1. What was your prep strategy for GMAT?
While CAT examination remains the first choice for most MBA aspirants in India, GMAT always intrigued me due to its adaptive nature. I got hooked onto the nitty-gritties of cracking GMAT right from my final year of Bachelors degree in 2012. One would wonder, “Isn’t that too early to even think of taking GMAT?” But the preparatory journey for GMAT seemed like a long and winding road. That’s the beauty of this examination because it’s never too early, or for that matter, too late to begin preparing for GMAT. The long meandering path uncovers millions of opportunities at each step - opportunities for exploring and enhancing your 'Management Aptitude'. GMAT not only serves as the golden gate for hundreds of top ranked institutes that you can get into, but for your own self-development so to speak.
The GMAT preparation for me sure did turn into a longer than required period of toiling away at quantitative and verbal aptitude questions. Therefore, having sought an external motivator in the form of a GMAT coaching center might have helped in the retrospect. I did not enroll into one also because I was working and my firm kept rotating me through projects across the whole width and breadth of India.
2. Which GMAT preparation resources you used?
It is needless to mention, the amount and quality of resources available online is unmatched and therefore, I chose to rely on them apart from the various guides and books available in the market. Here are the resources that I referred to mostly for my preparation:
- Manhattan SC, CR & RC Guides 5th Edition
- GMAT Official Guide 12th & 13th Edition
- Verbal Review for Official Guide 3rd Edition
- Kaplan 800
- Manhattan Question Bank
- 1000 SC Question Bank
- GMAT Official Guide 12th & 13th Editions
- Manhattan Challenge Problem
- Manhattan Question Bank
- GMAT Prep Software (Old & New Versions)
- GMAT Prep Exam Pack 1
- GMAT Prep Question Bank
- 1037 GMAT Questions – Princeton Review
- Manhattan Online Tests
- GMAT Club Test Pack
To begin with, I had collected tons of physical and online resources for my preparation. But for someone who chooses not to take GMAT coaching, it might turn out to be daunting task to figure out which resources are the most reliable and important. The strategy I followed and would also recommend to others is to enroll yourself on GMATClub.com and Beatthegmat.com and read up experiences of others to get a hang of what has worked for others. Of course, one would need to further fine tune one’s own preparation strategy at regular intervals based on your own performance across the collected resources.
I began by referring the official GMAT guide for both Quantitative and Verbal sections and soon realized that specific portions of Verbal required a greater effort than Quantitative, owing to my typical Science + Engineering background. Therefore, most of my preparation revolved around improving my performance on the Verbal section. However, I must say that it was a bad idea to be over-confident about Quant and one must give equal time for Quant preparation, if not more.
3. What did you score on the exam?
GMAT Attempt 1 – Nov 2013 - 690 (Q49, V34, AWA 6)
GMAT Attempt 2 – May 2014 - 750 (Q50, V41, AWA 6)
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4. How long did you prepare and when did you appear for GMAT?
My first attempt at GMAT was in November 2013 and my preparation must have begun in December 2012, although it remained very irregular until I decided to book a GMAT appointment for November 2013. Therefore, my regular preparation for GMAT kickstarted only in August 2013. Even though my performance might be considered above average by world standards in my first performance, this by no means seemed like a good score to me owing to my “male, engineer from India” background. Also, the experience of taking the actual GMAT seemed like a very unsatisfactory experience in all, probably because my level of preparation wasn’t up to the mark. Therefore, I decided to retake the GMAT. Given that I had taken my first attempt right in the second year of my job, gave me the confidence to take a firm decision to retake the GMAT only when I felt I’m well prepared for atleast a 730. This was the harder part, because it meant not booking a date and still keeping yourself motivated to work on your weaknesses and practice GMAT questions every day. I finally took my second attempt in May 2014 as it also seemed like the right time to receive a score and start planning for applications to universities.
5. What were your strong and weak areas in terms of preparation? What special efforts did you put for improving your weak areas?
I would like to break this down section by section because after my first attempt, none of the sections felt like my strong areas. That is precisely why GMAT is also a tough test in itself because it’s highly unpredictable and there really isn’t one single formula to do well on this test.
