730 V49 Q42 IR5

Today I took the GMAT for the first time and scored a 730
(V42 Q49 IR 5).

I have been more of a lurker than a participant in this
forum, however at the outset I would like to thank  the folks at
CrackVerbal, particularly Gowri, Arun and Suresh for their invaluable
help during my GMAT journey. Special thanks are due to Saikiran who helped me a lot in the last 10 days, with his prompt call backs and phone tutoring he was truly a godsend! Now that my Oscar acceptance speech is over, if
you are not interested in my rather long story, and want to read the learnings
directly, jump to the ‘learnings’ heading.

Materials used:

VA: Manhattan SC Guide, OG13, Verbal Guide

QA: Jeff Sackman’s Math Bible, OG13, Quant Guide

Test Scores:

Company QA VA Total
GMAT Prep 48 34 670
Manhattan 45 36 670
Manhattan 46 32 640
Manhattan 45 38 690
Manhattan 45 45 730
GMAT Club 43 42 690
GMAT Prep 46 45 740
Manhattan 45 39 690
GMAT Prep 48 42 730


First, let me tell you a bit about myself. I’m (yet another)
Indian, with a base degree in Engineering (this is the Indian equivalent of
K-12 now I think), and a PGDM (which is equivalent to an MBA, but that’s a
story for another day) in Marketing from a Top 20 University in India. I have
been working in the Consumer Products industry as a Marketing Manager with a
Top 3 player. I did take the CAT (the highly competitive Indian version of the
GMAT) precisely 5.5 years ago and scored a 98.xx percentile, however this was
due to an extremely high verbal percentile. Also, CAT verbal is nowhere close
in structure and form to the GMAT, so I sort of started off with a clean slate.
An engineering degree did not help me with quant – have never been good at
quant, scraping through it during my undergrad as well.

I decided to take the GMAT somewhere around January this
year, but kept putting it off for a couple of months before finally getting
down to it in March this year. I took a diagnostic, scored somewhere in the
early 600’s, and was quite shocked as I had always thought I’d rock the GMAT
since I’d done reasonably well at the CAT and overconfidence and narcissism is
my middle name. Over my preparation my admiration for this exam and the way it
is structured has only increased and I realized that underestimating the exam
is a cardinal sin.  One big shocker for
me in this exam was my verbal score – I considered this section to be my
strength – I had got almost all my SC’s and CR’s wrong. Over the next few days,
I tried to study for at least an hour everyday but failed miserably. I work
long hours (9 am to 9 pm usually) and by the time I got home beer and bed or
both seemed rather tempting. I realized the only way I would actually get some
studying done was to join a class – there would be peer pressure as well as
homework – and started scouting. On most of the forums, I read rave reviews of
e-GMAT and CrackVerbal  and decided to go with

April and May I trudged along with my prep, I was travelling a lot and could
not manage to devote time everyday to preparation. I did, however, attend the
classes whenever possible and if I missed a class, watch the
recording. I also did the homework about 50% of the time. End of May is when I
decided to push myself into top gear, and started studying regularly (2 hrs a
day for 3 weekdays and 4 hours a day over the weekend) and discovered that
there was a mountain of material to cover, not all of which was useful as I
would discover later. I took my first mock (Veritas) and discovered that I was
at a 670 level.  Not to be disheartened,
I continued with my prep and took my first GMAT Prep test in early June – got a
670 again L I
was pretty upset as according to my ‘plan’ (I’m a sucker for plans) I should
have crossed 700, and I had also promised myself to take a date for the test as
soon as that happens. I called up CrackVerbal support, and Gowri insisted I take
a date so that I move with a ‘do or die’ attitude. I took a date for 31st

For the next month and a half, I prepared like a mad man. I
realized how to maximize my time – I spent 2 hours in the legendary Bombay
traffic everyday, so I decided to prep in the cab. I also made it a point to
study from 11-1 am every night, irrespective of what happened. I stopped
partying/drinking, meeting people, basically I banished myself from my life and
spent time like a hermit. Doing all of this, I used to manage 2-2.5 hours of
quality time out of the 4 hours that I actually allotted to the GMAT from my

At this point, my accuracy levels were as follows:
SC – 30 to 40%, RC-80 to 90%, CR 80 to 90%
PS – 70 to 80%, DS- 50 to 60%

It didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that I
needed to work on Sentence Correction, so I started doing exclusively that. I
went through the Manhattan SC guide (worth its weight in gold, that book),
attended the CrackVerbal SC module and solved almost every SC question that I
laid my hands on. I solved a total of 1624 SC questions (I maintained an error
log, more on this in the ‘learnings’ section). I took another mock towards the
end of June, this time an MGMAT – I got a 670. I wanted to bang my head on the
wall, till I realized that in this particular mock my SC accuracy was 70-80%. I
had actually bombed RC and CR! I was shocked – what is this sorcery? Is this an
exam or some devils charm? You improve on one section, you fault on another
resulting in the same score! I realized that this is more of a mind game, and
my stress was pulling me down – I basically took every mock as if I was taking
the final exam and this was affecting my performance. This is also when I
started appreciating/respecting the GMAT (again, refer to the ‘learnings’
section for dope on this). 

