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Waging War on the GMAT (760 - 99th percentile)

Find out how Beat The GMAT members tackled GMAT test prep with positive results. Get tips on GMAT test prep materials, online courses, study tips, and more.
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by Erfun_GMATCompass » Thu Jun 24, 2010 9:49 am
Great write-up! Congrats on the score!
canada_sms wrote:Waging War on the GMAT

Test Date: March 26th, 2009
Final Score: Q50 (94%), V42 (95%), AWA 6.0, Overall: 760 (99th percentile)

"If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle."
-Sun Tzu


I spent about 6 months preparing for the GMAT (Oct 2008-March 2009). Out of the 6 months I would say that 3-4 involved hardcore studying. Here's the general approach I took and my experience taking the test.

Step 1: Build a War Chest

I spent a lot of money on prep materials. I really spared no expense. Besides materials that can be found online, here is what I used for my prep:

Books:

1. Princeton Review, Cracking the GMAT 2008
2. PowerScore Critical Reasoning Bible
3. GMAT Official Guide 11th Edition (Yellow book)
4. GMAT Official Guide Quant Review (Green book)
5. GMAT Official Guide Verbal Review (Purple book)
6. Manhattan Sentence Correction Guide
7. Manhattan Critical Reasoning Guide
8. Manhattan Reading Comprehension Guide
9. Manhattan Number Properties Guide
10. Manhattan Geometry Guide
11. Manhattan Equations, Inequalities, & VICs Guide
12. Manhattan Word Translations Guide
13. VeritasPrep Full Course Workbooks (14)
14. 6 month subscription to 'The Economist'

Practice Exams:

1. Princeton Review Online CATs (2)
2. Manhattan CATs (6)
3. 800Score.com (5)
4. Thompson/ARCO (3)
5. VeritasPrep (5)
6. GMATPrep (2)

In the end, including the registration fee for the GMAT itself, this cost me about $2000 US. This was money well spent in my opinion. Since getting an MBA is going to cost $150000 when everything is said and done I figured that spending a couple grand on getting the highest GMAT score possible was a drop in the bucket. Also, I've read some posts about the importance of your GMAT score when applying for jobs ( https://gmatclub.com/forum/gmat-score-us ... 21669.html ). Still it remains true that you can definitely get away with spending less.

"Weapons are an important factor in war, but not the decisive one; it is man and not materials that counts."
-Chairman Mao Zedong (Tse-tung), 1938


Step 2: Plan for Battle

I'm horrible at standardized tests but I was determined to beat the gmat. As a result, I decided that I needed to give myself a good amount of time to learn, practice and improve technique. The following is how I went about studying:

Phase 1 (2 weeks): Princeton Review, Cracking the GMAT 2008
Phase 2 (3 weeks): Grammar Review, Manhattan Sentence Correction Guide, PowerScore Critical Reasoning Bible
Phase 3 (5 weeks): All OG Books (yellow, green, purple). Did all questions under timed conditions and reviewed all incorrect/slow/guessed questions.
Phase 4 (8 weeks): Veritas Prep Full Course (42 hours), GMATClub.com Math Challenges
Phase 5 (5 weeks): Practice CAT exams and work on weaknesses

"The victorious strategist only seeks battle after the victory has been won, whereas he who is destined to defeat first fights and afterwards looks for victory."
-Sun Tzu


Step 3: Basic Training

I self-studied for phase 1, 2, and 3. This was to familiarize myself with GMAT questions, tendencies and basic strategies. I was able to stay self-motivated during this time period but I did have to deal with distractions such as Thanksgiving and the Winter holidays. I took a lot of notes during this period and made a set of flash cards. Since I was fairly comfortable at quant, I spent a lot of time doing the Math Challenge Tests offered by gmatclub.com.

