3G? What 3G???
3G, for the purposes of this post, refers to the time one spends in preparing for and appearing for the GMAT - which is about 3 months. This post is about my opinions about everything surrounding this all important test, which is an important milestone in the MBA admission journey...
Before one starts preparing for the all important GMAT test, it is important that one has a lot of idea about the entire MBA stuff, his reasons for wanting one and all that jazz. From here on, I kept telling myself "Remember the bigger picture - go get that MBA, everything else is just a part of the puzzle". The GMAT, the applications and even the MBA itself - just steps in your journey to achieve the goals you've set yourself.
Myth: Preparing for the GMAT is probably one of the toughest experiences one can ever go through...
Truth: If you find it tough, you aren't doing it right. GMAT preparation is something to be enjoyed. In fact, take the fear quotient out and try enjoying the test and you will definitely do better.
I started my GMAT preparations in March. But i did not dive head first into all those prep books. Thanks to my genes (or my past experiences) i do not start doing something before i know it well. Once i knew the GMAT enough, i realized the importance of charting out a prep plan based on my strengths and weaknesses, a very personalized prep plan. Based on this plan, i went out and got the books i thought I'd need.
GMAT is one such thing for which there really is a thing called information overflow. The Internet if SO full of different opinions and experiences about the test and everything related to it. So instead of trying to compare stuff, I'd just try to explain what i did in my 3G months and why i chose to do it this way.
As i explained above, i rate this very important, if not the most important, part of my whole plan. And getting familiar with the test is not just reading the GMAT brochure available in the MBA.com website. It goes well beyond that, but yeah it starts with it and the website. I then proceeded to scout for all kind of information in the Internet. The biggest jackpot i hit in this process were the experiences posted by people who had done well in the GMAT. Especially there was one by TwinSplitter (790) and another by Ursula (45 yr old female who ended up with a 760!!!) - both of which gave me strategies and also their personal views on the test. I also hit on this document titled "GMAT 700 stories", a huge document (60+ pages) with personal experiences of many people who crossed the 700 mark. Reading these experiences slowly got me familiar with the test. By the end of it, i know the nuts and bolts of the test and the test taking experience.
The next step was to get familiar with the actual test itself. I had downloaded the GMATprep test and also had the PowerPrep tests, which were retired by the time i started preps. But i did not wanna waste one of them just to get familiar. So i scouted on the Internet again and hit on some website that gave me a 5 test pack for free. I downloaded this and used these tests to try stuff like my confidence level, competency level, timing etc. I must admit - I scored very very poorly (read - 25 in VA) in these tests :)
But by the end of it all - i knew where i stood and to an extent i knew what i had to do and what i did not have to do. It was time i started actual preparation.
Create "your" plan
I realized GMAT is to be played by everyone in their own way. No cookie cutters. This was an important result of reading all those experiences - i saw that the people tackled it the way they wanted to, the way they felt comfortable. The ones who failed, they said that they tried things differently and could not stick to it when the pressure mounted in the test hall. Of course, there were exceptions - but the biggest pattern to emerge was "Do it your way".
After all the reading and the sample tests, i knew what i had to do. I was exceptional in quant - I've been good with numbers all my life. But my verbal scores sucked. It is obvious what i should do. But i also decided i will do a LOT of practice. I wanted a long span, when i could test if my understanding of my strengths and weaknesses were correct. If i had enough practice material, i could allow myself the time to correct myself if i found something wrong mid way.
Also, i wanted a structured approach - basic preps, OG, additional practice, tougher than GMAT practice. I bought my books to help me in each of these stages. I'll explain them below.
So what was my plan???
I prepared for 3 months, I know people who prepared for 2 weeks and scored more than me. I know people who practiced more and scored less. It is perhaps correct to say "what works for me, wont work for u". At least look at it this way, take any advice with a pinch of salt, and carve out something specially for you - that works best for anyone.
I started with the basic prep books - call it "getting more familiar with the GMAT". The books i used in this phase were the following, with my reasons for each of them
Kaplan Premier program - lots of problems to try out the theories and the strategies. The only serious quant preps i ever did was to refresh my memory time and again with the list of formulas, given at the end of this book.
