GMAT Debrief 600 - > 690

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GMAT Debrief 600 - > 690

by descendents1 » Sun Feb 03, 2019 8:04 am

I decided to attend business school in the summer of 2019. I already had a master's degree under my belt but my GRE score had expired. I did okay on the math portion (770 then, 161 today), and I didn't study. I never used to study for these tests (SAT, ACT, GRE, etc.)

After graduate school was over I was thoroughly humbled. I had been in a top 10 aerospace engineering program where I often felt like everyone else was one step ahead. Since a research career was not for me, I pivoted to manufacturing in F500. I've had immense success because my strengths in communication and organization, as well as my intuition for innovation, have led to patents, travel opportunities, and great outcomes for our design teams. Getting a LSS Black Belt opened me up to operations management, and that became my intended focus for business school.

Parts of this process made me feel as though I was revisiting high school. The amount of insecurity I've witnessed in forums regarding GMAT and MBA is staggering. If you're the type of person who puts others down, etc., in business, this attitude will cause your relationships to fall apart, and you'll wonder why your model of the world isn't working. Don't ever look down on someone because of a score, and don't ever look down on yourself because of your score either. Work hard and commit to your values and things will work out.


I started off by purchasing the GMAT Official Guide 2018 (OG 2018). I also purchased the Complete GMAT Strategy Guide Set (Manhattan Prep GMAT Strategy Guide). I would argue that these purchases are mandatory. The Manhattan GMAT (MGMAT) set is a very good overview of the material that I'd long forgotten in a wide range of math topics.

One of the first pieces of advice I read about on gmatclub and reddit was to take an initial practice test through and benchmark my capability. I also scheduled an exam for the near future (about 2 weeks out) to get an official benchmark of my performance.

GMAT Official Practice 01
July 20, 2018
Total 600
Breakdown Q35 (28%) V38 (85%) IR7 (82%) AWA Written

Getting this score was good information but I would recommend studying intensely for at least a month or two before taking your first official exam. The real takeaway was that I was dramatically underperforming in math, which came as a surprise. I wasn't used to Data Sufficiency and sped through the problems (a.k.a. being lazy).

Test Day 01
July 28, 2018
Total 600
Breakdown Q38 (33%) V34 (71%) IR6 (70%) AWA 6 (88%)

No surprises here. I was a little nervous, but honestly, I had no idea what I was doing. I don't recommend sitting for an official exam if you don't feel prepared. If there's one exam where luck is removed, it's the GMAT.

The month of August was a 1 to 2 hours a day of MGMAT workbook review during the week, and 3 hours a day during the weekend. The issue with MGMAT materials is that it's not preparing you to take the exam, it's just helping you learn and re-learn old concepts. That's useful, but don't confuse your subject knowledge with your knowledge of how to take the GMAT. MGMAT materials may be necessary but not sufficient. There are sections in the MGMAT books that are designed to help you prepare for the GMAT, but they were not effective for me. I do not recommend MGMAT practice tests. To me, they're not representative of the real thing.

It was around this time that I discovered EMPOWERgmat through several recommendations on reddit. I wanted a way to turbocharge my preparation and add structure to the studying process. EMPOWERgmat not only did that for me (error logs, an online interface, flexible modules based on needs), but gave me significant insights into the test (frequency of questions appearing, tactics by test-writers, etc), as well as encouragement to succeed (hence, EMPOWER). I purchased the online version of the 2018 GMAT Official Guide and put it on my kindle so that I wouldn't have to travel with the large textbook. My focus was primarily on math since I targeted >50% in math and had a ways to go.


Disaster struck. I was on a business trip when I became very ill from a bacterial infection. This eventually led to me fainting and receiving a concussion. It's been a month since I took the GMAT for the last time, and I am still recovering from symptoms of post-concussion syndrome. It might take me 6+ months from today to fully heal.

I put my GMAT preparation completely on hold during the month of September because my post-concussion symptoms were severe (confusion, light and noise sensitivity, dizziness, head pressure, etc.). In October, I completed several open interviews and campus visits because I knew that they would provide me the best chance to introduce myself to faculty, students, and staff. I was not alright and I could not focus on study materials, let alone look at a computer screen.

Slowly healing

I didn't study at all between my accident and my next practice test. But I used every bit of my EMPOWERgmat knowledge on the practice exam.

GMAT Official Practice 02
Nov 10, 2018
Total 690
Q45 (57%) V39 (89%) IR4 (40%) AWA Written

I was relieved by this result. Even though I still had facial tingling, numbness, and a fever, I obtained the highest practice test score to date. Ostensibly, I didn't have permanent brain damage. At this point I'd probably studied about 60-80 hours total. I wasn't logging my hours because I didn't think it was important and I didn't believe that I should have an "hours" target, but rather a feeling of how prepared I was (based on testing), which I still think is healthy. However, I believe that one should be able to reasonably expect to spend 100+ hours to perform well on this exam.

I studied using EMPOWERgmat math modules for another week and performed another practice exam.

