Tag Archives: GMAT

Here Comes the Sun

This is where I want to be right now...

It’s over. I made it. Step 1 complete. Mission: accomplished. Everything went better than expected. I took it one step at a time. I gave it 110%. Game, set, match. It is what it is. I know how Dwyane Wade felt when he hit that dagger 3 to seal Game 2 with 7 minutes left…

OK, I’ll stop with the lameness. Yesterday was d-day – I finally wrote the official GMAT. This is going to be a loooong post detailing my experience on test day, and my thoughts on preparing for the GMAT overall, so strap yourself in for the painful ride.

TEST DAY

Saturday morning, I woke up around 7 a.m. with a really dry mouth and the beginnings of a bad headache – the telltale signs of a hangover-in-waiting. After cursing myself for over-doing it on Friday night, I grabbed some painkillers for the headache, chugged down a litre of water, and went back to sleep. Thankfully, when I woke up around 9, the headache was gone and I was just feeling tired.

My test was at noon, so I woke up at 9 a.m. with the intention of getting some last-minute prep in. I grabbed a coffee, and spent about an hour doing some word problems from the Manhattan GMAT strategy guides. It wasn’t anything too stressful and I just wanted to get my brain working and not feeling exhausted. By around 10 a.m., I was done with the prep work, and I felt comfortable. My headache was gone, and I was alert again. I grabbed a pretty big meal so that I could last past 4 p.m. and then watched some TV to get myself relaxed. Then, after a quick shower (read: 20 minutes soaking in boiling hot water), I grabbed some water and a bag of pretzels and headed out the door.

For the first time in as long as I can remember, I was driving at or below the speed limit. It was pouring cats and dogs outside, and I didn’t want to risk getting into any sort of accident. I hugged the right shoulder and made a few people go around me, and I got to the test centre at around 11:45 a.m. For those who are unfamiliar with the testing process, there is an extensive set of procedures you go through when you enter and sign in. After your ID is verified, you are asked to provide biometric information for documentation purposes. This consists of a scan of your right and left palms. They also take a mugshot for their records, and make sure you empty out your pockets into a locker provided. The testing room is a fairly large space, with cubicles and terminals along the perimeter. To enter or exit the room, you have to be escorted by one of the invigilators. Every terminal is under video surveillance, and outside the room, one of the invigilators sits and monitors the cameras. Before you enter, and when you exit the room, you are required to scan your palm on a reader which matches it with the information collected upon registration. They take every precaution to prevent any sort of cheating on these tests, and while the procedures are cumbersome, the overall experience is not really unpleasant.

After going through all the sign-in procedures, I was escorted to my terminal and provided with the standard erasable booklet and markers for my rough work. I quickly clicked through all the disclaimers and tutorial screens, and was finally ready to begin the test.

The AWA section was good, but not great. The argument essay was fairly straightforward, and I rattled off reasons why the argument was weak and how the author could strengthen them. The topic for the analysis of an issue essay was something I was comfortable with, so I again rattled off some points and provided my thoughts on the issue. Overall, I thought I wrote pretty well. My only apprehension is that I wrote too much again, in an attempt to develop my points thoroughly. Because of this, I think I sacrificed some clarity in my points and this might come back to bite me.

Once the essays were done, I took my 8 minute break, and went out and stretched a bit. The quant section was not as easy as I was used to seeing. There were far too many questions with absolute value inequalities and this slowed me down. I was behind pace for almost the entire second half of the section, and I had less than 1.5 minutes per question. Having to rush so many of these was not fun, especially since the difficulty level was consistently high (which I suppose is a good indication that I was doing all right). I had less than 45 seconds to finish the last question and wasn’t able to get an answer in on time. So once I was done, I didn’t feel very good. I knew I hadn’t bombed it, but I felt like my goal of hitting a 740 overall was now in doubt. I took a few deep breaths, and told myself that I would just have to try to make it up on the verbal section. I decided to skip the break because I was pretty focussed, and I thought I would be fine going right through to the end.

