GMAT: the road from 630 to 730

Hey guys,

I would like to share my experience improving my GMAT score from 630 to 730 in 16 weeks. I was not sure whether I should post any debrief because my final GMAT score is not that impressive. For advice on how to obtain a 750+ score read Victor Rogulenko’s article (in Russian), while my experience might be helpful to those with more moderate results or only starting their GMAT prep.

A few details on my profile:

– Russian male, 25

– Have a family with a toddler (20 months at the moment, was ~11 months when I started my GMAT journey)

– Bachelor of Finance, non-native speaker of English, currently work at a PE fund

 

ENHANCED REPORT OF OFFICIAL GMAT SCORES

First things first – here is the summary of my 4 attempts.

1) 06/15 2) 08/15 3) 11/2015 4) 01/2016
  # % # % # % # %
Total 690 87% 710 92% 680 84% 730 96%
Quant 50 88% 49 79% 49 79% 50 88%
Problem solving 49 78% 49 78% 48 72% 50 87%
Data sufficiency 50 86% 50 86% 50 86% 50 86%
Arithmetic 50 86% 50 86% 49 77% 49 77%
Algebra / Geom. 50 86% 49 77% 49 77% 51 95%
Verbal 33 69% 37 83% 34 71% 38 85%
CR 18 20% 41 88% 31 57% 40 84%
RC 27 47% 30 58% 42 91% 38 80%
SC 41 91% 37 79% 28 50% 38 81%
IR 8 92% 7 81% 7 81% 8 92%
Correct answers 9.36 78% 8.04 67% 9.36 78% 10.68 89%
AWA 5.0 60% 5.0 60% n/a n/a 5.0 59%

 

A few interesting observations:

  • I prepared approximately 12 weeks for the first attempt, 3 weeks for the second, 1 week for the third and 2 days for the fourth
  • I had VERY VOLATILE verbal sub-scores which were really surprising for me, especially 18 CR in the 1st attempt and 28 SC in the 3rd I had never had such scores in any CAT
  • Should I have combined best scores in each subsection from 4 attempts, I would have scored 50 in Quant and 41 in Verbal, which means 750 total score. Alas, it’s impossible in reality
  • I took 3 exams in Moscow, and the fourth, most successful one, in Dubai. Although some people think that exam difficulty varies country-wise, I haven’t felt any difference
  • I had an issue with GMAC / Pearson during the first attempt in Moscow. Specifically, when I returned from the break after IR, I couldn’t login into my computer because Pearson assistant typed incorrect login details. I lost approximately 5 seconds and stamina. Despite the fact that I got 50 for Quant, I decided to report to GMAC / Pearson about this incident. They were very slow in answering, and in several weeks they replied the following:
    • We have reviewed your request and we are unable to honor your request. We have reviewed your exam and confirmed that you had lost 4 seconds of session time after returning from your break. Although, you feel this loss of time negatively impacted your score, the test center administrator did work quickly to correct the situation so minimal time would be lost. As only 4 seconds were lost from the section we cannot honor your request for compensation. 
    • My answer was: OK, but all other candidates have 75 minutes for Quant section, and I had only 74 minutes and 56 seconds – that’s not fair. I never got any answer on this message.

GMAT PREPARATION DETAILS

I started my preparation in March, 2015. First of all, I bought the Official guide 2015, a must have book as you are all aware, and completed a Diagnostic test. Then I took GMAT Prep 1 exam and scored 630 (Q46, V31). I personally heard 3 or 4 stories from my acquaintances who spent 2-3 weeks on preparation and scored 750+ on the official exam. In my case I quickly realized that I would have to work hard to score 700+, not to say 750.

I liked the GMAT exam from the beginning and felt that I could improve, but I had significant time limits due to intensive working schedule and family duties (as mentioned earlier – I have a small baby). So I allocated mornings from 8:00 am till 9:30 am each working day and from 9 am till 2pm on Saturday, while evenings were allocated to fitness training and time with my wife. All of Sunday I spent with my family. Those who don’t have families have a big advantage, I wish I had passed the exam much earlier. I also took a 2 week vacation in June (before the 1st attempt) and the 1st week of July, when I practiced 5-6 hours on average each day.

