Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Step One: Conquer the Test

Having never attended GMAT prep classes I envisioned them to be somewhat like the SAT courses my parents forced me to attend every Saturday afternoon, for what seemed like an eternity. I am one of those people who like to have their own little ways of approaching every problem. I am comfortable doing things my way and get irritated when someone tries to teach me another possible technique. This was the biggest dilemma with the SAT class. No matter how many little tricks the instructor tried to teach us, the Marina Way was dominating the Princeton Review Way and my parents’ money was wasted down the drain. So, not wanting to squander my own cash or to compromise my social life yet again I opted to study on my own.

Classes are not for everyone, nor does everyone need them to do great on the exam. You are the only person who knows yourself and your study habits. Here is your chance to start the self-analysis involved in the business school application process. Don’t think that spending a thousand dollars on a class guarantees a high score; you have to work just as hard in the class.

On the other hand, if you are all about the neat little tricks and prefer live instruction then by all means - sign yourself up! I should also mention that the classes are a great way to stay on track, so if you don’t think you can force yourself to dedicate the time to study then maybe the lessons are the thing for you as well. Having spent many nights after work at the local coffee shops studying for the CPA I had no doubts in my abilities to get myself together for a couple more months.

After talking to a few friends who have aced the GMAT I decided to go with the Kaplan books and purchased Kaplan GMAT 2006, Premier Program along with Kaplan GMAT 800. I started out with the Premier Program, reading through the suggested tips & tricks (though not paying too much attention to them) and doing the practice problems in the end of each chapter. Once I read the whole thing through I started on the CD-Rom and spent a lot of time getting through the hundreds of sample questions it offered. Once I felt that I was pretty comfortable with the problems, I moved on to the 800 book. I had heard (and rightly so) that these questions were often a lot harder then the actual test, so it didn’t really bother me when I wasn’t performing as well as I wanted.

Another personal strategy was my decision not to take full length practice tests. I quickly found out that when I did poorly on a simulation, I started feeling sad and depressed and began to convince myself that I will never get a decent score, never get into the program of my choice, my boss would find out about the results and fire me on grounds of utter stupidity, my friends will no longer want to associate with me, and I would end up homeless and alone. Such discouraging thoughts made it harder to get myself to study the next time. On the other hand, when I exceeded or met my test score expectations, I acted like the GMAT was the easiest thing in the world and that I was a pure genius who did not need any studying to get a perfect 800, hence not wanting to study anymore once again. My brain is such a tricky bastard, but I am smarter then the guy! I fooled myself into studying without emotional rollercoasters by simply avoiding knowing how well I was doing in terms of that magical 800 number and just stuck to the number of correct or incorrect problems out of the total set.

Regarding the AWA section, I did not spend even 10 minutes looking at possible essay choices and my pathetic score of 4.5 might have reflected that. However, as far as I know that little formality did not hurt me so my recommendation would be not to waste too much time on the essays. The questions they ask are pretty weird; I don’t think I even knew what was being asked of me in one of them.
As far as the study time, I began my preparations mid-July and took the exam September 13. On good weeks I put in 1.5 to 2 hours a day, maybe 3-4 on the weekdays. I made sure not to force the studying so that I wouldn’t get sick of it or too frustrated. Since the GMAT is all about getting your brain into a “certain way of thinking and reasoning” zone, once you are in that zone don’t take too many days off or you will have to start the process all over again, and that is not very pleasant. Focus on what you are good at and on what you think you can improve on and don’t dwell too much on areas at which you suck.
Setting the test date works as a great motivator. It is like having a deadline that forces you to buckle down and get to the studying, but choose your test date wisely. Check your social calendar to make sure there are no weddings/birthdays/major sports events you might be attending in the week before the exam. I chose a Tuesday, figuring I would study all weekend and clear my head at work on Monday, reviewing a few troublesome math concepts the evening before the big day and it worked out really well.

All of the above being said, I cannot think of anything else to add except a plea to all those with scores of 700 and above wanting to retake the GMAT. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE stop obsessing with the numbers and wasting your time. If I was on the Admissions Committee I would think there is something wrong with a person like you and question your motives and mental stability.

If you have read all of the above and still have questions please feel free to ask away.

Ace that test!!!


Blogger Fritz said...

Either the Rockridge or Elmwood neighborhoods is where I would like to end up. I have found a few studios that are reasonably priced but I think I will wait to get up there before I secure a place. Thanks for the advice. I wish I had some for you but I have only been to NYC twice.

June 14, 2006 3:08 PM  
Blogger Continental Drifts said...


That was an awesome post! I, too, decided not to take a test prep class b/c I study better myself, and b/c of my travel schedule.

My philosophy has always been to categorize an exam as "easy" if I do well in it! So, I go around telling everyone that the CPA exam isn't really difficult and they look askance at me.

My G-day is in 9 days and I can't wait to be done with it.

I look forward to reading more of your posts!

June 15, 2006 6:33 AM  
Blogger MBA Cutie said...

Marina -

I totally agree with you.. I didn't take the review courses either. However, I did take the full length exams for two reasons:

(1) Get used to taking the exam that long so i really knew what it was going to feel like.

(2) Not have to have instant gratification of if i got a question right or wrong.

The AWA is worthless.. only worry about it if you are international and are concerned about proving english fluency.

June 15, 2006 11:47 AM  
Blogger FSM said...

Great post! I too decided not to take prep courses for the same reasons. However I plan to work through a LOT of full length exams because my one major worry about the GMAT is time management. I am sure that most of us will get all questions right if we have unlimited time in which to answer them. But working with a very strict time constraint is the tough part and this makes the difference between a 750 score and 650. I want to test out different strategies and see which one works best for me. I will also be able to increase my mental stamina for the 3.5 hour long exam.

I can't wait for your upcoming post on school selection!

June 15, 2006 3:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

just testing from GMAC

June 17, 2006 9:47 AM  
Blogger StressTensor said...

I would advise practicing the full length tests to keep your brain going for four hours.

Marina, is there a way I can email you with some questions regarding Columbia? I can wait till your post on school selection to avoid wasting your time. My email is on my profile.

June 19, 2006 2:09 PM  
Blogger AceNomad said...

Good Post!!

June 20, 2006 7:45 PM  
Blogger Ankush said...

all the best for ur GMAT prep. i am also in the same boat :)

June 23, 2006 3:03 AM  
Blogger Bschool Diva said...

Marina, How did your presentation at the conference go?

June 23, 2006 7:09 AM  
Blogger Ankush said...

hey, went thru all your posts here today only, sorry fr my earlier post, you are the master of this game and i thought u r a player:). When r u joining Columbia? will like to know more about your profile if u don have any objection, i think u know how curious are MBA aspirants :)


June 26, 2006 2:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your comment about 700+ and retaking is not correct. GMAT is used by schools when deciding on the students who will get financial aid. There is a significant difference between 700 and 780.


July 21, 2006 6:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Columbia is my DREAM School and i have a 680 :(( Does that throw me out of the competitionn? I know you hate these questions... but anyways, I do have some diversity going for me! (Female, 26, Indian, 3 years workec in Statistical Modeling / Analytics! Do let me know! Thanks

July 25, 2007 5:27 AM  
Blogger drizzle said...

that's really a informative post. I'll for sure go through all other posts as well.

August 12, 2007 7:58 AM  

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