Thursday, 9 January, 2014

My GMAT Debrief: 680 to 770 in 6 weeks - Part 1

A very Happy New Year.!!! I have been off the blogging scene for the past three months. Yes..!! I was busy with work and my MBA applications. I am done with the application part for the season and am hoping some good news by the end of March. I thought that I would use this wait time to write my long pending GMAT debrief.
At the outset, let me tell you that I took GMAT twice within a gap of approx. 2 months. My first GMAT was on 26th August, 2013 and the second on 22nd October, 2013. I scored a 680 on my first take and a 770 on my second take. For GMAT aspirants from Bangalore India, here is the link to my previous post about Test Center Review.
I started my GMAT preparation as early as January 2013, casually though, and gained some serious momentum only towards the end of March when I realized that the stakes were very high and time very less. It was in March that I scheduled my GMAT in August 2013.
I read reviews of different preparation courses and researched on preparation strategies. One thing that came prominently was that it was not best advised to start with the GMAT Official Guides. After a lot of research, I finally zeroed in on Manhattan’s Strategy Guides. To begin with, I was confident about quantitative section of the GMAT because I thought that being an engineer I had some quantitative advantage. I was not completely wrong but I realized that approaching questions in a timed manner needed a lot of practice and only a sound understanding of mathematics was not enough. Specially, the Data Sufficiency part of the quantitative section needed careful attention to details. Being a non-native speaker of English, I was skeptical about my verbal skills from the very beginning and was proved right when I faced problems.
MGMAT’s strategy guides proved to be my best mates. I started my GMAT preparation with them. The best part is that the set of strategy guides come with two foundation guides to lay solid foundation in quantitative/verbal skills. I skimmed through the quantitative portion of the guides and spent some quality time in the verbal sections. The verbal section of the guides helped me a lot although I did not benefit quite well from the reading comprehension section. The sentence correction and critical reasoning sections are absolutely fantastic. After the strategy guides, I remarkably improved my verbal skills but my reading comprehension skills remained poor. I had finished my strategy guides by the end of May 2013.
After finishing the strategy guides, It was almost entirely practice with little to none theoretical study. I started my practice with Kaplan’s strategy guide and did not do so well. I then took a break of approx. 15 days from practicing and quickly went through the MGMAT’s strategy guides again. Having seen real problems, I could carefully outline the trends in my mistakes during practicing problems. I then started my practice with GMAT Official Guide 13th edition. Subsequently, I also completed GMAT Official Quantitative and Verbal Review. The GMAT Official guides made a lot of difference. I gained the much-needed confidence. After finishing the Official guides by mid-July, it was time to take practice tests in a timed manner.
By the way, During my GMAT practice, I felt that were no good applications to practice questions in a timed manner. Therefore, I developed an application “GMAT Practice Timer” to do so. I have shared the application through my blog. If interested, you may find the details here.
To take full-length tests, I did some googling and found free tests from popular test prep companies such as Princetion, Knewton, Kaplan, Veritas Prep, and Manhattan. I took the free tests on all of them. While doing all this, I felt that my reading comprehension skills remained sub-optimal. So I also started the RC-99 by Aristotle and it helped a lot. In the full-length tests, I suddenly realized that GMAT had another two important sections – Integrated Reasoning and AWA. Ohhh Dear God, I had never prepared anything about these two sections and I was just one month away from my GMAT. But then there was GMAT club to the rescue. There is an awesome thread about approaching AWA section and I decided to write one AWA essay daily. I also found this amazing website on which one can practice integrated reasoning questions. They have tons of integrated reasoning questions.
After some feedback from a friend, I bought Manhattan’s full-length tests, a set of 6 full-length tests. I was almost consistently getting greater than 740 in the Manhattan tests and hence gained the confidence that I would do well on GMAT. On the previous weekend of my GMAT, I took the Official Test in the GMATPrep software and scored an 730.
Here comes the 26th of August, my 1st GMAT day. I reached the GMAT center well ahead on my time. I started the test and got confused about the logic in my AWA essay. Anyways, I completed it in time and started with the IR section. I felt that the GMAT IR was easier than the IR question on the gmatpill website. At least, I did not have to use the calculator on the real GMAT. I finished my IR section in 24 minutes. After a scheduled break of 8 minutes, I started the quantitative section and got confused in the very first question. I tried to work on the first question itself for approx. 5 minutes but could not find a satisfactory answer. Fearing the loss of time, I guessed it and proceeded ahead. The rest of the test appeared smooth. Towards the end of the section, I felt that I got a couple of very easy questions. Anyways, I finished the section and opted for the second scheduled break. I started the verbal section and frankly, I never felt a thing throughout the section. I had no idea whether I was doing well on the section or poor. The difficulty level of the question did not seem to vary. I never faced a very easy question or a very tough one. At the end of the test, I had scored a 680. Not that it was too bad a score but having scored 730-740 consistently in my practice tests, I was hoping for a similar score on GMAT and therefore I felt as if the sky has fallen.
I think this debrief is running very long. I have so much to say that this post might go in a never-ending scroll. So let me break it at this point. I will start again from this point in my next post, which is coming soon. I also intend to finish my debrief with the lessons that I learned. It may be useful to other applicants too. So stay tuned for more..!!!