twice; so, it's not a typo! I just think someone with a 700 ought to know the difference. Smile Peace!

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