The main purpose of this post is to explain you how I went from “deciding to take the test” to getting a 740 (3% best percentile) with about 100 hours of study. One can’t necessarily expect to replicate the same performance by following these same steps. Personally I am strong on the verbal section, which is a section a lot of people seem to find hard, which means that I didn’t have to study at all for Reading Comprehension or Critical Reasoning. Those sections are the hardest to improve quickly if you are not naturally good at them, so if those are being a problem for you it is important that you seek advice online on how to improve. All I can do is tell you what I did and what resources I used. Every person is different and you should approach your GMAT study according to your strenghts/weaknesses.
I must have gone through a full stack of A4 during my whole GMAT study path (image is of 4 days of study only)! Hard work must be put to get a good score!
Some initial considerations:
Important Consideration #1: If at some point in your past you were strong in math, you still are. It doesn’t matter if you have forgotten what a negative exponent means, or how to factorize a quadratic equation or even sometimes confuse a mental calculation of 8×7 with 8×8 and 6×7. You can reach your previous peak, and even surpass it, with the right amount of study. After 5 years without doing any math, I had some insecurities regarding my ability to perform. At the end it wasn’t a problem at all and came out quite quickly once I started studying.
Second very important point: Getting to 720+ is most probably gonna be a 100+ hour process for most of us. Have fun, enjoy the learning process! One of the things that will help you achieve your goal is to just be super pumped and motivated to prepare for the exam, and to approach the whole experience as a fun challenge.
Things I learned from the process (This is the way I did it):
STAGE 0: Get to know what the exam is about:
- To avoid unnecessary pressure and to give you enough time to re-take if you need it, plan to take your GMAT as early as possible from the time you will actually need it. Ideally you should try take the GMAT 6+ months before you actually need to submit your scores.
- Understand the structure of the exam and the contents that are examined very well before you start your study. (Watch youtube videos that explain the structure, each section etc)
- Every time you solve a problem, be it from the official guide, be it from a youtube video you are watching… TIME IT. Always time your exercises. I usually timed it with google itself. Just type “online stopwatch” and it will appear, or use your phone. Timing is ESSENTIAL for a high score on GMAT.
- Donwnload the free app “Ready4GMAT”. It is a perfect way to study verbal while you are commuting or in those important idle times.
- Register on gmatclub.com by far the best resource you will have to check what are the best ways to solve each problem.
- This is a very insightful post (there are many more) that will give you better and better understanding on some features of how GMAT scoring works.
- Never leave a question unanswered. It will destroy your score. Guess instead.
- Have a timing strategy for when you take official practice tests and the official exam. The best strategy I found for quant I found here. Basically once you have solved 10 questions you should be on 55min mark, once solved 20 on 35min and once solved 30 on 15min mark. This helped me immensely. For verbal I didn’t use any strategy as I could always solve the questions in time.
- Your best resource to understand what score you can approx. expect on exam day is the official 2 GMAT practice tests from the GMATPrep software. These are 2 free practice exams that you can get after you dowload the software at mba.com. Be very careful not to waste these and take them properly (don’t skip AWA or cheat or have any support you won’t have on exam day).
- I found it helpful to take the optional breaks during the exam.
- If your english is not VERY strong, then the time you are going to need to get a high score might increase dramatically. It should be of course still doable but you might need to tweak a bit your approach. Do search online for advice on how to handle the test.
- She got a 700 with 2 months of study! If she can, we also can! It was from her that I heard about the app Ready4GMAT , and I used her AWA template for my essay, so thanks linguamarina!
STAGE 1: (Warming up – Overview all content – This needs to be done BEFORE you take your first official Practice test. / This overall review can easily take 10-15+ days of intense work).
- For Quant: take a WHOLE course on ALL quant topics covered on the exam. The 2 overall reviews I did were:
The first and best overall quant review I have found by far is GMATPREPNOW. Seriously just watch ALL their videos and solve all their problems (remember to time it) and you will already have a great deal done. I watched the videos at 1.5 to 2x speed to make the study quicker. If a topic is too easy for you don’t skip it, just accelerate it to 2x or whatever as sometimes even in the easy topics there are good advice you should be aware of or tricks to solve problems faster. It is CRAZY this course has such little views on youtube. It is not very well known it seems, but it is excellent.
The second overall review I went through, was the GMATclub Math Book, this one I suggest skimming through after you finished the GMATPREPNOW courses, to fill-in gaps.
I prepared maybe for Problem Solving, as Data sufficiency is a section you will be able to handle well if you are very strong in problem solving. Of course you will need to practice Data Sufficiency too as it requires a bit of a different approach to the Problem Solving questions, but at the end of the day if you are strong in PS you will be able to do well DS too.
- For Verbal: the situation is trickier and for Critical Reasoning and Reading Comprehension I don’t have great advice as I am naturally gifted to it and didn’t study any of it besides solving the Ready4GMAT app problems. What I do know for sure is that, no matter how gifted you are, you will need to work on the Sentence correction bit. This is because there are rules in grammar that are not Black or White in real life, but they are Black or White on the GMAT: This means that it is impossible for someone to solve the hardest problems of this section correctly unless you know those specific GMAT rules. This is something most people don’t know. So definitely take a WHOLE course on Sentence Correction:
The sentence correction overview I used is again by GMATPREPNOW. Just watch the whole series really.
To practice particular topics on SC (Paralelism, Modifiers etc…) it will help to know which questions of the official guide or verbal review are related to which topic. There is a book called Manhattan GMAT Prep Sentence Correction Guide that does this. This guide will be a great theory review, but most importantly, it classifies all the Oficial Guide and Official Verbal review questions by topic which is great. You can then work on an individual skill such as modifiers or comparisons or paralelism. You need to be careful what book you use as, as I said, the book doesn’t contain practice questions itself, but instead tells you what probelms from the GMAT Official Guide and the verbal review are related to which topic. You need to make sure that the book you buy links to the official guide edition and verbal review you have.
