After 4 months of studying and not a lot of time before I took the GMAT, I still had a bunch of practice exams to take. What was irritating is that I still hadn’t see a drastic improvement. You know, the kind of improvements that I saw other people having on the message boards. I felt as though I knew more about the test and the material than I did back in January and I started to ask the question, “What is not clicking?” Whatever that thing is, “Why is it not clicking?” and most importantly, “How do I make it click in 7 days?” That’s when I started to think about what would happen the 2nd time I took the exam.
Yes, you heard correctly. I hadn’t even taken the 1st REAL exam and I knew that I would have to take it again. I know for sure that there are other people who have been in my position and I wondered if they thought the same thing. Those were all of the thoughts
that were going through my brain 7 days before taking the exam. I didn’t think that the amount of pressure that I was putting on myself was healthy. At the time when the thought of taking the exam a 2nd time, I had become at peace with that notion even though it was embarrassing to myself. A week before the exam I just wanted to break a 600 and even thinking about it made me chuckle because at the onset of studying I wanted to break a 720.
Looking back on my study habits, I assume that whatever that THING was that wasn’t clicking was due to a lack of proper study. I mean at that point that was the easy thing for me to “blame” it on. I’m not a dumb person so I was at a loss. Some people were telling me that I should move my test date back a couple of weeks, but at that point I just wanted to get it over with. I didn’t think that pushing it back would make a difference, so I kept that date. I wanted to have the official test under my belt and then come up with a new strategy going forward.
The week of the GMAT exam I scored the lowest I had ever scored on a practice CAT exam. That definitely wasn’t a confidence booster by any means. The only good thing that came out of taking that CAT exam was that I got 12 out of 14 Sentence Correction problems correct and was definitely thrilled about that. I had proved to myself that I could do SC at the caliber that would be needed to score well on the Verbal
section. The downside to doing well on Sentence Correction was that I completely underestimated CR, which had been my best section out of all GMAT problems. I think on that last CAT exam I got 4 CR's correct. I decided not to read too much into that and just call it an anomaly. I realized that I do the best on sections that I'm looking forward too and that I'm calm for. During one of my MGMAT Cat exams, out of the first 18 questions, I had 1 sentence correction. Because the GMAT is adaptive and potentially something like that could happen I can see how some people score 750 and try to take the exam again to get 800's. The test does weird things to people.
The Monday before my Saturday GMAT exam I wanted to do a dry run to get to the test center. I had heard of horror stories about people going to the wrong testing center or not being able to find parking leading them to be late for the exam. I didn’t want that to happen to me and I also just needed something to do. That being the case I decided to do a dry run to the test center. Since I lived in NYC at the time, this was pretty easy. I wanted to time how long it took me to get to the center from my apartment. I decided not to take the subway because I was afraid that if I did that on the test day that I would get stuck for some reason. It was a nice day anyway so I walked it.
At the time I was living in Hells Kitchen (52nd & 10th) and the test center was right by Bryant Park. I also decided to avoid Times Square for fear of a bomb scare and then me not knowing how far away the detour would be. When I got to the building that Pearson was in I decided to go one step further and find out what would be required of me to get up to the floor that the test center was on. So I showed the security guard my ID and went up to the 31st floor to physically see where the office would be that I would go into.
I clocked my time at 35 minutes but could easily do that walk in 20 minutes.
Okay, again let’s take a departure from the GMAT. As I was doing test runs and preparing for my GMAT exam, I received an email from the Kaplan center. I had signed up to get notifications about events that were happening related to business school. They sent out a notice saying that a business school was having an admissions event at the Kaplan center that Saturday. It was at 9:30am and under normal circumstances I
would have just wanted to sleep in – since it was my GMAT exam day, but because I had told myself that I was going to fully immerse myself in this process, if something dealt with business school admissions or the GMAT, I would be in attendance.
Since this event started early and was only an hour long, I knew that I would even have time to go home and decompress. I would definitely have enough time because my GMAT was scheduled for 4pm. By decompress I mean, looking over how to conquer the Analytical Writing Assessment portion of the GMAT, which is essentially 2 essay questions. You haven’t heard me talk about this section of the GMAT at all because it doesn’t even really matter. It really doesn’t! It’s basically a primer for the GMAT that takes up an hour of time! Well, it’s supposed to take an hour – you’ll hear more about that later.
