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Long Debrief - 630 to 740 (Q48, V45)

This topic has 1 expert reply and 0 member replies
Tadilliner Newbie | Next Rank: 10 Posts
14 Nov 2016
3 messages

Long Debrief - 630 to 740 (Q48, V45)

Post Thu Nov 17, 2016 11:27 am

So I began studying for the GMAT at the beginning of August. It was a bit of a spontaneous decision but some things became clear at work and in my personal life that made me decide an MBA was a good decision. However, for my situation, anything outside of a top tier school just didn't make sense. So I did some research, bought the EMPOWERgmat course, bought the OG, and apologized to my wife for the lonely nights and weekends she was doomed to for the next few months Crying or Very sad

I work in the Energy industry doing asset acquisition and development along with some divestiture. I also work on a lot of contract drafting/review as well as regulatory compliance. My company is a smaller, private gig so I have pretty diverse responsibilities. I received 2 bachelors degrees from a large, well-known southern university (Finance and Entrepreneurship). As such, you would think my Quant skills would be decent. They are not. I always performed well in math classes, frequently pulling out A's. However, I went to a very, very small, rural high school. My math teachers from age 12-18 were typically sports coaches who were forced to teach a class on the side and many of them just did the bare minimum. Not really their fault, as they were neither particularly adept nor particularly interested in the subject, but more a fault of the system in my opinion. I digress... The point is, my foundations for math are shaky. As everyone knows, building a house on a poor foundation is not the best thing to do. I can get problems correct if I have enough time, but when a concept is presented in a way I have not seen before or if it has a unique twist, I have trouble recognizing what to do.

Verbal is definitely my strong suit. I can recall obscure details from things I read days ago and had multiple practice tests where I did not miss a single RC question. The SC and CR were pretty easy and I really didn't devote a ton of time to Verbal for most of my prep so that I could work on Quant (that actually turned out to be a bit of a mistake - more on that later).

I've always performed relatively well on standardized tests. I got a 33 on the ACT, receiving perfect subsection scores in reading and science. But, due to a terrible math score (relative to the others) I lost a few points. I don't recall my SAT score but I was in the 99th percentile on that one as well. I found the SAT a bit more enjoyable, probably due to strong reading and vocabulary skills developed by devouring books throughout most of my childhood.

Okay, enough background. I just wanted to give some information on my past to shed some light on how and why I approached things the way I did.

Study Materials Used

So I bought EMPOWERgmat's On Demand course after a google search led me to their site. I did not do a lot of research into various options beforehand but I knew I had seen prices for prep courses that were WAY above theirs and they seemed to have good stats so I jumped right in.

The course is set up to work only with the Official Guide, and I truly feel like that is the best way to do it. While other sources of questions can be very helpful, they are, by definition, not official. By becoming flawless at the official questions I think you can get a very high score because you get a sense of how the test writers think. That said, I would like to point out my only real CONS of the course: The lower number of practice questions, and the lack of "hard" (700+) questions. As many people are aware I'm sure, the first half of the OG questions are pretty much softballs. There are some harder questions towards the end but to really see a wide breadth of questions and be prepared for everything you may need more practice questions. I feel like this holds true more for Quant than verbal.

See, in my opinion, there is a good case for both sides of the argument regarding practice questions. On one side, a person could argue that by truly breaking down each OG question and understanding the core concepts deeply then you don't NEED hundreds or thousands of practice questions. This is the approach EMPOWER takes, and I agree somewhat. However, personally I needed a bit more to feel truly prepared, especially on the Quant side. The other side of this argument is that by seeing many questions you will be prepared for the various ways the GMAC can phrase/present questions. I mean, it's a standardized test. There are only so many concepts, right? They know this too. So questions can get VERY crafty in the ways they test these concepts. You wouldn’t think that the concept a triangle has 180 degrees could ever really be hard, right? Wrong. When they combine 5 different concepts it can get very fun. (Ridiculous geometry DS questions anyone?) In the end, I can only say that where you fall in this debate is going to be particular to your specific situation and personality.

I also used Optimus' Prep services. I did the online tutoring 23-hour package (this also includes their on-demand course). For the sake of brevity I won't fully review this. You can read my review on the product page. In summary, I think it helped but it did not do THAT much for me. I feel like a tutor for that many hours should have brought my Quant score up more. To be fair, I was already testing at the 700-720 level before starting the course so there may not have been much room for improvement.

Lastly, I used gmatclub's tests sparingly. I just did not have time to go through Optimus' massive question bank as well as the club's. I think the quant problems are very challenging for those of us not at the 49-51 level. The explanations are good and only a few times was I left scratching my head as you geniuses discussed your novel ways of approaching the problems Very Happy . I am not a fan of the verbal questions. There is just too much ambiguity and when I would miss something rarely did I feel like I could not make a strong argument against the correct answer. I am a strong believer in limiting yourself to OFFICIAL verbal questions (See above). Nothing against the writers for Gmatclub or any other test prep, but you really can't argue that the verbal side is much more "open" than quant. As such, I would prefer to only see things that are done in the style and line-of-thought that the actual test writers use.

