How I aced the GMAT (760 Q49 V46)
By GMAT Club Verified Reviewer bgbeidas
Man have I been looking forward to writing this post and thereby signaling the end of my GMAT journey. Before I launch into the juicy deets (study materials, practice CAT scores, etc), I think it would be worthwhile to provide you all with some background info on me. Also, please pardon the woeful tennis pun in the title. Four months of maniacal studying really took its toll.
Retired professional tennis player (less impressive than it sounds, injuries unfortunately cut my career quite short before I could achieve what I wanted to) who graduated from a Top 50 college in the U.S. I made my school choice based on their standing in the NCAA tennis rankings, as the plan was always to go pro after graduating and 17 year olds rarely look at the big picture. When I entered school in 2007 my team was ranked number 1 in the country in the Division 1 rankings and our goal every year was to win a national championship (something we unfortunately never accomplished in my time there). The extreme competitiveness of our tennis program mixed with my desire to turn pro upon graduation coupled with a lack of maturity resulted in me graduating with a 2.9 GPA in Business Administration. I have always been the type of person that learns best from others and the biggest aspect of university I regret missing out on is the sharing of thoughts and ideas related to the business world and I regret the lack of true learning that I accomplished at university thus I always planned on doing an MBA to immerse myself properly this time round as a different person.
On my travels, I always told myself I needed to study for the GMAT and get ahead of the game, but, again maturity issues. It wasn’t until December when I finally decided that my back wasn’t going to heal itself in time for my professional career to regain its legs (I’m 27) that I decided it was time to open the GMAT books. So, I registered on here, dumped my profile on BB, got encouraging feedback from him, and decided to dive headfirst into the depths of GMAT hell.
Phase 1 – “Yung and lernin’” (Weeks 1-4)
In the middle of December, I opened the Kaplan Premier book and took the paper practice test provided in the first chapter. I got 20 out of 37 Quant questions right (disaster), and 12 out of 12 correct on the Verbal before I shut up shop and realized that improving my Quant score was going to be the key to GMAT success. I went through the Kaplan book but it really isn’t great for someone who has forgotten the basics. Someone mentioned the Manhattan series to me. So, I purchased the whole series including the “Foundations of GMAT Math” book that turned out to be a life saver. This book is extremely basic but if you are even 1% skeptical about your math skills, I highly recommend it. From December 20th till January 1st I hammered this book and nothing else. I felt I was now ready to tackle the more “advanced stuff”. I went through the Manhattan series, without realizing that each chapter had recommended problem sets from the official guide. Whoops. I had an error log which I stopped keeping about 2 weeks into my studying, didn’t consider it a huge miss for me but the experts say it is a must so don’t take my word for it. After finishing the Manhattan series I posted on this forum to ask what the next step was for me. Enter Rich Cohen. Rich uttered those four or five sentences, which anyone who frequents this forum will have come to memorize by now. “Have you taken a full practice CAT?”…. “real conditions etc”. I got into a back and forth with him that ended with me looking at Empower GMAT reviews and thinking “Hey, I should check this out”. I took my first practice CAT (680 Q 42 V41) and went straight to the Empower website to sign up.
Phase 2 – Feeling Empowered (Weeks 5-10)
Within 2 hours my world changed. Before Empower I genuinely felt lost and unsure of how I would achieve my target GMAT score (99th percentile). Empower GMAT was a game-changer for me. I can go on about it for hours, but the bottom-line is: I cannot imagine that there is a better course out there. The Quant section alone is worth its weight in gold. If I do end up making it to my dream school in California I’m driving out to LA and buying Rich a drink. Their method of teaching is just incomparable to the other courses out there (I trialed a couple). After about three weeks of focus on Quant, I took my second CAT. (690 Q48 V39). My Quant score was going in the right direction and now I knew that all I needed to do was cement my Quant knowledge and sharpen my Verbal skills. With that, I took a small break from Empower GMAT, and focused on working on the official guide for a bit. I went through the whole thing (minus the RC section) and took another CAT (730 Q49, V41). Now I was really motivated. I purchased Question pack 1 as well as the Verbal and Quant OG Supplements and bought the Paper tests too. I wanted a large supply of Quant questions at the ready so that when I was focusing on sharpening my Verbal skills I could still do 20-30 Quant problems a day so as to keep it fresh in my mind. It was at this point that I booked my test (Sorry Rich, I know you recommended it be done at the end of Section 1 in the Empower course).
Phase 3 – “Becoming a GMAT assassin” (Weeks 11-16)
It was at this point that I started genuinely feeling like a machine. Quant questions would come my way from the official guide, the question pack, and everything else, and I almost instantly knew how to approach it. With a combination of my skills, the fundamentals I learned from the Manhattan books, and the approaches taught by Rich, I felt like I could face anything the Quant section threw at me. Little things Rich would say like “write everything down” and “don’t panic when you see a radical, business schools don’t like people who panic when they see radicals” really had an impact on me and I started to feel like I was capable of successfully tutoring someone to a 700 if need be. Enter Sentence Correction. In all my practice CATs I was making at least 7 mistakes on SC questions and between 0-2 on RC and CR combined. It was fairly obvious that to hit the Verbal score I knew I was capable of, I absolutely had to get this section down. Memorizing the rules didn’t work for me. I went through the Empower videos, which were somewhat helpful but what really helped me was relentlessly doing SC problems till I was blue in the face. That method helped ingrain the rules and patterns in my head subconsciously. After about ten days of relentless Sentence Correcting, I took my 4th practice CAT (740 Q46 V47). I was ecstatic with my Verbal score but worried that my Quant was slipping, sooooo back to Quant questions. My exam was about three weeks away so I had to find a way of mixing problems up enough that I wouldn’t start to memorize them, while mixing in Exam pack 2 to build my stamina with fresh CATs. Fast forward two weeks to one week before exam day, I took Exam 1 from the new exam pack (760 Q50 V44). I went on the forum and asked the experts whether they thought it was worth taking the final CAT in the 6 days I had left and they leaned towards “No” as an answer. So, that was it. I just had to find a way to stay fresh and peak for test day.