So the day before my GMAT, I was feeling confident. Not confident in that I would score a 720, but confident in that I knew that I had a great game plan for the next couple months of studying. I knew that I had done as much preparation as my body would allow and that I wouldn’t leave the testing center with any regrets. I knew that because I had done all that I could, I just knew that I had to not only do more but also be smarter. If I didn’t put everything that I had into studying then I would have just tried to remedy that portion of my study habits and not go the extra mile that was required of me.
Also, the day before my GMAT exam, there was a bomb scare in Times Square and it was on lock-down. So it’s a good thing that I didn’t plan a route through Time Square! Could you imagine if I was walking along to my exam and all of a sudden I am quarantined inside of a building because of a bomb scare? I would have been livid! Thankful that I was alive, but LIVID to say the least. I would have been like, “If you don’t let me out of this building, there will be BIGGER ISSUES! ::side eyes::”
Once the GMAT was actually over I had time to take a step back and relax. Let me recap a little bit first before I let you know how it went down. Prior to taking the class it's recommended that you take a practice CAT. I did this and got a 590. The Sunday before my exam I took a practice exam and scored a 520! From Tuesday -> Friday leading up to my exam day, I didn’t do any hardcore studying. I reviewed a lot of old exams. Another thing that I did was went into my MGMAT online account -> went into past exams -> went into the verbal section -> took note of all of the Idioms that I had missed -> verbal recorded them into my phone. Idioms are incredibly easy to memorize and I felt that this wasn’t “new” information per se but just reaffirmation. I played this on repeat to myself while on the subway and at work. Yes, at work, I was THAT GUY with a white iPhone earbud in my ear.
On the exam day, I woke up at 9:30am, showerd and went to the business school event at the Kaplan center. It was great that this event was from 11am-1pm because it kept my mind off of the exam at 4pm. After the event, I went back home and took another shower to kill time. I didn’t want to be sitting idle for too long because I knew what was looming ahead of me in a couple of hours. I reviewed the basics to writing the AWA essays and did 2 of each problem type and some random quant questions. I didn’t look at the answers for any of them because I didn’t want to be discouraged going into the exam. I just wanted my brain to be functioning.
I remember it being an incredibly gorgeous May day as I was walking to the test center. As planned, I avoided Times Square. I had my headphones on and was rocking out to
some dance remixes (or Diva’s Screaming remixes as I like to call them – Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, etc) to get me pumped up. When I got a couple blocks away from the test center I started feeling incredibly nervous. It was very weird because I felt like I was walking to the torture chamber or electric chair. Everyone was walking by me and I was saying to myself "Doesn't anyone realize where I'm going right now and what this exam means for my future?"
As planned, I handed the security guy at the desk downstairs my ID. I walked through the same turnstile and took the same elevator that I took during my dry run. I got into the testing center, which felt like a doctors office and the woman began to give me instructions and told me to read some papers. After that I asked her where the bathroom was and went in. When I got back, I sat down to have my picture taken – for security reasons. As I'm sitting down having my picture taken, a woman, who must have been about 25/26 yrs old comes into the center with her Longchamp bag slung over her shoulder, huffing and puffing. She starts talking loudly asking me questions as if I'm the administrator. I just smiled and nodded. Then she asks the administrator what she can bring into the exam with her and the administrator of course said "nothing but your ID and your locker key". The girl said, "I CAN'T EVEN BRING IN MY CALCULATOR?" The look on the administrators face when she said that was absolutely priceless and I will never forget it. I had to laugh when I heard this, because it was just that comical. It was a little refreshing to get in a laugh right before the exam. Unfortunately it was at someone else’s expense and I would not walk out of there as chipper as I went in.
So before I went in, I took my picture and the woman did the palm vein scan and then I went in to take the exam. I sat away from the door and I didn't have headphones. I had on the big aviation headphones that they give out. I kept them on during the essay portion because people were typing loudly and I’m sure I was too. The AWA portion comes first and then Quant followed by Verbal. I took them off during the Quant section because they were too cumbersome and I could hear the echo of myself breathing.