When I first registered to write the GMAT, my brother told me that I would have to focus on the verbal section a lot more than I would the quant section because the math should come easily to me. My friends echoed the same thoughts, and it made sense given that my undergraduate degree is in mathematics. But looking back, my performance on the verbal section has actually been consistently as strong as my quant performance, on a percentile basis. I always finished the verbal section with  more than 10 minutes to spare, and most of the time it was careless errors that got me in trouble. So before I started the verbal section, I told myself that I could still reach my goal as long as I took my time and read every question thoroughly. I would have enough time, and although my stamina was running out and I was starting to feel tired again, I had to just work through it. I got started, and found myself breezing through again. Most of the questions were not as challenging as some I had seen in my practice tests, and I managed to still finish with about 10 minutes to spare. The key difference was that I didn’t feel like I had rushed. I genuinely took my time on any questions I was not 100% sure on. So coming out of the verbal section I felt a little more confident overall.

After the 4 minutes of post-game Q&A (GMAC collects demographic information etc.), I was finally on the confirmation screen. I confirmed that I wanted this attempt and the scores to count, and felt a rush of adrenaline in the split-seconds it took for my score to pop up.

Quantitative: 49 (86th percentile)
Verbal:           46 (99th percentile)
Total:             770 (99th percentile)

When I saw those unofficial scores, I felt satisfied. Not elated, and not ecstatic, just satisfied. I think that was my competitive instinct kicking in. See, when I first started, I set a goal of 740 based on median scores to enter the top schools. Since then, I have talked to a few people, and knowing how they performed raised the goal in my mind. I knew that if I got anything below a 760, I would be dissatisfied. I would have still hit my original goal, but that would not have been enough. I think this competitive instinct made me feel like a 770 was around what I was expecting, and not a score to really be happy with. That, combined with the knowledge that I didn’t have my best showing on the quant section, curbed my elation. This morning, after letting it sink in, I am actually glad. Regardless of how well I could have done, I do have an excellent score and managed to beat my own high expectations.

What I Learned While Preparing for the GMAT

I learned that the GMAT is a test like any other. It is not an IQ test. Like every other exam students write, with the right level of preparation, anybody can do very well on the GMAT. The key is to get a proper understanding of where you stand before you begin preparing, and then create the best study plan for YOU. Although sites like Beat the GMAT and GMAT Club are very useful to get study tips and ideas, the only way preparation will be effective is if you are able to evaluate yourself effectively at every step. Knowing how much work  you have to put in at the beginning, and measuring progress after each practice test is incredibly important to actually achieving your target score. Rather than following an arbitrary study plan you see on any of those sites, the best approach is to learn about all the resources available (strengths, weaknesses, best practice tests, difficulty level etc.) and then create your own study plan. After every practice test, evaluate whether you have improved in the areas you wanted to improve, and revise your study plan if you need to. There is no benefit to simply outlining an x-hours a day approach where you tackle one study guide after another. That kind of approach is just throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks. So the key to GMAT prep is not which resources you use or how much you study, but whether you use the right resources and spend the right amount of time preparing based on YOUR needs.

I put in about 50-60 hours of studying. I was lucky because for most people the hardest part is remembering all the math concepts and re-learning geometry and algebra, and I had no issues with these topics. My prep was essentially just getting used to the 4 hour length, and building the stamina required to stay focussed for that long. I did 8-10 practice tests, despite constantly reading that too many practice tests can be a bad thing, because my needs were not to learn the material, but to get used to the environment of writing the test.

So before any of you commit to writing the GMAT, or any other similar exam for that matter, first understand what is involved and how much preparation you will have to do. Then, create a realistic study plan with extra time built in so that if you find yourself struggling to prep, you have a few days to get back on track. Book your test as soon as you have this plan, not before or after, because that will keep you motivated while giving you enough time to prepare as you need.

Other Tips

I’m not going to leave detailed tips on how to approach each section, as there are tons of resources online that probably articulate this better than I can. I will talk a bit about general approach though. The best thing you can do, is have fun while preparing. When I went through the consulting case interview process, I was repeatedly told that if I was not enjoying doing practice cases, I should re-consider whether consulting was the right choice for me. The cases are reflective of the entire profession, albeit on a very basic level, and I genuinely liked doing prep cases with friends. Similarly, the GMAT is reflective of what being a higher-level professional in business is all about.

