In a recent conversation, I asked a colleague at BCG to tell me about her experience preparing for the GMAT. Since she ultimately scored an impressive 760 (99 percentile), I suggested that she share her experience with MBA Admissions Advisors readers, which she gladly agreed to.
Can you tell us a few words about yourself?
I graduated in May 2013 with a Masters of Applied Science and a Bachelor of Engineering from Polytechnique Montreal (Quebec). Since then, I have worked for 1 year in management consulting. I took the GMAT in order to apply for a top MBA program and I intend to enroll in September 2015.
What was your score on the different sections?
Verbal: 42 / 96%
Quant: 50 / 89%
Total: 760 / 99%
AWA: 5.5 / 80%
IR: 6 / 67%
How long did you prepare for the GMAT? How intense was your preparation (weekly hours)?
I bought the Manhattan GMAT Strategy Guides approximately 1 year before taking the test. I was reading the books at a slow pace not dedicating more than 2 hrs a week to the study. I only started studying more seriously ~1.5 months before the exam but at that time I had read all the strategy books. In the last 6-7 weeks, I was mostly studying during weekends, spending around ~15 hours per week preparing for the test. This timing worked really well for me but I think everyone needs to find his/her own pace.
What resources did you use to prepare? Which ones would you recommend and why?
I bought the Manhattan GMAT prep+ package. I had access to all of the Manhattan GMAT strategy books, OG guides, 6 online exams and the recordings of sessions. I have not looked at other books but I really liked the Manhattan GMAT Strategy Guides. The books are giving a lot of really useful tactical advice. I did not find there was more materials in the recordings of the sessions so I don’t recommend buying them except if you learn better in a class environment than by reading by yourself. I think the best way to study is to do A LOT of practice questions.
What part of the test did you find to be the most difficult, and how did you crack the code for that section?
The part I found the most difficult what the Quant section. Even if I graduated recently from an engineering program, I always had trouble finishing on time. I realized 2 things that helped me score 760:
- You should not think about the GMAT (especially for the quant section) the same way you think about University exams. You need to manage your time wisely and it’s absolutely okay to skip a question if you know you will not be able to solve it in 2 minutes. In the quant section, timing is everything and you should not try to solve a problem that will take you more than 3 minutes just for the sake of finding the answer as this would lead to failing the test. You will also learn useful shortcuts for different types of problems: make sure you are comfortable using them, they are the key to solving problems quickly without doing too much math.
- The other thing I realized and that helped me score 760 is that the verbal section is actually a bigger differentiator than the quant section. So you will get more value overall if you focus on the Verbal section than if you focus on the Quant section. It’s worth taking time to learn your grammar rules.
Can you describe your GMAT day experience ? Any surprise?
The night before the exam, I went to bed early but I had actually a hard time to sleep because of stress. I had packed my bag with food, Gatorade, and water. I arrived at the test location 40 min in advance and the centre was closed ! They open just 30 minutes before the actual time of the exam. Other than that, I had no surprise. It was exactly like the Manhattan GMAT books had told me it was going to be. I had also practice with the official erasable scrap book so I was already used to it.
How did you manage to stay focused and manage your time optimally during the test?
I decided to wear the headphones they were offering us during the exam and it definitely helped me concentrate. I also fully use the breaks to rehydrate and eat. One tip that I can give to manage your time in the quant section is to write on the top corner of your scrap paper how many minutes should be left when you finish this page. I draw 5 spaces on each page to solve problem, so I knew, at every 5 questions, if I was before of behind in terms of time.
How did you feel towards the end of the test? Did you consider canceling your score?
At the end of my test, I honestly did not know how I had done. I had found the quant questions easier that on the practice test but I did not know whether it was because I was failing and they were giving me easier questions. I did not consider canceling my score because you had told me explicitly not to even consider it ! I’m glad I followed your advice and I was really happily surprised when I say the 760.
What 3 tips would you like to share with GMAT test takers?
- Know how high you need to score: Because GMAT scores impact MBA rankings, your score is not only about proving that you can handle the coursework, but also about how your score will impact the school’s average. As our friends at Menlo Coaching explain, what counts as a good GMAT score depends on many factors.
- Time management is everything: Practice, practice, practice and when you practice make sure you time yourself. Time management, especially in the quant question is key. You should know what type of questions you are good at solving rapidly and what type of questions you should skip. Don’t hesitate to skip questions you know you will not be able to solve in 2 minutes. You should also learn all the shortcuts you can use to find answers rapidly and to guess answers when you just don’t know how to solve.
- Don’t underestimate the verbal section: Some people have a tendency to focus on the quant questions but I found the verbal section gives you more value for the hours of study you put in. You should take time to learn the grammar rules and know the question patterns.
- Don’t panic: the night before the exam you should relax and try to have a good night sleep. During the exam, even if you think you are doing badly, don’t panic, take a deep breath and go on. And most importantly, at the end, don’t cancel your score. You might be surprised with the results. [NOTE: this advice is no longer relevant as of June 2014, since GMAC now reveals the score before giving the option to cancel it]
A final word before we part?
Studying for the GMAT is definitely not a fun process, but you should have confidence in the fact that the more you work, the more your score will improve. Just before I took the exam, I was having 670 scores on my practice test. I had actually never done better that a 720. It’s normal not to see improvement at one point or the other but you should not be discouraged. Hard work will pay in the end.
Thank you for taking the time to share your experience with MBA Admissions Advisors readers.
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