[720 Q49 V40] My Blog: Errors and lessons learned

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by achandwa » Mon Oct 15, 2007 8:23 am
When you get a chance could you please brief us about your overall experience on the test - difficulty level on each section, how many guesses you made etc.
Thanks, Ashish

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by mayonnai5e » Mon Oct 15, 2007 9:37 am
Here is a quick debrief about my actual testing experience. I will be providing several more posts with a careful analysis of what I did right and what I did wrong in my studying.

I am based in Paris right now so my testing center may not be like others around the world. Paris apartments have double glass windows to lock out as much noise as possible and during my test I was really glad about that. There was virtually no noise aside from the keyboard noises from other test takers.

Going into the AWA, which I only studied for the last two nights before my exam, I was a little bit nervous. The argument question read like a critical reasoning question and I got off on the wrong foot. Only after ten minutes into it did I realize I was on the wrong path. All in all, the AWA portion went fine after I started to relax.

After the AWA, I took a 5 minute break (10 minutes max allowed) and did some pushups and jumping jacks. Yes, I was in the testing center doing jumping jacks. Each break, I did some exercise activity, drank some water, and used the restroom. It really did help.

Next up came the Q section. I started off slow on purpose because I realized from the last few CATs that when I put too much pressure on myself to answer quickly, I made too many careless mistakes and gave up too easily on questions that I should not have missed. Also, three nights before, I did a set of the hardest Q in the OG Q book and I tried to stay absolutely as relaxed as possible and it worked out great. The problem was that whenever I felt too much time pressure I would skip the "thinking" portion of the Q question (where I would normally look at the question and absorb the info and make a decision on how I would attack the problem) and immediately go into "grunt work" mode (where I would just choose the first thing that came to mind). Spending the extra time up front to "think" about the problem (even with the time pressure mounting) helped me stay calm and confident about each question.

Now, for the actual material, I did not see anything even remotely as difficult as the hardest MGMAT CAT questions. The questions I saw were very much in line with the OG11 Q questions in the last 50 problems or so and at the end of the OG Q. In fact, there were several questions that were exactly the same as the OG11 hard questions except that the numbers were changed. Because of that I actually thought I was doing terribly. I was under the impression that all these questions were too easy and could not be the upper bin questions. But I focused and concentrated on each question carefully even though I knew I would have to guess on the last 4-7 questions. There was no way I could catch up enough to complete the entire Q portion so I stuck with what I was doing and worked each question out methodically. As far as how many I had to guess, there were many. On almost every PS problem, I was confident on my response, but on the DS, I wasn't so sure. Most DS questions I answered with about 60-70% confidence with some in the 80% range, but for the most part I felt like most DS questions were just guesses. I answer many with E so I thought that was a bad sign. What really scared me was that at the very end of the exam, where I was guessing randomly, I saw one geometry PS problem that I solved in my head in 10 seconds - I thought for sure I must have been in the 30's range of Q. I had to randomly guess on the last 6 or 7 questions. In addition, I left the very last problem completely blank - the Q portion ended just as I was about to select next and the thought of an unanswered question hung over me.

During the second break, I was very seriously demoralized. The Q section just did not seem right. The questions were just seemed too easy and I left one completely blank. I went into the verbal thinking that I scored no higher than 39 on Q so even if I scored 45 on V I would not break 700. As a result, I did not go into verbal with much pressure hanging on my shoulders. On one hand, this could be considered good because stress, anxiety and pressure are often what makes me do poorly; on the other hand, not caring anymore is not good either. But I went on, trying my best to stay focused. I thought, hey if I did that bad in Q, the least I can do is get a 45 on V and boost my score a little. The questions were hard across the board. SC was hard. CR was hard and RC was hard. It did not feel like the verbal from my last GMATPrep at all. On several CR questions I was unsure and guess whereas I am normally confident in CR. On SC, there were just a few very difficult ones, but I definitely noticed where the errors were and in one case I thought to myself, "oh man the test writers are tricky - that one could have gotten me." On RC, I quickly saw some very hard passages. I think I spent at least 5-7 minutes reading the scientific passage, but I stuck with it knowing that if I answered the questions on that passage correctly it would definitey boost my score. The reason why I focus on RC and am willing to give up minutes on it is because if I cannot understand the passage I will very likely miss every single question asked on that passage and that is not acceptable (imagine missing 4-5 questions in a row). Near the end, I saw at least 1 CR of almost every type including a boldfaced question, a "which question will help evaluate..." question, and a "which of the following completes the passage below" question. I guessed on the last 3 verbal questions.

When my score popped up, I was SHOCKED. ABSOLUTELY SHOCKED. Not only did I NOT do terrible in the Q, I actually scored higher in Q than any other practice CAT. I was disappointed in my 40 on V, but I didn't care because I scored 720, higher than any practice CAT.

