Taking the GMAT

I wrote a very long piece on my struggle with the GMAT. I posted the piece on GMAT Club and on Beat The GMAT. However, I believe that it is my intellectual property and I have the right to post it on my blog after giving myself the go ahead. This is probably going to be my longest blog post, ever. So here goes:

After three shots at the GMAT, all taken between June and September, I finally hit the 710 mark. It looked like all the odds were stacked against me and the fates were not just on my side for some reason. Whatever it is, I believe that I have used up all the bad luck on the GMAT on my journey to getting the MBA. I will not go into too much details, so I will just highlight the major milestones on my journey to getting the 710. 

I have an average intelligence and practically struggled through medical school to get a degree. Who knows maybe I have even inflated my level of intelligence as I may have a little below average intelligence; you will understand better when you read what happened to me in the second try. Immediately after medical school, I switched careers to finance and I currently work as an investment strategist in a pension fund. Yes, I know it is strange to switch from medicine to finance but a lot of strange things happen in developing countries like mine. The switch was part of a great design, a story I intend to sell on my way to business school and a story I have about 95% chances of actually achieving. 

Now to the GMAT. On my first try, I used Manhattan GMAT Guides (including the mocks), OG13 and GMAT Prep. My scores on the mocks improved gradually from a low of 570 on the first Manhattan Mock to 710 on GMAT Prep Mock 1 to 690 on GMAT Prep Mock 2. I was pretty much stressed out right before the exam because I did not sleep well on the night before as I fretted over pretty much everything that I thought I did not know. The exam was scheduled for June 27, 2013 at 1pm in my hometown, so I did not have to travel far. I did not like the 1pm timing because my nerves were shot throughout the day and I had a bad tension headache but that was the only slot that was available in that venue. I chose not to use any analgesic since I knew the headache was tension induced and it had no organic underlying cause. On the way to the test center, I started experiencing some kind of flashes of bright light anytime I glanced at the rear-view mirror; that was when I knew I was going to underperform in the test. I was way too stressed. Well, I went through the motions of writing the test and at the end I got a 670 (Q47 V35). I scored a 5 in AWA and a 7 in IR. I was very disappointed with the verbal score because I was able to notch between V38 – V41 in my last four mock tests before the GMAT and I did not understand why I should score that low on the D-day. When I got home that night, I ordered for the Manhattan Advanced Math and the E-GMAT Verbal Live Prep course. I also bought the GMAT Prep Test Pack 1 and the Paper Test series. I knew instinctively that my weakness was probably in the SC and CR section. My RC had always been on the strong side because of my medical background; you know, medical students and doctors are used to reading dense materials over long periods of time so the RC was generally a piece of cake for me. 
I spent about ten days going through the E-GMAT SC course and it opened my eyes to a lot of things in the world of GMAT sentence correction. I had seen a lot of positive reviews for the Manhattan SC guide before purchasing all the guides but it was not that helpful to me; the E-GMAT course actually helped me to increase my SC accuracy tremendously. The RC course was useless for me since I was already pretty strong in that area. I tried the CR course but it was full of too much terminologies and my second shot at the GMAT was just a few weeks away; I felt it was going to be too much hassle to change my CR strategy in just a few days leading to the exam. Anytime I went through an E-GMAT CR class and tried to apply the strategies to the questions at the end of the session, I ended up failing the test but when I fell back to the strategies I learned from the Manhattan CR Guide, I performed very well; that pretty much clinched it for me. I had to fall back to the Manhattan CR guide, which was more straightforward for me. I have been surprised to see a lot of poor review for the Manhattan CR guide. 