After the first official CAT, I met with a GMAT consultant in Moscow (his name is Misha and his score is 780 or 790, don’t remember exactly). He recommended me a few things:

  • Quant: Official guide (OG) and CAT exams
  • SC: OG + read fiction books (e.g. Iain Banks) + Manhattan book – Foundations of GMAT Verbal
  • RC: OG+ read non-fiction books (e.g. Brain Rules by John Medina) and articles on various topics (http://www.aldaily.com/)
  • CR: OG + Manhattan book – Foundations of GMAT Verbal

He urged me to spend as much time as possible on reading. At first, I liked this advice and started reading one of Iain Banks’ stories. But I found it extremely time consuming (I spent like an hour or so per 10 pages, because the text was really difficult for me and I had to use the dictionary quite extensively). I read a couple of articles at aldaily.com but also found them time-consuming and boring. So, I decided to focus on OG.

Official GMAT guide

I solved all OG questions and found it very useful and convenient to track all responses using Manhattan’s Navigator Basic. I used the free version, but it was very helpful to track timing, correct/incorrect responses and even difficulty of questions. You can view your statistics with convenient and fancy-looking graphs online. Paid version contains video explanations, but I didn’t need it since OG answers were pretty sufficient for me. When I was in doubt, I always looked for answers in the Gmatclub. Thanks to @bunuel, he really rocks in Quant!

I had the following stats in the official guide:

Data sufficiency:

By difficulty # # correct % correct Time
Easier 80 74 93% 1:28
Moderate 55 45 82% 2:07
Harder 40 33 83% 2:11
Devilish 23 13 57% 3:17
Total 198 165 83%

 

Problem solving:

By difficulty # # correct % correct Time
Easier 125 120 96% 1:30
Moderate 64 54 84%/td> 2:24
Harder 43 37 86% 2:24
Devilish 22 16 73% 4:48
Total 254 227 89%

 

Critical reasoning:

By difficulty # # correct % correct Time
Easier 64 58 91% 2:20
Moderate 40 34 85% 2:56
Harder 20 14 70% 2:35
Devilish 8 2 25% 3:25
Total 132 108 82%

 

Reading comprehension:

By difficulty # # correct % correct Time
Easier 83 75 90% 2:10
Moderate 54 41 76% 2:27
Harder 12 5 42% 2:33
Devilish 7 4 57% 2:05
Total 156 125 80%

 

Sentence correction:

By difficulty # # correct % correct Time
Easier 57 48 84% 1:29
Moderate 68 55 81% 1:55
Harder 27 14 52% 2:02
Devilish 6 3 50% 2:40
Total 158 120 76%

 

You may find attached my spreadsheet that I created with Manhattan’s Navigator Basic tool, it contains additional statistics (e.g. by topic, time spent on correct and wrong questions, etc.).

Some takeaways:

  • Use Navigator Basic – it’s very convenient.
  • When you are not sure about official explanation, just google the question and you will likely find a good answer on Gmatclub, especially on Quant part. Verbal is a bit more tricky (there is no Bunuel for Verbal), but there are some other helpful folks.
  • In Quant, I spent a lot of time on Devilish questions, but in my 4 official attempts, I NEVER had a Devilish question, though I scored 50 twice and 49 twice. Most of the questions were Easier or moderate in Manhattan terminology, so don’t worry too much about Devilish Quant OG questions

Mock GMAT exams

I heard that doing mocks frequently is useless and it’s like measuring body temperature every minute when you have a flu. On the other hand, it also trains your stamina. I liked the second argument more, so I did quite a few CATs. Here are my stats:

GMAT Prep Date Total score Quant Verbal
1 07-03-15 630 46 31
2 05-04-15 610 47 28
3 14-06-15 710 50 35
4 18-06-15 730 50 38
1 Retake 12-06-15 760 50 44
2 Retake 13-06-15 760 50 44
3 Retake 18-07-15 770 50 47
4 Retake 25-07-15 780 50 48

 

Manhattan Date Total score Quant Verbal
1 21-03-15 590 38 31
2 06-06-15 650 45 34
3 08-06-15 650 45 34
4 15-06-15 620 39 35
5 17-06-15 690 46 38
6 19-06-15 700 46 39
1 Retake 13-12-15 730 46 44

 