Here is a complete list of all practice CATs I've taken:
PR GMAT 1 550 Q32, V34
PowerPrep1 560 Q35, V31
GMATPrep1 650 Q45, V34
PR GMAT 2 570 Q35, V33
PowerPrep 2 540 Q39, V25
Paper test 14 680 Q42, V42
Paper test 58 670 Q42, V40
PR GMAT 3 660 Q42, V40
MGMAT 1 650 Q40, V38
MGMAT 2 700 Q42, V42
MGMAT 3 690 Q45, V39
GMATPrep 2 710 Q42, V45
GMAT 720 Q49, V40

Note that I did a lot of practice CATs because timing was a serious, serious challenge for me. I do not believe everyone needs to do as many practice CATs as I did, particularly those that do not have timing issues. Even after all those CATs I still did not complete the real GMAT on time. PR GMAT 3 was the only CAT where I finished both sections on time.

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by achandwa » Mon Oct 15, 2007 12:15 pm
Thanks a lot mayonnai5e! What an improvement you have had! Reading your posts, I think you thoroughly deserved it due to your methodical study! Your experience will certainly inspire a lot of us!
-Ashish

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by gowani » Mon Oct 15, 2007 12:30 pm
congrats on your great score!

:)

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by Stacey Koprince » Mon Oct 15, 2007 2:11 pm
Fantastic - I'm really happy for you! I also wanted to mention that the kind of analysis you did on your strengths and weaknesses, as chronicled here, should serve as guidance for others. You did exactly what someone needs to do to truly understand the way the test is written and how your own strengths and weaknesses play into that.

Also, just want to point out to others - don't play the "guessing game" during the test (trying to analyze how well you're doing). I've assessed thousands and thousands of questions over more than a decade and I can still debate difficulty levels with my fellow teachers. You might think you're seeing an easy question but it might just be easy for you b/c it's a strength of yours. Or it might be deceptively tricky - it might look simple but be quite hard. Or it might be an experimental, in which case who cares how easy or hard it is?

There isn't even any upside to playing the "guessing game" because we disproportionately notice the negative during such times - what don't I know? what might I have missed? why does that question seem so easy? why am I always stuck in the slowest lane when there's lots of traffic and I'm in a hurry? (When's the last time you thought - wow, there's tons of traffic but, on average, my lane is moving faster than the other ones, even though sometimes we're slower!) :)

All you'll do is psych yourself out. So don't go there.

Finally, mayonnai5e's experience is further proof that you can think you're not doing well and still do very well. That feeling is a lot more common than we're used to on a paper-and-pencil test - it's more common specifically because of the adaptive structure of this test. So expect it because it may happen to you!

Thanks again for sharing everything, mayonnai5e, and good luck with apps!
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by mayonnai5e » Mon Oct 15, 2007 2:18 pm
Stacy, you've made an excellent point here. I honestly believed I had failed miserably especially coming to the end of the Q section, but obviously what I felt was not how I performed. So to the readers out there, even if you feel like you've done terribly on a section, don't fret and stay focused!

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by mayonnai5e » Mon Oct 15, 2007 4:08 pm
Before I forget, I'll discuss the kinds of questions I saw:

Quant -
Mostly basics with different levels of difficulty:
* 3 or 4 rate problems in PS format
* 2 or 3 overlapping set problems in both DS and PS format
* MANY number property problems in DS and PS format
* Several exponent problems in both PS and DS format
* 1 or 2 quadratic equation problems
* 0 yes 0 probability/combination problems even at Q49 level

I am very lucky that the last few days of my prep I focused on studying the basics and by this I mean the questions that you will DEFINITELY see in the mid 40s instead of focusing on the super hard problems that you will probably not even see (consider that I spent about 1.5 weeks studying difficult probability, combination and permutation problems and saw 0 problems of that type - what a horrible return on my investment). By this I mean rates, mixtures, sets, averages, percentages, exponents, number properties, geometry, etc. A large majority of questions I saw were of these types.

For verbal, I saw what you would expect to see. A social passage, a science passage, etc etc. The SCs were in line with the OG SCs and the CRs were also quite similar. Not much to say here except focus verbal studies on the OG material as I feel most 3rd party verbal material is not quite up to the task.