The AWA essays were intuitive and felt more like a hiccup to the exam. I learned that there is definitely a way to write the AWA so that you get a high score. The AWA portion is out of a 6 and is grade in .5 increments. For the first essay I did what you’re told to do, I wrote the intro, 3 examples – one of which offers a suggestion, and then a conclusion that ties everything together. I used 3 minutes to set up each essay and just jotted down notes. Then after the AWA portion I took my 8-minute break.
During the break I went into a zone because I had practiced time and time again. I went to the bathroom first. Then came back and drank some Gatorade and ate some crackers. I had a short conversation with the administrator and then went back in with 3 minutes to spare. I reminded myself to remember to watch the time on each question.
I thought I did pretty well on time and finished the Quant section with about 1:30 to spare and then took my last 8-minute break. I went to the bathroom again, ate some more crackers, and sat down for about 5 minutes. Then I did some stretching (yes, in the test center lobby) before going back in. I felt very confident about tackling the verbal section.
I did not think that the questions were anything like the ones I saw in the MGMAT SC guide. I went through that guide about 4 times and thought I had everything nailed down. Considering I got 12/14 correct in my last practice CAT exam I thought I was on track. The two questions I got incorrect on that practice CAT exam were idioms so my SC
confidence level was very high. I did see some SC questions with 3/2 splits, but that's not what threw me off. The language seemed different. I don't even think the SC was anything like the SC in the beginning pages of the OG or the Verbal Review guide. Something was off and it's hard to explain. I think I studied the SC guide TOO much. I studied it so much that the language in the book became second nature and I probably thought I knew more than I did.
The CR and RC sections didn't seem too much different from what I had seen before. It's funny how with RC you can talk yourself into an answer whether it is right or wrong. I got one Resolve the Paradox question in CR and I smiled because I like those for some odd reason. I may not get them all correct but I like seeing them, I'm weird.
I finished the verbal with 2 minutes to spare and then had to answer those questions at the end. This is when you put in your Undergad institution and some basic information about yourself. After that I was prompted with the question, “Do you want to see your score?” and my heart was pounding out of my chest. I put my hands over my eyes as if I was watching scary movie, which I don't even do anyway, and then I clicked YES. I thought my heart was going to come out of my chest - hands still over eyes. Then I started peeking through my fingers to look at the last two numbers. I knew that if I saw an 80 or 90, then my score would be a 580 or 590. I knew that if I saw a 20 or 30 then I might have been able to end up with a 620 or 630. Unfortunately, I saw an 80 so then I uncovered my eyes and saw the 580.
I looked at my split and wasn't surprised by the 36Q because all in all the questions were too simple. Now you may be thinking "well if they were so simple why did you get them wrong?" After studying that much you know when a question is simple or difficult. There were too many simple questions so I must have been making stupid errors. I was surprised by my Verbal score of 34. I was devastated more because I hadn't seen an increase in my Verbal score. I couldn’t think of a reason that I could not break 40 in Verbal. I was so upset after the exam but I quickly turned that frustration into motivation.
Now here are some tips that I would like to address that I've heard but didn't take to heart:
1. When people say that you're ready to take your exam when you've hit your target score on your last 2/3 practice exams. BELIEVE THEM! IT'S TRUE. I should not have been surprised by my score at all. I went into the exam thinking "maybe this time it will be different!" Let me help you out... IT WON'T for most of us... yes there are some anomalies out there, but don't put yourself in that position.
2. Write the essays before you do the practice exams. DO THIS! I started doing this towards the end of my studies because it helps with stamina during the exam. I did not feel that the exam was too long because I did this. There is 1 hour allotted to the AWA portion of the GMAT so it’s good to practice the essays for stamina purposes.
3. Do NOT just go through as many books as possible just to go through them. Trust me it doesn't help that much. I have all of the MGMAT guides, OG Guide, Verbal Review, Quant Review, PowerScore CR, PowerScore SC, that 350 page Quant PDF, an Algebra Book, and a Geometry Book. I've been through them all and still got a 580. The QUALITY is 100% better than QUANTITY. Unfortunately for me these books have been
exhausted and I got tired of looking at them.
4. Memorize as many idioms as possible. There's nothing worse than encountering a SC problem and narrowing down the answer choices and you see that the only difference between two remaining answers is a stupid idiom. You will beat yourself up over it and spend too much time. Memorize these! I have 3 poster boards on my bedroom wall with Idioms on them. So yes when I would be getting dressed I was staring at Idioms.
