Towards the end of February/beginning of March, the R2 decisions for the 2009/2010 application season started trickling in. I was glad to NOT have been a part of that group, but knew/hoped that in 365 days, I would be a part of a similar group. At that time I had two friends who had 680’s on their GMATs and were starting to hear from schools. Collectively they had been dinged from Columbia, Dartmouth, UVA, and Michigan. One was still waiting on NYU, Wharton, and HBS and the other was waiting on HBS, Yale, and NYU. That latter one also had an interview with Stanford and Wharton. I definitely wished them the best and tried to understand what they were feeling, but they just kept telling me that I didn’t understand because I was too new in the process. I was okay with them telling me that because it was obviously true – in hindsight, NOW, I also know that it’s true.
My conversations with the two of them made me start thinking if a 680 on the GMAT was a terrible score and if that ultimate lead to a rejection even though a 680 is within the 80% range that applicants always hear about from admissions officers. This is when I started to think that the GMAT carried more weight than what I had originally assumed. I knew it was very important, obviously because all schools look at it, but my premise of there having to be something other than GMAT scores helping students get into school started to slightly fade.
I thought about it:
I had two friends who had, what I would consider at the time to be, great profiles and had 680’s on their GMAT. It’s disheartening to live vicariously through your friends anticipating their joy in saying, “I’ve been accepted to a school” and to then have them tell you that they were rejected. I’m also not sure why people say that I was “dinged” instead of saying “rejected.” In any event, I wasn’t sure if I was underestimating the importance of the GMAT or if my friends had simply set their sights higher than they should have. I think it’s natural to want to aim high, but I started wondering at what cost, when you’ve narrowed down your list so far that there’s nothing left?
This is when the doubt started creeping into my head. I was so sure that these two friends would get into certain schools and they didn’t. At one point after speaking to one of them about his “progress” through the decision process he told me that there is a science to the admissions process. He also gave me great advice in that I should not underestimate the factor of COMPETITION. I, like many other applicants, tend to think that I’m the only one with my profile out there and he was blunt enough to tell me that I was not.
So after these two insightful conversations, I had to switch gears and focus on my 6th GMAT class. I’ll be honest, in this 6th class I started to get frustrated with some of the other people in the class. I’m pretty sure that there were people in the class who were taking the same class for the 2nd time and kept answering the questions before anyone else had a chance to think. Well, let me know say anyone else and only speak for myself – before I could even think.
It got to the point where there were certain people who would answer the question in the same exact manner/language as the instructor’s explanation Now, in hindsight it COULD have been simply that the person was THAT good, but I think there level of decorum where even if you know the answer, be cognizant that not everyone does and you should maybe realize that people are getting frustrated when you answer in 5 seconds.
I was planning on taking my 2nd CAT exam in March and wanted to make sure that I had retained all of the information that I could. My goal this time was to break a 600. I figured if I could get in the low 600s in mid-march then I would have shown myself progress and would have been able to continue pressing on. I wasn’t quite sure how I would do on the CAT exam because even though I considered Quant to be my strength relative to Verbal, the level at which I had to perform on the exam was higher than I had anticipated. I was definitely starting to feel lost. It wasn’t a sense of loss because I had forgotten things, but rather it was the fact that because I had learned so much, I could see what it was that I didn’t know in terms of being able to score higher on the exam. It was this weird caveat. At this time I also didn’t think that after 2 months of studying 3 hours/night that I would expect a “simple” 30-point increase from my 590 to say a 620.
I was truthful enough to myself to not think that this time around I would get a 700, I knew that I was still getting 500-600 level questions wrong when I would do practice problems. I of course would have been happy with a 700 on the practice exam, but I knew that would not be the case THIS time around.
Around this time, I started planning my school visit up to Hanover, NH to visit Dartmouth
Tuck. I began to reach out to current students, who were a part of the clubs that I was interested in being a part of to see if they would be around when I was up there. Just as with the Yale visit, I won’t be writing a debrief on my time at Tuck. However, I will say that I again learned so much more about the school from just being there and observing than I could have ever learned from the website.
A couple days after I scheduled my visit up to Hanover, NH I just kept studying and studying. As I would study, I would add to a list of topics that I needed to review again. The list kept growing and growing and that became concerning and disheartening to be honest. I felt as though I was hitting a wall. I never thought that studying for the GMAT would be easy, but I thought I would be able to retain more information than I was. From being on the message boards you hear a lot of stories from people like, “620 to 700 in 4 WEEKS!” or “720 – 750 in 3 weeks!” I would attach myself to those types of stories and was hoping that I would be one of those types of test takers. It was incredibly frustrating at the time.
I’m the type of person that needs to do problems repetitively. I’ll definitely get frustrated when I don’t get the answer right the first or second time, but I'm pretty solid at recalling processes after that. The way the information was provided in my MGMAT class may not be the most conducive way for me to retain information. I was also beginning to think that the class wasn’t meant for material to be retained immediately. I believed it was to present the information you will need to know to do well on the exam, and then when you do your month of self-study post-class you'll know all of the tricks. I recently came to terms with this set up but it's beginning to frighten me.