On the run up to my second shot at the GMAT, I practically made up my mind not to do any kind of unofficial questions. I did the GMAT Prep mocks again and focused on the GMAT Test pack. My confidence had improved along with my high accuracy on SC. I slept better on the night before test and I was much more confident. I had no idea that the fates had other plans for me. Oh well, I wrote the test at around the same time as the previous one at 1pm and guess what, I was shocked to see a 640 (Q42 V34) on the screen. I mean, I had scored less than Q46 only about two times during my first preparation and scored less than V35 the same number of times. This was what happened. I paced myself well all through the test and right through the verbal section. I still do not understand why in the world I thought I was on the last question in the Verbal section when I was on question 40. I just let the clock run down and then clicked OK. Right there and then another question popped up and before I could react, the timer shut me out. Oh boy! I felt like crying. And when my scores came up, I saw a 640. I scored a 4 in IR and a 5 in AWA. I was quite surprised at the Quant Score and at the IR score. How could my score drop from 7 to 4 and Q47 to Q42 at a time when I was better prepared? Here is the lesson I learned and if this is the only thing you are able to glean from my post, I will be more than happy. I am going to write it in bold. 

If you miss one question on the GMAT, it will affect the scoring algorithm so badly that it will filter down through the other sections apart from AWA. If you run out of time and end up not doing one question in the Quant section, count yourself lucky, stand up, tell the proctor you are done and go and register for the next test. Trust me, you will not like the score you will see if you think you can beat it by doing well in Verbal. And if you made the mistake in Verbal, cancel your scores and give GMAC another $250. Whatever you score after you miss a question, you can be sure that you could have gotten at least anything between 50 – 80 extra if you had the chance to just guess any answer. 

On the run up to my last try, all sort of things happened. Almost everything went wrong by another twist of fate. Here is the story. Three weeks before the test, I got an official car from my company and a few days after that I had an accident with it. It took me a few days to recover from it and get back on track for GMAT studies. The following week, two weeks before the exam, some armed robbers stormed the apartment complex where I stay, they robbed some families but thankfully my family was spared. This is one of the things we face in the developing world coupled with recurrent blackouts. It took my wife a few nights to recover from that incidence and for me to dust off myself and continue with GMAT studies again. This time around I did not buy new materials. I simply scoured for my weak areas and plugged the holes. I also discovered the Economist GMAT and I used the 7 free days to try to learn some new concepts. In addition to the the E-GMAT three step process, the stylistic perspective to addressing SC questions was came quite handy; I essentially had he best of both worlds for SC. I scored a 710 on the Economist GMAT mock, which accurately predicted my performance but the breakdown was actually miles apart. This time around I scheduled the test for another town, Lagos, which was about an hour flight from where I stay in Abuja. I also rescheduled the time for 10am because I wanted everything to be different this time around. A few days before the test, my daughter developed a flu and I caught it from her. I had to fly out to Lagos the day before the test and it was a horrible experience with the banging headache and fever. I couldn’t sleep well on the night before the test. Well, I had to drag myself to the test center with a stuffed nose and a bad headache. When I was about to start, I made a vow that I don’t give a damn about this test anymore and regardless of the score, I am going to start my applications with what I have. My 670 score with both sections above the 70th percentile should do and I will have to look for a way to make my profile as interesting as possible. The fact that I have the CFA charter should at least let the adcoms know that I have the brainpower to handle the first year courses of business school since that is what the GMAT tests after all. It was with that mindset that I started the test regardless of the headache, the stuffed nose and the fever. I also remembered the pledge I took on GMAT Club to be in the 700+ club along with BB and all the hard work I put into it. I essentially tried to psyche myself up and keep my stress levels low. When the scores came out and I saw a 710 (Q45 V42), I had a mixture of relief and disappointment. Relief because at least I was able to garner a respectable 710, even though it is not a rock star score; disappointment because I knew my abilities were far above a Q45. I scored Q50 in my last two mock tests and V46 and V47 in the verbal sections. 

That is my debrief. It was a long and tortuous journey but I am done with the GMAT for good. I think I have finished my run of bad luck with the GMAT and I hope the rest of my applications for Round 2 will be smooth sailing. I will be glad to take any question.

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