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Journey to my MBA

Thursday, June 03, 2004

Good Info from someone who got 760 on their GMAT.

Was over at the Test Magic web site and found this awesome posting from this woman who did really well. She provides here tips on studying and replies to some reader comments in the trail of postings. She's going to tutor GMAT now as part of her future. Geez. Just printed it out and am going to read. Hope you get a lot out of it to.

The Excel Spreadsheet that she talks about is pretty useful.
Here it is GMAT Spreadsheet

Today was G-day, and I nailed it!
Quant 49 (90%), Verbal 46 (99%), Total score 760 (99%)

For the impatient, I’ve divided it into sections so you can find the specifics you’re looking for:
• Profile
• Prep materials & schedule
• Getting the most out of OG
• Scores
• G-day
• Conclusions

Female, age 46. First attempt at GMAT – had never even heard of it until 3 months ago. First language German, but have worked in English and French for over 20 years (living in Montreal). Bachelor of Fine Arts (1979), M.Math. in Computer Science (1982). Last academic exam of any kind was 22 years ago…

Prep materials & schedule
After deciding in January that I wanted to return to school for an MBA, initial research on the web suggested I should give myself 2-3 months to prepare for the GMAT, particularly since I’d been out of school for “a while” (yeah, right…).

I read various reviews on Amazon and elsewhere, then ordered:
• Kaplan GRE & GMAT Math Review Third edition
• Kaplan GMAT 2004 edition with CD-ROM
• Official Guide 10th edition

Towards the end of my prep I added for additional background on combinatorics and probability (not covered in Kaplan Math book).

After I had researched and ordered prep materials, I decided on my strategy, and set up a detailed study schedule. I figured that my main weaknesses would be very rusty math in general, data sufficiency problems (had never seen this format before), speed/time management, and exam psychology (handling the pressure, building up stamina to focus for 4 hours). My total prep, ignoring a 1-week break due to an urgent consulting project, worked out to 8 weeks, averaging 2 hours on weekdays, and 10 hours over the weekend = total of approx. 20-25 hours per week = 160-200 hours.

My overall strategy was to focus exclusively on math for the first four weeks, then work on math along with verbal for the second four weeks. I worked through all of KapMath (every single problem) in those first four weeks, and also did all the PS and DS practice sets in PowerPrep. Another part of my strategy was to complete all the Kaplan materials in the first 5-6 weeks, while also starting to introduce OG and PP practice sets in week 3. This allowed me for the last 2-3 weeks to work only with OG and PP, which are definitely closest to the real thing. To build up speed and stamina, I did all PP practice sets and all OG problems under timed conditions. I also did both PP CATs, and 3 of the 4 Kaplan CATs (see below for scores). I decided to forget about doing the 4th Kaplan CAT because I was getting close to G-day, and didn’t want to risk undermining my confidence, so I finished on a high note with PP CAT2.

Getting the most out of OG
In OG, I did 100% of PS and DS problems, about 50% of CR, 80% of SC, and 30% of RC. In all sections, I did all the problem sets that are included in PowerPrep. I found that those are a good way to practice on the computer screen, which feels a bit different than reading problems in a book. Note that the practice sets are EXACTLY the same as the early questions in each section of OG (for example, the first 96 problem solving questions from OG are the ones that appear in the six PS practice sets in PowerPrep), so I skipped the early questions in each section when doing OG. The practice sets are not timed, but I just noted my start time on my scratch paper to get used to proper pacing.
To get the most out of OG, I made myself a standard answer sheet with 40 rows for a batch of 40 questions. The sheet had these columns:
Question #
Careless error
Concept error

In the Time column I wrote down the starting time on every 10th question, and the end time on the last question. For the Question #, I had preprinted 1-40, and then just wrote in the first actual # for that batch (e.g. 1 = 261). I recorded my answers in the A-E columns, and used the next two columns to track my reaction while I was doing a problem. For any problem where I felt it took me a long time, I marked an X in the “Slow” column – sometimes an “XX” if it was really bad. Similarly, while I was working through problems, I used the “Unsure” column to keep track of any questions where I wasn’t 100% sure of my answer, or where I ended up guessing. This allowed me later on to include those questions in a second review, even if I had been lucky enough to answer them correctly the first time.