Phase 4 – See ya G’MATe (Yesterday and Today)
As per Rich’s advice I barely did anything yesterday. I did around 20 Quant problems and approx 20 Sentence Correction problems. At night I reviewed the Essay outline I found on the forum (Chineseburned’s version) as the essays I had written in my practice CATs were absolute tripe and I didn’t want to have to retake the GMAT because I got a 0 on the essay. Looked at a couple of Quant flashcards (big mistake), and somehow fell under the illusion that I knew nothing and I was doomed. Lesson for all of you: This is Bob. Bob doesn’t review formulas and notes the night before an exam because Bob has confidence in the studying he has been doing for the last 3 months. Bob is smart. Bob is not a lunatic Be like Bob. Went to bed at 10 PM. Fell asleep at 3 am, woke up at 7 am. Standard. I wasn’t perturbed by this at all as it happened to me quite often the night before a big match and I knew that adrenaline could carry me through the exam.
Enter exam day. I was so anxious to get started at this point. Prepared my walk playlist (exam centre is 30 minutes away) got my snacks ready (low sugar drink, vegan bars with low sugar and some protein as I wanted to avoid having a sugar crash, and of course cinnamon flavored gum). Immediately regretted my decision to walk to the exam centre as it is quite hot and humid in Beirut today, but again, didn’t let that faze me. Got to the exam centre 20 minutes early and was allowed to start immediately. Took a deep breath, mentally prepared myself to seek and destroyed and stepped into the exam room. The second I walked in, I felt claustrophobic. I hadn’t been truly nervous up until this point but it all became real when I stepped into that room. It was just me and one poor, hunched-over soul that looked like she was being smacked with a bamboo stick by Dr. GMAT.
As the instructions came on the screen I wrote out my essay outline. The prompt came up and it was fairly straightforward. Done. Next came IR. For some reason I only got a 7 despite always getting an 8 in my practice CATs but from what I gather it isn’t a big deal. I found the last question to be really poorly worded so I left it alone, raised my hand and waited for the lady to come back into the room so she could scan me out for my 8 minute break before the real test began. Popped into the bathroom. Out. Locker. Half a protein bar, half a bottle of whatever it was and then back into the exam room again.
Had high hopes for this section. I figured at worst I would hit 48 and at best 50. So the 49 that I ended up getting was probably fair (even though I am slightly worried that it is only 78th percentile, screw all you Quant geniuses!). The 2nd and 7th question were stupidly difficult for me and I feel this is what stopped me from getting a 50 or better because from Question 10 to about 30 I absolutely nailed this sucker. Everything the computer threw at me I was able to do. It got to the point that I was so far ahead of the test, I spent about 12 minutes on question 30 and still had pleeeeeenty of time left for the last 7 (again, sorry Rich, I got it right by the way). I finished this section with about 10 minutes to spare. Everything on the pad, test all cases for DS questions and bobs your uncle. Time for the final quarter.
I knew I was doing fairly well on the test so far so didn’t want to have to retake the whole test because I screwed the final section up. I am an extreme perfectionist and I didn’t want to score lower than the 760 I achieved in practice (even now I am still thinking I could have done a little better today). Verbal went by really quickly. The SC questions I got were much easier than the ones I had gotten in my practice CATs. I finished this section with 35 minutes remaining (I kid you not). Once I clicked next on the final question and filled out the survey, I took a deep breath and was ready for that nervy 5 second wait that comes up when the GMAT Prep software is calculating your score. Holy crap, what, the real exam doesn’t do that? Numbers just came at me out of nowhere. Gathered my self and processed the numbers. 760. Phew. So relieved to be done with it all. Nice lady at the test centre congratulated me with a smile and gave me my print out. Set off on my walk home bumping “Going back to Cali” by Notorious B.I.G (My top choice school is Stanford) and started thinking about how I could help all the forum members and lurkers kill the GMAT.
Long post, let me boil it down to a key points for you all.
1) Be Relentless
For 3 months, I went to bed thinking about triangles and woke up with quadratic equations on my mind. I have always been bloody minded but I took it to a new level the past few months. There were days when I felt down and discouraged, but I didn't let that feeling consume me for long. I wanted this badly, and I believe that is more than half the battle for anything in life. I haven’t picked up a textbook in 6 years, and even then, my undergrad was a wasteland of missed second serves and broken racquets as I previously explained. This was sheer willpower and determination. There is an Arabic saying that goes “repetition taught the donkey”. Well, I don’t know whether it is fair on the donkey to be compared to me but….. you get the message.
2) Listen To The Experts
This test has been around a while. Some people have mastered it. Use their experience to your advantage. The debriefs on here are extremely helpful. There are a lot of helpful people on this forum. Use them, and give back when you’re done.
3) Go Back To Basics
If your foundations are weak, you will struggle. Luckily, I found this out quite early on. The best book for math foundations is the Foundations of GMAT Math book that Manhattan makes. If there is any doubt, get it.
4) Empower Yourself
Empower GMAT has cracked the GMAT. I could go on all day. In fact, I probably already did. Bottom line, at the very least you need to try this course out.
I am sure I have left important bits of information out, let me know if there is anything anyone wants to ask me and I will gladly fill in the gaps.
.. And Remember, “GMAT assassins aren’t born, they’re made” ;)