Taking the Veritas Full Course (phase 4) was a good decision in my opinion. I know the forums like to dump on Veritas but I think a lot of the criticism is uncalled for. Different strategies work for different people. During Phase 2, I tried to learn the Manhattan way of doing CR and RC but the strategies were not clicking with me. For example, Manhattan's RC strategy calls for writing stuff down as you read the passage. I practiced this technique but it did not help me answer the questions and slowed me down dramatically. A friend of mine had taken Veritas and had a really good instructor/experience so I decided to give it a shot. My instructor was an absolute monster when it comes to the GMAT. I learned a ton from him and found that the Veritas strategies for critical reasoning and reading comprehension worked well for me. Also, I liked Veritas because there was a lot of student participation (ie. they call you out). Long story short, research the strategies taught by test prep companies and make sure you know what you're getting into. Research the instructor to make sure that he or she is good. Cherry pick the strategies that work for you.

I was also disciplined about spending 30 minutes every day reading articles from 'The Economist'. I truly believe that reading good material helps you with reading comprehension.

Some Tips:

1. Spend more time on your weak areas but don't completely neglect your strong areas. I spent about 65% of my time on Verbal and 35% on Quant. This was a good split for me.
2. Make flash cards while reading strategy guides (especially for idioms).
3. Study in blocks of 75 minutes to build stamina.
4. Do practice problems under timed conditions.
5. Use a tracking sheet while doing practice problems to note questions you were slow to answer, unsure of or guessed. Then spend time to review these questions. Post questions to forums if the explanations don't make sense to you.
6. Cherry pick the best strategies from different prep companies. If you practice a strategy and feel uncomfortable with it, don't be afraid to consider alternate approaches. The caveat here is you need to recognize discomfort early rather than 3 days before the test.
7. If you can afford it and have the time, consider taking a prep class so that you have access to an instructor and a proven framework. That being said, make sure you research the strategies taught by the company (ie. Kaplan = become a guessing expert; Manhattan = become amazing at quant, lot of writing stuff down for verbal; Veritas = decent quant, intuitive approach to verbal with minimal writing).
8. Read for 30 minutes nightly over the course of your prep.

"The hardships of forced marches are often more painful than the dangers of battle"
-General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson


Step 4: War Games

I did 16 full 4 hour practice CAT exams during phases 4 and 5. Here were my scores:

(01/10/2009) Princeton Review CAT #1 ------------ 650 (Q43 V38)
(01/11/2009) GMATPrep CAT #1 -------------------- 700 (Q48 V38)
(02/08/2009) 800Score.com CAT #1 ---------------- 730 (Q39 V50)
(02/16/2009) Thomson/ARCO CAT #1 -------------- 800 (Q56 V49)
(02/21/2009) VeritasPrep CAT #1 ------------------- 740 (Q53 V44)
(02/26/2009) Manhattan CAT #1 -------------------- 690 (Q47 V37)
(02/28/2009) VeritasPrep CAT #2 ------------------- 710 (Q52 V41)
(03/03/2009) Manhattan CAT #2 --------------------- 670 (Q45 V36)
(03/07/2009) VeritasPrep CAT #3 ------------------- 710 (Q53 V39)
(03/08/2009) GMATPrep CAT #1 (repeat) ----------- 770 (Q49 V47)
(03/10/2009) Manhattan CAT #3 --------------------- 700 (Q46 V39)
(03/14/2009) VeritasPrep CAT #4 ------------------- 650 (Q51 V30)
(03/16/2009) Manhattan CAT #4 -------------------- 730 (Q48 V42)
(03/18/2009) VeritasPrep CAT #5 ------------------- 650 (Q55 V26)
(03/21/2009) GMATPrep CAT #2 --------------------- 760 (Q49 V46)
(03/24/2009) GMATPrep CAT #2 (repeat) ----------- 780 (Q51 V46)
(03/26/2009) REAL GMAT ----------------------------- 760 (Q50 V42)

Notes about the various practice cats that I took:

800Score.com
The questions suck, the scoring is off-base but these tests will help you with pacing. They have a feature you can turn on which gives you both the time as well as what question you should be on. As a result, it helps you build some timing intuition.

ARCO
The questions are ok, the scoring is way off-base. I don't recommend taking these.