I would always try to work through a complete set of 40 problems in one 80-minute session, just to build up my stamina and focus. I didn’t mix up problem types – I simply did 40 DS, or 40 PS, or 40 SC etc. After answering a complete set, I used the “Correct” and “Wrong” columns to score myself. Unfortunately OG doesn’t contain an answer grid, so the correct answer is embedded in the explanation. But I tried NOT to read the explanation at first, and just to find whether I had answered correctly. On any question I got wrong, I would then immediately try to solve it a second time. You learn a lot more by figuring something out yourself than by reading the solution. Only after I had completed the initial scoring and second attempt for wrong questions, I would then go through the explanations – for ALL questions, regardless of whether I got them right or wrong.

That’s also when I used the last two columns in my grid for any questions that I had wrong on the first attempt. I would put an X under “Careless error” if I got a wrong answer due to sloppy math, or careless reading of a question or answer. I would put an X under “Concept error” if there was something more fundamental about the problem that I didn’t understand or hadn’t noticed. All this nitpicking analysis turned out to be extremely helpful. I realized that more than 50% of my mistakes were in the “Careless error” category. I also found that there were very few problems that I couldn’t solve correctly on a second try, i.e. before reading the solution.
I kept all of my answer sheets in a binder, and in my final week of prep just focused on my problem questions (any that I had marked as wrong, slow, or unsure).

Scores (in chronological order)

Kaplan Diag. 630 Q39 V39 week 1
PowerPrep CAT1 750 Q47 V47 week 2 (before touching OG)
Kaplan CAT1 640 Q38 V38 week 4
Kaplan CAT2 650 Q37 V40 week 5
Kaplan CAT3 640 Q36 V40 week 6
PowerPrep CAT2 770 Q50 V47 week 8 (after OG)
Real GMAT 760 Q49 V46 week 9


The day before G-day I just took the day off – no studying of any kind. I got my stuff organized, went for a walk, read, had a nice supper, watched some mindless TV (American Idol – made me realize that I’d much rather write the GMAT than have to sing in front of millions of people!), then went to bed early.

I had visited the test center the week before, so I was not stressed about finding it, parking, locations of washrooms etc. My appointment was at 9am, and I got there at 8. After the formalities, they let me start immediately. And since I was one of the first 3 people there, I got a workstation at the far end of the room – nice, no traffic! I put in my earplugs and went to work. I had done my last practice CAT using earplugs, just to get used to the feel. It’s a bit weird to be typing without hearing your keys click, so it’s good to try it before G-day. But for me earplugs were definitely good, since I have trouble concentrating when there is noise.

I was happy to get the Analysis of Argument question first – in my practice CATs I’ve always found that one easier than the “blank page” of the issue question. But the issue question wasn’t too bad either, and I got through both with no problem. I did not use a template of any kind, but just followed the Kaplan advice on taking 8 full minutes to read and digest the question, think about it, and make an outline, and not to get overambitious (get in, make three points in a coherent manner, get out). Other than reading the Kaplan strategies, the only prep I had done for AWA was to put in a serious effort on the AWA sections in each of my practice CATs. I didn’t even look at the list of topics beforehand. I’m pretty confident I should score in the 5 – 6 range, but will post my score when I get it.

The Quant section was pretty much what I expected from OG. Slanted towards the more difficult end of the OG spectrum, but nothing totally unexpected. I was a bit surprised about the number of DS questions - I would guess about 50%, compared to the 33% suggested by Kaplan. Questions covered a pretty broad range – arithmetic, algebra, word problems (surprisingly no work or mixture problems), geometry, coordinate geometry, number properties, and 3 or 4 combination and probability questions. Those were pretty simple – positively benign compared to the stuff that vreddy posts in the PS forum . Nothing on standard deviation, but a couple of questions involving mean and median – simple concepts, but with slightly tricky packaging (one in DS format).