5. Something else that I didn't do which I now know is very important is to spend time reviewing the correct answer choices and why they were correct from CAT exams you took. Why? I know when I took CAT exams I would have to guess on some answers. Some of those I inevitably got correct, even though I may not have known the reason. Then when looking at my exams, I would only focus on the questions I got wrong. Well what about the ones I guessed on because I didn't know how to do? At the very least, mark which questions you don't know, so that if you get them right you can still go back to check.
All in all I felt that the exam was beatable and after having experienced the whole thing once I was more dedicated to beat it! I told myself that the 580 would be nothing compared to my next score.
After that 580 debacle I decided to take a full week off from anything GMAT related just so I could detox my brain. After nearly 4 months of inundating my brain with GMAT material, it was phenomenal to take a week off. It got to the point where my GMAT books where on the floor in my room and I would step on them while going in and out of my room. My friend Brandon kept asking me when I would resume studying and my response would be "When I don't think that I should be studying in my free time!" So what does that mean? Well I don't know if anyone else experienced this but before my exam, if I had free time, I would feel guilty if I was not studying. Well right after my exam there were days when I of course had free time and I would say to myself "you should be studying" when in reality I didn't have to any more.
It was tough to get out of that mindset. Everyone keeps asking me "so when are you going to take it again?" I told them that I would retake the exam when my last three CAT exams are in the 700 range. As I said before, that's when you are truly ready to tackle the beast.
Sidenote – I wonder how that woman did who thought she could bring a calculator into the exam.
I’m glad that I had started my blog because I had a blog follower who was rooting me along the whole time. He turned out to be at GMAT tutor who went by the alias GMAT Ninja and was also based in NYC. He invited me to coffee at Starbucks near his apartment (near Grand Central) and I obliged. It's always fun for me to discuss GMAT/MBA topics as I could talk about the topic for hours. I think we spoke for about 3 hours that day.
He had some great advice for me and I took one of his suggestions to heart. Those of you who have been following my blog know that I enrolled in a Financial Accounting course and Statistics course at NYU School of Continuing Professional Studies (NYU- SCPS). He reminded me that I probably wouldn’t be able to study, do well in those two
12 week classes AND prepare properly for the GMAT. I forgot to tell him that I would also be taking some marketing classes dispersed in there as well. Each one of those marketing classes would just be over a weekend though, so I didn’t think it would be a big deal. I needed to finish my Certificate in Digital Media Marketing, since that fit with my story. I still hadn’t lost sight of the story that I needed to get straight for the application process. More to come on that later.
In any event, I came to the conclusion that taking the classes would be great and helpful, but thought that if I didn’t score well on the GMAT the classes wouldn’t matter. Therefore, I needed to devote more time to studying for the GMAT. As a result of that conclusion, I dropped the Financial Account course.
After my first GMAT attempt I decided that I wouldn’t give a concrete GMAT date, but just say that it'll be in the summer. Upon some further reflection I think things may have gotten a little out of control the last time. I was more wrapped up in the process of studying rather than trying to retain the material.
When I visited Dartmouth, I was sitting in the admissions office lobby with some other students who were interviewing. I was chatting with another prospective student who was also just visiting – not applying that cycle. We kept in touch after that visit and she told me that she had been scoring in the 680-range on the GMAT and ultimately ended up scoring a 730! I was very happy for her but at the same time I wish I had that score.
Around this time I started thinking about who I was going to ask to be my recommenders. Sure, it was still towards the end of May, but I wanted to make sure that whomever I asked would have enough time to write them if they obliged. In order for you to understand how and why I chose the recommenders that I did, it’s important for me to give you a run down of my professional career.
I had been working in the Digital marketing/Interactive Space/Online Advertising industry officially since 2005, when I got my first full time job. Prior to that I had an internship in college in NYC down by Wall Street at a start up company.
First Job - I worked at a Search Engine Marketing agency as an account manager. That is where I learned the basic of the search engine marketing. The company was a firm in NJ but was close to the All Star Cheerleading gym that I coached at. After two years at this agency I decided to start working in NYC.
Second Job - I worked at a full service digital marketing agency on larger accounts. I was introduced to more of the creative process and margins and all that good stuff. Here is where the story really begins. So this agency was not run the way that I thought it should be run, but it was a good transition for me into NYC from New Jersey.
