Taking the GMAT four times in one year feels as insane as it sounds, but if this is you, just know that you're not alone. My first three tests were nearly identical...630, 610, 640... so why did I decide to take it a fourth time? Because I truly believed that I could do better.
In one word, my GMAT experience was mayhem. It was long, messy, filled with twists and turns, and often discouraging. While studying for the GMAT, I consulted forums like this to look for advice on study programs, or for inspiration when I was feeling drained. By sharing my story, I hope to help at least one person learn from my mistakes.
Official GMAT Tests:
Mar 2017: 630
Apr 2017: 610
Jul 2017: 640
Oct 2017: 720!!!!
In the past year, I've taken roughly 15 practice tests (Manhattan and GMATPrep). I'm not going to bore you with the list, but note that I took all 6 GMATPrep practice tests at least 2 or 3 times from May to October and consistently scored 700 to 740 on every attempt.
In my story you will learn that not all GMAT classes, tutors, and online programs are created equally. But thankfully for you, I've tried almost everything:
- Manhattan GMAT Prep In-Person Class
FortÃ© Foundation MBALaunch
Manhattan GMAT Tutor(s)
GMATPrep Software (including all extended question and exam packs)
Target Test Prep Tutor
Target Test Prep Online
e-GMAT Online (Verbal)
I dabbled with Magoosh and Veritas, but not enough to review
2014: MANHATTAN GMAT PREP CLASS
In 2014, I decided that I wanted to go to business school and needed to study for the GMAT. At the time, I had a brother at Kellogg (GMAT 720) who took a Kaplan in-person class. He recommended the in-person class at Manhattan Prep over Kaplan (no details as to why, so this is not to say that Kaplan is insufficient). My other brother, who also wanted to go to business school, and I signed up for Manhattan-we were on our way. As far as prep classes go, I would recommend Manhattan and I believe it's a sufficient for many candidates, but at the time it wasn't enough for me. I needed more materials, particularly online, and more accountability to stay committed. Unfortunately, this is not a unique problem.
While I had a great instructor and the curriculum was comprehensive, for one reason or another I got distracted and scared, and I made up excuses to not take the GMAT. My brother that I took the Manhattan class with is now at McCombs (GMAT 700), so I can safely say that it was my learning style that didn't work for the class.
JAN - OCT 2017: FORTÃ‰ FOUNDATION MBALAUNCH
Fast forward to 2017. The MBA itch was still alive and well. I knew that if I was going to get serious about applying for an MBA, I needed structure and accountability. I had to put a support system in place that would hold me responsible for my successes and failures.
FortÃ© Foundation's MBALaunch is an amazing program and was exactly what I needed to get through the MBA application process. LISTEN UP MBA-SEEKING FEMALES! I cannot underscore this enough. FortÃ© MBALaunch is THE REASON that I'm writing this post today.
As a FortÃ© MBALauncer you are required to take the GMAT, but FortÃ©'s GMAT prep was not extensive enough for what I needed to study. That said, FortÃ©, made me aware of and gave me access to a world of GMAT prep programs that I didn't know existed. When it comes to my GMAT success, I credit Target Test Prep-more on this later-but the only reason that I found Target Test Prep was because of FortÃ©.
At this time, I knew that I either needed to look for a GMAT prep program, private tutor, or create an independent study plan... but which is it?
For me, one of the hardest aspects about studying for the GMAT is the overwhelming amount of resources, books, programs, videos, forums, etc. available to consume. When I tried to create an independent study plan, I spent more time making agendas and wondering if this book/program/blog/forum is the right book/program/blog/forum, or if there is another book/program/blog/forum that has better knowledge, problems, solutions...
...and then I wondered how I was going to find this better book/program/blog/forum
...and then I went back to thinking that maybe this was the right one???
If your brain works like mine does, I'm very sorry.
I needed to take myself out of that equation, and tutoring seemed like the best option. I decided that I would use the Manhattan books that I had from my in-person class to brush up on concepts, find a tutor to plan my study schedule and help with the hard stuff, and then I'd be good to, right?!? Not so fast...
