I'm happy for the value this has provided to so many for their GMAT strategy. I'm also glad for the many good contacts I've gained from this and the ideas they've given to me. THANKS. I will continue to update this page as you all send suggestions.
If these GMAT Tips help you, all I ask is that you remember me later and let's network.
:-) My email address is at the bottom of this page.
This is intended to help you with your GMAT improvement and general GMAT studying. I will start with general thoughts, list my general study plan, then
give some of my performance statistics that may be helpful for comparison
purposes. Please send any comments.
Important Note about Essays
While a 80%/80% GMAT is important, the essays are more important! While
I'm thrilled with my last GMAT result, I'd take my old 650 with great
application essays over a 750 with lousy application essays. Assuming
a very good application aside from a sub-average GMAT score, great essays
might carry your application. A poor set of essays will slam the door
shut! The rest of your application won't matter. NAIL the essays, no matter
what it takes.
To give anecdotal Evidence, one rejected applicant was not even invited for an
interview. His rejection was not because of his 780 GMAT, 3.8 GPA from
a "top program" nor the two years of great experience. hmmm.
What could have been the problem? Essays!
Those of you who are struggling with the GMAT, I'm one of you. I struggled
hard for the GMAT; at times I became what I'd call panicky nervous, which made it
a mental battle for which I was not prepared. If you did not reach your target score, I want to encourage you to try again, even if in some cases it means
delaying school. For me, it was incredibly time consuming; I answered about
3500 questions to prepare for my latest attempt (266 hours of focused study). That
did not include reading math and verbal tips that I already knew - it
was all problem solving and analysis. I tracked my study time to keep
myself honest about how much was actually study versus breaks, etc. I
constantly practiced my pace and focus (keeping my mind from wandering
- hey, that's hard for me :-)). Even on the first two attempts I practiced
my pace and focus, but I did it with far more questions on my last attempt
(and improved my focus). You CAN DO IT, EVEN if you are as nervous as
Do not assume that you are good at math so don't need to study that section.
Regrettably, I did that. I've always been good at figuring things out,
but there's no time on the GMAT to do that. You must recognize the problem types very quickly so test time is all quick calculations. Also, don't assume that if
you scored well in one section on a previous attempt (or in practice tests) that you don't need
to study that section. I did that on my second take and bombed the verbal
(took quant' from 73% to 87%, but verbal fell from 84% to 69%). You must sharpen your speed each time and on each section. Only when
I studied hard for both sections did I do well. I hope you can do it on the first attempt.
Why So Many Problems When The Concepts Are Similar?
I recognized a pattern. While I was nervous simply setting foot in the test room, the real kicker was how my nervousness became a genuine impediment when I didn't recognize quickly how to solve a problem. I then realized that I had to recognize the concept of each problem very early, or the nervousness
would make it difficult to reliably solve problems. In practice sessions, if I saw any question that I
did not understand quickly enough, I marked it, moved on, then returned after the main problem solving period. I would not give up on it until I understood WHY it
was right. (But be careful not to spend fruitless hours with something
that you don't understand. In many cases, you should talk with someone who
might help, and move on to more problems.) When I was in my last attempt
which yielded a very good score, I was able to recognize problems very quickly almost every time. The lesson: DO TONS OF PROBLEMS until you tend
to recognize what they want quickly.
One additional reason for so many questions was that I lacked the required tight focus throughout the test, especially with Reading Comprehension
and Critical Reasoning problems. In order to practice that, I had to
study for hours. It was tempting to let my eyes glaze over
and my mind go to sleep. :-) But you cannot allow that. Practice catching
your mind slowing down. You can't afford to re-read anything during the real test. ALWAYS keep your mind SHARP,
especially in the Reading Comprehension sections. Tackle them aggressively,
but don't try to read much faster than you normally do. Focus is the key.
Read fairly quickly, but with TIGHT FOCUS, and understand the material.
Try not to depend on looking back at the passage very often. It soaks
your test time away.
My Study Tips
Whether this applies to you depends so much on your specific situation
and how much time you have to study (and, of course, how good you are
now). But I will speak in general terms and about myself.
If you are working, then you may have to study for two weeks, including
weekends, before you can tell how many questions are reasonable to do
within the remaining time you have. (If you do not have to work, you can
likely tell in a few days of 6 solid study hours each.) You may not have
time to answer over 3000 questions, but do as many as you can, and consider using the last week or so of your time for Official Guide
questions (for pacing). More on that below.