I didn't know the Abyss had a basement

A rare snow storm came in mid-November and I was involved in a nasty car accident. I was so fortunate that I didn't strike my head, but my car was totalled. EMS took me to the hospital, and assured me that I didn't sustain a second concussion while I was healing. Because concussion symptoms can take days to arise, I waited for them with worry.

GMAT Official Practice 03
Nov 18, 2018
Total 710
Q44 (52%) V42 (96%) IR1 (0%) AWA skipped

I skipped the IR section since I found it to be straightforward and I read that it was not as critical for b-schools to evaluate. I skipped the AWA because the structure is predictable, b-schools do not value it heavily, and I'm naturally good at writing essays in a short period of time. A few criticisms of the argument, sprinkle in some counterpoints, organize your essay structure and you're golden. Everything was going in the right direction, even though I was in a car accident only days ago. I still wasn't studying at all for verbal but my work on math was holding steady. I do recommend that people study verbal strategies offered by EMPOWERgmat even if they are native English speakers with an advanced understanding of the language. I found them to be helpful, even after scoring V42 (which may be a little luck attributed to superior knowledge for certain topics).

GMAT Official Practice 04
Nov 30 2018
Q44 (52%) V40 (91%) IR5 (55%)

Prior to test day I wanted to obtain a little more confidence about how to pace myself through the math section. I distinctly remember that Thanksgiving was a particular horrible time for my symptoms. I had awful headaches about 3 weeks after my car accident. I was feeling good after a practice pattern of 690, 710, and 690.

GMAT Official Practice 05
Dec. 5, 2018
Q 42 (45%) Skipped the rest of the sessions

I was a bit disappointed by my math benchmark, but I went into the exam feeling decent about the math.

Test Day 02
Dec. 8, 2018
Total 640
Q 47 (61%) V 32 (66%) IR 7 (82%) AWA 6.0 (88%)

I got a decimal question on the last problem in the quant section (I always did quant then verbal then the rest) and I couldn't get it out of my head after the break. Little did I know that I had just achieved my best ever math score. I carried this anxiety into the verbal section, and I got destroyed. I decided to regroup and focus on my test anxiety. My anxiety stems from feeling like I'm not in control. So I decided to focus on my Verbal so that I could improve my confidence in the section and not succumb to anxiety. I also spent some time focusing on basic concepts in exponents and inequalities, which were weak areas for me, by using the Khan Academy modules that were linked by EMPOWERgmat. These were pretty helpful.

Unfortunately, I had another setback with my post-concussion symptoms. I tried to go back to work for two weeks (I had been working the entire time but mostly from home because the vertical vibrations from driving created bad symptoms for me) and during these two weeks I did about 2 months of damage to my brain (that would require me to avoid driving for this length of time to recover back to where I was). Over my holiday break I was experiencing tension on the sides of my head and an inability to focus. I tried to study as much as possible but had to lay down for 2 hours for every 30 minutes of effort. It was brutal. During this time, I finished the EMPOWERgmat verbal modules on Sentence Correction and Critical Reasoning (I had done the RC modules in the past). I needed to know where I was at prior to test day, so I took a practice exam while skipping the IR and AWA sections.

GMAT Official Practice 06
Dec 28, 2018
Q 42 (Q 45%) V 37 (83%) IR Skipped
Total 640

To hell with it, I thought. I spent the rest of the day in bed and just rested until it was time for the exam the next day.

I wasn't anxious when I arrived to the test center. I was just telling the proctors, who I'd met for the third time now, "let's just get this over with." I wasn't overly confident or sad. I was focused, I knew what I needed to do, and I stuck to my plan. My favorite analogy is ice hockey, where players have a few key ideas in their head that they need to repeat to themselves to ensure they minimize mistakes. "Go to the net. Be hard on the puck. Shoot first. Skate hard. Keep your feet moving." Except with the GMAT it was "Don't spend too much time on one question unless you have a plan. Triage according to EMPOWERgmat tactics. Inconsistent means insufficient." And other EMPOWERgmat nuggets that were drilled into me.

Test Day 03
Dec 29, 2018
Q 45 (55%) V 40 (90%) IR 7 (82%) AWA 6 (88%)
Total 690

As many others have said, I stared at the screen with my mouth agape and accepted my score. I was thrilled. I could have done a lot better under normal conditions, but I just signed my ticket for at least one b-school program that I'd targeted. It was a hell of a journey but I owe the majority of my success to EMPOWERgmat. There were a lot more EMPOWER modules i could have finished, but I only completed the course to about 70% of the overall offerings.

I do recommend gmatclub for studying as well. There are amazing resources on this website. If I could spare another 50-60 hours I think I could easily hit 720 or above, but the clock ran out for me. I would have focused on my weak areas (probabilities, geometry) and that would have cleaned up my low-hanging fruit. You do get out what you put in. Some people start with a better memory of this material than others. But the GMAT is not an intelligence test by any means. Start early and get the score you want. It's going to take work.