JAN - FEB 2017: MANHATTAN GMAT TUTOR (Tutor #1)
Private tutoring was the right approach for me. Unfortunately, my first tutor taught me a very valuable lesson: not all tutors are created equally. I didn't feel confident that I was progressing, and I was just as confused about my study plan as before I started tutoring.Â I had minimal guidance, which I desperately needed.
Thankfully, a few weeks after I started with this Manhattan tutor, I had my FortÃ© MBALaunch orientation, in which a Veritas tutor was there to ask questions. He graciously listened to my insecurities about my Manhattan tutor and sincerely motivated me to bite the bullet and tell Manhattan it wasn't working out. I know my hesitation sounds ridiculous, but I desperately didn't want to admit to myself that it wasn't working out-please don't be that person. PLEASE. If you're not getting everything that you want and need from a tutor, speak up or move on.
FEB - APR 2017: MANHATTAN GMAT TUTOR (Tutor #2)
After I told Manhattan that I needed to cut the cord, I reached out to the Manhattan instructor who taught the in-person class that I took in 2014 because I knew he was a solid teacher. I asked him if he would take me on as a tutor student, and he kindly accepted.
He is a true teacher in the sense that he could literally be a professor. He is incredibly intelligent and genuinely cared about my success. With him, I might have succeeded if there were a better online program to supplement his tutoring sessions. Unfortunately, I found the Manhattan website interface to be clunky and inefficient for my studying style and needs, and I was left with a study program that didn't provide a clear direction to develop concepts and progress.
At this point I had taken a handful of Manhattan practice tests that came in at around 630. At the advice of my tutor, I transitioned to GMATPrep practice tests. The two GMATPrep practices scores before my first official test were 670 and 690.
My goal was 700, but I would have been okay with a 680, so I thought I was ready....
****MARCH 2017: OFFICAL GMAT TEST 1
(Cancelled): 630 (40Q, 36V)
I was devastated. I'm an anxious person, one who lives in her head, so my support system readily assumed that my mental game was off. But quite the contrary; I felt GREAT taking the test. I thought I was crushing it the entire time. I did yoga that morning, meditated after, ate the foods that I wanted to eat, listened to my pre-GMAT playlist, and did just about everything in my predetermined (insane) book of success. I thought that if I arranged all the pieces just perfectly, the perfect score would appear. I had heard stories of triumph by people doing the same behaviors and I wondered "why not me?"
Reflections from Test 1:
IT MATTERS. I cannot stress this enough.
Verbal was "supposed" to be my strength. I studied journalism in my undergraduate and successfully write for my career, but my studies and career didn't do justice on test day. Do not be fooled by the pretense that because English is your first language that you only need to focus on quant. I will tell you what verbal program to use later in this saga.
While studying for my first test with my Manhattan tutor, I also participated in weekly quant webinars with Target Test Prep-I mentioned above that I found out about these via the FortÃ© Foundation (FortÃ©=AMAZING). There was one webinar, on combinatorics, in which I recall walking away from feeling confident that I had learned skills that I could use on the official GMAT. Before my first test, I told myself that if things did not go as planned, I will contact the instructor of these webinars and ask him to be my tutor.
When things went south with test one, that is exactly what I did. I reached out to Jeff Miller of Target Test Prep looking looking for any sort of advice. At the time, I had already scheduled my second GMAT test. Truth be told, I had scheduled it before my first test in attempt to "alleviate pressure." But still, I needed reinforcement.
I'm unconditionally appreciative for the craziness that Jeff dealt with on our first call. I called him on a whim and felt like a I had the annoyance level of telemarketer as I unloaded my sob story of studying, practice tests, and tutors. I asked for advice and he offered to squeeze me in for a session. I told him that my next test was already scheduled for two weeks out and I was going to continue with my current plan-what's the worst that can happen, right? Jeff helped calm me down, see the bigger picture, and told me to keep moving forward. I knew he would be there for me if my next score didn't pan out.
I continued with my study plan...
****APRIL 2017: OFFICAL GMAT TEST 2
(Cancelled): 610 (34Q, 39V)
Again, I was devastated, but not as surprised. I didn't feel any more prepared for this test-considering I only had two weeks between my first and second-but as with my first test, I still thought that I was decently prepared. I felt that if I continued to study the "recommended" hours and create the absolute perfect test-day plan that I would hit my target score.