Early Study Stage

My first practice test taken before any studying was done scored a 630 (Q38, V38, IR 8). I took this one after a long night out the night before and was also about 10 feet from my wife watching TV. So, not ideal conditions... I was pretty disappointed with my score. I knew from my research that I wanted a 720 or so to be competitive at my target schools (Tuck, Kellogg, Ross, Darden, Fuqua). I also knew that I had seen many people say 100+ point improvement was pretty optimistic and would require a lot of work. I didn't care, though. I am extremely competitive and made this into a challenge. I wanted that 99th percentile like I had gotten in previous tests. Later I would contemplate a bit and realize that the test takers for the GMAT are a different demographic than college admissions tests... So the "pond" got smaller and the "fish" all got bigger Confused

I began studying. A LOT. I would say for the first 6-7 weeks I put in 30+ hours a week. I got to work at 5:30am and studied for a few hours before everyone else came in. I studied 45 mins on my lunch break. I studied every single night (including Fridays). I went to the library every Saturday morning at 8am and studied hard until 2pm, then went to the gym, then studied 2 more hours. I studied 4-6 hours every Sunday. It was tough but I was honestly enjoying flexing my brain muscles again after a few years out of school. CAUTION! Don't blow off friends, partners, family, or other significant people in your life to study. I reserved Friday and Saturday nights for time with my wife and friends. This will probably not be enough time to fulfill all social obligations for most people but you definitely need to keep a balance. I think those two nights kept me sane and gave me some semblance of a life. Don't be afraid to sacrifice, because the process takes some sacrifice, but don't become a hermit! Don't feel bad you're not studying and just enjoy the relaxation, a good meal, and maybe a drink or two. (Don't overdo it and give yourself brain fog the next day!) There will always be time to catch up with friends after you're done studying. Trust me. I've gone to about 8 dinners/lunches/coffees in the last week haha.

So with all the studying I saw quick improvements in my score. My next practice tests were 680 (Q43, V40), and 690 (Q43, V41). I got 7's and 8's on all the IRs. I believe I took those tests at the end of week 2 and 3. Within 3 weeks I was almost up to 700 and I felt pretty good about that. With another 2 months before my test I figured I was easily going to reach my goal. Then I hit the wall. Improvements on the far right side of that bell curve are tough to come by and this is truly where your perseverance and will to succeed are tested.

Hitting The Wall

So at this point practice test improvements pretty much came to a screeching halt for nearly 3 weeks. I think I got a 690, 680, and 690 in my next 3 attempts. At this point I had gone through all of EMPOWER’s course and moved on to the tutoring and Optimus’ question bank. I really couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t improving. My practice questions were going well (I thought) and I just seemed to be making the same dumb mistakes on mock tests. There were obviously a few questions that were beyond me but I would say 30-50% of my quant misses were silly mistakes.

I decided to take a weekend off from practice tests and limit myself to one 4-hour block of studying on Saturday and Sunday that focused solely on simple concepts and strategy. No beating my head against the wall on lots of 700+ questions. I took the rest of the weekend to relax, went to see a movie, and did normal people stuff.

The following weekend, I hit my first 720 (45Q, 43V). I was back on track… or so I thought. I fell back into my pattern of raining practice problems on my head and not TRULY going over my mistakes. I mean, yeah, I would kind of work through where I messed up, but it was immediately on to the next one so I could get a few correct and feel better. This is a HUGE mistake. Don’t do it!!! I don’t care if you spend 30 minutes on a problem going through the minutia. It’s worth it. I guarantee you will see those concepts or slight variations of them again and again. Due to my hard-headedness, I stayed right around the 710-720 range up until the week prior to my first official attempt. I never got above a 45 on the Quant which caused me a lot of despair. I was working so hard on it. Plus, that low percentile just wasn’t going to cut it for a top 10 school. Even at 700+ I knew I needed a better quant score. But, out of nowhere, as life loves to do sometimes, I was dealt a really crappy hand…

Life Gets in the Way

My wife’s brother passed away in a car accident about a week before my test. I had just settled down to start a practice test when we found out. Of course we both dropped everything and went to be with her family. The next week was a whirlwind of hectic activity and I honestly don’t remember much. By the weekend before my test (scheduled for a Monday) things were taken care of and I was able to take one practice test (another 710).