You might never have to do a set of geometry problems as an executive, but the principles the GMAT tests are essential to succeeding in business school and beyond. For obvious reasons, reading and writing skills are relevant, as are critical reasoning skills. The quant section just tests your general comfort level with basic mathematics to judge whether you will be able to perform and evaluate quantitative analysis in the future. Data sufficiency questions test quant skills, as well as your ability to reason whether you have enough information to reach a conclusion – it’s a test of critical reasoning as well as math skills. Given all of that, wouldn’t it seem intuitive that if you are to enjoy the lines of work for which an MBA is necessary, then you should enjoy using the skills required in that line of work? And if you enjoy using these skills, on some level, you should be able to derive some pleasure out of tackling GMAT questions. So treat them as an exercise in sharpening your skills, skills you should enjoy applying, rather than an obstacle you have to overcome.

When preparing, I repeatedly read things like “no sane person would find the reading comprehension passages interesting, so just get through them.” Perhaps fittingly, I found the passages really interesting. Many of them were not easy to read, and the points were made laboriously, but the subject matter was interesting to me. I approached every RC question as if I was just reading an interesting tidbit online, and that made it a lot more fun. I now know random facts about the women’s liberation movement in the early 50s, and the potential impact of solar winds on climate, and those kinds of things always come in handy at parties.

So that’s all she wrote. I’m done with the GMAT, and now I’m on to other things in life. I will probably post some reviews of resources I used, and maybe some other specific thoughts around how to prep, but otherwise, I’m off to go enjoy me some sunshine.

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Waiting for the End

Today I finished my last practice test. 3 more days until I write the real thing, and I can probably safely say I am basically done preparing. Before the actual test day, I’m going to do some of the more difficult problems from the Original Guide 12th Edition that I have been saving. Aside from that, my plan is to just review the list of AWA topics, and some probability questions as that is my weakest area.

My test results were not that great in the middle there. I was hoping to consistently hit the 750+ range on my last few, but didn’t quite manage. The encouraging sign is that I was able to get 760+ on all my GMAT Prep tests, which are supposedly the best predictors of actual performance. My weakest scores were on the Princeton Review tests, with my second last test hitting a 670. I didn’t panic with that score because I was sick that day and I knew my concentration was affected. Overall, I think I should be able to hit my goal of 740+ comfortably as long as I don’t spend excessively long on any questions and don’t have some sort of anxiety attack.

I’ll be posting after my exam is done with my results, and again shortly after with a review of the materials I used and some observations on what worked well to prepare for the exam. Here’s hoping that my next post comes with some good news!

 

 


Lazy Day

Today I didn’t feel like doing anything. I wish I could have kicked my feet up and lounged in my snuggie like Bruno Mars, because that would have been awesome. After a weekend filled with classes and socializing, all I wanted to do was sleep through the day. Unfortunately, Tuesdays are my test days (what with no classes and all).

So I mustered up some energy, dragged myself out of bed and after a quick shower, got to it. I did a Knewton free CAT today. Here are the results:

Q 47 (77%)

V 43 (96%)

Scaled Score: 730

On the quant side, I failed miserably near the end. For the life of me I could not do basic algebra… my mind was not on yet. This led to me spending almost 4 minutes on an absolute value question, which ate into a bit of the cushion I had built up, and another 4 minutes on a simple ratio question. I got the ratio question wrong, and after wasting that time, I had under 2 minutes left for each of the remaining  8 questions – I got 5 of them wrong.

On the verbal side, I only got 4 wrong, but one of them was because I misread the word “exports” as “experts.” I spent 5 minutes on that critical reasoning question, reading and re-reading the argument and all the options. I felt like I was the subject of some cruel prank because none of the options made sense to me. In the end, I selected the option that had the most semblance of rationality to it, and ended up getting it wrong (of course). After all that, I somehow still finished the verbal section with about 8 minutes remaining.

I suppose that all things considered, the test went ok. I was definitely very sluggish while writing, and it showed in the errors I made. I was expecting a 650 ish score when I was done based on how crappy I felt. Luckily I did not write essays before this one – I’m not sure I would have lasted through the CAT if I had, and I’m certain I would have gotten a much lower score had I written the essays. I feel like I skimped out on some practice by not writing the essays, but I plan on making up for it down the line.

This experience definitely showed me that I need to be well-rested in the last couple of days leading up to my actual test date, and I need to be focused and ready to go. I’m also a bit concerned that while I’m consistently getting 700+ scores, I’m not yet consistently hitting my goal of 740. I know these tests are not the best indicators, but with just under 3 weeks left, I’m hoping to see stronger results on the remainder of the practice CATs I intend to take.