Princeton Review - fun book to read (which i dint know when i bought). Lots of question types, lots more than Kaplan.
Kaplan 800 - test how high you can go. The hit rate here WILL be low. But this will help to catch those stuff u assumed earlier - a nice way to proof read your preps before you go to the next step.
I would do one topic per week - let's say CR. I'll first read up about CR in Kaplan, and do the sample problems sprayed in between the theories. Then, I'd jump to Princeton and read up about CR here. After i am done with the theory part in both the books I'd do the 50 odd CR problems in Kaplan. All this will take me the good part of a week or so - i did not rush. Now i will do the CR part in Kaplan 800, only to find an alarmingly low hit rate :) Then i use the weekend to iron out the issues, fill the gaps and get CR out of the way. This way, in 5 weeks, i was done with all the sections of the GMAT, minus AWA.
The sixth week, i started doing problems in OG and the (quant and verbal) supplements. I got the supplements because i needed extra practice. Even here, I'd cover all questions in one topic on OG and the supplement and then move on to the next topic in OG. While i flew through the math questions, progress in the verbal section was considerably slow - because i was weaker here. But i stuck to it and finished it all in time.
A week before the test, i found myself with no prep material. I dint wanna spend money buying something else. So i re did Kaplan 800, the high altitude running again. This time, i was keen on both timings and hit rate - and i had improved considerably from the last time i used the book. If you think this was because i remembered the questions, no i did not remember a majority of the questions :) this also helped me be in touch with GMAT in the last day.
I prepared for AWA for all of 2 hrs, reading up material in Kaplan and Princeton. I realized that one has to structure the essays, write as much as possible and get it done. I just read a few sample essays and felt i could do this for sure.
Stick to the plan
Well - we all know how important this is :)
I had cruel work schedules during these day - a standard excuse for all software engineers. I worked crazy hours - 10 hrs per day or more. But even if i come to home at 12PM, I'd prepare till 3AM. Whatever little social life i had, it was put to rest as i spent all my weekends with the books. I knew i had to take minor detours here and there - so i saw some movies and wrote this blog :)
This is a very long process to conquer a 3 hr test. So it is difficult to keep ourselves motivated during the 3G months. But as i mentioned earlier, i kept telling myself that this is a part in a bigger journey and IT HAD TO BE DONE. Try telling yourself "If you want to realize your dreams, you must get that score in the test", rather than "If you want to beat the average at that school, you must get that score in the test. I am sure the former looks better and perhaps more motivational. Well - it did motivate me :)
I must admit here that though i was working crazy hours, my work wasn't really exciting me in the way i wanted it to be. There wasn't any spark in it. The GMAT preps excited me in a way a pack of chocolates excites a kid that hasn't seem them in ages. So i was actually looking forward to coming home every night and spending time with the books. If you are my type - you must be doing good :)
I used those 5 tests to get familiar. So i never bothered to look at the scores (not that they are worth mentioning anyways) :)
Then of course i used the GMATprep and PowerPrep tests - the full length ones and the short ones. I took one test each before i touched the OGs and one after the OGs - just to see how i have improved by using the OG. It really did make an improvement - i realized why the bible IS the bible :)
I wasn't impressed with the tests that came with the Kaplan and Princeton books. Kaplan questions are more difficult than the ones you'd see in the actual test and Princeton tests are a bit easier. Both of them got the scoring algorithm wrong - you get crazy scores. So just consider them practice, to check stuff like hit rate and timing. Don't bother worrying about the scores.
I already made a post abt my D-day experience. Read it to know what happened :)
The biggest advice i can offer to anyone is - enjoy the test. There is so much hype about this test that I've seen people get freaked out in the test hall. But i can safely say that anyone with basic knowledge in the topics and good test taking skills (which is where the poise, calmness et al come into play) MUST do well in GMAT. It is a test made for people to score better - something that becomes all the more possible with so much stuff available.
So yeah - these were the 3G months as i see it. It could be 2G for someone, or 0.5G - based on how prepared one feels and how much prep one needs and how much one believes in luck ;) But anyone who handles his preparations seriously and does a good job of it is bound to score well in the test.