Altogether I ended up having to use process of elimination with 50/50 guessing on two questions, and gave up on one geometry question after a couple of minutes of headbanging – the approach just didn’t come to me. Even though I knew I could probably figure it out eventually, this was around question 17, and I just guessed and moved on. My overall timing strategy worked out very well, and I solved the last question with about 10 seconds to spare. If I had wasted time on that geometry question, I wouldn’t have made it to the end. My basic strategy was to divide the 75 minutes into 3 blocks, and try to stick to completing 1/3 of the total questions in each time block, i.e. at the end of question 12 to have at least 50 minutes left on the clock, and at the end of question 24 to have at least 25 minutes left. I felt that difficulty increased during the early part of the test, but it hit a plateau around the half-way mark. In fact, some of the later questions were easier, so I’m glad I had enough time to do them.

After I got through the Quant I was a bit more relaxed. I started off with some SC and CR, and quite quickly was hit with the first RC passage (about 40 lines). And then I immediately got a second RC passage (about 75 lines – one of those dreaded science passages half written in Latin). Fortunately I had read about the possibility of back-to-back RC passages in one of the posts on this forum, so I just focused on the task at hand, and figured I’d catch up later on my overall timing. I used a similar overall timing strategy (1/3 of questions every 25 minutes, i.e. after Q 14 have 50 minutes left, after Q 28 have 25 minutes left). For the verbal you need to be a bit more flexible, though, depending on where the RC passages pop up. So after Q14 I was about 3 minutes behind, but with 2 RC passages out of the way I was actually in good shape. Then I got all SC and RC for a while, until another RC (social science) around Q26 or 27. By this time I was getting a bit tired, but I just told myself that I was in the home stretch. I closed my eyes for a few seconds and took some deep breaths, then attacked the passage making detailed notes to force myself to focus. It was definitely important, since there were 4 or 5 questions linked to that 3rd passage. Then some more SC and CR. I was just starting to think I was home free, when I hit question 38, and a fourth RC passage popped up! Fortunately I had enough time left to tackle it and answer the 3 questions, but I really had to grind it out at this point. The final question was a convoluted CR, where even with 3 minutes left on the clock, in the end I had to make a 50/50 guess.

1) PowerPoint CAT (before OG) is the best predictor of actual GMAT score

2) Kaplan is good for strategy and math review, but ignore their CAT scores. The CATs and specific practice tests (e.g. just DS practice test) are hard, but they helped me. Somebody in an Amazon review had mentioned that using the Kaplan tests is like an athlete training at altitude - it makes the real thing feel easier. Just stay away from Kaplan tests in the last couple of weeks before G-day, so you don't undermine your confidence.

3) OG is great, but you need to really work with it, not just read the solutions.

4) Speed, timing, and stamina are critical. All of these can only be acquired with practice.

5) I cannot overstress the importance of confidence, and remaining calm. The absolute worst thing you can do is to panic during the test. I have analyzed a lot of the forum posts from people who did less well than they had expected, and the most common cause is a psychological meltdown during or after the Quant section.

6) I had read that high scorers typically approach the GMAT as a challenge, or as an opportunity to "show their stuff", instead of viewing it as a scary hurdle that's trying to keep them out of B-school. Also, I had read that most people who make a second attempt improve their score, often by about 50 points. Anecdotal evidence suggests that much of the improvement is not due to additional prep, but simply less anxiety because of familiarity with the test format and environment.

7) In my prep, I focused a lot on building up my confidence with the goal of reaching my potential score on the first attempt. My 750 score on PP1 certainly encouraged me to believe that I could do very well (once I found out that I should just ignore the Kaplan scores!), but I would not have been able to pull off that same performance on G-day without the prep.