VeritasPrep
My opinion is that the quant is too easy and the verbal has too many bad questions. By bad questions I mean, critical reasoning questions where the answer is debatable. I also found that these tests were very slow to adapt. I still think it's worth taking these tests to build stamina. If you're taking the Veritas course, I recommend starting with #5 and working down to #1. I think tests 1,2 and 3 are closer to the GMAT than tests 4 and 5 which kind of suck. Trust me, you really don't want to deal with getting two 650s in the last two weeks before D-day.

Manhattan
These tests are tough but good. If you want to train at altitude, definitely take a few Manhattan tests to kick your behind. The analytics that you get back are priceless. During phase 5, I used the score reports from my Manhattan CATs to discover my weaknesses. Don't read into the scores too much here however. I feel like some of the Manhattan questions are biased to prove that their strategies are effective. The people from Manhattan often mention that most people score about 15 pts less than their highest Manhattan CAT score on the real GMAT. [EDITOR'S NOTE: MGMAT actually claims something different. Click here] Obviously that wasn't my experience.

GMATPrep
The gold standard. I took each test twice. I took one test the day before I started training with Veritas and scored a 700. I took the same test two months later and got a 770. The week before D-day I took GMATPrep 2 twice and scored a 760 and 780. 760 ended up being my final score on the real test so I feel that GMATPrep is VERY accurate when comes to predicting performance. Extract as many questions as you can from the question banks. For the retakes, on every repeat question that I saw, I would assess myself a time penalty. For example, if I was doing quant and saw a question I knew the answer to instantly then I would tell myself that I had to finish the section in 73 mins instead of 75. This keeps the pressure on.

Some Tips:

1. Mimic test center conditions while you take your practice CATs. For example, I took about half of my practice CATs in a public library using an erasable noteboard while wearing ear plugs. Reflecting back on my test center experience I think this was a perfect simulation of the real deal. Take my advice on this.
2. It's also really important to review your practice CATs to understand why you got things wrong and how to attend to your weaknesses. For example, I noticed that I was having difficulties with number property and inequality questions in the upper bins. To fix this I took 2 days and blasted through the respective Manhattan guides for those topics.
3. Don't skip the essays. At a bare minimum, write the essays when taking the GMAT Prep tests.
4. Focus on time management for the first few CATs and once you feel comfortable start to focus on improving accuracy.
5. Do not leave questions blank. There is no excuse. The penalty for blanks is severe.

"The clever combatant imposes his will on the enemy, but does not allow the enemy's will to be imposed on him."
- Sun Tzu


Step 5: Declare War

Don't give yourself an excuse to delay taking the test. Put your money on the table and book a test date. I wanted to take the GMAT 3 weeks after the end of Veritas but I couldn't get any appointments other than 8am. Since I'm not a morning person I chose to wait 4 weeks and get a 1pm slot instead. Once you have that date in the back of your mind you'll be motivated to kick your studying into high gear.

"Accept the challenges so that you can feel the exhilaration of victory."
-General George Patton Jr


Step 6: Win the War

I really wanted to enter the test center by kicking the front door down screaming "THIS IS SPARTA". Unfortunately, my nerves got the better of me the night before and I was only able to get a few hours of sleep. I woke up feeling like crap but I had no choice but to get completely wired on caffeine and just get the test over with. I do not recommend this for anyone else.

I spent an hour in the morning doing about 5 warm-up questions for each question type from the OG. Just some light stuff to get my brain working. I ate a small lunch around 11am, packed some snacks for the breaks and headed over the test center.

I got to the test center about 45 minutes early. I spent 15 minutes in the parking lot just pacing around my car. I still felt like crap. My eyes were heavy and my heart felt like it was trying to pound out of my chest. I went inside the test center at 12:30pm for my 1:00pm start time. I must say that the Pearson folks were really great. They were all extremely friendly and put me at ease. I got checked in, put my stuff in my locker and waited for my name to be called.