Next week, I studied a bit of math, continued with my SC, and solved 4-5 700+
level CR’s and RC’s to make sure that my head was indeed screwed on the right
way and SC study had not made me forget my RC and CR. All was well. That
Sunday, I kid you not, I had a shot of good whisky to calm my nerves, watched
my standard motivation speech (‘Inch by Inch’ from Any Given Sunday – check it
out), said god’s name and started the exam (MGMAT). I went along calmly, was a
bit short on time in the Quant and IR section but managed well overall. Got a
730 (V45 Q45). All was well in the world – I had proved to myself that I had
the ability to get a 730. This also happened to be my target score – it is the
median, or a little more than the median in most of the schools I want to go to
and it is honestly what I wanted to GMAT. This understanding played a huge part
in my journey, and I have Suresh from CrackVerbal to thank for explaining this.
The GMAT is as difficult as you want it to be – I wanted a 730-740 so I
backward engineered my V and Q score and once I had attained that the task was
to maintain the performance on the real exam.

Once this was done, I went full force ahead. I took leave
for 10 days towards the end of July, and continued prep . By this time I had
finished the OG, Manhattan SC guide, Jeff Sackman’s Math Bible (HIGHLY
recommended for math dummies like me) and moved on to the Verbal and Quant
guide. By the time my holiday started towards the end of July, I had moved on
to the CrackVerbal advanced documents. This is basically a collection of
retired GMAC questions from various sources, and hence the quality (and the
rather large quantity!) of questions was awesome. I took a few more mock tests
during this period, and oscillated between a 690, 730 and 740 (Of course, the
whisky was a one time thing). 

In the last ten days, I realized that endurance was the issue as I was tiring
out towards the end of the 4 hour exam, and to counter this Saikiran at
CrackVerbal suggested that I do 4 sets (1 set = 37QA+41VA) everyday, to build
stamina. It was difficult, but I did it for a few days and my score stabilized
at 730-740. I also realized the subtypes that I was getting wrong (Assumption
in CR and number comparisons in SC) and Saikiran helped me overcome this by
scheduling a phone tutoring session (Thank you!)

Test Day:

I had planned everything in advance, visited the centre the
day before, bought Red Bull, Vitamin Water, Assorted Nuts and an apple for the
exam. Went to the Pune centre, there was a super helpful test admin who signed
me in and the exam started. AWA went well, I finished 15 mins before time, and
spent 15 mins staring at the screen and calming myself down. I was pretty
stressed at this point for some reason, as it was game time, and when I saw the
first IR question, I panicked. It was a combination of Graphs+Tables+CR and
some really complicated data, which I took 5 minutes to understand, let alone
solve – I am usually excellent at data interpretation as I do it as part of my job everyday. I completely lost it at this point. Is this what it had come to? I
guessed the first 3 questions, knowing that I am committing IR suicide, but at
this point 14 minutes had passed and I did not know what else to do. At this
point I sort of slapped myself and thought of my dream school – motivated, I
took a shot at all the questions, and managed to solve most of them with ease
and in time. In the break, I wolfed down an apple, drank half a litre of
vitamin water (trust me this is waaay better than water during the exam). I
reminded myself again that this is a mind game and now the most important part
of the exam was coming up.
As is evident from my test scores, Quant wasn’t my strong suit and I had never
scored above 45. However, I had revised my timing strategy (more on this in
‘Beat the exam, not the subject’ below) to make sure that I have enough time
for the first 8 questions. I solved them easily, and kept powering on. I got a
probability question around Q13, maybe I was doing well or maybe it was an
experimental question. However, after Q30 I got 2
co ordinate geometry
questions and 1 combinatorics question, and I was confident that I had at least crossed 45-46. One part of the
target achieved.

The GMAT breaks are a farce. You get 8 minutes, of which 2 minutes are for that
security nonsense, 1 minute transit time to the locker, 1 minute buffer and 1
minute to open and close the locker. So you actually get 3 minutes of time.
Anyway, in this break I downed a Red Bull, splashed some water (This is
important: refer learnings) and strode in confidently into the testing room.