Reflections from Test 2:
I had to make some big changes and accept that life doesn't work out no matter how much you plan. While a 700 target score was still in my peripherals, I knew I needed to be more flexible with target date. I was ready to move on.
MAY - OCT 2017: TARGET TEST PREP TUTOR (Tutor #3)
I like to think of this as the rebirth of my GMAT studying.
As I mentioned earlier, I knew that if things went south on my second test that Jeff Miller of Target Test Prep would be my first call. In the cab home from my second GMAT, I had Jeff on the phone and he told me that it was okay, that there is still plenty of time, and that we were going to make a plan.
Let me make this scenario clear: Jeff Miller, who was neither my tutor nor had he received a dollar for me, graciously coached me on my previous studying and exam experiences, generously reached out to me on the day of my test to give me encouragement, and consoled me on my cab ride home. I was already impressed with his webinars, but now it was clear that he was going to be a staple of my support system. If you're like me, you need a team, and I felt like Jeff was that guy on my sideline screaming "coach put me in!"
Up until this point I had reframed from online tutoring because I incorrectly assumed that I needed the attention of an in-person tutor. If this is your concern, PLEASE believe that online tutors can be the same, if not better, than in-person tutors. Jeff was extremely attentive, he created a personal connection right away, and the flexibility of online tutoring worked in my favor.
As a tutor, Jeff went above and beyond the call to duty. His goal was to always challenge me. During our sessions, I wanted to get every problem correct; it's human nature. After a series of incorrect problems, when Jeff could hear the frustration in my voice, he kindly reminded me that his purpose was to find the areas that I struggled with, exploit that weakness, build on it, and help me grow. It would be easy for me to ramble on about his intelligence and competence as a GMAT tutor. As I mentioned before, what made Jeff special as a tutor, was his personal touch, the fact that Jeff became one of my biggest cheerleaders...and dare I say a friend (are we allowed to make friends from wretched test?).
MAY - OCT 2017: TARGET TEST PREP ONLINE PROGRAM
Along with Jeff being the right tutor for me, TARGET TEST PREP WAS THE BEST QUANT PROGRAM.
The program is rooted in an entirely online structure, which is not only convenient for the times that you didn't want to carry the giant OG book, but also superior to programs who supplement other methods of offline study. It provides questions, tracks answers, and analyzes performance for hundreds of GMAT-like problems. Many of the questions have brilliant and oh so helpful video solutions. The web interface of Target Test Prep is flawless. It is SO easy to use. Easy to follow, easy to learn, easy to practice, and easy to evaluate your performance.
MAY - JULY 2017: Empower-Gmat SOFTWARE
Target Test Plan is all quant, so I needed to find a verbal program to balance my studies. After reading reviews, I choose Empower-Gmat. This program was not a good choice for me. In my honest opinion, I felt that it focused on tricks and strategies to beat GMAT problems without teaching concepts. If you truly don't know the answer, then you can reach into your bag of tricks, but don't rely on it for the entire verbal section.
I knew that raising my verbal score (test 1: V36 | test 2: V39) would be paramount to my overall GMAT success, so I took this online program very seriously. I'm not going to dwell on my feelings towards Empower-Gmat because I don't doubt that others have had positive experiences, but my next official score is self-explanatory.
Before Test 3:
I scheduled my GMAT on July 11 to take advantage of the section selection option. In addition to studying, I took all 6 GMATPrep practice tests.
GMATPrep Practice Test Scores:
700: May 13
730: May 26
710: June 4
710: June 15
720: June 24
730: July 1
I felt confident that I was on path to a 700 score. How could I not? I switched up my studying game with Target Test Prep and Empower-Gmat, clearly my practice scores agreed, and I was going to get to choose my section order. I was ready, excited, and I was going to crush it. I read a forum post about a girl who watched Superwomen right before the GMAT. Did that. Plan in place. Everything is awesome (one of the songs on my GMAT Crushing It playlist...BTW The Lego Movie rocks). Clearly, I still believed in an insane test-day ritual.