I started at this agency in September of 2007. I had a director leave around February. Then my manager left a couple weeks after. She had just gotten married and was commuting over 2 hours each way to and from work. (this is important to remember) So essentially my two senior colleagues left the company and they were the only ones who really knew what I did and what impact I had. Then I was put onto another team.
In August, I reminded my new manager of my upcoming review. He said, “sure sure...” 2 weeks before my anniversary I reminded him again of my upcoming review. Again he
said, “sure sure...” So then on my anniversary day I reminded him and he told me to talk to the VP of whatever title it was that they made up for this guy. So the next time I saw him he said, "Oh tell ______" to remind me and we'll get it set up. So I told my boss again and he said he spoke to this VP guy. Long story short November rolled around and I still had not gotten my 1-year review. I realized that I could no longer be at this company because it was obvious how the didn’t respect their employees growth potential.
That’s when I started looking for another job. I sent my resume to one place, got the interview, interviewed again and then found out that I got my current job at Bloomingdales.com the Monday after Christmas. So I was stoked to put in my 2 weeks notice. The very day that I was going to give my two weeks notice, I WAS LAID OFF! It was glorious. I went into HR and she was giving me all of the papers to sign. I was going to say something about my new job, but I refrained when she started talking about severance! I took my severance and went on vacation - by myself! I went to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico... by myself. I just needed to get away for a bit, especially since it was incredibly cold in the North East in January and not so much in Mexico!
Ok so now you know how I ended up at Bloomingdales.com so let's get to the good stuff. Let me just say that history repeats itself. So I started in my position at Bloomingdales.com in January of 2009. When I started I reported to my manager who reported to the director. 2 weeks after I started the director left, which wasn't a big deal to me. Then in April my manager got married. We went all the way through the summer without replacing the director that left. Then the following February my manager, who also commuted about 2 hours to work, decided to leave because she didn't have a "home" life and as a newly-wed. What's ironic is that at one point in time this manager and my manager at my previous job used to work together at their previous agencies! So I had two managers, who knew one another, who were recently married, who ended up leaving because they commuted to NYC from 2 hours away.
Once my manager told me that she was leaving I did not want to let history repeat itself and for me to miss out on a review which was to be done in April. I had some conversations with HR, the VP of Marketing (my department) to see if I would be a good fit for my manager’s position. My manager thought so before she left, but that's for another time. The HR person said "no that wouldn't be the next progression for you because you can't report to the VP because you know how hard she can be." Internally I rolled my eyes because that was a stupid statement, because without a manager I would be reporting to the VP anyway. So from April until June of 2010 I reported to the VP of Marketing.
Here's how this impacts my recommendations. When I was still reporting to my VP of Marketing I found out that she would be going on maternity leave! I wasn't sure how far along she was but this got me thinking. She was the only person left in our department worthy of writing me a recommendation letter, since she was there from the start.
When I had the formal review I asked the VP if we could loop in my Director. My Director had just been hired but was a graduate from Kellogg. She said we could if I wanted to and of course I wanted to. So after the discussion the VP called me into her office and asked if I was ok. I said that I was, but she said that she could sense that something was weighing on me. The thing that was weighing on me was the fact that I'm secretly preparing for business school all the while trying to get ahead in the company.
It's tough to answer questions posed like "Where do you see yourself in a year?" or "What do you see your future being here?" All I wanted to say to those questions is, "I see myself in business school." and "Well if all works out as planned I won't be here in the future." But obviously I could not say that.
We talked about career succession and what not within the department and she basically left it up for me to decide. It was just very tough for me to have this conversation with her because I was holding back this major part of my life and I felt like I was holding back a secret from her. Anyway, I could read her face and I could tell that she was frustrated because I couldn't convey what I really wanted. As I went back to my desk I was very torn with how to proceed.
I wanted to tell her about my business school preparation and plans, but of course I didn't want it to hinder any possible promotions. Couple that with knowing that she wanted to see everyone succeed and grow. She always says that and I believed it was truly genuine.
So after my conversation with the VP I went in to speak with my director to see how she approached the situation when she left her job before heading off to Kellogg. She said that she played both sides of the fence, which was great. On one hand she said that she understood the position I was in because I couldn't fully articulate my goals with this huge thing lingering in the background. But then she said that if the VP wasn't open to the idea that it could hold me back.
