I took the GMAT on the 12th of May, 2016 and ended up getting a score of 760. Here is a detailed debrief to help candidates prepare for GMAT. Feel free to get in touch with me in case you need help with your GMAT prep.
Practice Materials Used:
- Sentence Correction: Manhattan, Aristotle Prep
- Critical Reasoning: Manhattan, Powerscore CR Bible (few chapters)
- Reading Comprehension: GIN’s RC notes
- Manhattan Books
- Kaplan 800
- Official Guide 13
- Official Guide 16
- Official Guide for Verbal 16
- Veritas Question Bank
- Manhattan App
For SC, the Manhattan Book is without doubt the best there is. I used a couple of days right at the start of my prep to go through all the rules. I also used Aristotle Prep to supplement my understanding of the rules. According to me, this worked better than simply re-reading the Manhattan Book, as a different approach with varied examples helped drill the rules in my head better. I also completed all questions from OG13 and OG Verbal 16 Guide, and the tougher questions from OG 16.
For CR, I again referred to the corresponding Manhattan Book. I found it useful in helping me break down the argument. I also used the Powerscore CR bible which is undoubtedly a great book. However, I wanted to practice more questions instead of reading theory again and hence I left the book midway. I practiced mainly from OG 13, OG 16 and OG 16 Verbal Guide.
For Reading Comprehension, I found this incredible document called ‘Gin’s RC Strategy’ on GMATClub. It certainly helped me in comprehending the passages better. Practice materials were the same as the ones used for SC and CR.
As regards Quant, I didn’t spend a lot of time reading theory. I simply went through all the Quant Manhattan Guides in 2-3 days.
I also maintained a notebook to record my answers and to write down key points. Sample shown below (click on the image to enlarge):
As can be seen from the mock scores, I was pretty ok at quant. However, I realized that my verbal performance was way below par and hence decided to almost entirely focus on verbal from that point on.
My performance in the last mock was quite good and that score convinced to register for the GMAT. I checked the test center calendar and scheduled my GMAT on 12th May, 2016.
Manhattan: In my opinion, the quant section in these mocks is way tougher than the one in the actual exam. As can be seen from the pic, my performance in quant in the first mock was a fiasco. However, once I started getting used to the difficulty, I got better at it. The verbal section is a pretty good representative of the section in the actual exam.
Veritas: I found the quant section in the Veritas mocks to be ridiculously simple. The verbal questions were fairly difficult and are a bit different as compared to Manhattan. I would suggest taking a few mocks of Veritas in addition to Manhattan just to get a different perspective of verbal questions.
GMAT Prep: The best indicator of your current level as can be seen from the fact that my final score was a neat average of my 2 GMAT prep mock scores.
Test Day Experience:
My test slot was at 9 am. To avoid the deadly Mumbai traffic, I decided to head out early and reached the test center at 8 am itself. Since the test center was closed, I had to wait till 8:30 before I was allowed inside. The formalities were completed quickly post this and the friendly people at the center allotted a computer to me.
AWA: I breezed through the instructions and started with AWA. The argument was simple and it didn’t take me much time to find out the flaws in the argument. I took around 5 minutes initially to frame the structure and took nearly 15 minutes to type in the entire thing. I spent a few more minutes proof-reading the entire essay before submitting it.
IR: I had hardly prepared for the IR section. All that I practiced were the questions from the practice tests. On the whole, the questions in this section were not too difficult. However, I got bogged down on one particular set with a lot of data and hence couldn’t answer the last question in this section.
Quant: The first 3-4 questions were extremely simple. However, post this I started getting a few tricky ones. Most of the mistakes I made in my mocks were in DS and so I forced myself to take a little more time to check for all conditions in DS questions. Few of the questions around Q.20 ate up a lot of time and so I had to rush a bit at the end. The questions from Q.30 onwards were not that difficult because of which I thought I had screwed up the Quant section. Finished the section with around a minute to spare.
Verbal: Similar to quant, the first few questions were straight forward and I could spare a little more time double checking the answer. By the time I was done with Q.10, I had spent only 15 minutes and so I was bang on time to finish the section before time. Unfortunately, I got distracted by another candidate who seemingly had started off with test at that point in his time and who seemed to be venting his anger on the keyboard. The noise from his typing completely threw me off-guard and as I had not taken earplugs, I simply tried to concentrate harder. The next 10 odd questions took me a lot more time. At the end, I had 10 minutes remaining with around 6 questions to go. These questions were moderately difficult and I could finish the test with time to spare.