SC was definitely my weakest section but I really enjoyed improving my SC skills. So much that it became my strongest section by the time I retook the GMAT. For SC, I would say that nothing works better than just facing thousands of questions from whichever source you get your hands on. SC preparation really ingrains the logic inside you, so much so that you can never go wrong and would become quick to point out errors in your office mails! Of course there are thousands of tips available, the most important one being that of the process of elimination. Getting your SC answers right in the shortest time possible really could save you a lot of time for other questions thereby significantly increasing your chances of a higher score. Therefore, I practiced SC questions from the OG atleast thrice and made it a point to follow GMATClub forums. 1000 SC questions is a gem in itself, although I must admit that I couldn’t complete the whole of it diligently like I had imagined. After my botched first attempt, I went back to the basics by referring to the Manhattan GMAT SC Guide and methodically followed each and every direction given in that Bible for SC!
Even though I had gone in with a feeling that CR was my strongest sections, the questions on the actual GMAT did seem much tougher than practice questions and tests. On many occasions it was just baffling because the patterns that you were trained to recognize just didn’t seem to make themselves visible on the day of the exam. But then again, this could have been because of lack of enough practice going in with an assumption that it’s a strong point. Therefore, I read the Manhattan and Powerscore CR Guides twice, got my concepts right and practiced all the questions that I could get my hands on. On my second attempt too the questions did baffle me, but I somehow had more confidence in the answers I was marking this time and eventually it did seem to work!
GMAT Prep tests are way easier than the actual RC questions on the GMAT. RC section can turn out to be a nightmare for most people owing to the vast expanse of topics that the RC passages could come from. The only way of getting better at these is to develop a habit of reading some articles from New York Times or WSJ. With practice your speed and accuracy could improve, but then reading more such articles really helps, because then no topic on the GMAT would seem alien to you.
As much as I had liked to really practice more of Quant to get to my ideal score of 51, Verbal preparation did take up more time than I had imagined. I still managed to improve my score from 49 to 50 in my second attempt, thanks to my realization that getting the tough DS questions right was the deal maker here. The official guides aren’t even close to how tricky the DS questions can get on the actual GMAT. Therefore, I made it a point to practice questions from Manhattan GMAT Question banks and challenge problems. GMAT Club questions were also a good resource for practicing Quant questions. With enough practice, one can smartly avoid the traps in the DS questions and sail away to the glorious 51.
6. How did you prepare for GMAT while balancing working hours?
This was definitely the toughest part of GMAT preparation because once you start working, more than the paucity of time, it is sometimes the lack of enough motivation to stick to the fancy schedules that one prepares. I think finding buddies who also are preparing for GMAT either online or in your own friend circle really helps. Constant discussions on the forums such as GMATClub play a big role in keeping you motivated due to the sheer brilliance of how people come up with smart solutions for different kinds of problems. The online community for GMAT Prep is by far the most active across the world when it comes to exam preparation and one must really tap into it at every juncture. With a 6 day working week, Sundays became very crucial to my GMAT preparation and managing three to four hours of study time seemed sufficient for the same. It also helped to have a weekly plan and not be overambitious per week. Therefore, even if one missed a day of preparation, time really didn’t seem like a major obstacle. One clearly has to look for ways to keep oneself motivated through these simple hacks when one is working and wants to get a decent score on the GMAT.
7. Difficulty level of GMAT vis-à-vis other examinations?
Comparing the GMAT to Indian management aptitude tests would be a foolish thing to do. It is one of the greatest myth that GMAT is much simpler than CAT. The priorities for a person who’s looking to give GMAT and aim for world class colleges other than the coveted IIM’s become very subjective in nature and really depend on the profile of the student unlike the need to score higher and higher on Indian management aptitude tests. For instance, a person who’s scored 780 on GMAT and another who’s scored 640 have an equal chance of getting into a Top 10 MBA course. But I must say that the Quant concepts being tested in the GMAT are quite basic. Even then, the amount of practice one needs to put in to outperform the others on GMAT, is no less than CAT or any other examination, because one must remember that there are people from all over the world who take the GMAT. The verbal concepts tested on the GMAT are much closer to reality, and definitely for us non-native speakers of English, it is one of the biggest hurdles to cross.
8. Any tips you would like to share with prospective GMAT examinees
We all know how important it is to follow the pieces of advice from the Wisemen, but even the Wisemen know it’s easier said than done.
- Get ample sleep before the D-day. It is extremely important to calm your nerves leading up to the exam.
- Take as many full-length GMAT Prep examinations as you can and try to simulate the actual test conditions
- On the test day, do not let the performance in one section affect your performance in the subsequent sections
- Time management before and during the examination is of paramount importance. It’s better to smart guess a tough one than rack your brains over it and still get it wrong.
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