Walk This Way

Time for an update on how my prep is going. Over the past 3 weeks or so, I have completed about 35 hours of prep. This time includes 5 practice tests. With the remaining time, I went through the Princeton Review guides, attempted a few questions from their bins before deciding that it might not be very useful, reviewed some concepts from the Manhattan GMAT strategy guides, and done some preliminary work on the AWA. Here are the results from my tests so far:

Notes on the scores:

  • Since my first GMAT prep test, I have been writing AWAs before I start the actual test. This has helped me realize that the extra hour takes its toll on stamina and I’m hoping that through enough practice, I will have developed the endurance to stay focused on the verbal section before my test day. I’m already seeing results on this front.
  • On the first Princeton Review CAT I took, I scored only a 700. From everything I read, these tests were more likely to overstate scores than understate them, and so I got a bit worried. I attributed the lower score on the first test to the fact that I wrote it at 7 p.m. after a long day. I was also rushing to write it so I could head out to meet friends – I had about 30 minutes left on my verbal section when I was finished. This test was also the first time I had tried to do the AWA before the actual sections, and that impacted my focus on the last stretch.
  • Looking back now, I’m not fully sold that the Princeton Review tests are a good tool. The algorithm seems off when compared to both the Kaplan test and the first GMAT Prep test, and the questions seem to have a different style as well. I was able to identify a couple of patterns, and picked up on a couple of key things through these tests, but overall, I think I might have made a mistake paying for theses and perhaps I should have paid for access to the Manhattan GMAT CATs instead.
  • The one benefit PR offered is the chance to have a couple of AWA attempts graded. I’m saving my last test for a date closer to my actual test date to evaluate my AWA writing again then.
  • The Kaplan test I wrote today felt good. Not as good as some of the PR tests (all the more reason I believe that those tests are flawed), but still fairly good. The score on these tests are supposed to understate expected results on the actual test, so I’m feeling ok after that one. Familiar patterns that I saw after my first GMAT prep test, but which seemed to not be the case after my PR tests re-emerged, suggesting that either I worked on these weaknesses but am slipping back into old habits, or that the Princeton tests are flawed. Either way, I have a clearer picture on where I need to improve.
Plan going forward:
I’ve mentioned some patterns I’ve observed and some things I need to work on. Here they are, along with steps I’m going to be taking to address these:
  • While I am fairly confident with sentence correction, it remains my weakest area. I have not built up the familiarity with all the question types and although I am confident I can do well with idioms, there are some on whose usage I am still not 100% comfortable. So over the next couple of days I will be going through the MGMAT SC guide and working through some of the advanced material to get up to speed.
  • I still tend to speed through questions, especially data sufficiency questions. The answer is almost always not ‘E’, and I tend to miss minor details in the question which alter my answer. There was a question today where I thought to myself: “If they gave me this piece of data, then I could solve using statement (II), and B would be the answer, but since I don’t have it…” Turns out the info I needed was in the question the whole time. I absolutely need to avoid mistakes like this as I would just be wasting away easy points. Gonna be doing a whole whack of DS questions from the OG after I work on SC questions and see positive results.
  • I am still writing AWAs, and even wrote one with the Kaplan test today. I just have no way of really assessing my work except for comparing with other essays online. Overall, I think my argument essays are fairly strong and I am able to identify flaws and convey my arguments in a concise manner. With the issue essays though, I have difficulty keeping my thoughts brief and still developing them fully. I find myself overwhelmed with ideas and points I want to make, and I invariably end up flitting through too many points without giving any of them the full time they deserve. So that’s what I’ll be working on going forward.
Overall, looks like things are going according to plan. No reasons to panic yet, but no real reason to celebrate either. As long as I am able to achieve some measure of improvement on my SC questions and learn to take my time with DS questions, I should see consistently strong results. Here’s hoping the next few practice tests bring me the consistency I seek.

GMAT Practice Test 1 & Revised Study Plan

I did my first practice test from GMAT Prep today, to evaluate where I stand.

I tried to take my time on the quantitative section and by the time I was halfway through the verbal section, I was getting impatient and tired of staying focused for that long. When I finished, my heart was racing with that odd mix of anticipation and nervousness one gets. The score popped out, and I almost jumped out of my seat.