Score: I was worried about my quant score but I genuinely thought I had done well in verbal. However, when I saw the score (760 with 50 Q and 44V) I was a bit disappointed. I had expected a 780 score especially considering my performance in the last mock. I was however relieved to know that 760 is still a 99th percentile score.
Strategy Advice – My 2 cents:
Problem Solving: Surely the easier section in Quant. It is pretty easy to get almost all questions right in PS with the right preparation and strategy. Also, in PS you have the added advantage of either eliminating options or choosing appropriate numbers. A good way of getting better is to try solving every question (wherever possible) using options in addition to the normal way of solving. The more numbers of ways you have to solve a question, the quicker you can kill it during the exam.
Data Sufficiency: The major headache for me in Quant was in DS and it is probably the key to getting a 50/51 in Quant. In the initial few mocks, I kept missing simple traps (e.g. The number need not be an integer, for comparison of numbers include fractions as well, etc.). As I solved more questions, I got better at it. With practice this section can be easily cracked. I would suggest checking Bunuel’s problems at GMATClub which are segregated neatly topic-wise.
Sentence Correction: This is the major bugbear for candidates. At the same time, this is the section in which the most improvement can be made. I went from around 10 wrong in SC in my first mock to all correct in my last 2 mocks. The easiest way to improve in this section is to analyze the errors you are committing and try and eliminate those. My strategy was to search for the question on Manhattan Forums and check if there was an explanation by Ron. I usually found his explanations to be the best. The second best resource was GMATClub. I would try and check if there was an explanation by an expert in that thread. Only if I understood the logic would I move on to the next incorrect question.
Critical Reasoning: The Manhattan book was useful in delineating the different types of questions asked. The thing with Critical Reasoning is that the more questions you solve, the better you get. I concentrated on solving questions from all possible sources. I exhausted all questions from the OG13 as well as from OG16 Verbal. I also solved almost all questions from the Manhattan App (which is free for a limited time period) and from the Veritas Question Bank.
Reading Comprehension: In the first few mocks, my abysmal performance in SC hid the fact that I was making errors in RC as well. However, in the later ones, I realized I was making at least 1 error per RC. Wanting to improve on this, I searched for a few RC strategies online and found the brilliant Gin’s RC Tips on GMATClub. The point which helped me the most was the part about agreeing or disagreeing vehemently with the author. This helped me grasp the RC better and solving the questions post that was an easy task. I would recommend everyone to check the document out.
- Don’t overdo the prep: Since I had less time to take the GMAT, I went a bit overboard with my prep initially. I solved the entire CR of OG in a day and had CR phobia the next few days. So my suggestion is to take it easy and to stop studying if your mind is exhausted.
- Get accustomed to the exam: Try and mimic the actual GMAT as much as you can. Solve the AWA and IR section as well wherever possible. Take the obligatory breaks if you want and eat the same stuff you would eat during the final exam.
- Keep a pair of earplugs with you as standby: The good folks at the Mumbai center provided me with one. However, since I had never taken an exam with earplugs, I didn’t find it necessary. However, the inside of the test center is pretty quiet. So any noise made by any candidate is amplified many fold and could distract you from the exam. Having the earplugs would be handy in such a case.
- Enjoy the experience: Enjoy the prep as much as you can. If you enjoy what you are doing, things get a bit easier. If you are someone who usually doesn’t perform well under pressure, then try and diminish the significance of the exam as much as possible. For example, forcing yourself to think that the GMAT is simply one component of the selection process will probably reduce the significance of it in your mind. This may help you be more relaxed during the test.
- Be patient if you feel your prep isn’t going anywhere: I’ll end with this point about patience. During my prep, in the initial few mocks, I was stuck in the 700-730 level. No matter how many questions I practiced, I kept getting questions wrong. However, once I kept at it, the mocks suddenly started showing results. As can be seen from the mock scores image, post Manhattan mock 3, the scores kept increasing each time. So my advice is to keep at it even if you feel you are not improving a lot. The same message from Rahul Dravid – “My wife and I have built a new home with a lovely garden which houses lovely bamboo trees. I got reading on the Chinese bamboo and learned that the tree takes 5 years, 3 months to grow to its whole height of 80 feet. Yet, for the first 5 years, you only see a tiny green shoot, but in the next 90 days, it grows into a full-fledged tree. But in those first 60 months, it is growing its strong network of roots underground, to support the tree. In an era of instant gratification, we settle for shorter trees, but remember patience has its reward. These are your years of growing that strong network of roots but be sure when you finally achieve your success, people will call it “overnight success”. If only they knew of the Chinese bamboo!”
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