Although I hope none of you have something so terrible to deal with when you’re in the deep parts of your prep, I feel like I did glean some tips from the experience. First, try to expose yourself to the materials every day. It really doesn’t matter if it’s 20-30 minutes of practice problems, a few flash cards, or a podcast about the gmat. Try to expose yourself and keep it somewhere on the radar of your mind, even if it’s on the fringe. Second, don’t freak out if something gets in the way. You aren’t going to forget everything you learned the last weeks/months in a few days. Lastly, keep your priorities straight. Although this is a big deal, the GMAT is not a one-shot ordeal. Don’t compromise relationships or friendships because of it. I remember going over material on my phone one day when my wife’s family was grieving and reminiscing… someone asked me a question and it was obvious I wasn’t paying attention. I felt miserable and immediately stopped because that was more important than my test prep. Don’t be like me haha.

Test Day(s)

So I woke up at 6am (test at 8am), showered, meditated, performed some quick push-ups and sit-ups to get blood flowing, and then cooked and ate breakfast. I then did a few quick PS and SC questions to get my brain warmed up and drove to the test center. I was rocking out to music the whole way. Really at this point I tried to stay focused but a sense of calm had come over me. I knew I prepared well and I knew there was not a thing in the world I could do at this point but just go and give it my best shot. Got to the test center, signed in, emptied my pockets, etc. Time to start.

(I’ll do this briefly since no one needs a play-by-play of every single thought in my head) AWA was easy. Most of them have pretty glaring gaps and I had a solid template. I finished with about 5 minutes to spare. IR was interesting. There were 2 questions based on a table that still to this day befuddle me. They made NO sense. The explanation of the table literally did not seem grammatically sound to me and I could not discern what it meant. It was like a foreign language. Haha I guessed and moved on. Took my break, got a drink of water, stretched, did some pushups. Quant (my nemesis) began. I had to straight up guess on two of the first 10. I worked for 2-3 minutes on them and still had no idea. Fretting now. 10-20 went very smoothly. 20-30 had some real monsters that I took too much time on… due to that I really rushed the last 4 questions and can only assume I missed a few. Took my break, had a snack, pushups, back to chair. Verbal went well as far as I could tell. I thought I did great.

Upon finishing, I saw 710 (Q47, V40, IR 8). (I later received a 6 on AWA) I was happy that I was above a 700 and my quant had jumped up, but a 40 on verbal was well below average for me. I knew I could be competitive at many schools with this but also knew I could do better, specifically on the verbal side.

I consulted with friends and others and came to the conclusion that I would retake in 4 weeks. I hoped that was enough time to improve some more on quant and hopefully not choke on verbal again. For the next few weeks I did the exact same thing I was doing before. Practice problems ALL the time. I took practice tests each weekend and saw my scores go from 720, to 710, to 690. With a little over 2 weeks to go I decided to schedule a tour at Kellogg. My wife wanted to go since her happiness in the area is paramount to my decision on where to go to school, and unfortunately she could only get time off work the week prior to my test. I didn’t want to be studying while on vacation so I moved my test up a week. Now I had one week to study and was truly doubting myself because of my recent test scores.

This is when I had a sort of epiphany after talking to my advisor at EMPOWERgmat. He stressed to me that such a HUGE part of the test is not making silly mistakes on easy questions, and knowing when to skip/dump questions (termed Triage in the study course). The whole mindset is that the GMAT will punish you for missing an easy question much more than it will reward you for getting a crazy hard question correct (Alternatively - you're not punished as hard for missing a very difficult question). With that in mind, I set out that entire week to review the basics. I went over rules, stopped doing a plethora of hard questions every day, and spent a lot of time refining my strategy and thought process for the test. I also focused solely on Official verbal questions. I did the entire RC and CR sections over again and most of the SC, even though I had done most of them before. This time through I really concentrated on why they were asking each question and the concept behind it. It really paid off in a big way.

Again, I’ll spare the minute details of my thoughts on test day #2. AWA was easy. IR was okay. Quant seemed pretty easy until the 20’s. I got bogged down in some really tough questions there and seemed to get a string of question types that were not my strong suit. I got some rough permutation/probability questions and didn’t get any hard number properties or algebra, which I knock out of the park. Overall I felt so-so about it. The verbal side felt miserable. In reality I answered most of them easily but I was demanding perfection out of myself and there were probably 8-10 questions that I had it narrowed to 2 and had to follow my instincts. Anyway, test finished, I’m thinking I did pretty much the same as I did before and was just ready to hop on a plane and head to Chicago for 5 days. Score came up as a 740!! (48Q, 45V, IR6, AWA 6) I was ecstatic! It was such a huge weight off my shoulders to know that I was now most likely done studying all the time and could focus on other parts of my life.
In all honestly the IR 6 makes me sad. I got 7’s and 8’s on virtually every practice test ever. I’m really hoping it does not become a negative in my application. I also wish that my quant could have been a 49 or 50 since 48 is not that strong of a percentile rank. I’m hoping that it is strong enough for a top 10 school and many people I’ve spoken to think it will be. We will see.

