Hey everybody. I hope this post can help some of you out, and maybe give some hope to people that are feeling the way I felt 6 months ago. My post is long, so I won't feel bad if you don't read it... Best of luck on your tests.
I scored a 740 overall (98%), with a 47q (82%) and 44v (97%). My first experience with the GMAT was a 510 on a Princeton Review practice test 6 months before the real thing.
A little background: I am 25 years old and spent two and a half years as an investment banking analyst after school (small New England liberal arts college). I currently am a financial analyst at a large media company.
Overall Prep Experience:
I lost almost six months of my life studying for this thing, and I am happy to say that it paid off. Although, as I will explain below, the first two months were wasted at a Princeton Review prep course. If you want to break 700, Princeton Review will NOT do it. Some of their strategies are ok, but using them alone will just move you towards the national GMAT avg, and if you are perusing this site, I am assuming that's not what you want....
Strongest advice I can give:
-This is not the MCAT, where you need a wealth of knowledge to get a top score. The GMAT is essentially 20 different questions asked over and over again with different wording and answer choices. The Official Guide (made by those bastards at the GMAC, the guys that make this test) should be your bible. I saw at least 5 questions on the GMAT that were straight out of the book.
-It is a test of Stamina --> Always practice with large practice sets (e.g., 30-40 questions in a sitting). Always work with a timer. Practice giving yourself stringent time limits (e.g., 1 minute and 15 seconds for each question). Make your practice sessions in 3-4 hour blocks if you can so that you get used to sitting down and focusing as you will have to on test day.
-Unless you are scoring 700 right off the bat, plan on a big time commitment --> I spent roughly 3 hours a day on weekdays, 4-5 hours on saturdays, and maybe 1-2 (or none) on Sundays. Towards the end of your studying, plan on taking at least one practice test a week (ALWAYS WITH THE ESSAYS)
-It is a test of confidence --> Getting confidence is not always easy, but as cliche it is, the more you practice the more confidence you will get. Look at my princeton review practice scores below. I was sure I was gonna get a 610 after repeating that score 3 times. The more you practice, you will find that it becomes routine answering questions. I couldn't believe that I could ever get a 740 6 months ago.
-FOCUS ON YOUR WEAKNESSES - Everyone can sit all day and confidently do the easy questions and feel good about it. The real challenge is bearing down and focusing on questions that make you insane, that are so easy to just skip over in studying. The ones that you would get wrong three times in a row. Always debrief after practice tests and practice sets and take time to understand questions you got wrong, and also questions that you got right but took you 10 minutes to complete or that you just guessed on (which implies that you didn't quite get the concept)
-FLASHCARDS - yeah, I know it's dorky, but EVERY time you don't understand something or you get something wrong, write it on a flashcard and provide a numerical or verbal example. Look these over every day.
- Practice doing math in your head. Throw away your calculator at work.
- READ ALOT - I highly recommend that you subscribe to the New York times. Read the science section, the business section and the editorials. Read the Economist. Read things that would normally make you nauseous. And when you read, practice reading for main ideas. Focus on the topic sentences of each paragraph and what the author is trying to convey. Don't read for detail.
-You should do something GMAT related every day. While I can't necessarily recommend this to everybody, I spent a lot of time on this website during work (when I was supposed to be building financial models) solving math problems and then seeing how others derived their solutions. People on this site are VERY smart and helpful. I owe at least 50 points of my score to this site.
-If you don't already, start listening to Classical Music while you study (Mozart, Bach, Chopin). You don't have to like it, but it will help you work all sides of your brain simultaneously.
-Curtail your social life- You cannot afford to have hangovers. Go out once a week. Watch movies on friday night (after you study). It will be worth it.
- Stay physically active- Go running. Lift weights. Play hockey. Mental health and physical health are interconnected..
-Learn Math- Don't just plug in
-Share your experience with the forum: These posts were very helpful in helping me derive my strategy and showing me where I was relative to my peers.
My Practice Tests (in chronological order):
I know this what everybody wants to see so here goes:
During Princeton Review
CAT 1: 510 (this made me wonder if I was just not smart)
CAT 2: 610
CAT 3: 610
CAT 4: 610 (after seeing this pop up the third time, I needed a really strong drink)
After Princeton Review
GMAT Prep 1: 640 (taking thiswhen you start studying is a good way to see where your floor is)
800 Score: 680
800 Score: 640
Kaplan Diagnostic: 630
Kaplan CAT 1 (online): 750
Kaplan CAT 2 (CD): 640
Kaplan CAT 3 (CD): 630
Two Week Before the GMAT (took one test a day the week before)
Manhattan GMAT 1: 630
Manhattan GMAT 2: 650
Manhattan GMAT 3: 680
Crack GMAT: 600 (verbal section on this test is worthless)
GMAT Prep 2: 740 (exactly one week before test)
Actual GMAT: 740
You probably noticed a big jump in my scores after I finished Princeton Review. This is because I essentially started over after the course. I should note that EVERY practice test application I used was LOW SCORING, except the GMAT Prep. So don't get discouraged by low practice scores.
