I never thought I'd write one of these posts. In fact, today, nearly a week after my final encounter with the GMAT, I'm still in a state of disbelief.
Here's my recap on my journey from a 690 to 750:
I "officially" started studying for the GMAT over a year ago in the spring of 2016. Before then, I'd dabbled with test prep classes here and there (mainly Manhattan Prep, which I'd started and stopped twice due to my work schedule). After two failed attempts, I took away from the experience that the class structure didn't really make sense for me. I had a demanding job and specific weaknesses in quant and reading comprehension that the class could not tailor to in order to really meet my needs. If I wanted to do well on the test, I knew I'd have to try a different approach.
So I hired a tutor a friend recommended in April of 2016. I spent the next three months waking up at 5:30 in the morning to study before work and cramming on the weekends. I was a bucket of anxiety for months. Work was overwhelming, and the pressure of the GMAT only added to my emotional distress. However, I was finally making progress, and I pushed through. I signed up for a test date in July and chipped away at practice exams and problems. I really didn't have a study strategy other than trying to do as many questions as possible before my test date.
A week before the test, I was physically exhausted from lack of sleep (not at all how you should go into taking the test, in case you're wondering). On top of all of this, there was a death in my family that derailed me emotionally. The night before the test, my attitude was "I just need to be done so I can get on with my life."
Exam #1, July 2016: 690
I left the test center almost in tears. I told myself if I cracked the 700 threshold, I'd put these books aside and never look back. Now I was faced with a dilemma. I had a decent score, but it had fallen short of my expectations, and likely would not be competitive at the schools I was targeting.
Given what was going on in my personal life, I stepped away from the test for several months. When I came back to it in the fall, I had new resolve. I was considering applying R2 to some schools, so I decided to bite the bullet and get a fancy, expensive tutor. At this point, I'd committed a lot of money to the test, so I wanted to walk away with a score I could be proud of. Again, I didn't really change my studying strategy; I just did a lot of problems using MGMAT and Official Guide resources.
Exam #2 November 2016: 700
While I had done fairly well on the verbal, I squeaked by with a Q43. At this point, I decided that the issue was me. That I was just not a standardized test taker and I'd have to live with this outcome.
The next six months were a whirlwind of change, and I had plenty of time to put distance between myself and the test. When I left my job in June 2017, I found myself with some free time, and I decided to revisit the GMAT again. Since I knew I needed to focus on my quant skills, a friend in Forte recommended Target Test Prep to me.
Target Test Prep's course structure was exactly what I needed. The dashboard gives you real analytics on your progress, which makes it so much easier to track your strengths and weaknesses. It's also easy to navigate and simple. As soon as I paid the $1 trial sign up fee, I felt like I was able to get to work immediately. This time, I did not take any shortcuts. I did the work. I built myself a calendar around Target Test Prep's recommended study plan and stuck to it. I tracked my progress on their dashboard, flagging questions I did not understand, and then went back to them to redo later. No other resource I had tried (and I tried many of them) made it so easy to identify and tackle my weaknesses.
I also opted to do individual tutoring sessions with Jeff, Target Test Prep's head tutor. These sessions were grueling because Jeff purposely showed me the trickiest problems to help me learn how the test is designed to stump you. Through these sessions, I started to learn how to think about problems and how to approach them more strategically.
I had a fairly tight timeline to study, with R1 applications fast approaching, and I was chugging along nicely until life happened, again. The last two weeks before my exam, a string of personal issues crept up on me and threatened to derail my progress. I suddenly felt all the pressure of the exam seeping in again.
Exam #3 July 2017: 710
This was by the far the most disappointing score increase I'd experienced. My verbal, which I hadn't really studied, improved slightly, but my quant score wasn't budging. After I left the test center, I texted Jeff to share the news and he immediately responded with "take it again."
After debriefing over the phone, I wrestled with the decision to retake because I really hadn't seen much improvement in the year I'd spent studying. But Jeff believed in me and encouraged me to sign up again and give it one final shot.
I didn't study much over the next two weeks. I did one quant section on a free practice exam to focus entirely on my timing, and I spent two days reviewing strategies posted online to guess more strategically in the quant section. I didn't tell anyone I was retaking. I even told myself I'd leave the test if I didn't feel like I'd done well on the quant (the first section I would do on the test).
Exam #4 August 2017: 750
When I got to the test center (one I'd never been to before), I felt pretty good. The atmosphere was surprisingly positive, thanks to the energetic woman working at the front desk. I checked in and focused on some breathing exercises. I told myself there was nothing to lose. I felt like the quant section went well, so I decided to see it through to the end. After that, the verbal, IR, and writing assessment flew by (the verbal felt really tough, but I a ended up with a 47, higher than I'd ever previously scored on any exam, practice or actual). In all, my quant improved by 3 points and my verbal improved by 5, and I walked out of the center with a smile on my face for the first time ever.
For me, Target Test Prep was crucial for building a strong foundation in my quant skills, and I truly believe it taught me to think more strategically about the exam overall. My verbal and IR both improved without much additional time spent studying these sections. But I also have to thank Jeff, who gave me the confidence to give it just one more shot.
Looking back now, finally on the other side of the test, a few pieces of advice I would pass on to others:
- Don't be afraid to experiment with materials until you find the right fit. I will expand on this and say that you should not hold yourself back from a resource (like tutoring) that you know you need just because of the price (if possible). I tried to cut a lot of corners and ended up spending more money as a result.
- There is no substitute for time. You should expect to spend 100+ hours prepping between lessons, problems, and practice exams. Target Test Prep is great for accountability here because the main dashboard tracks the number of practice problems you've done and reflects that as a percentage of total questions available.
- Know your weaknesses! Don't try to power through every resource available for every question type. This is where the value of analytics comes in. Your time is valuable, and you should spend it on the subjects where you need it the most.
Below are the resources that were most helpful to me:
- OG 2017
- GMAT Prep Exams (all 6)
- Target Test Prep (definitely, definitely look at their formula guide!!)
- PowerScore Reading Comprehension Bible
- Manhattan Prep Sentence Correction
- Magoosh Guessing Strategies blog posts
Journey from 690 to 750: You CAN do it!
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