Tuesday, October 10, 2017

How to Score 740 on the GMAT

The Graduate Management Admission Test, popularly known as the GMAT, is intended to assess analytical writing and problem-solving abilities, in addition to data sufficiency, logic, and critical reasoning skills. Most universities offering graduate management programs use it as part of their admission criteria. The total score ranges from 200 to 800 in increments of 10.

I wrote the GMAT in July 2016, and scored 740 (Q49, V42). For context, that is higher than the average score at the top 5 MBA programs. Since then, I have shared my study plan with several people, and some of them recommended I write this. Here is a quick disclaimer: This is the plan I followed; I do not guarantee it will work for you. In fact, “How I Scored 740…” is a more accurate title, but you would probably not be reading this if it had that title.

Source: The Financial Times and school websites.
Here goes:
  1. I researched the exam. What does it test? How does it adapt to my test-taking ability? How long is it? How many sections does it have? How much time will I have per question? I also compared the GMAT to the GRE.
  2. I created my study-plan. While researching the exam, I found dozens of sites and products offering advice and services to future test-takers. I was getting confused just reading about different ways to prepare, so I picked the essentials from this plan and built on it myself.
  3. I paid for the exam. Step 2 above took three to four weeks, so I realized I needed some external motivation to make me move faster.
  4. I did a full practice test. I downloaded the official GMATPrep Software, which has two free practice tests, and took the full test under simulated test conditions. This helped me identify what I was strong at and what I needed to improve. I found that I was great at Reading Comprehension and Problem Solving, but needed to improve at Critical Reasoning and Data Sufficiency.
  5. I bought the Official Guides (OGs). While I read great reviews of Manhattan and Kaplan, I decided I would rather work with real (retired) GMAT questions. The OG also starts with a diagnostic test to help you identify your strengths and opportunity areas.
  6. I studied the theory. Before practicing any questions, I reviewed the theory at the beginning of the OG. Wherever I found the OGs lacking, I searched in GMATClub, Magoosh, or googled the concepts I was trying to review. I also got these amazing one-pagers that summarized the theoretical concepts, and I made notes in the margins. They are available for download here.
  7. I practiced getting questions right. I tried many of the questions without an eye on the clock, with the sole objective to get them right. I kept an error log for the questions I got wrong, and went back to review the theory underlying those questions.
  8. I practiced getting questions right quickly. After a few weeks of trying to get questions right, I started to try getting them right quickly. I knew how much time I would have for the different sections, and I tried to beat that.
  9. I did the second practice test a week to the exam. By then, I had done hundreds of questions and my score improved a bit. I realized I got tired towards the end of the exam, so I decided I would not revise anything on the morning of the exam so I could start fresh.
  10. I wrote the exam. The lady at the center was surprised when I told her I had not taken classes at GMAT study centers. She told me about a few centers, implying that I would need them after I flunked the test. LOL. Thankfully, I did not need them. Instead, I walked out of the center with a wide grin and an offer to teach classes at one of those study centers.
My bundle looked like this. Thank you Foluso Ajayi for being my courier!
That is all. I know the retelling makes it sound simple, but I put in a lot of work, and I was fortunate to be building on a solid quantitative and verbal background. I should also add that you may need classes or other external help if your starting score (4) is really low. I am happy to engage further if you have questions; just leave a comment.

I would like to thank Busola – who kept me from rescheduling the exam more than once, Simi Koye-Ladele – who put up with my eccentric behavior in the last few days before the exam, Funke Faweya – who shared learnings from her GMAT journey with me, and Jamie Hanson – who sent me those amazing one-pagers.

If you are writing the GMAT, I wish you all the best!

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