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From 470 to 700! On My Second Try? Say It Ain't So!


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There have been tons of historical comebacks…..


…Liverpool overcame a 3 goal deficit to tie and eventually beat AC Milan in the UEFA Champions league final…


…the Boston Red Sox came back from 0-3 to win a best of 7 series against the New York Yankees…


…and today, on my second attempt against the dreaded GMAT, I improved my score by over 200 points.



My first message goes out to all those who have just taken the GMAT and are feeling down in the dumps about their score, TAKE HEART!! I am living proof that you DO NOT need to be a member of Mensa to achieve a high score or to improve noticeably on a low score! All it takes is practice!!


And lots of it!!




Exactly a month ago, I took the GMAT for the first time. I had worked hard and was very motivated to achieve at least a 600. I went into the test center confident. Unfortunately, the test center spit me out a caricature of a man. I was desolate. I had failed on two of the most important facets of the exam: reaction time and time management. I was so furious when I came out of the exam that I was shouting in the car at the top of my lungs and punching the steering wheel. It was that bad. My official score was:


Scaled Percentile

Quant 22 11

Verbal 33 66

Total 470 29


Needless to say, I was pissed off and humiliated. I felt the GMAT wasn’t representative of my skills and I had basically concluded that the GMAT was a scam, aimed at sucking copious amounts of money out of starving college students. Then I found testmagic.com….and thanks to the kind words of forum members, I decided to keep my head up, and rock the GMAT’s world on my second attempt.




Official Guide 10: overall utility: 10/10. This book is the big kahuna of practice books and is an absolute MUST HAVE if you want to ace this test. Far better than more recent versions, OG 10 has a great number of challenging questions, followed by extensive explanations. I cannot recommend this book highly enough, it needs to be the centerpiece of your practice effort. You can find a used OG10 for under ten bucks on amazon.


Official Guide 11: 8/10. This book provides many practice questions but I found most of the questions too easy. In addition, there are far fewer questions compared to OG 10, but oddly enough, this book was much more expensive.


Bob Miller’s Math for GMAT: 8/10. If Quant is your weak point, I strongly suggest this book. Quant was my weakest aspect, so I went ahead and bought this book on a whim. I am glad I did. Although lacking in the number of practice questions, it clearly and concisely explains most every math concept you will find on the GMAT. If you need to LEARN the math concepts, not just review stuff you already know, this is your book.


Princeton Review Cracking the GMAT: 7/10. I enjoyed this book because of its entertaining writing style, and great pointers on test strategy. However, I found the questions to be faulty and confusing at times. “Princeton Review” questions are the reason ACT pays millions of dollars to the people that develop the actual questions for the GMAT. Definitely a good book that is worth buying, but buy the other books before you buy this one.


Kaplan 800: n/a. This is another useful book for strategy. In fairness to Kaplan, I will refrain from posting a grade as I only used the book late into my studies. I rented it from the public library and it gave me some very useful strategic pointers.




Lots of Pens

Lots of Notebooks

INDEX CARDS (very important)


a GMAT prep course with a great and very motivational instructor




The way to ace this test is simple: practice, practice, practice. If you are studying theories and formulas, or memorizing idioms, but not putting this knowledge into practice, you are seriously wasting your time. That’s what I did before my first GMAT, and I got slaughtered. Memorizing formulas doesn’t test you under the gun. If you can’t spring into action upon reading a certain math question, you are like a deer in the headlights. That is why your practice should be structured to improve reaction time.


The way to do this is to do a practice packet that you do 6 times a week, EVERY SINGLE DAY, WITHOUT FAIL, COME HELL OR HIGH WATER. Don’t do 7 times a week, because you can get burned out, and if your practice packets are formulated the correct way, you will need a day off! Also, don’t structure your practice packets so you work only on your weaker section. I don’t care if you are a nobel prize winner in nuclear mathmatics, put some quant in your practice packet. It is as important to improve your weak section as it is to maximize your potential on your strong section. That being said, if you are amazing at sentence correction, don’t do 7000 sentence correction questions. Do enough so you improve and don’t forget your skills. Since my forte’ was verbal, I structured my practice packet as follows:


30 Data Sufficiency

30 Problem Solving

20 Sentence Correction

20 Critical Reasoning

3 Reading Comprehension Passages


I used a chronometer to time myself on each segment. Eventually, using a stopwatch instills in you a kind of innate chronometer, so that you instinctively know how much time you're using up on a particular question, and you get the “feel” for how long two minutes are. This is incredibly important on test day.


After I would complete the packet, I would jot down how much time I took, and check my answers. For any Quant question I got wrong, I would write the question out in its entirety on one side of an index card, then write the answer and explanation on the back. Then, I would place the index cards on a box on my desk. The last day before my second GMAT, I looked over and attempted all the questions on my index cards (by that point, I had at least a hundred or so).