Before entering the test room, I asked for ear plugs and 2 pens. I think it's important to ask for 2 pens because they tend to re-use them and the last thing you want is to run out of ink when you have 3 minutes left on Quant. I heard that some test centers won't let you have 2 but it's always good to have a back-up if they're cool with it.

I dealt with all the tutorial crap and school selection stuff and then started the AWA. My argument essay was pretty good. My issue essay was less than stellar. I got a 6.0 in the end but I really doubted the strength of some of my points. After the AWA, I took the optional break. I went to the restroom, ate half a granola bar and chugged some more caffeine. I checked back in as soon as I was ready. I probably could have taken a couple more minutes but you don't want to risk losing time from Quant.

I thought the Quant section was on par with GMAT prep. I'm an engineer so I'm pretty decent at math. Once again, my biggest problem was that I was Iron Man'ing this test off adrenaline and caffeine. I had no idea if I was doing well or if I was failing (generally a good sign). I only saw one probability question over the course of the section. Also, I found myself answering 'E' for a lot of data sufficiency questions. After Quant I took another break and went to the restroom again and chugged some more caffeine.

Verbal started off OK but then things got really hard, really fast. I honestly wasn't sure whether I was starting to crash or whether I was doing well and the CAT was just giving me upper bin questions. About halfway through I was falling behind on time, so I just got really aggressive with my reading and got through all the questions with 10 seconds to spare.

I then dealt with the questionnaire at the end of the exam and clicked on report my scores. I couldn't believe what I saw...760. It still seems a bit surreal. The chips were stacked against me but somehow I was able to pull through. I think this was in large part due to the hard work and effort I put into my practice CATs. My mind was programmed to do the GMAT so even though I wasn't feeling great I still managed to exceed my goal of scoring 750.

I hope my story inspires you to work hard and win your personal war against the GMAT.

"The best luck of all is the luck you make for yourself."
-General Douglas MacArthur
Erfun Geula
GMAT Compass
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Serious about helping you beat the GMAT!

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by jsiverio » Sat Sep 25, 2010 7:08 am
Today is my first day waging the war on the GMAT and the overall application process to tier 1 B Schools and I couldn't be more excited.

Thanks so much for writing this up. Not only is it inherently motivating but also shows that the most preparation and practice yields a score in the 99th percentile. I especially enjoyed the part where you read articles from the Economist daily, it goes to show you were willing to go the extra mile.

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by AtifS » Thu Oct 14, 2010 8:36 am
Wow!!! what a debrief. Man looks like you didn't want to leave a thing (same here :), so that you don't have regret that you didn't do much). Congratulations for getting into such an amazing program like MIT.
I am not perfect

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by sashish007 » Tue Dec 21, 2010 6:42 am
canada_sms wrote:Waging War on the GMAT

I really wanted to enter the test center by kicking the front door down screaming "THIS IS SPARTA".
Awesome, buddy!

I would love to do that followed by a "Hoo Hoo Hoo" if I got out of the test room with a 760 or above the second time. I had enough with my 590 from my first attempt last year.
Ashish
Share not just why the right answer is right, but also why the wrong ones are not.

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by rankey » Wed Sep 28, 2011 3:07 am
awesome..

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by mundasingh123 » Tue Oct 04, 2011 9:46 am
are there others who have scored 680-700 in mgmat cats and increased the real gmat score by 50 points to arnd 750 like canada_sms
I Seek Explanations Not Answers

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by artistocrat » Sat Oct 22, 2011 10:51 pm
This is a couple years later, and this post is still relevant and good. Thanks.

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by bishwaman1 » Wed Nov 30, 2011 6:31 am
Thank you brother,

It was really a morale boosting account. I liked it.

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by venkart89 » Tue Mar 13, 2012 3:32 am
This is the most invigorating and exhilarating article I came cross

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by kumarkj » Sat Oct 27, 2012 10:26 am
It still is so much valid!

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by AbiNichole » Fri Nov 02, 2012 1:21 pm
Awesome post! Entertaining and comprehensive. Thanks so much for sharing. Best of luck on your next step!