8) After visiting the test center the week before G-day, I did a few minutes of visualization each day - just closed my eyes and saw myself sitting at the workstation, doing well, moving confidently through each section, relaxing during breaks, finally answering that yes, I did want to see my score, and then seeing a 750 pop up on the screen. And on G-day, that's almost exactly how it went down, except that the 750 turned into a 760

My username in this forum, Ursula, is actually my middle name, and it comes from the Latin “ursa”, which means female bear. On the day before G-day, a friend who has been teaching in the Canadian Arctic came for a visit, and she brought me a small pin, an Eskimo carving of a polar bear (she didn’t even know about my middle name!). I took it as a good omen, and wore the pin on G-day. So my final recommendation is to wear your testmagic avatar when you write the test – it will work like a charm!

Originally posted by jjomalls

Do you feel that your quant questions from the real test mirrored the harder OG questions, or more so the Kaplan questions?

I took the test and scored a 640 the first time. My verbal's not the issue, just the math. Have 4 weeks to go, and am working both Kaplan and OG. Not sure where/how to focus the best, especially on probability, comb/perm, and exponent questions. Any suggestions?

I would say the actual GMAT is best mirrored by the harder OG questions - the thinking patterns are just a little different in Kaplan. But the Kaplan strategies are sometimes better than official OG explanations, e.g. using backsolving or number picking instead of a more conventional approach.

I believe that earlier editions of OG had questions divided by difficulty, but now they're all mixed together. Based on my own experience, though, difficult questions occurred more frequently in the last 80 PS questions - from #361 on, I missed 1 in 10 on my first attempt, while on the 80 questions just before that I didn't miss a single one. Similarly, in the final 50 questions in the OG DS section I missed or was slow or unsure for 2 in 10 questions, while for the rest of DS my average miss rate was about 1 in 10.

I think comb/perm is freaking a lot of people out unnecessarily. I only had one combinations question where it really helped to know the xCy formula (the number of ways to choose y elements from a set of x elements). On a second comb/perm question, the trick was more to translate the word problem into a comb/perm concept - the actual answer was small enough that I could have just enumerated the possible outcomes. For probabilities, just the basics were sufficient - nothing beyond what's covered in the math review that's in the beginning of OG.

My feeling is that you are far more likely to need solid arithmetic and algebra skills (including exponents) than esoteric comb/perm/probabilities.

Originally posted by jjomalls

If I may ask...what did you do to prepare for topics that are barely covered in the Official Guide - primarily statistics and probability?

I found that even the Kaplan Math Workbook doesn't cover that material (except basic mean & median), so in the last few weeks before my exam I signed up for the material at It's online only, and you can't easily print it - you have to go through it one page at a time. But the price is pretty reasonable ($27), and it certainly helped me get a better grasp of this stuff. You can also sign up for their free GMAT problem of the day (sent by email). Their website is a bit heavy on the hype - for example, their "advanced algebra" stuff turns out to be one single article about sqrt(-1). But overall I think their material was worth it - at least for me (I'm 46, and it's been a looong time since I last saw a factorial )

The comb/perm/stats/probability questions posted by some people on the problem solving forum here are far more difficult than what I would expect to see on the GMAT, and I'd never expect to solve those in 2 minutes. But trying to follow those threads and working on some of those complex problems also helped me increase my understanding.

I must say that on my actual exam I really didn't see anything particularly complex on any of these topics, though. However, being prepared certainly helped my confidence in dealing with the problems I did get.

I found the material at useful for counting methods / probability. The cost is quite reasonable. Also, sign up for their free GMAT problem of the day email service - they offer good practice, and you get the solution the next day.

