Let’s face it, one of the most daunting task to do before applying to a graduate school is GMAT, the Graduate Management Admission Test. Those who have applied to grad school or is in the process of applying to grad school should have known how GMAT could be terrifying, since it is not about passing the test, but more about achieving the best score you are capable of. Top schools require the average GMAT score in the 700-720 range, while second tier school usually range in 620-680. I am applying for the latter, in particular for Master of Science in Finance program.
I started preparing for grad school admission in August 2016, for enrolment in August 2017. I think I have quite plenty of time to study for GMAT in October 31st, write my essay, ask for recommendation letters, and collect the transcripts needed. For GMAT alone, I had exactly 3 months for studying while still doing my day-to-day activities. GMAT is not a hardcore quantitative exam, most of the quantitative problems involve basic math skills and logical thinking. The verbal problems resembles TOEFL test, but slightly harder in the critical reasoning and sentence correction problems.
Before dwelling on my study method, I will tell my score, so you can judge by yourself whether the score is sufficient for you to apply for the school you wanted. If it is not, then don’t follow my study method, or prepare for a longer time and do more practice. But if 660 is good enough for your school admission, then read on.
GMAT exam is divided into four parts, Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA), Integrative Reasoning, Quantitative, and Verbal. My score is:
I did two mock exam before the real exam using the GMAT prep software given when registering. I did badly on the mocks, the first one result in score of 620 and the second one 660. So I would say that the mock exam software given is quite accurate in predicting the real exam score. I was very disappointed in getting 620 on the first mock exam, since I was targeting score of 660 or above. Why 660? Because 660 is in the range of two standard deviation from the score distribution. The average score of GMAT participant is 540, with one standard deviation of 100. So the range 440-640 is what considered as the score most people would get. The range 650-740 is where it started to get interesting for grad school, where people “smarter” (doesn’t necessarily mean people with higher intelligence) than the average usually scored.
Now, let’s talk about the study method.
I prepare using Manhattan Prep and the Official Guide, which I would say cover everything you need to know. One book of Manhattan Prep cost $26 officially, but is sold for much higher price in outside US. In total, I spent about $450 for purchasing the books for GMAT preparation. With the GMAT itself cost $250, the investment in GMAT cost me $700. I would considered it as cheap compared to taking class that cost between $1400-$3000, excluding the test fee of $250.
To learn the concept, I spent the first two months reading Manhattan prep volume 0-9 (they have 10 books discussing every section of GMAT materials), which refreshes my memory of algebra and trigonometry. I was quite lazy in the first month and procrastinate sometimes, until I made a schedule and sticking to it. In order to finish all the reading and leave an adequate time for practice, you need to finish one book of Manhattan Prep in 5-7 days, depending on the thickness of the book, some of it is extremely thin, while others are thicker.
Manhattan Prep books are simple to use, first they outline the basic knowledge you need to solve a particular problem, then they give you exercise regarding the subject. That’s why the book is so easy to use (I’m not affiliated to Manhattan Prep in any way). I bring the book everywhere, I read and did the exercise on my break time, lunch, anywhere. I managed to read all the books in 8 weeks, that is equivalent to reading one book every 5.6 days. There is no shortcut to mastering the problems for GMAT, you simply have to understand the concept, so don’t just gloss over the materials. Make sure you understand the discussion in one book before moving to other book, quality is more important than quantity in the long-run.
After finishing all the reading in Manhattan Prep, it is time to do a lot of practice questions. I use the 2016 Official Guide for all of my practice. First, do the assessment practice exam in the first chapter of the book, make sure to record your time and adhere to the real exam time. Check your score and review the problems you got wrong, now you should know your strength and weakness (I got average score on sentence correction and problem solving, and above average score on the rest). By that time, I have about 4 weeks left to my GMAT exam and start to feel nervous. I know I don’t have enough time to do all the practice exam on the Official Guide, so here is what I did.
I planned to do only the section I got average score and feel not confident in, which are problem solving, data sufficiency, and sentence correction. Those who have the GMAT Official Guide knows it is a very thick and heavy book, I know I would be too lazy to bring the book everywhere (unlike the Manhattan Prep previously), so I cut out the practice exam on those section and bring it everywhere I go. In the next 3 weeks, I did 240 problem solving questions, 174 data sufficiency questions, and 140 sentence correction questions. The average score I got range from 60/100 for sentence correction (I’m terrible at it) and 80-82 for quantitative section. The first one third of the questions are easy, then the difficulty increase until the end.
Make sure you reviewed the questions you got wrong after finishing the section! I can’t stress how beneficial it is to know the solution of difficult questions, it opens a new perspective in your process of solving the next problem. I did 40-ish questions each day during those 3 weeks period, and reviewed the answer. One week before the test, I have finished all the Manhattan Prep materials (volume 0-9) and the Official Guide for practice. On the last week, I spent my time doing other stuff and did two mock exams given from the GMAT practice software (free). As I have detailed earlier, I got 620 and 660 on those practice exams.
On the exam day, I ate my breakfast, went to the test centre and chat a bit with other participants before the exam. It relieves the tense among us. I took the 8 minute break two times to go to the toilet and drink some water I brought. Frankly, I’m not confident in the quantitative section at the exam, I found it more difficult than usual, that explains why I got 46 on my quantitative, although I had got 48 before on the mock exam. Another issue is time, on the verbal section, I was slow in reading the passage in reading comprehension questions. Halfway through the section I look at the time left and realised that I’m very much lagging, so my stress level increased and I rushed through the rest of the section. However, I found the questions on the verbal to be modest, and it turns out that I got quite decent score on it.
So I was relieved when I saw the score 660 after the stressful 4 hours exam. The schools I’m targeting have average score of 600-680. I rushed outside the room, finish the registration and accept my unofficial score result. I can’t be more happy at the time, I think 660 on the first GMAT exam with 3 months study is quite decent. Now I’m applying to the schools, wish me luck!