- After you have taken the whole review of all quant, then you are ready to start tackling official questions. My suggestion is for you to take the “diagnostic test” that the Official Guide Book gives you at the beginning. By taking the diagnostic test you will be able to understand how the knowledge you acquired is helping you or not to solve official quant questions and you will be able to identify weaknesses. You can probably do the same for verbal, although personally I didn’t do it as I was already quite strong in it and also didn’t have that much time to study.
- To cover individual weaknesses you will have to be smart and search online for resources to help you. For me, mixtures was a problem for instance (I could solve most of the problems but it would take me too long to do so). I found the website “Don’t memorise” excellent in helping me with my quant especially counting and mixtures.
- Your next goal (Stage 2) is to take the official first GMATPrep full length practice test, to understand how it feels to take the exam in real conditions and to understand what score you could expect to get in your current condition. Having done all the work above, I personally wouldn’t delay taking this first official practice test unless you have an OBVIOUS weakness in a particular topic. If you do have an obvious big weakness in Inequalities for instance, or Geometry, it could be a good idea to cover it at least to a basic level, but don’t delay the practice test. Is important to know how effective was your study.
STAGE 2: (By now, you will already know what problems to expect on GMAT and what not – Now you need to understand where you are at, identify your weaknesses and perfect your strategies).
- Take your first GMATPrep official practice test under exam conditions. You only have two, so use them wisely ( you can actually erase results and repeat them as many times as you want, but then you will see some repeated questions etc… which, although might only be 30% repetition, will still not give you as accurate answer as you will get when you take them for the first time). Remember to take exam under exam conditions to replicate as accurate as possible what you will feel on exam day.
- You will need 4 hours of totally uninterrupted time to take the official test in full. You must take the AWA and IR before the quant and verbal section so that you can feel exactly how is it going to feel to take the exam on exam day. As probably you won’t spend much time studying for AWA or IR, these practice tests are in themselves a good practice for those two first 30min section.
- The result of this first diagnostic test will be a great indication of where you are at. I got 700 on my first.
- It is EXTREMELY important that you analyze your exam result at the deepest detail. This means, understanding why each wrong question went wrong, understanding how could you have answered faster questions that you answered right but took you too long, understanding if you are doing well with timing or if you need to change anything there, understanding if you started to make more mistakes at the end or not because you ran out of time and having a plan to avoid that in the future etc. I personally logged all my results on excel and wrote comments on each question that I did wrong etc.
STAGE 3: (This is where you are really going to start deepening your skills to allow you to get +720. It is all about perfecting, perfecting… ).
By now you will already know what topics are asked on GMAT, you will know how you did on your first practice test etc… and how you did on Verbal vs Quant. At this point you need to understand what is missing to get to the score you need. Remember that you can check what score you need in each section to get to an overall number in this chart.
From here onwards you need to be smart to understand how you should use the time that is left before having the actual exam, and also when you should take your second and last official practice test. Of course, that second official practice test you should take at a moment when you feel you are totally ready to get the score you need. Then, if you don’t get it… you will have to analyze what went wrong and fix it. I got 750 on my second official practice test.
This is probably the hardest stage of all as it is completelly different for each person. If you have been logging every question you got wrong, or every question that took you more than 2 min to solve, and you have been analyzing why it went wrong etc. then you will already have an idea on what topics require more time for you. Remember, if you don’t analyze in depth every question you got wrong, you will not be able to improve. Also, remember there are no “silly mistakes”. Usually a silly mistake means you made a mistake when doing a calculation by memory for instance, or because you did not read the question properly and what it asked… these are not silly mistakes, these are weaknesses in your process that you need to address.
STAGE 4: Take the GMAT
Now, another extremely important thing to keep in mind is that in order to get a good score on GMAT, you will need to be relaxed and confident on test day. As you already know, the GMAT adapts to your level of knowledge, which means that, if you wanna get your highest potential score on the exam day, the GMAT on exam day will take you to your limit. This means that at some point it will get so hard that you will start failing questions. It will be intense, and you need to be mentally prepared for this. Only if you are relaxed and have good timing strategies etc. then you can perform at your best. Otherwise you will for instance get blocked on a question, and instead of guessing and moving on, you will spend 4+ minutes on it. This will be extremely harmful because you will start feeling pressure for the rest of the exam when you see you are behind time, and this could heavily affect your performance for the remaining questions.
To give you an idea, although I got 700 on my first preparation test, and 750 on my second. On my first GMAT take I got 690!!!! I had a very bad day, was not relaxed… and didn´t have a good enough timing strategy by then. Also at that point I wasn´t aware that Sentece Correction was a topic I couldn´t ace without study. When I got the 690 score, I immediately booked an exam for 1 month after. I left for holidays and unfortunately couldn´t study for the next 20 days. I luckily could take the week off 10 days before the exam and I dedicated those remaining days to strengthen my biggest weaknesses and to do Sentence correction. I took the GMAT again and damn… what a different experience. I was relaxed, not worried, had a better timing stragtegy… and got 740!
Those are the basics! Will leave it here. All the best with your GMAT study.
Day to day log of my study
I actually reported most of my GMAT path day to day on my blog. If you want to follow in detail what I did to study, do check it. Careful not to follow my blog as a guideline to study. That would be a big mistake. Just follow the videos of the courses I suggested (GMATPrepNow etc…) and draw yourself your own conclusions and learnings. My blog was just meant to motivate me during my study and wrote it to log my progress: