The Last Three Months: My GMAT Adventure

Frequent readers of this blog may have noticed that I’ve posted at a slower rate than usual these last three months. No, StarCraft II is not to blame. The fact is, I’ve actually been studying for the GMAT.

Last Thursday, I took the test. Everything went very well.

The test is administered on a computer that adapts to your skill level. The GMAT is designed so that test takers will miss around 50% of the questions. As a person answers more questions correctly, the GMAT adjusts the difficulty of its questions to maintain that 50% correct/incorrect ratio. At the end of the test, the computer looks the test taker’s final difficulty level to assess the score rather than at the number of questions answered correctly.

There are three sections on the test: essays, quantitative (math), and verbal (reading). Going into the test, I was most concerned about the quantitative section. The questions range in difficulty from geometry to combinatorics and I was worried because I hadn’t taken a math class since AP Calculus in junior year of high school (which was almost 10 years ago)!

The verbal section was easy for me because the logic questions and reading passages were basically similar in style to the questions on the LSAT, except shorter.

In the last three months, I abandoned my social life and dedicated myself to relearning math and clearing out all the cobwebs in the quantitative part of my brain. When I first started my review, my math skills were very rusty. My GMAT diagnostic scores were in the 500 range (generally between 530 and 580). My math score was in the 30s.  I was determined to raise my score by 100 points.

To study, I purchased a copy of the The Official Guide for GMAT Review, 12th Edition from the local Borders in Sunnyvale and completed all of the questions over a period of 4 weeks. I also paid $1,000 for a Manhattan GMAT course to take advantage of their 6 computer adaptive diagnostic exams, strategy guides, and 10-class curriculum. Finally, I practiced my timing with two free tests on MBA.com.

I also chatted with current business school students about their GMAT experience. Their study advice helped me regain confidence. When I started averaging 650 on my diagnostics, I took the plunge and registered for the test.

Having a doomsday clock actually helped me study harder.

I took a week off before the test date to clear my head and remove myself from distractions. I set up an intense study schedule that basically repeated the following pattern: 1 day of diagnostic tests followed by 1 day of review. Since my test was on a Thursday, I took a diagnostic test on the previous Friday and reviewed the answers on Saturday. Then I took another diagnostic test on Sunday and reviewed it on Monday. I repeated this on Tuesday and Wednesday. I didn’t want to take tests on consecutive days because I was afraid I would burn out and glaze over the actual test.

My diagnostic tests from MBA.com were very good predictors of my actual score. On the two tests, I scored a 730 and 770. My final score was in-between.

I consistently scored lower on the Manhattan GMAT diagnostics. However, I figured the diagnostics were designed to be more challenging than the actual test in order to better prepare students. I found those diagnostic tests very useful for identifying my weak points.

At the end of three months, my score increased not by 100 points, but by 200 points.

If you’re contemplating taking the GMAT and are afraid that math will be too challenging, don’t fret. If you have the willpower to study, study, study, it’s definitely possible to attain your desired score. Just remember to do a lot of diagnostic tests and focus on improving your weakest areas. Most importantly, stay positive.

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