My score was a 760 with a Quant score of 49 and a Verbal score of 44!! I was able to get such a high score despite finishing the quant section with 5 minutes to spare and the verbal section with around 25 minutes to spare. I could neither my eyes nor my luck; my first practice test could not have gone any better.

Once the elation subsided a bit, I got down to reviewing my results. I got 8 incorrect on the quants and 5 on the verbal. The reason the scaled quant score is higher is probably the difficulty of the questions I was given. The majority of my errors were in data sufficiency and sentence correction problems.

The score I got is pretty sweet, but now I have to resist the temptation to ease up on the studying. If I can consistently stay in this range in all my practice tests, that would be amazing! I’ve revised my study plan to hopefully address some issues in sentence correction and data sufficiency, and improve/maintain my scores.

  1. Go through Princeton Review material
  2. Work on Official Guide problems, focusing on Data Sufficiency and Sentence Correction
  3. Begin with Manhattan GMAT guide on Sentence Correction and skim other guides as needed
Throughout the process, I will also be maintaining an error log, outlining which problems I have trouble with and the source of the errors. The Khan Academy’s videos go over all the problems in the Official Guide, so it’s probably a good resource to review in understanding how to avoid repeating errors, and also a nice way to keep concepts fresh during my down time. I’ll probably also periodically be referring to the Beat the GMAT flash cards, available here: http://www.beatthegmat.com/mba/free-gmat-prep-flashcards
I’ve started tracking the time spent studying each session, and what I work on during the session. I’ve also mapped out dates when I want to take practice tests and which source I plan on using. Here’s the summary:
All in all, it’s been an awesome start to my studying. Now to carry this momentum of positivity going forward!

Results of Official Guide Diagnostic Test

Just did a diagnostic test from the Official Review Guide, to see where I stand. The diagnostic is intended to highlight weak areas and help you craft a study plan to improve on weaknesses. Here are my diagnostic results:

Quantitative:

Problem Solving – 16/24

Data Sufficiency – 20/24

Verbal:

Reading Comprehension – 17/17

Critical Reasoning – 15/17

Sentence Correction – 17/18

Basically all the results are in the “Excellent” range, with the exception of Problem Solving. Surprising, I know; my quantitative skills are weaker than my verbal skills despite my undergrad degree being in mathematics. The first caveat here is that I rushed the math section, not knowing how I would fare on timing. This was really not needed as I finished well under 75 minutes. The second, and more important, grain of salt with these results is that I was not aware I would be able to write things down as I went. I recalled reading somewhere that you had to do everything in your head during the GMATs, so I attempted to do just that.

As you can see in this helpful blog post here, you are given a notepad and marker on which to perform rough work. http://gmathints.com/gmat-info/gmat-on-test-day

So I’m not really panicking about my quant results, and I’ll reserve judgement until after I do the first practice test. Lesson here kids: Don’t make assumptions about rules, always check.


Step 1: Preliminary Attack Plan

All right! This is officially the start of my GMAT preparations. Right now, here’s my plan:

Step 1: Familiarize myself with the test and basic types of questions/strategies.

Step 2: Take my first practice test on GMAT prep (first of 2 downloadable from MBA.com). This should give me a gauge on where I stand and clarify the amount of work I have to put in.

Step 3: Go through Kaplan’s Premier guide or the Princeton Review guide (still on the fence). Attempt another practice CAT, this time from Kaplan or Princeton Review.

Step 4: Go through 12th edition Official Guide for GMAT Review. I’m going to use the Khan Academy’s free online GMAT prep video series found at the following link to review my work and keep the concepts fresh in my mind. http://www.khanacademy.org/gmat

Step 5: One more practice test.

Step 6: Go through Manhattan GMAT prep’s 8 strategy guides.

Step 7: More practice tests, followed by more practice.

Depending on how much time I have, the speed/effectiveness of how I’m able to work through all the material, and how I perform on my practice tests I’ll have to alter the plan as I go. Along the way I’ll be reading the forums/blogs at http://www.beatthegmat.com/ for tips and advice to incorporate into my approach.

Timeline: I have two weeks before I go back to school in May. My goal is to be finished with steps 1 and 2 by Wednesday, April 20th, and hopefully get around 50 hours in before May 2nd, leaving about a month to get another 50-60 hours or so in (test day is June 4th).

So here I go. Full steam ahead!


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