As far as similarity goes, I think Kaplan 800 had problems that were pretty close to the difficulty I saw. PR material is too easy compared to what you would see in the high levels of Q on the GMAT. PowerPrep, as many other have noted, contains rather simple problems. MGMAT is a whole other story. I personally feel the MGMAT math is way too complex, long-winded and relies on too many obscure rules/techniques to truly reflect the GMAT material. With that said, I do believe you can benefit from MGMAT quant by studying the material that you get wrong and making conscious decisions about which questions are unlikely to appear on a real GMAT cat. For those questions, throw them out. I have a print out of about 30 pages of MGMAT CAT questions that I got wrong and on some of them, my notes simply say "too long, too complex - won't be on GMAT." Basically, for any given "hard" problem consider whether learning how to solve that hard problem is really going to be worth the effort. You could instead spend that time working on another area of math. For MGMAT problems, consider whether you have seen something similar to that problem in OG11 - that is the criteria I used when deciding whether to really try to learn/memorize how to solve a MGMAT problem. As I noted earlier today, many of the Q problems I saw were very much in line with those presented in OG11.

I'll talk more about my lessons learned in math prep in another post.

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by mayonnai5e » Mon Oct 15, 2007 4:32 pm
Anyone know how I can change the message next to my name from "Really wants to Beat The GMAT!" to "Already Beat The GMAT!" ?? =P

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by beatthegmat » Mon Oct 15, 2007 8:17 pm
mayonnai5e wrote:Anyone know how I can change the message next to my name from "Really wants to Beat The GMAT!" to "Already Beat The GMAT!" ?? =P
I've taken care of it. Congrats! :)
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by mayonnai5e » Mon Oct 15, 2007 10:11 pm
beatthegmat wrote:
mayonnai5e wrote:Anyone know how I can change the message next to my name from "Really wants to Beat The GMAT!" to "Already Beat The GMAT!" ?? =P
I've taken care of it. Congrats! :)
HAHA! Excellent. Thanks Eric.

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by abhi75 » Tue Oct 16, 2007 6:12 am
Hi mayonnai5e,

First of all congrats on your terrific GMAT score. I really appreciate your effort in sharing your GMAT strategy and improvements techniques with everyone on this forum.

Your log has been very very useful to me. It seems that you had the exact same weakness that I have right now and I will be referring to your blog now and again to improve my GMAT score.

I appeared for GMAT in Sep 2007 and the GMAT score was 550 (Q 40 V26). I would appreciate any suggestions/advice. But my very basic problem is timing on the Test and nerves. I am familiar with most of the concepts but I need to work to be a smart test taker.

Just like you I have decided to give maximum CATs possible. I was planning to appear for GMAT again in Jan. In a seperate thread I will post my experience so far.

All the very best for your apps.

Abhi.

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by achandwa » Tue Oct 16, 2007 11:05 am
What I can gather from mayonnai5e's experience is it's best to answer as many questions, especially in the beginning, without random guessing as you possibly can even if it means you will need to randomly guess on some towards the end (to a limit ofcourse). Sure, on some difficult ones, you may need to make an educated guess after eliminating 2-3 choices but try to avoid random guesses. I came across one recommendation that advocated doing your best on first 20 questions even if you had to spent first hour on them and randomly guess on the rest by picking one of the choices, say D, for them all. It was a bit too extreme I thought. But it did highlight the importance of the initial questions.

On the 4 tests I have taken so far, I have always struggled on my timing. If I try to avoid mistakes in the initial questions, I end up guessing randomly on 6-8 problems on both sections. In one test I did manage to answer most questions without random guessing but I gave up far too easily on some difficult ones in the beginning that I knew would suck up too much of my time. In another, I tried to get as many correct in the beginning as I could and randomly guessed 5 on quant and 8 on verbal and ended up scoring my highest so far. The 4 tests I have taken don't have anything in common (they are from different sources); so I cannot read into it too much at this point. But I am trying to understand the importance of initial questions.

Minimizing mistakes in the early part of the test does mean spending more time on initial questions. I am enrolled in Veritas online course and they advocate pacing yourself evenly - 25 minutes each for each of the set of 13-14 questions. The official guide too advises against giving too much importance to the initial questions. But I am not sure that's the best strategy.

I would love to hear public opinion on the importance of initial questions and on pacing.
Thanks, Ashish

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by abhi75 » Tue Oct 16, 2007 11:11 am
I have been following the method of uniform time distribution and it has not worked in my way. As you said I end up giving easily on the problems. This is what I did on my last test. As pointed out by others, if we limit our guesses to 3 to 5 max per section, we might be better off.

But again its worth experimenting with what you have mentioned.

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by mayonnai5e » Tue Oct 16, 2007 11:30 am
Here is my take and my experience on the topic. I struggled throughout my entire prep on timing. Even after 10 practice CATs I still could not consistently complete either section. However, I noticed that when I tried to force myself to move ahead, I had too much pressure to give up on a question and move on to the next question and hope that it would be significantly easier than the last. In addition, I made more careless mistakes than necessary because of the little voice in my head screaming, "You're taking too long! You're taking too long!!"