The most important technique to conceptualize is time management. This is imperative towards achieving 700+. I split it up as follows:




CR: 1-2 minutes. Use the notebook to jot down shorthand quick notes on every sentence. If you are quick this should take a minute. Take another minute to figure out the answer, give it your best guess, and get out!!


RC: 4-5 minutes for the passage,


DS and PS: Strictly 2 and no more than 3 minutes a question. Only go over 3 minutes if you are on your way to an answer and you only need to do a few more calculations. By the time you are two minutes into the question you should almost be done. If you are still thinking about how to do the question, or what formula to use, just get out!!!


Practice tests are very important to familiarize yourself with the scoring and timing of an official CAT exam. I only took one practice CAT before taking my first GMAT, and I feel that that was a critical factor affecting my first performance. I simply was not familiar enough with the GMAT to get a high score. In addition, my first CAT being a decent 590 made me underestimate the test significantly. After my first Waterloo vs. GMAT, I practiced taking CATs and recorded all the tests I took. Here are the scores:


Test__________ Date______________ Rigorous Test Conditions?____________ Scores

GMAT Prep 1__3/29____________________ No____________________ 610 (38Q 35V)

GMAT Prep 1__ 3/30____________________ No____________________ 570 (40Q 28V)

Powerprep 1 ___4/04____________________ No____________________ 600 (36Q 35V)

Powerprep 1 ___4/07____________________ No (drank two beers prior!) 650 (43Q 36V)

Powerprep 2__ 4/16____________________ No (extremely sleepy, 2 beers) 680! (42Q 41V)

Powerprep 1 __4/20 _____________________No_____________________ 650

GMAT Prep 2 4/26 G-day -1 ______________Yes______________________ 640



As you can see, I never scored higher than a 680 on any practice exam, so improving your score on your actual GMAT is possible. I feel my practice scores were not that high because I tended to rush Verbal so as to see what my Total and Quant scores were. Also, please note how much higher than average my scores were when I took the tests under the influence of beer. Had I gone to the test center completely hammered, I might have scored a 750 today.




I woke up at 6, ate breakfast and did a couple problems to get my brain going. I was not feeling particularly well. Too much anxiety, too many horrible memories associated with GMAT. In contrast to my first test, my father took me to the test center. This helped A TON. Whereas the first time I had to think about driving, this time I could look at my index cards and memorize and understand a few more concepts.

The test started well with the generic and pointless AWAs. However, during my second AWA, I started feeling sick; too much math anxiety I guess. I went to the bathroom and felt extremely nauseous. I was feeling like I was going to throw up, but I told myself I’m not giving up, I’m going to persevere and give it my best shot. I went back to my desk and faced the dreaded math. The questions were hard, but my speed had really improved so much so that I finished with nearly 20 minutes (!!!) to spare!!!! I hid the clock at the beginning to reduce test anxiety and checked the clock again at the halfway mark. The questions I knew I did instantly, the questions I could work out I took some time on, and the questions I had no idea how to do, I guessed upon, INSTANTLY!!! Don’t try to work your way through an impossible question!! It’s O.K. to GUESS!!!!

At this point, I felt so-so. I didn’t think I did great in the math, but I thought that I hadn’t done so bad as to completely sabotage my score. I came into the verbal thinking if I do my very best, I can really pump up my score. I felt great coming into the first 15-20 questions; I thought I hadn’t missed any question. My stomach started hurting at around question 30 and by question 35, the questions were really torturous, my head was spinning, and I thought I was going to vomit. But I grit my teeth and kept on going and finished strong.

I was ecstatic to see that my final score was:


Scaled Percentile

Quant 48 84

Verbal 38 83

TOTAL 700!!!! 90!!!!!!


After I saw my score, my nausea disappeared. Amazingly, right after I finished my test, the Pearson people said that the computer was malfunctioning; one of them actually told me there might be the possibility that my score got erased!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! You can imagine how I took that!!!!! I told her that if that happened I would sue Pearson and ACT, and I wasn’t kidding. Luckily the malfunction didn’t cancel my score!!!





That’s my debrief folks, hope you enjoyed it, write a post if you have a question and I will get back to you. I am living proof that the GMAT doesn’t reward genius, it rewards hard work, determination and perseverance!!! Good luck everybody!!


M Campanella

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This is great u know i was thinking how was your test and jus checked it. am following your method from the last couple of days and will continue to do so till 25th of may. i have my test on 26th and i scored a dismal 460 in my first attempt.....if I core even 640+ ILL BE OVER THE MOON....tell me what you did a couple of days before the test, rigurous studies or normal practice? My scores in kaptest and Gmat prep have been between 550 to 650, 5 kaptests averaging about 560 and 8 gmat prep about 600....can u suggest how to get this score up, am struggling to get into 40s in quants, verbal is in mid 30s and i feel confident in that......great performance mate brilliant
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Thank you all so much for the kind words!