I favor Kaplan questions for the initial phase of studying (books and
CD based tests) because they are harder than others (more complicated
and more subtle) and they give you all the good concepts. Warning: do not become
discouraged by Kaplan tests. I consistently scored significantly lower
on Kaplan tests than on any others (one score was a 480 I believe). Compare Kaplan test scores only to other Kaplan test scores.
Then, when you have studied a lot (maybe 2/3 of your total time) switch
to Official Guide materials. Ignore the official math and verbal instructions and reviews; those of Kaplan are much better.
For the essay portion, I do have a basic outline that I use for most any of those types of essays (and in many other types of business writing). This is a common format and is also recommended in Kaplan's instructions.
||State my position clearly and up front. Tell 2-3 key points as to why that's my position.
||Briefly expand on each argument point (one per paragraph)
||Briefly state my position again, with a summary 2-3 reasons. Include a very brief argument against any obvious counterpoints (inoculation). Then a closing sentence.
I just practiced those periodically, but I did not focus on those as much as the other sections. For some people, this section will be far more important, because it will be a chance to demonstrate your grasp of English and your overall verbal abilities. The lower your verbal score is, the more important this will be. Your business school essays can demonstrate your verbal skills to, but a strong argument in favor of this essay section is that it is more guaranteed that you did this independently, so they will likely examin this more if needed.
1. Get Kaplan's main book GMAT (they've recently added the word "Premier" to the book title). The questions are online (as opposed to on a CD as they were before). NOTE: once you create your online account, there is a limited time of access - 6 months as of 2010) so don't activate until you are ready to study. If you
need brush up (and most of us do, to remember things like "0**0 is
undefined," "0 is even" and "2 is the lowest prime")
study the basic GMAT information in that book well, but try to do it quickly so you can focus almost
all of your time on doing thousands of problems. I'd not take all the practice tests right away, but rather take one after this book, take the others
at other intervals throughout your studying, but BEFORE you start OG questions. That's because the pacing is very different in Kaplan and I
want you to, in the end, learn the pacing of OG questions, keeping in mind that you will get tougher groups on the real test if you are scoring well.
Note: When you use paper material (study books, etc.) always work similarly to how you would work with a screen. What I mean is, don't write in the book. Use scratch paper to solve
all problems. (I even recorded answers on scratch paper so I could rework the problems later without seeing my old answers.) It keeps you accustom
to doing your calculations away from the book. If you can buy an erasable tablet such as the ones on the real test, I'd do that.
2. I used a friend's copy of Kaplan's two workbooks (GRE & GMAT
Math Workbook and GMAT Verbal Workbook). Even though you may run across
a duplicate question, I found that the duplicates were not a drawback
(except at times when I could instantly recall a RC answer). They sometimes
change the answers too, so at times you must be very cautious. You could consider buying these in order to answer more tough problems.
Note: if English is not your native language, then I'd focus hard
on the verbal section so you stand out among your peers. Kaplan's answers
are usually right. I've only caught about three that were wrong (and they
verified that via email) so in general, trust their answers, and try to
understand WHY you got it wrong so you can recognize it faster the next
Note: You will encounter answer explanations that are sometimes incomplete
or even at times misleading. So, if you
can find a good source of someone who's really picky with their Grammar,
use him/her to learn WHY a problem is correct. If I'm not too busy, I
will answer questions to the best of my ability.
3. For more questions, consider using Barron's study guide. Their questions
were good (if you are familiar with their new software, please email me.) I highly recommend Kaplan's online GMAT Quiz Bank with 1000
questions and explanations. It is awesome. I've heard that the new
Princeton questions are much better, so they may also be an option (please email if you have experience with the new materials.). I
heard of a series of Princeton Review "Really Hard Math" problems
and they're supposed to be great. Check those out (there are roughly 120
of those questions).
Note: For those weak in quant', you can study the questions multiple
times. Even if you know the answer, you can benefit greatly by repeating the calculations. For those weak in verbal, doing the problems twice seems
less beneficial than doing so for quant', so I would find other material
(Barron's, Princeton, etc.)..
4. I bought Kaplan's GMAT 800 book. There may be duplicate questions
(there were duplicates to the Quiz Bank), but
the approach they used, the more detailed explanations, and the more subtle
hints they gave were well worth wading through duplicates. If you hurry,
you could complete this in a long weekend. This book gives some very good
hints that are not in other materials, and the problems are very tough
and very good.