Math was my big weakness, so I started with
-Delta Course (www.deltacourse.com)- for $29.95. very helpful for actually learning probability, permutations and other math concepts rather than GMAT tricks. Did 10-15 practice problems from their bonus question bank a day in the month leading up to the test.
Kaplan GMAT/GRE Math Workbook - I highly recommend this book as an intro. Do every problem in the book. The math is not that tough, but this is a great way to start familiarizing yourself with 9th grade math, which is really all the GMAT is.
Kaplan GMAT 800 - Also a must. Very difficult problems. While I mentioned before that you should always work with a timer, here take your time and really push yourself to figure out the answer before you look at the answers. Don't worry so much about %'s here, but more that you understand why you got questions wrong. A firm understanding of this book (particularly the math) will dramtically improve your score.
Kaplan 2006 Premier Program (with CD Rom) - Again, an essential book that includes 5 CAT tests and a paper diagnostic. I didn't spend a lot of time with book itself, and bought it mostly for the practice tests. As I am sure you have heard. Kaplan's tests are realllly hard. Plan on scoring roughly 70-100 points higher than you do on these. Regardless. Ignore your score on these. This is like swinging a baseball bat with weights before you hit. It will make the real thing seem like a walk in the park.
800score.com Practice Tests - Definitely take these tests. Many questions are not exactly like those on the GMAT, but this is a great simulation of the test conditions, and that is what you need.
GMAT Prep Software: ESSENTIAL! You can get it for free on MBA.Com. Do all the practice problems and go through all of the math review. Take the tests (1 at the beginning of your studying and one the week before the test) under real conditions, with 10 minute breaks, and try to go through the pre test routine that you plan to use on test day (e.g., wake up at 9, go running, whatever). Take this score very seriously because you will likely match or exceed that score on the real thing.
Manhattan GMAT Prep Guides: Very helpful. I wish I had discovered them earlier in my process because they are very good for learning the basics. They are kind of expensive (something like $20 each and there are 7 books), but definitely worth it in my opinion. But each book comes with online access to three full lenth practice tests (you don't get access to new tests by purchasing multiple books). The tests are very good practice, and are more difficult than the real thing.
Crack-Gmat (www.crack-gmat.com): They offer a free full lenth GMAT on the site. I wouldn't necessarily recommend purchasing these tests for $29.95 or whatever they charge, because the verbal section is an absolute joke. I think I got a 19 on it. The math is pretty good practice, so if you want more practice on math, buy the tests and just do the math.
Google- Use it when you don't understand something. Google "coordinate geometry." google "idiom." Google "the GMAT is scary." Seriously, you'd be amazed about how much there is out there that can help you.
The Actual Test Experience:
Two Weeks before: Practice test every day, finishing with the 2nd GMAT prep test 5 days before the actual.
Week of the Test: Buried myself in the Office Guide. 80-90 problems/day.
Day before: Scheduled a personal day, which I highly recommend. Did 40-50 problems in Official Guide. No timer. Just relaxed. Watched a movie. Watched a lot of Law and Order. Watched a baseball game. No stress is the key.
Day of the test. Scheduled it at 1:15 on a Saturday. Woke up at 9 and leisurley read the paper. Definitely read something casually in the morning. It gets the blood in the brain flowing. Did some light Official Guide math and verbal (maybe 10-15 problems that I had I had already done before). Ate a light breakfast.
Got to the test center an hour and change early. Got upstairs, registered and again took out the Official Guide and my flashcards. Did 20 easy problems from the beginning of the book that I was already familiar with. This builds your confidence and gets your mind moving. Be careful though, because I was reprimanded for bringing study materials into the waiting room, which you are apparently not allowed to do after your register. So if you want to do problems before the test, do them before you enter the center.
I wore earplugs during the test, which I would also recommend. It is quiet in the room, but you never know who is going to be in the cube next to you.
I don't have much to say about the test itself. Honestly, the experience was identical to my experience with the 2nd GMAT Prep test I took a week before. Essays were standard social problems that needed fixing. As usual, I thought I really messed on the quant section. Took a break and had to pace around in the hall to get pumped to finish verbal. I drank red bulls during breaks which is also a good idea. Also, the BREAKS ARE 10 MINUTES LONG. Not 5 like I originally thought. Make sure you are back with two minutes to spare to avoid having the test start without you.
I covered my eyes while the score calculated. I was expecting a 680 based on how I felt it went. When I uncovered one finger I was a 7 and then a 40. I couldn't believe it. So no matter how bad you think you did, never cancel your score. And also never let it affect you during the test because you are probably doing a lot better than you think. Your psyche (or at least this is true for me) always tells you you are messing up, when in fact you are doing fine.
Treat this test like a challenge, not an obstacle. Math is more fun that you think, and at the very least you get to learn about fun subjects like the formation of the polar ice caps, or the mating habits of mole rats.
You'll do fine