Verbal started off on a shaky footing – I am sure I got a couple of questions
wrong in the first 10 else I would have hit a V45. There was one particularly
tricky SC question which I could narrow down only to 2 options and then
guessed, and Q3 was RC (:O) on some arbit existentialism type philosophical nosense
which doesn’t affect any of our lives. Going forward, I was confident of most
of my answers, and towards the end I got a boldface (I could’ve cried in joy) –
this was my marker that I had done well here. Finished the exam, there was
arbit info which I just kept clicking next, and got the score – I was pleased,
although a couple of more points in verbal would have not hurt the GMAC, I am
sure. Although I am happier with this score rather than a V45 Q45 which I was getting in the mocks – makes me
seem more balanced, I think.

Okay, now since my long story is over, let me move on to stuff
that might actually help you.

Learnings (I know
this word is grammatically incorrect):

1. Beat the GMAT, do not become a subject matter expert:

The GMAT is a unique exam – its beauty lies in its questions
as much as its algorithm. I spent a significant amount of time researching the
algorithm and the way the exam works, and I think this helped me a lot. You
need to understand what the exam is testing, how it is testing it, and how best
do you approach a problem. You also need to phase out your response, timing strategies
with respect to where you stand in the exam at any point in time. The algorithm
is trying to beat you with its sorcery (this is my word for it) – think of it
as a Sauron to your Frodo (if you are an LOTR fan) and you need to make sure
you see through it.

You can be an SC expert but it is of no use if you cannot
solve RC, or if you cannot solve SC in under 2 minutes. SC is part of the whole
and not the whole, and this is the same for every section. Ensure that you
reach your required proficiency level in each sub section and maintain that.
There is some curve somewhere  – I think
it is called curve of diminishing value or some such  – that basically says that after a point each
unit of effort put in counts for negligible improvement. Understand when you
reach this point and stop.

You need to start loving the exam. Love how the questions
are framed, love how the next question’s difficulty is determined, and how it
will grade you. Only when you realize that each question has a significant
amount of money invested behind it by the GMAC, do you realize the value of
GMAC material. I cannot stress enough on this – USE ONLY GMAC MATERIAL – nothing else comes close. There are finer
nuances and subtleties that hardly any material comes close to. Also, I never agreed
with any of the Manhattan CR reasoning. The actual quant I saw on the GMAT was
different, if not easier than anything I had seen other than official material.
The idea is to think like the GMAC does
and not like any test prep company.
Beat the enemy by thinking like him and
thinking one step ahead.


2. Timing Strategy:

This is the final strategy I used – more time towards the
first and last block of questions, and lesser towards the middle. The first
determines your level, the last fine tunes it. The middle ones contain the
experimental questions (most likely) and you can afford to go a little fast

3. DO NOT cheat

By cheating, I mean do not cheat during practice to give yourself an unrealistic score. When taking a practice exam, account for the non GMAT experience – did you exceed the break timings? Did you eat during the mock? Discount a few points and punish yourself. Be diligent in marking what you’ve got wrong and what you’ve got right – short term wellness by cheating is harmful to long term wellness by a good score

3. Maintain an error log:

This is probably the single most important thing that helped
me in my prep. An error log is basically a map of your weaknesses. I maintained
a detailed log that I found here (Saruba’s error log on GMATClub) and marked each question
with type and subtype – this helped me make my own deductions by easy analysis.
In the last ten days of my prep, I focused solely on my weaknesses. REVIEW this
log often – I did it once a week for 2-3 hours, striking off questions that I
got right this time, and progressively the number of questions in my error log

4. Set an expectation/Target:

‘800’ is not a target score. Well, atleast not for most of us. Decide
for yourself what your target score should be, and try and backward engineer
the score to VA and QA using the percentile matrix. It really helped me.

4. Quality > Quantity (Except SC)

Enough and more has been said about this. I would just not
say this for SC as I believe that SC comes with practice, and other than a few
questions pretty much every other question is of the same quality.

5. SC is all about pattern. Pattern recognition comes from

SC can be approached purely as a math/logic problem.
Practice like mad, you WILL start identifying patterns in SC soon. You’ll look
at an SC and be like “Ah! This is testing modifiers, there’s an as vs like, and
there is also an SV agreement problem” and solve it within a minute. This is
what happened to me in the exam, I think I got most of them correct. Manhattan
SC guide is undoubtedly the best book for SC, and I recommend you buy the
latest edition and not use the decade old e book that’s been floating around!

6. Take copious notes in RC. Imagine you have to explain it
to a 3 year old.

7. Math:
Manhattan SC: SC :: Jeff Sackman’s Math Bible: Math
– if your fundamentals in math are shaky like mine, start with this bible. It
is bloody brilliant. Simple, lucid with examples.

8. Rely only on GMAT Prep mock scores (refer my test scores
for evidence)

9. Practice with full tests (AWA+IR with timed breaks)  – this helps

10. Vitamin Water and Red Bull works like a charm. Trust me.

11. Splash water during a break 
This triggers something
called divers reflex, inducing a rush of blood to the head. Look it up!

Good luck guys! Hope this helps someone atleast J

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