In my mind, THIS WAS THE TEST. In addition to my confidence boost, I was leaving for a two-week trip to Europe one week after my test, which only amplified my excitement and certainty that this was it. Mentally, I had planned to return from Europe and start my round one applications and essays.
While taking the test, I felt cool as a cucumber. I thought I was killing it. I was excited to see my score, call my mom and dad, scream it from the rooftops...
****JULY 2017: OFFICIAL GMAT TEST 3
640 (44Q, 33V)
10 measly points higher than my first test. I don't think I can swear on this forum, but pretend that measly is an expletive. However, there were some BIG changes in my performance. 44Q... a full ten points higher(!!!!)... 33V... WHAT????? Six points lower. Remember when I said "my next official score is self-explanatory." THIS is what I meant. 33V is NOT going to get me to my target score.
Reflections from Test 3:
This one hurt really bad. Gut punching hurt. Disappointment showed me a new face.
I was leaving for Europe and there was nothing I could do in one week. Compounded with the essays, applications, and recommendations that awaited my return, most of my go-to supporters advised me to either accept the score and move on, or decide when I returned in August. I'd like to pretend that I put the test on the back burner and held off on a decision, but the truth is that I talked to my Target Test Prep tutor, the famous Jeff, that very night and I told him that I knew I would take it again. He knew I would too.
JUL - AUG: STUDYING 2.0
When I got home from Europe I was so excited to start my essays. I tried to pick up GMAT studying, but I found I was consumed with thoughts about my essay, and I couldn't do both. The essays were fresh and new, and the GMAT was hard and sad.
I made a plan. I would take August to do my essays and then study in Sept and Oct and take the GMAT in late October. Let's all take a minute to laugh at that plan-HAHAHA-one month to write essays for the four round one schools that I was applying to. August quickly turned into September, and the essays were not done; I needed to figure out a new plan.
So, what did I do now that it felt like my world was crashing in? I said screw it; I'm still going to take the GMAT. I had nothing to lose! I accepted that 640 was my score and by doing so, I removed the pressure of the test. I went from studying 16 hours a week for my first three tests, to studying 5 to 8 hours in a week. I traded off days with essay writing and studying for the GMAT. It wasn't long before the essays lost their allure and I found myself happy to look at GMAT practice problems.
I had Jeff tutor me once a week from mid-September to mid-October to keep me steady with quant and I used the Target Test Prep software to supplement. He helped me focus on depth over breadth. It was better to master the bigger concepts than try to touch on every topic that my GMAT may or may not ask me. This advice made a huge impact.
From my last test, practice tests, and studying in general, I wasn't too worried about quant at this point. Jeff is that amazing of a tutor and I felt confident that I wouldn't dip below the 44 of my previous official test (as a reminder: practice tests were between 48 and 51 quant).
It was verbal that had my laser focus. I found my quant, but I needed to find my verbal...and fast.
AUG - OCT 2017: E-GMAT ONLINE VERBAL
This was my counterpart to Target Test Prep. I knew I needed a verbal kick in the butt, and so I searched high and low on forums and blogs to find the BEST verbal program. I was nervous because I had done this before and I had chosen poorly for me. With many GMAT prep programs that are quant focused, it is hard to find the same quality in a verbal program.
Verbal stuck in my craw. This was the section that I was supposed to dominate. As I mentioned, not only did I receive my BA in journalism, but I write every day in my career. I had heard many GMAT test takers tell me that it was their verbal score that saved them and I knew I could do better.
How did I decide what to do? I leaned on Jeff, and he told me that he heard great things about e-GMAT, but noted that the program was built for non-native speakers. Skeptical, sure. Desperate, definitely.
I chose correctly. If you're looking for a verbal program, then look no further than e-GMAT. It has a dedicated syllabus that teaches concepts through videos and it perfectly breaks down verbal concepts in a way that matches the quality of so many quant programs. I would have never guessed that this was the program for me, but it was! This program rocks.
Truth be told, I didn't even complete the entire program. With essays and applications, time was a commodity. I knew I had to be strategic. I dedicated my weeks of study to e-GMAT sentence correction section and that alone paid off.
