Thursday, 17 May 2012

GMAT Review: Part I - Learning

A long overdue post, since I took the GMAT on 14th October 2012. But I was slightly ashamed of my just-acceptable score of 700, which was below the median accepted score for all the six schools I was applying to. Surprisingly, I wasn't the only one in this position, as during the month of October I spotted quite a few posts on BTG about retake stratgies for those already in the 700-800 range. I was annoyed at myself for being able to score upto 750 in practice, and that was probably the reason for the disappointment.  Looking back (gotta love hindsight), it was silly of me to be ashamed - 90th percentile is still no easy feat, and I'm proud of myself. Now that I've moved on, I feel more comfortable talking about it, and hence, this blog post.

My advice for retakers, in case you're interested, is don't sweat it. It is true that schools will focus more on GMAT scores when deciding between two candidates or deciding the admission priority of the waitlisted applicants. But it is also true that once you reach a certain score (let's say 680), your GMAT is crossed off the AdCom's checklist and they're on to other aspects of your application. Everyone knows that there's a plus/minus of 30 points, so AdCom members are generally willing to give you the benefit of those extra points. It may also help to note that if they honestly hesistate on accepting you solely on the basis of your GMAT score, they will contact you and perhaps request you to retake the exam. In fact, I think one of my schools had a checkbox on the self-reporting scores page, where I had to tick whether I would retake the GMAT if I were asked.

When it comes to taking the GMAT, it's important to understand that you just cannot memorise your way through the test. That's not to say some have unsucceeded in doing so; in fact a fellow BTG forum user who apparently scored a 760 on the GMAT recently posted the following "I am in oil. Please advise schools for me." (He said a lot more, but I was too shocked after reading that first sentence that I didn't somehow want to read the rest).

I like to believe one has truly only aced the GMAT if one continues to use the concepts learnt in reality. And for that reason, I cannot stress enough on learning before practicing. My strategies are now perfectly in place, and I also used the knowledge I gained and incorporated it into my essays, which I think definitely helped.

Several strategy books exist, and several good ones too. How do you pick? The following post helped me out. I used that list and several other forums, and after almost two weeks, finally chose the following (see my blog post on this topic):

The Official Guide for GMAT Review:

This book is an absolute must for anyone taking the GMAT. From the makers of the test themselves, this has a zillion practice questions, all of them being genuine past questions, and hence really help you get an idea of the types of questions you will be dealing with on the actual test. This book also has some review, but I suggest skipping it, as it's really not that great.

GMAT Quantitative Review & GMAT Verbal Review:

Again, these are practice books with genuine past questions, and while there are a couple of repetitions, most questions are different from the ones in the OG. Get this only if you need more practice after completing the OG. I made the mistake of ordering these early on, and really did not have the time to attack the questions here. 
Manhattan GMAT Preparation Guide - Number Properties:

Great book. The book includes strategies for attacking problems which you have probably seen in O Levels (or equivalent) and hence just don't remember how to deal with them - that's how basic they are. As an engineering student, I've done math that is way harder than this, and end up using the calculator to perform such problems. Not on the GMAT! Totally worth the buy.

Manhattan GMAT Preparation Guide - Word Translations:

I found this book useful because it helps you to break down the questions into solvable pieces. Too often you get a question on the GMAT that is longwinded, and by the time you finish reading the question, you panic because you have no idea what you really have to do, or else you calculate the wrong value (which is also an answer choice, as the cheeky people in GMAC anticipate your mistakes). While this may not be a must-buy, it's worth it if you're out of touch with word problems. 

Powerscore Critical Reasoning Bible:

This was the first book I started with, and I loved it. It clearly approaches the different types of CR questions that will come up on the test - from an explanation on what the question is looking for, to strategies to find the right answer. Best book I bought, in my opinion. Highly recommended. 

Veritas Prep GMAT Reading Comprehension:

This is a pretty decent book - the strategies barely made up 20 pages, after which it was practice questions. But one can't blame Veritas Prep for that - how on earth does one teach reading comprehension anyway? They do a pretty decent job of it. 4 stars.

Manhattan GMAT Preparation Guide - Sentence Correction:

This ties with the CR Bible for the best book. I'm looking to sell my GMAT books but I won't sell this one. It has everyone one needs to know about grammar and spotting the errors in a given sentence. Yes its a little longwinded, but how else can one cover all the possible grammatical errors that are tested? 100% recommended. 

Part II of my GMAT Review will be out next week, where I'll discuss some tips on how I 'aced' (not really) the GMAT - what I learnt, what I didn't, and how I'd go about it if I were to do it all over again. Check back soon!


  1. Thanks so much for this, although it more or less mirrors Dana's comments on BTG. Guess they really are the best books out there today. Looking forward to Part 2

    1. It really does, doesn't it :) Thanks for peeping into my blog, you can find Part II up now.

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