Wrap Up and Tips

If you’ve made it this far, thank you! I know this is long, but it has been nice to write everything out. I enjoy reading other people’s stories both long and short. If you jumped down to here just to see the tips, that’s okay too!

I wrote a lot of the tips throughout, but I will try and list them here.

-Put in the work. Devote all the time and effort you can muster and you will be rewarded.
-Try to study, some amount of time, every day.
-Maintain some social activities and don’t shun friends/family.
-Strategy on triage, timing, and general mindset are your biggest weapon after learning content.
-Become flawless at OFFICIAL questions. Know them inside and out.
-Track your mistakes. Know why you made them and fix the issue. It’s tedious but worth it.
-Test prep software varies dramatically. Don’t put too much worry/thought into CATs that aren’t put out by mba.com. Many are good, but they have flaws as well. Focus instead on your mistakes, timing, strategy, etc. NOT the total score.

I don’t think I’m really qualified to give Quant side tips with so many people here doing exceptionally well. Speaking to any others who are not particularly adept like me, don’t get caught up in the theory or formal explanations for some stuff. For example, the OG explanations on some questions are ridiculous. Just a bit of common sense or testing a few numbers will suffice for a large portion of the test. I really recommend Rich’s videos from EMPOWERgmat here. He explains questions incredibly well and I legitimately laughed out loud sometimes at how easy a question was that I spent 5-10 minutes performing crazy operations on.

Verbal Tips:
-SC is literally testing rules for the majority of the questions. Learn them. That’s it. Learn them and learn to recognize them and this becomes much easier. Once I did this at a high level it felt like going through a checklist. “Okay there’s a list, need to maintain parallelism. There’s a modifier, make sure what it’s modifying makes sense. Does the subject match the verb? That’s wrong… That’s wrong… Bingo. Right answer.” (I realize this may be harder for non-native speakers. Especially on the conciseness and efficiency questions. As a native speaker I can’t really offer much help here because it comes naturally to me.)
-People often think verbal is ambiguous. There is ONE correct answer just like with Quant. If you really READ the question and READ the answer choices, there is a clear cut answer. However, this takes practice and effort. Many times it is the presence of one tiny word that changes the entire meaning of the answer. You must learn to spot these.
-Read critically. RC and CR are so dependent on meaning and that can be altered by seemingly innocent things. Read everything on this test like you are suspicious of it. They ARE trying to trick you.
-Try to engage with what you’re reading. I literally faked interest in my mind. Ask questions as you’re reading. “Why would they do this?” “What is the motivation for that?” etc. Just generally try to take an active role in each question.
-I mouthed/whispered almost everything I read. This is adding another element to aid in memory and engagement.
-Especially on the harder CR questions, choices will sound like they make a lot of sense but in reality they are the literal opposite of what you want. It amazes me how they write these things. Be critical!
-For technical or dense RC passages focus on the meaning. Don’t fret the dumb details, baffling jargon, annoying acronyms, and frustratingly long words. They don’t matter! Focus on the meaning and intent of the author. If you DO get a detail question, simply refer back to that area of the passage and find the detail.
-Take notes. It may seem like you’re wasting time but if you answer questions faster you will come out ahead. I finished with 5 minutes left on the Verbal section. With note taking, reading, and mouthing/whispering things you’ve got 3 iterations of the info and you’re much more likely to recall and understand it.
-Read at a good pace. A good pace much slower than you think. Pause at the end of sentences. Literally just take in a small breath and pause. Think of how a good narrator would read an audiobook. It does wonders for retention and lets your brain have a second to process. Too many people rush through stuff and then have no idea what they read.
-Don't shrug off verbal. Yes big quant scores are fun, but verbal nets you more overall score increases for each subsection point you gain than quant does. You're being ranked against your peers. If they're all amazing at quant and you aren't, destroy them with your verbal skills!

Well, that is pretty much it. I could talk for days about all of this stuff. If you read everything, I would like to sincerely thank you. I’m more than happy to answer any questions or give some clarification if needed. Thanks!

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Post Fri Nov 18, 2016 12:41 pm
Hi Tadilliner,

That's fantastic 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've listed some highly competitive Schools, so if you have not already done so, then you would likely find it beneficial to speak with an Admissions Expert about your overall profile. There's a Forum full of them here:


As an EMPOWERgmat Alum, we can also set you up with a free consultation with an Admissions Expert who we highly recommend. If you're interested, then you can contact the Support Team (at Info@empowergmat.com) and someone from the Team will help set you up.

Your overall mindset about this process is top-notch. If you bring the same attitude and energy to the application process that you brought to your studies, then I expect good things to continue to come your way. Congratulations again on your success!

Another GMAT Assassin has been made!

Contact Rich at Rich.C@empowergmat.com

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