And my test results prove it...
****OCTOBER 2017: OFFICAL GMAT TEST 4
720 (Q48, V41)
Quant 4 points higher | Verbal 8 points higher
Reflections from Test 4:
So, what was different? In a way, everything. The biggest difference is that I removed the pressure and the grip that the GMAT had over me. I knew that this test score wasn't going to stop me from applying; I could use my 640 and move on.
I liked having that power over the GMAT. So much so, that I didn't even tell my #1 and #2 supports, also known as mom and dad, that I was taking the test. In my previous exams both my parents, all three of my brothers, my sister-in-law, my boyfriend, his parents, and my close friends all texted me amazing words of encouragement. I'm spoiled, I know. But I needed to make this test about me and not about every one that I wanted to be proud of me. Besides, if I screwed the pooch, I just wouldn't tell anyone I took it again.
All of my key learnings focus on the mental game because I would have never thought that the mental approach that I eventually took would have been what I needed to lead me to my target score. That is not to underscore the three amazing prep programs that guided, aided, and ensured my success. I'm genuinely grateful for each of these programs:
I credit this program for getting me through this journey. When I read my first email about FortÃ© MBALaunch (so thankful that I opened that email), I knew that this program was serious about its members success and would make me decide if an MBA was what I really wanted (spoiler: it is). I didn't even know it at the time, but what I needed was a community, one in which each member sometimes falls and yet sometimes picks someone else up. I know it sounds corny, but I needed this group to get me through the hard times that I wanted to quit because my last official score punched me in the gut and I wasn't sure how I was going to pick up the pieces. Yes I am being that dramatic, and this program is worthy of that drama. I'll hopefully tout FortÃ© as the foundation to my success for many years to come.
Target Test Prep (Quant):
My quant score increased from 34 to 48 and it was all thanks to Target Test Prep. I didn't get lucky, nor did I trick the test. Through Target Test Prep's comprehensive online platform, weekly webinars, and tutoring sessions, I learned the concepts and was able to successfully apply that knowledge on the GMAT. Not only was this program clearly the right choice for me to prepare for the exam, but it also provided me with an incredibly devoted tutor that became an essential part of my support team.
This verbal program saved me at the 11th hour. As with Target Test Prep, this program focuses on truly learning the content, and it provides an amazing online platform to learn concepts, practice GMAT-like problems, and even review OG solutions. It also has a smart and straightforward syllabus to keep you on track and moving forward instead of wondering what to do next. I was able to increase my verbal score by 8 points by only completing the sentence correction portion of this program; imagine what you can do with more time.
KEY LEARNINGS: MENTAL EDITION
1: FORGO AN INSANE TEST DAY RITUAL
The weekend before my test I took a practice test and got a 740. I woke up later than I wanted to, didn't shower before the test, and rushed to the library. When met with one of my seven minute breaks, I decided that I wasn't hungry and that I didn't I need to use the bathroom-so I just kept going. It had me thinking...why was I trying to micromanage every second around my test like it was some sort of intricate dance?
When I would go to a practice test I had a survival kit of Chapstick, eye drops, Kleenex, Advil, etc. I never use these items during the practice test, but I would force myself to methodically use them during the official tests. It was part of my "plan."
So, I gave all that up. On the day of the test I ironically put on a t-shirt that I thought was unlucky, but told myself that we're not dealing with luck today and no one has to know that you're taking this test. I don't even think my bag was "properly" packed, but I knew I had water, and ID, and a granola bar. I just went with it just as casually as I would a practice test.
2: REMOVE OUTSIDE PRESSURE
I didn't tell anyone! No one was waiting by the phone to hear about my score; the test was my secret.
3: DON'T RELY ON TRICKS, JUST LEARN THE CONTENT
Don't try to cheat the test, just learn it.
4: SOMETIMES LESS IS MORE
I can't explain why my test score improved when I decided to stop dedicating every free moment to studying, but it did.
5: IF YOU KNOW YOU CAN DO BETTER, YOU CAN DO BETTER
Know what you're capable of and don't sell yourself short. Believe in yourself because I believe in you!
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