Veritas Date Total score Quant Verbal
1 16-06-15 620 46 29
2 12-07-15 660 46 35
3 19-07-15 670 47 35
4 25-07-15 680 48 35
5 29-07-15 670 48 34
6 29-07-15 650 47 32
7 30-07-15 670 47 35
1 Retake 07-11-15 670 46 36
2 Retake 12-12-15 670 47 35
3 Retake 26-12-15 670 46 36
4 Retake 27-12-15 710 49 38

 

Other Date Total score Quant Verbal
Economist 24-05-15 660 49 33
Kaplan 1 02-05-15 690 50 34
GoGMAT 17-05-15 610 49 23
Kaplan 2 18-07-15 760 51 44
Gmatclub 04-11-15 650 49 30

 

  • GMAT prep is really the best and well resembles the actual exam.
  • All other CATs have significant drawbacks. According to Empowergmat’s Rich Cohen, GMAC uses only those questions that have an answer given by more than 50% respondents. I’m not sure whether it is true or not, but I tend to agree. But firms such as Veritas don’t follow this important criteria for questions selection. Veritas has statistics on the percentage of respondents, and sometimes the correct answer is chosen only by 15% or 20% of all respondents! Because of that, the difficulty of the questions becomes very high and I can’t imagine how to score 49+ on Veritas’ CATs. Same issue is with Manhattan. It does not provide percentage of respondents who answered correctly. It looks like many of its 700+ questions are also solvable only by a small portion of respondents.
  • As for Kaplan – it’s the strangest CAT where with 17 and 14 mistakes in Quant I received 50 and 51 score, respectively. I don’t think it’s possible in the real exam. Some of the questions are also very difficult, especially at the end of the exam.
  • I think only Economist has a more or less good mechanism that is similar to GMAT Prep. Though I did only one CAT and cannot make a good opinion.
  • Both Gmatclub and GoGMAT have significant issues with the quality of verbal part, in my personal view.
  • Despite all the issues, practice is still important. Since only 4 official CATs (and 4 retakes) are available, you have to find other options.
  • Looking back I think I could do much less practice and likely have a similar (or even better score). My bottom-line suggestion: do 4 official CATs, free Economist, free Kaplan and free Manhattan exam (7 in total). If you need additional practice, you can get 7 Veritas exams for free (by providing them your official or GMAT prep score) and 5 Manhattan exams if you buy one of the $10 guides on Amazon.

 

GMAT Books

On top of Official guides, I’ve also used Manhattan Foundations of Verbal. A good book that covers basics of SC, CR and RC

  • Manhattan SC – best book on SC, must read in my view
  • CR Bible by Powerscore – this book was not useful for me. I read it before 1st attempt and scored 17 in CR. Though I cannot blame this book for that, of course
  • Manhattan CR – the book that partially helped me improve my CR in second attempt from 17 to 41
  • Kaplan Premier Book – nice source. Covers everything and has a lot of questions that are quite similar to official ones
  • GMAT Club Math book v.3 – best book on Math I’ve ever seen. Contains a lot of useful shortcuts that I used in actual exam

 

GMAT Courses.

  • MBA Strategy (Moscow), in-person – I used this course during May holiday break in Russia. It was a bit over-expensive, and not that helpful in Verbal, but quite helpful in Quant though.
  • Misha (consultant in Moscow) – helpful during the 1st or 2nd introductory meetings, then value for money goes down. But it’s my personal opinion, many folks in Russia hire Misha for preparation and achieve results
  • Kaplan online – good value for money, though CATs are not ideal (see above)
  • E-Gmat – after getting a miserable verbal score in the 1st attempt, I decided to enroll to E-gmat Verbal course. I got a lot of recommendations for this course, but asked for a refund after a week or so. I couldn’t get used to the non-native pronunciation of E-gmat teachers, which made me feel really uncomfortable. Kudos to E-gmat team – they made a full refund quickly and without any issues
  • Empowergmat – I enrolled to this course before the 3rd attempt. In contrast to E-gmat, I really liked Rich and Max’s videos. However, their course had some technical issues at the time. The system shows that you chose the wrong option, while Max describes the answer that you have chosen as correct. I focused on RC (I watched all RC videos) and got good progress in this area.
  • Fless Verbal GRE/GMAT online – best choice if you need to improve your verbal score. The teacher is a native speaker, groups are small, every student gets a lot of individual attention. All Fless courses provide detailed analytics of progress and weak spots. If a class is missed, you can watch a recording of the lesson.

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