I weighed my options and about 15 minutes later I walked into the VP's office and asked her if she had about 10 minutes. My heart was pounding incredibly hard and I basically just laid all my cards out on the table. I said that I was planning on going to business school. She surprised me when she said "I know!" I asked how she knew and she said that she could sense it from all of the classes I was taking. Then I said,“So with all of the new people starting and old people leaving you're the only one still here from when I started and I would like to know if you would be able to write me a POSITIVE recommendation.” She smiled and said "OF COURSE IT WOULD BE POSITIVE... WHY DID YOU EMPHASIS POSITIVE?" I told her that you're supposed to phrase it that way just in case some people say that they wouldn't be comfortable writing a positive one. (Check out the podcasts on MBA Podcaster on iTunes as they speak to this).
Long story short – she was all for me getting my MBA. I said that another reason I asked her this soon was because I wasn't sure when she would be going on maternity leave. She said "Richard, even if I was away I would still write the recommendation for you!" It was a great conversation and a large weight was lifted off my shoulders. She's very supportive. I told her that I felt like I needed to tell her this so that she wouldn't think that I was just frustrated, disinterested, and holding back an announcement like "I've got a new job" or something of that nature. When she said earlier "I feel like you're holding something back", that statement weighed heavily on me.
I also explained to her that one reason I was reluctant to say something was because I didn't want her to think that me having these career progression conversations were a direct result of wanting to go to business school. I know all of this may seem very premature at the time but I felt that it had to be done. I don't think this would work in a lot of circumstances and each one is its own individual case.
Ok so back to the GMAT. After the official GMAT I took some time off. I had a phenomenal time off! The downside of not studying is re-injecting myself back into my circle of friends and spending $$$$ again. It's amazing how much money one saves when he or she (almost said THEY, but that would have been incorrect) goes out.
For instance, one weekend:
$10 at a rooftop bar in Midtown with coworkers
$6 for a cab to a bar for a friend’s fundraiser/birthday.
$15 for the fundraiser and a wristband for 1/2 appetizers and 1/2 drinks $15 for 4 beers
$10 for appetizers
$15 for cab crosstown to my apt.
$10 for pizza at 3am - didn't eat it because fell asleep
$10 for cigarettes
$10 for hamburger/fries/gatorade/chips (breakfast of champions at 1pm) $30 for a shirt for a birthday party later that night
$30 for a bottle of Svedka
$10 for cigarettes
$20 for my omelet at the diner later that night
$XX for the cab home (yes it was one of those nights!)
Grand Total about $200 and for what? All I got out of it was some tagged Facebook photos!
So after that expensive weekend I started to get ready for my Statistics Class at NYU- SCPS. During the first class I realized that it would be much different from my Algebra class. So much so that multiple people knew the fraction for Pi (22/7) and someone else even knew to the hundred-thousandths digit for e. What was weird was that during my MGMAT class, when we did probabilities I would get a pit in my stomach. Not necessarily because it's THAT hard of a topic, but more because I knew how important it would be for my GMAT prep. This time around I was calmer and not antsy.
Around the start of the Statistics class, I also participated in an Accepted.com MBA Telethon, which was a 15-minute consulting session. All I had to do was answer 6 questions and send my resume, and I got to speak with an Accepted.com person and ask her any questions I had. I thought she would tell me what I needed to do in order to improve my candidacy, but it was more of me asking her questions. That was fine too except I had done so much research that I could finish her sentences. I knew everything she was going to say before she said it. I didn't get one thing out of it, but that's not to say that other people didn't.
- I just knew that my weakness is my GPA. I knew that I should take classes to help that situation - I didn't tell her that I was taking classes already.
- I knew whom I should ask to be my recommenders. - I knew that schools are now accepting the GRE.
By mid-May, I was beginning to receive a lot of traffic on my blog and on BeatTheGMAT.com. As a result, I received a free Veritas prep GMAT Course. Thankfully it wasn’t to be another 9-week course like the MGMAT course but this one was simply over the course of 2 weekends with one being Memorial day weekend. As a result, I started to go through the Veritas prep study guides to prepare for the class. I thank the person from Veritas Prep for following my story and being in my corner. I definitely added him to the “Team Richard” list of people to keep updated on my progress throughout the process.