So when you go into study mode for the GMAT you need to know/understand how you learn and retain information the best. Do not get sidetracked by all of the other types of applicants out there because they’re different from you. I told myself that I wouldn’t be bothered by what other people were doing and how they were studying and that I would then just focus on myself. Even though I had figured out how I study best, I was still doubting myself. I began asking myself questions like, “Will I be able to score a 710?” I needed for the class to be over with so that I could study the way that I felt was best. I didn’t feel that I could do that because we had deliverables for each class and I didn’t want to miss any “secrets” that the instructor would tell me during the class. So I just pressed on through.
After all of that doubt set in, I took my 2nd CAT exam on a Saturday. I actually believe that I went to work and did it on the computer there since it was a Saturday and was quiet and I knew that the internet wouldn’t crap out as it did sometimes in my apartment. Even though I was hoping for a score in the 600’s, I actually ended up doing WORSE than the 1st time I took it! I don’t remember exactly what it is that I got on that exam but it was probably in the 560-580 range. When I saw that score I was devastated as one may imagine. I had spent all of this time and money studying for the exam and paying for the MGMAT class and then ended up doing worse! After the initial shock I took a look at the questions that I got wrong and was actually pleasantly surprised, if you can believe that.
I spent 8 minutes on one question because I was so set on the fact that I thought I could get it. Now if anyone is reading this book and hasn’t taken the GMAT, well aside from the test being computer adaptive, there is also a time limit. One should spend about 2 minutes and 30 seconds per problem. Sure, if you answer a question quickly then you
can spend a little bit more time on another one but that’s the average per question that a test taker should have. So for me, seeing that I spent 8 minutes on a question was alarming. I knew that there was a time limit and I was aware of the 2 minute 30 second suggestion, but I guess I had a lapse in judgment. This is another reason why it’s important to test yourself in a “real” test environment before the actual exam so that these little mistakes don’t happen in the testing center.
In addition to that 8 minute question, I also spent 4 minutes on another question. That’s 12 minutes on 2 questions, which meant that I had to rush on seemingly more difficult questions. What I liked to see though was that I did well on the topics that we covered in the GMAT class up until that point. Even though my aggregate score was lower than the 1st 590 that I got, my Quant score did increase on the 2nd exam.
In terms of Verbal on that exam, I have no idea what happened there until I looked at the exam analysis report at the end. What ended up happening was that I got multiple questions wrong in succession. When this happens it ultimately hurts your score even more than if you got 5 correct then 1 wrong, then 5 more correct and 1 wrong. Getting 5 wrong in a row is detrimental to one’s score. Also, I mentally ran out of steam at the end. My brain was fried towards the end of that exam. It’s good that this actually happened because it alerted me to the fact that it could in deed happen, if that makes sense.
After a discussion with Brandon (OSIRUS) from the BeatTheGMAT.com contest, I came up with a study plan for myself so I could prepare my brain for this exam – not in terms of content but rather in terms of stamina. I decided that I would take a practice CAT exam every weekend up until my test date and that I would start this regimen after my school visit up at Dartmouth Tuck.
My MGMAT class was coming down to the wire and it was at the end that I really understood how I could take that experience and the things that I learned and apply them to my own study plan with the goal of taking a practice exam every weekend. I realized that the MGMAT class is taught opposite of the way that I learn the material best according to my personal preference. For Example:
MGMAT way to teach Quant topics was for us to:
Go through the MGMAT Study Guide material
Go to class and learn the study guide
Go home and do Official Guide problems
My ideal way to learn Quant topics was to:
Go to class and learn the study guide material
Go home and go through the study guide
Do Official Guide problems
MGMAT way to teach Verbal topics was for us to:
Go to class and learn the study guide material
Go home and go through the study guide..
Do Official Guide problems
My ideal way to learn Verbal topics is to:
1. Go through the study guide material
2. Go to class and learn the study guide material
3. Go home and do Official Guide problems.
I definitely stayed on top of my work in that GMAT class so that I couldn’t make any excuses as to why I did poorly on an exam. The class was incredibly helpful because it gave me a regimen, albeit it was tough for me to learn that way, but the breadth of material that we covered was great. Towards the end of the class different types of questions no longer intimidated me. Every time I finished a topic in one of the study guides I go back and redo a couple of the questions that I got wrong the night before. It was a big confidence booster for me to be able to immediately answer the questions correctly. Sure there wasn’t a time constraint and I had already seen the problem already (not that I remembered them) but it was good to know that certain types of problems no longer tricked me – or so I thought.
Once that “clicked’ in my head I started thinking about when to schedule my official GMAT exam date. A lot of people had said that once you schedule your GMAT exam, you become more focused, and I definitely wanted to be more focused after the GMAT class ended. I didn’t want there to be too much time between the end of the class and the Official GMAT exam. Plus, being in NYC, sure there are multiple test centers and the GMAT is administered daily, but I knew that I could only go on a weekend. Like many other applicants in NYC, we all think the same in that we wanted to go on weekends.
In addition to everyone wanting to take it on a weekend, there are a limited number of spots available (because it’s in a test center) and as a result there are limited times that are available. I’m not a morning person so I knew that I couldn’t schedule the exam before 12pm. That being the case, I started to look at the dates and times that were available for a May test date. Even though it was March, I knew that in NYC things fill up fast.