5. The last week or so of your time
should involve a lot of Official Guide questions. The pacing is VERY important
and if you do questions that are too easy or too hard, you may not pace
yourself correctly in the real test. I want you to finish on time. Any
extra time you can glean from areas in which you are strong, should be
reallocated to problems that are tougher for you. Ideally, you'll finish
exactly when the time runs out. Yes, it's far better to finish early than
late. But don't fool yourself into thinking that finishing five minutes
early is good. The ideal is to spread that time out on problems that are
tough for you.
Official Guide to GMAT Review. There are 1500 questions
in the book.
If you can, do all 1500 in the workbook and TIME YOURSELF. I did these
in groups containing roughly 20 from each section (some come in sets so
you can't always get exactly 20). I used a sheet of paper to track where
I was in each section and where the related answers were. It was easy
and beneficial because it kept me studying ALL TYPES of problems and not
focusing on the more fun math problems. Try to keep the average time well
below 2 minutes per question, especially for Reading Comprehension and
Critical Reasoning. They took the most time for me. Notice what is a good
pace for you and compare how many you get right for the time you had.
I found that when my average was about 10 seconds higher, my scores went
up enough to be worth the extra time.
Note on Pacing with Official Guide Questions
The Official Guide question phase is important. These problems use the same concepts
as Kaplan, but they are generally a bit less complicated and therefore,
you can do them a bit faster. Learn to reallocate that extra time for
problems on which you need to double check, or problems that are tougher
for you. That one tip helped me greatly. If you jumped directly from Kaplan
questions to the real test, you'd likely finish early with a decent score,
but I'd rather you finish exactly on time with a slightly higher score
because you allocated the extra time on problems that were harder for
you, and you got them right.
Keep in mind that the Official Guide, of course, is not adaptive. The effect of this will be that, if you
are scoring high on the real GMAT, you will get more of the harder problems.
The OG problems that are hard, are similar to the hard ones on the real
GMAT, but you will get more of them on the real GMAT if you are scoring
around 700 or more. If you are scoring lower, then this may not be true.
That was my experience, and was the experience of some others.
Don't study for the last hour or two of your day if you can help it. I
found that studying until bedtime was counter productive because I went to bed a bit stressed
and sometimes dreamed about it. Get your mind off studying for a while before you sleep (read, watch TV or talk to your significant
other, or another friend). If those two hours are the ONLY time you have,
then at least try to get your mind off it for a little while before you sleep.
If you can, I recommend studying early in the morning after a cup of coffee.
This is purely based on my experience. I find that daily exercise helps
me think better. I run four miles each morning, but had to build up to
that distance. If you have not exercised to this point, then I'd start
with walking for 30 minutes (consult your doctor... blah, blah, blah)
and build up to your target goal. If you become sore, skip one day and
see how you feel. On the morning of the test, I did very light exercise
(for me, that meant running for one mile - for some others, they might
do my daily routine. hahahaha).
While this is a personal decision, I benefited from consuming some caffeine. I find that a little caffeine helps me think
better. Too much makes the situation worse. I drank about one cup of coffee
each morning. Two cups might have been fine for me, but any more caused me to
think less clearly. About one hour before my test, I had slightly more
caffeine than I usually have (almost two cups), but didn't drink much
else so I would not have to use the bathroom during my test. If you don't
like caffeine drinks but want caffeine, try a caffeine pill (e.g. Viverin) or Excedrine. Each Excedrine pill has about 65 mg of caffeine (compared
to that of coffee at ~120, Coke at ~55,
and Viverin at ~200 per pill).
Keep a piece of paper handy and write any unknown formulas... referring
to it as needed. I referred to it even in practice tests, because I knew
I would have it memorized later (and would know it during the real test).
Soon, I knew them and discarded the cheat sheet.
The Best Place to Gain Speed
Of course, you must be fast on the GMAT, but a key for me was to gain
speed in problem recognition and knowing the solution path very early.
In my last test, very little time was spent trying to understand what
they wanted. That ability came from answering the high number of problems.
Neither my calculations nor my reading were hyper quick; they were only
quick. My mantra became: Calm, Quick, and Careful
I used a stop watch. The most important time is the total and average
(per question). Even a wall clock will work with some simple math. I was
lucky in that I have a stopwatch (for running) with laps and a function
that shows the average time per lap, or in this case, the average time
per question. It's a Timex Mega Lap and I found it on eBay. But just use
a wall-clock if such a watch is not available.