But on practice sets, I noticed that I could move calmly through the questions and usually finish with just 1 or 2 left over. And, in addition, I would spend more time focusing on how to do a problem instead of "should I skip this problem? oh no i'm spending too much time on this...i need to start doing some grunt work start writing stuff down" In the end, MY experience told me that when I put TOO much pressure on myself, I would: 1) make more careless mistakes than usual and 2) give up on questions that I actually KNEW HOW TO SOLVE. This was very evident to me on my last GMATPrep because a majority of the questions I missed were ones that I solved very easily when I sat down and looked at it calmly after the test (by this I mean I was able to finish them under 2 minutes without any problems at all).

In light of my findings on how I performed under pressure on Quant, I made a conscience decision to NOT force myself to move too fast and to give myself ample time to evaluate a question and make a clear decision on whether I knew how to solve this problem. AND I knew I wasn't going to finish the exam. If I could not finish the other 12 exams, I wasn't going to finish this one.

With that decision made, two nights before my actual exam, I practiced by doing a set of the last 10 problems in the OG Q book. I gave myself ample time to read the problem, understand the problem, and evaluate the problem. If, after that initial evaluation, I found that I still had no clue how to solve it then it was time to guess and move on.

The important thing to take away is that this was MY experience and mine only. I noticed my accuracy was suffering severely yet I was not making any gains on speed and number of questions answered. So I decided to go for accuracy. My recommendation is not to follow my path blindly, but to practice a few CATs using different strategies and determine which method works best for you and what YOU feel most comfortable with.

BUT what I recommend everyone do is to practice all problems timed after you have completed the initial ramp up phase (i.e. learning the question types, reviewing math basics, etc etc. -- do not start from the very beginning timing yourself!)

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by mayonnai5e » Tue Oct 16, 2007 12:02 pm
My Greatest Preparation Mistake.

In this post, I will discuss what I feel was the most significant mistake I made in my preparation.

You will recall that in the very first post of this blog, I stated that I did not like the error log concept because it became unwieldy with lots of problems ranging from SC to PS to DS. In light of that, I moved to lessons learned logs where I could just track my mistakes and the lessons I have derived from those mistakes.

However, I failed to consider how that method affects the context of the lesson itself. In Verbal, my lessons learned logs were very, very good. However, for Quant, I believe lessons learned logs are not enough. Why? Because my logs did not capture the context of the lesson. For example, I have one lesson that simply contains this:

|x| = -|x| and |x| >= 0
so
|x| = -|x| implies that X = negative * positive and x MUST be < 0 or = 0

Hmmm.....

What I found was that simply writing out specific lessons and notes did not work well for Quant whereas it can work very well for verbal because a verbal lesson usually applies in a general way. In Q, the lesson usually matters in a certain context and in a certain question asked in a certain way. In other words, when given a particular lesson, I found myself wondering why that lesson was important. Where did I get this lesson from? Why was this fact important? Was this a PS question? Was this a DS question? With my original lessons learned on Q, I LOST all that information.

Once I realized this HUGE mistake, which was ONE WEEK before my exam, I quickly went through all my missed problems in OG11 and all the most recent CATs (I left out the first 4 or 5 CATs because the material was simply too old to really reflect my current capabilities). For each problem, I copied down the problem. I solved the problem in the fastest way that I understood. This point is important. Some official solutions were too confusing to me, but I knew how to solve the problem in another manner so I wrote down MY WAY. NOT the confusing official way. What matters is what you know and what you can understand, not what the author of test question believes is the correct way to solve the problem. I wrote this all in BLACK INK. Next, I looked over the problem again, and at the end of the page, in BLUE INK, I wrote:

"Lessons:
1)...blah blah blah
2)...yada yada yada..
etc"

This last point is also key: each problem you miss should contain at least one lesson learned.

I employed this last method for each problem I missed in OG11 and OG V. In addition, I printed out all the missed Q problems from MGMAT 1, 2, 3 and GMATPREP 1 and 2. Print outs are nice because you don't have to hand copy the problem (laziness factor wins out any day). This idea essentially combines my idea of lessons learned with tried and true method of an error log. The important point is not to simply write out how to solve something because you risk the danger of simply memorizing that solution, but instead, to actively learn a lesson so that you can reapply that lesson on a problem that you've never ever seen before.

How successful was this? My highest Q was 45 on GMATPrep 1, which I took in May, and 45 on MGMAT 3, which I took about 3 weeks ago. Last week on GMATPrep 2, I scored 42 on Q. Immediately after that, I created my Quant error + lessons logged. I posted on this forum and other forums about ideas on how to boost my Q from low 40s to high 40s in one week. Most people who responded said it couldn't be done. IT CAN BE DONE. I scored 49 on Q.