GMAT Power Push – Gaining 200 score in 6 Weeks

It’s been a long time since I posted on this blog. I promise all is well! My son was born and all of a sudden spare time became a premium resource. Seeing those toothless smiles, teaching him about the area that we live in, and now chasing him as he crawls around the house are all wonderful experiences that I deeply cherish. I fully intend to get back to contributing regularly to this blog about my experiences and the world of data science.

Graduate school is my current pursuit and one of the first things you’ll encounter is choosing which standardized exam to take, the GRE versus the GMAT. I won’t go into details about the differences between the tests. I will advise for you to do your research and ensure that whichever exam you do take, choose the one that your target schools accept. More and more programs are accepting both, but some programs still may only accept one.

Ultimately, I ended up choosing to go with the GMAT after some research. For myself, there was more target schools that accepted the GMAT than the GRE (and it helped that the schools that didn’t accept the GMAT were not high on my target list). I researched the scores that I would need for the programs I wanted to get into for my graduate degree. I quickly found that I would need a score higher than 700 to get into the programs I really wanted to join.

I set an aggressive timeline for taking the exam. I wanted to apply for the next round of admissions to graduate school (which meant I would have to have my grades before the end of year). I gave myself 6 weeks to get to the target of 700+ on the GMAT. I certainly don’t recommend such a short time frame for other individuals, but given my timeline 6 weeks was about all I had to ensure I could put together a quality application for the upcoming round of graduate school applications.

I started by taking a practice exam available directly from the MBA website. I downloaded and installed their software, took the exam and got a disappointing 510. Now, I went into the practice exam blind. I took it without even knowing the format of the exam or the types of questions I was about to encounter. That was my first mistake, my second was rushing through the questions as fast as I possibly could.

Over the next six weeks, I would learn a number of ways to approach the exam and the questions contained within it. I would also take the practice exams a few more times to get a gauge for how my studies were progressing. The largest change in my score came from just understanding the exam. I read Manhattan Prep’s GMAT Roadmap (Amazon Link here) first. It provided a great explanation of the exam and provided a number of ways to approach each type of problem. It was crucial to understand the types of problems you will see on the exam. You only have a limited amount of time (75 minutes for each Verbal and Quantitative) to answer all of the questions. The exam tests you on time management just as much as it does for the other skills as leaving questions blank is actually WORSE than it is to get them wrong.

After finishing that book, I started working through the GMAT’s holy grail, the GMAT Official Guide. Every year, GMAT releases an updated version of their official guide and it contains a bevy of information that is useful to you as a test-taker. It contains problems that are just like the ones you will see on the exam itself including some questions they retired from old iterations of the exam. This years edition provides you just over 800 problems to work through. I worked my way through the entirety of that book. It takes a heavy amount of hours, but ultimately it is worth it. Repetition is the key to being able to handle the GMAT. You don’t have time to really second-guess yourself during the exam. By the time you finish reading the question, you should already know how to approach the problem.

Shortly after completing the GMAT questions in the OG, I decided to take a look at my results and really focus on my weakest areas. Luckily, one of those areas are the easiest to improve, Sentence Correction. These problems are difficult for native speakers, because what may sound right is not necessarily correct grammatically (and that’s true on a large portion of the questions). When I first started sentence correction problems, I would just select whatever sounded right when I read through them. In reality, sentence correction is really focusing on the grammatical rules and logic within the sentences. There are a number of recordings from Ron Purewal’s “Thursdays with Ron” that are amazing resources. The videos will go in depth on topics seen frequently on sentence correction questions.

At this point in time, I was getting close to my exam date. I decided it would be nice to know what to expect, so I took the second practice exam a week before I would take the real exam. I scored 650. This is a good score, but not good enough compared to my original goals. So I thought, “No matter what I do on the exam, at least I’ll learn from the experience.” I studied and reviewed questions the next few nights. Quickly the exam date approached. I took the night before the exam off from studying and made sure to get a good night’s sleep.

The exam goes by surprisingly fast once you are in the room. I had to wait in a lobby for about 20 minutes before being ushered into the test taking room. One of the nice things about the GMAT is that you can select the order that you would like to take the sections in. Since I tend to work better in the mornings than evenings, I scheduled my exam for the early morning and I took the verbal and quantitative sections right away. I feel that being able to select the order of the sections (to some extent) was a good contribution to finally pushing past that 700 score hurdle.

To recap, GMAT is as much about answering the questions correctly as it is about time management. Understanding the structure and nature of the exam is a easy way to improve quickly. Work through the OG book and its questions. They are directly from the test maker and some are from the older exams. Take a practice test and really focus on your worst areas to improve the fastest. Lastly, take the exam on the order that works best for you! To all that come across this, I hope that this helps you with the GMAT in some way! I hope you get a stellar score and get into the school/program that you desire!

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