I have a bit of an unconventional story and study plan. I started prepping for the GMAT a year ago in April 2018. First thing I did was take a Manhattan CAT exam and scored a 580 on it -- felt pretty dejected on the very first day of prep.
Lesson #1: Don't trust the Manhattan CATs too much (don't esp use them as diagnostic tests)
I knew I was naturally weak in quant and strong in verbal (after years of practice in a profession that demanded a high level of writing skills), so my focus was to spend the next 3 months upping my quant game. I began going through the Manhattan Quant guides and over 3 months I went over all of them twice. Because of work and a city move, I didn't study for almost 2 months after that and resumed studies in September. This break in momentum was really bad and almost derailed me.
Lesson #2: Don't stop solving at least 10 problems a day. Don't lose momentum. Even half an hour a day on the toughest of days will help keep the momentum going.
In September, I started solving the quant problems in the main OG 2018 guide. It took me about 3 months to solve the 400 problems in that time 3-times over, so 1200 problems in all (average of ~13 sums a day). I gave razor sharp focus to each problem and tried to assess what I was doing right, what I was not doing right, what were the alternative ways of solving the problems and compiled detailed logs on the same.
Lesson #3: Keep a Google Doc excel sheet in which you track two main things. Problems which you take more than 2 minutes to solve, and problems that you get wrong. Keep visiting these problems again and again till you get them both right and under the 2-minute limit.
All this while, I didn't practice any verbal problems whatsoever, and also didn't pace myself in my quant performance either.
Test day was December 18 and on December 10 I took my first GMAT practice CAT and scored a 660 (Q42 V39). The diagnosis there, unsurprisingly and obviously, was that I was not able to finish 10 quant problems on the test because of poor timing; and that I needed to brush up verbal given that I hadn't worked on it at all. So I moved the test date 2 months later to February 11 and changed my practice style.
Where I was going wrong earlier was that I tried to solve each problem completely and didn't utilize the power of smart guessing effectively, OR that I wasted precious minutes on solving problems I couldn't solve at all and not simply leaving them quickly enough. I solved all the sums in the OG 2018 guide again for the fourth time and this time used a timer to see how much time I was taking on each problem. I worked on these aspects and was able to reduce the time taken on each problem to under 2-minutes.
Lesson #4: There is no better material than the official guides. Go through them a few times, make notes of what you're doing right and wrong along the way, and then re-calibrate. For quant, make sure you use the smart guessing technique effectively and don't waste time on problems you know you are not going to be able to solve.
It was high time I made progress on verbal, so I started brushing up my critical reasoning skills using the Powerscore CR Bible and thought that that material was awesome. Really enjoyed it. I read through it twice, made notes, practiced the problem sets in it. Among all the non-official material, I would rate the Powerscore CR Bible as the most effective and useful.
For Sentence Correction, I found the Manhattan guide pretty useless. The briefing section in the OG 2018 was concise. I practiced some problems in the OG 2018 guide and that was good enough.
Lesson #5: For CR, don't waste time writing notes/summaries on each passage (as I was doing earlier before going through the CR bible). Focus only premises and conclusions. For Sentence Correction, read the study notes provided in the official guide -- they are pretty good, even for non-natives.
I also solved 300 problems in the "Quant OG 2018", timed all of them, and tried to keep myself under the 2 minute limit on each problem consciously. Kept note of what I got wrong, analyzed it, and resolved it.
Ideally, I would have liked to solve all these 300 problems three times in all (so 900 problems) + also solve the OG 2018 quant section twice (800 problems), but got really tied up with work in Jan 2019.
So, as I wrote above, I ended up solving the Quant OG guide once (300 problems) and the quant section of the OG 2018 guide once (400 problems) in Jan. As a follow on, I solved another 100 problems that I either kept getting wrong or was taking too much time to solve.
Lesson #6: I see people focus too much on taking mocks. In my experience, getting the concepts and timing right is more important. If your concepts are right, your results will show up positively. As you can see, I took only two mocks -- one Manhattan 580 and one official GMAT prep 660.
On test day, I chose Verbal-Quant-IR-AWA in that order and I think that was a good call. My final score was 740 (Q48 V42) and feel that had I spent more time on quant -- i.e. not had 17-hour day work-related commitments in January -- thereby sticking to my plan on solving 1000 additional quant problems in January, and also used the wisdom gained from at least one more mock test, I could have probably touched 750 or 760 on test day. But anyhow, given the circumstances, I am happy with this score and I am glad to have "BEAT THE GMAT" !![/b]
Debrief on how I went from 580 to 740
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