For velocity problems, you just need to know the basic formula (velocity = distance/time) and keep rearranging it to fit the specific problem. You'll get better at it as you practice more. Just make sure you understand all the explanations for these types of problem in the Official Guide. There are also a number of velocity problems in the Problem Solving forum here, but quite a few of those are more difficult than what you'll likely see on the GMAT. You may also find the Kaplan Math workbook useful (chapter 4 deals with Word Problems, including rate/velocity). If you have specific questions you don't understand, post them in the Problem Solving forum - somebody will usually respond quite quickly.

For mixture problems, it's not so much a question of remembering a specific formula. The trick with those is mostly to read the question attentively and then to attack it logically (for example, when you dilute a solution, all of the original ingredients are still in it - you've just lowered their concentration). Sometimes it helps to pick some numbers, and work your way through a mixture problem that way.

Don't worry about the Kaplan scores. Their tests are good practice, but their scores tend to be demoralizing and are not a good predictor of the real thing - most people end up scoring 50-100 higher. (I'm pretty sure the Kaplan scoring is deliberately low to get people into their courses). Princeton scores tend to be closer. Have you done a PowerPrep test yet?

Keep reading this forum. You'll pick up a lot of useful stuff here. Also, if you don't have it already, get a copy of the Official Guide. Most people here (including myself) consider that to be the single most important resource.


Blogger Crystal said...

I take the test in 2 weeks. Although my strategy was not like that of Ursula's what should my strategy be at this point. I do not feel as though I have mastered ANYTHING. I am good at math but still struggle with knowing how to solve it under time and good mostly on CR but I suck at Reading Comp. I'm okay on SC also. What should do at this point. Focus more on building the math to do solving it under the time and mastering content or should I focus on taking as many computer tests as I can before I take the exam?

9:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

funny, I got a 760 as well, with your same exact score breakdown - 49 quant, 46 verbal. seems to be a popular score this year!

7:52 PM  
Anonymous Kanwaljeet said...


Read the lead post on 760. must say very meticulous! I also took Gmat 2004 october. Got a 770 ( Split: Verbal 45-99%ile, Maths 50-95%ile, AWA- 5-78%ile). I however approacehd it a bit differently. Just thought it might help some people.

Background: Engg and MBA from India
4 Yrs Work exp in Commodities in Nigeria and Uganda.

A few basic things i took care of:
1) prepare in the morning: i worked best in the mornings. also decided to take the test in the morning: nutshell: prepare and take the test when u are at ur best mentally.

2) made sure i did not overdo things: felt that if i overdo, i will become jaded.

3) compiled my own tests from various books

4) spent more time analysing the tests than preparing( probs 4 hrs to 1 hr)
5) took the Test in India: mainly cos i wanted to be comfortable and not worry about ANY thing: may call it focus: nutshell: write the test where YOU are comfortable: own city, specific areas etc

Books: tests: dont have the AWA section but the problems are good.

CAT Maths: Entrance exam of Indian B schools: Maths is too good-much better than GMAT: level etc. mainly because i wanted to get those extra 2 questions right.

English: Thomson peterson: dont know how many have heard about this: found it pretty good.

Did maths and English every day. 4 hrs total/day.

took self assembled tests : 4

15 days and i felt i was ready for it( imp thing i FELT)backed by decent scores on the online tests( took 3 in total)

Day/night before the test: Met up with old friends, went for some drinks. for me anything but thinking about the test was the need of the day.

Slept at 2.

Got up at 7 and went to the center: reached 30 mins before the test( any longer i probably would have cracked looking at the nervous people in a very quite environment!)

Wore a track suit: wanted to be comfortable: without any hassles

Shut the world out: i was there to write the test: gods could wait attitude

Took the breaks during the test: looked at the security cameras during the break: thought about them and the technology( again: it was a BREAK: tried not to think about the test: how i screwed up the previous section etc)

Pumped my fists when i got the score( felt good: exhibited emotions for the first time in the day)

i believe the KEY takeaway( if any!) Focus for the right amount of time on the only thing that mattered: The GMAT). its a game of mental strength.


3:46 PM  
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1:57 AM  
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12:00 AM  
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