Heisable, I have not read OG 12, but I suspect it to be very similar to OG 11. If this is the case, OG 12 is valid practice material. You can do a great practice packet with questions from OG 12. However, while you are working on your practice packets with OG 12, I would place an order to purchase OG 10 as well. OG 10 gives an enormous amount of challenging questions, and can be bought used for virtually nothing.


Good luck!

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Hey Asif, thanks for the compliments, they are much appreciated!! From the day right after my first GMAT to last night, I did practice packets constantly. The weekend before my test, I increased the amount of questions in my practice packet so that it looked like this:


50 Problem Solving

50 Data Sufficiency

20 Sentence Correction

20 Critical Reasoning

4 Reading Comprehensions

My index card questions


plus basically any math problem I could get my hands on. I definitely crammed a lot of material on the days before the test. Some books tell you to relax and go watch a movie the night before the test, but I feel like this is crazy and counterproductive. Besides, I could never truthfully enjoy a movie with the GMAT lurking over my shoulder!!!


Good luck!

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Thanks again for the kind words.


Ivy, make no mistake, I am still first and foremost a GMAT HATER!!! :D BTW, thank you for your bow-tie technique, it was really invaluable!!!! I love that trick!


This GMAT score has allowed me to look at certain schools as viable options rather than just dreams. I am looking at NYU, SDA Bocconi and Istituto de Impreza (I.E.), but I will keep my options open and I am receptive to suggestions.

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Thanks again for the kind words.


Ivy, make no mistake, I am still first and foremost a GMAT HATER!!! :D BTW, thank you for your bow-tie technique, it was really invaluable!!!! I love that trick!



haha no prob man. Did you use that trick on the actual test?

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m.campanella, wow thats called acheivement.... you know I saw your comment on my sc (the one which say abt egyptians....) and I saw your signature saying abt what you did.. cool man thats very inspiring. And true hard work show .. CONGRATS :-) You did it.... Wishing you all the very best...
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Thanks again people. I really appreciate the congrats.


Mitzi, thanks for your words of encouragment after my first GMAT debacle.


Ivy, yes, I actually did use the bow tie on a question where you had to compare fractions, to radicals, to fractions with radicals. I also need to thank you for giving me all those links to the free CATs.

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Hi, m.campanella,


First of all, could you share your experiences to me how to progress through Critical reasoning in GMAT ? How to recollect the CR and summarize after doing the CR on indicating OG11? This is my poorest segment to sit for the GMAT, and worstly I did not find the appropriate approach to attack this section, excepting for doing again and again the CR questions in OG11.


Secondly, I admire your writing english so much after viewing your writing skill. For me, english is my second language so I need more practice on my AWA in testing GMAT. May I ask you how do you prepare your AWA before testing the GMAT? Do you use the template instruments in AA and AI? If yes, could you share your templates to me so that I can instinctively implement it on practicing AWA. Do you have any suggestions or recommendations to me regarding how to improve the english writing and AWA in GMAT?


Again, thanks a million for your extraordinary correspondences and recommendations!

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Hey Conspicuously,


Thank you very much for your compliments. I appreciate them!


I didn't study at all for AWA and I don't recommend you do either. All you need to do to succeed in the AWA is memorize a useful template . Remember, the most important factor in the AWA is length. You need to write 5 indented paragraphs. This was my template:


" The issue of ______________ is an interesting/controversial one. On the one hand, ____________________. On the other hand, ________________. In conclusion, I believe that _________________________.


One reason is that ______________________________. (Write two sentences discussing this issue.)


Another reason is _______________________________. (Write two sentences discussing this issue.)


Perhaps the most important reason is ____________________. (Write two sentences discussing this issue.)


(The final paragraph needs to sound just like the first one.)


A great discussion of AWA template can be found in Princeton Review's Cracking the GMAT.



As far as critical reasoning goes, you need to follow a technique that works for you. I find that the absolute best technique goes as follows:


1) Read the question first. This will tell you what to look for in the paragraph. You will know whether to look for flaws, or for strengths in the argument, or for assumptions.


2) Read the paragraph and take shorthand notes. I truly believe that the key aspect of success in CR is understanding the paragraph fully. The paragraphs are tricky, so you need to attack them sentence by sentence. Make sure you understand a sentence before you go on to the next one. Take quick, shorthand notes on each sentence. This needs to take you about a minute-90 seconds. With practice, you can speed your notetaking time to 20-40 seconds.


3) Look at the answer choices. If you recognize the right answer, you are lucky. If you don't recognize the right answer, try to recognize some wrong answers. Physically cross the wrong answers out on your notebook so you don't have to remember which choices you've eliminated. If you are not sure, take your best guess after 2 minutes. Do not sit and ponder the choices. Sometimes I will know the right answer and the reasoning and STILL not understand why that's the right answer!!


Above all, PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE. You need to do at least 30 CR a day. Never do just 25. Always do the entire 30. Make sure you time your progress and measure your accuracy. Above all, never give up. Success in the GMAT is more about courage and determination than about talent.


Best of luck, if you have any other questions let me know.

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