I frequently solved problems in groups (see results below). My attempt was to mimic the actual test as much as I could with non-adaptive material. So I took the set of questions, timed each question, learned when to make an educated guess and move to the next question (often making a brief note - maybe just a checkmark - indicating that I should revisit this one). When finished with the block of questions, I went back and checked any for which I was unsure, regardless of whether I got them right.
Again, main tactic... problem after problem.... as many as you can do.
Time your studies and be very protective of your study time. Do
not include meal times or breaks longer than a bathroom break in your
time. Keep yourself TIGHTLY focused on problem after problem for hours,
even when you really want to do other things. Yea, it was hard and I sometimes
failed. But if I just started my clock and read the first problem, I could
usually keep myself going.
Second important tactic, Spend the last week or so of your time
on proper pacing (for which I used OG problems). Begin to FEEL
how much time you can spend on a tougher problem. Keep in mind that if you are scoring well on the real test, you will get the more difficult questions. You must know when to quit, guess and move on.
Third deadly important tactic, constantly practice FOCUS and do not allow
your mind to wander. Whisper quietly if you must (I had to), to keep your
focus and avoid the need to rereading sections. This was absolutely my
biggest key in Reading Comprehension and Critical Reasoning. (Kaplan's
strategies on Critical Reasoning were also key - study them well. Kaplan's
strategies on Reading Comprehension were not as helpful to me. For example,
the written map was a waste of time for me.)
My Reactions to Some Study Materials (your results may vary)
Best: Kaplan (tough problems), Official Guide - similar to the real
GMAT and it's the best for pacing except that it's not adaptive, Barron's (don't know the new software,
but the questions are good), the new Princeton (I hear they've improved
Worst (note, this was from old materials): ARCO - Master the GMAT CAT, REI, OLD Princeton (2001 - way too
I tried some questions from Princeton (about 500 questions) but used the older
(2001) material and was not happy. From what I hear, they are much
better now - use only their newer material. I found
worse results with ARCO - Master the GMAT CAT taking their diagnostic
test. Problem 1: They seem EASIER than the actual GMAT questions. Problem
2: In my opinion, they were sometimes misleading if not wrong (I agreed
with Kaplan's answers in almost every case, even though they were
much harder). Kaplan questions were generally great, although more
difficult than those in the OG . Barron's questions (old version
- 11th edition) were very good although the older software (from 12th
edition) was not good at all. Their newer software might be better, but the questions are worth the purchase of the book if you need more questions.. (I
studied a few problems from REI and, while this was a very brief
assessment, I found two problems that I'm sure were mistakes in their
sentence correction, and the difficulty level MAY have been lower than
that of the OG - but again, this was a very quick assessment.)
I hope you do well.
I attended Duke University's Fuqua School of Business from 2004 -
2006 and it is one awesome program.
The below may be of little interest, but for those who want to know,
it's here. (I would have liked seeing this when I was studying.)
These are from my practice sessions with "The Official Guide..."
only days before my latest test. I
did about 20 from each section:
20 from Problem Solving (PS)
20 from Data Sufficiency (DS)
~18 from Reading Comprehension (RC) (they are grouped in chunks of 6-8
~20 from Critical Reasoning (CR) (at times two were grouped together)
20 from Sentence Correction (SC)
Some may find this to be a useful gauge. (Keep in mind that this
was AFTER answering about 3000 other questions). The below is in the following
Number of Problems / Number WRONG
/ Average Time per question
20 3 1:40
20 3 1:20
20 1 1:34
20 0 2:13 (fewer wrong, but higher time)
21 0 1:22 (OK, I'm just
20 0 0:56
20 4 0:51
20 0 1:11
20 0 1:22 (in general, this extra time was a good tradeoff)
19 1 1:17
18 3 1:46
18 3 2:14
18 5 1:59
18 0 1:38
22 1 1:25
(Maybe this improvement is because of practicing focus, even
when reading for fun. If you could see my performance on the first 500
questions of study - Kaplan - then you'd see GREAT improvement, and that
was LARGELY because of my improved focus. I believe my first Kaplan test was a dismal 490.)
20 2 1:27
20 1 1:34
20 3 1:57
21 2 1:53
19 0 1:57
20 3 1:37
20 5 1:24
20 2 1:25
20 3 1:20
20 1 1:18
My Score History
||3500 problems split between Quant' and
Verbal. Heavily practiced FOCUS while reading
||Slanted toward quant' because of my
||Slanted toward verbal because I'm a
computer science guy and thought math would be easier
My email address is at the bottom of my "about" page. I removed it from this page for speed.