Cracking the GMAT

It’s easy to forget that the MBA is an academic program, but having to take the GMAT before applying quickly reminds people of this fact.

Personally I focused on the GMAT aiming for 800. The other day, I was listening to some guys talking, and one was saying “if only I can get above 700, I’m OK”. I am sure no-one ever got above 700 thinking like that. Any thing worth doing should be done properly.

First, I enrolled in a prep course (around April); because I knew I could not be disciplined to study at home. It was expensive, and I had to pay 3 times (that also helped me ensure they were worth it). The prep company gave us some materials and I read them all. The prep held over 6 Saturdays.

In mid-May I took my first Powerprep full test. I had downloaded it for free off the GMAC site  and I got a 680. I was excited. I called my earlier-mentioned in-law in the States and he just laughed. “Forget Powerprep”, he said. “Don’t attempt the GMAT until you have tested with Kaplan 800 CD and solved the Official Guide. Wait. I will send these down to you.”

In summary, here was my preparation:

1) Took Prep classes (6 weekends) and read/solved any materials/assignments given
2) Read the entire Princeton Review, to understand GMAT “think” (1wk)
3) Next, solved at least half of the Official Guide, because it has the most comprehensive range of questions and the only real questions (2 wks in my case)
4) Took diagnostics and at least 3 Full (4-hour) Tests from the GMAT/ Powerprep CAT (2 weeks)
5) If you are aiming for the 700’s take four Kaplan 800 CAT tests during the run-up (1+ wk) like I did
6) Take the GMAT immediately

As you can see, this is a 3-month affair which in my case spanned April to June. It’s needless to mention, but it’s best to take the GMAT immediately after your preparation. 2 days after my July test, I would have flunked the exam. As mentioned earlier I got a 96%V/86%Q. I am stating the percentile score because this is apparently what Adcom cares about; whether you’re relative balanced above 80/80 NOT the headline Total Score. You should aim to do well on both sections.

I want to also touch on the essays. So many people neglect to prepare for them. I feel that that is inadvisable. Every one out there says that Adcom don’t use them, but in this high stakes game, hey, why take chances? Prepare for the Essays. Get a textbook on GMAT AWA. I aimed for a 6.0. I got a 5.5. And more importantly it felt good knowing my essays were good.

Now some other tips on the actual test from what I can remember (this is for the novices, the experts can skip along)
– Master the Pace. It is 75 minutes for roughly 40 questions. That’s 1.5 minutes each. But the first 7 count massively. So I would allot 3 minutes to these, including for double-checking, and then 4 minutes max for any difficult questions, after which I’d simply guess. This means some easy questions git 1 minute or less. Obviously if you are in the 700-bin, these are harder to come by. But that’s it.
– Whatever you do, FINISH EACH SECTION.
– Learn to read the comprehension passages in 1 minute flat! They do not have any time in the aforementioned 1.5 minutes and any time you spend on them will cut in to the time foe the actual questions
– Again on the comprehension, GMAT tries to slow you down with 2 seemingly correct answers, learn to choose the less extreme of the 2 (see Princeton Review for details about this)
– I can not help anyone with CR. Nor do I think any one can. You either have a logical mind or you don’t. If you have a problem with CR questions, guess intelligently.
– For Data Sufficiency, you just have to learn the blind spots on the number line when testing if the data is sufficient. For example, negative fractions. Reviewing your failed answers from Kaplan 800 should help you with this.

Ultimately you must have had a foundation to do well. Prepping is more useful for the Q than on the V section. Preparation can add up to 100 points to your “natural” Total score. But no amount of preparation can help you score 80/80 if you were lousy in academics or reasoning. Also if you lack a good foundation in English the GMAT is tough!  But then it merely indicates that you will also struggle with the MBA program itself.

Postscript: I just realized someone reading this may wonder: how do I find the time for so many practice tests (at 4 hours each)? As a CEO, this was a MAJOR problem. I had to take most of the practice tests from 3am to 7.