Sunday, May 8, 2011

Days 2, 1 and 0

Got back from holiday late last week. In the interests of completeness, the following is an account of the last few days of my preparation.

3 days to go: Monday 18th April
  • Finished about 100 of the last 120 questions in OG12 and inputted them into Beat The GMAT's error log.
  • Went to Veritas Prep class on AWAs. This was a welcome break from the monotony of staying at home.
  • All up: Approx 5 hours.
2 days to go: Tuesday 19th April
  • Finished the last 20 outstanding questions in OG12 and inputted them into Beat The GMAT's error log.
  • Having scored 760 on a practice GMAT CAT a few days earlier, I decided to try another MGMAT practice test. Found the questions so hard that it was a real confidence killer. Got 46 in Quant and decided not to go through with the whole practice test. It was probably a mistake to take a practice exam so close to the real thing, but it did "manage my expectations" and bring me back to reality.
  • Went to final Veritas Prep class (advanced word problems and quant review).
  • All up: Approx 2.5 hours (left class early).
1 day to go: Wednesday 20th April
  • Could not sleep. Woke up at 2am. Then faced a DISASTER: Tried to open the Beat The GMAT error log but it was corrupted. I had read about the error log crashing on Apple Macs before, but couldn't believe that it would happen to me 1 day before the test! Tried to post for help on Beat the GMAT and Gmatclub, but to no avail. At this point, I was pretty devastated. I did receive one email from a user on Gmatclub who tried and failed to repair the error log. He was very encouraging and inspired me to move on. These last minute words of encouragement helped get me through what I considered a major setback.
  • Thankfully, I had used MGMAT's Archer tool to input the questions that I got wrong. For those that I got wrong AND had video explanations, I watched those videos. At this point it was about 5am, so I went back to sleep. Very, very tired.
  • I quickly skimmed over some flashcards that I had downloaded from Beat the GMAT. They were OK but not great.
  • Approx 2.5 hours.
  • When I got back up, I did a "dry run" to the Pearson Vue centre. Figured out that: (1) I couldn't walk to the centre the next morning because it was too far away; (2) I got off at the wrong train station. Very glad I did a "dry run" to the centre.
  • I took it pretty easy for the rest of the day. Watched some TV, but that gave me a headache. Decided to go to bed pretty early. Read part of a book before I eventually fell asleep. Took a natural sleep supplement, Valerian Forte, in the hopes that I would get some solid sleep.
Test day: Thursday 21st April, 9am
  • Again, I couldn't sleep and I woke up at 2am again. This was another major setback in my mind. Because I had taken Valerian Forte, I was also super drowsy. I knew I shouldn't have booked a 9am test (I'm a afternoon/night person), but didn't have a choice as I was leaving on a flight that afternoon.
  • Finally got out of bed at 7am. Quickly ate breakfast (jam toast and tea) and took off. I had already prepared what I was going to take to the test centre (2 Red Bulls; fruit salad; choc/power bars; seedless grapes; banana). 
Actual exam experience
  • Got to the test centre early. Had a smoke before I went into the centre. Tried to be as friendly as possible to the test centre staff as they were going to be crucial in attending to my queries throughout the exam. Told the staff that I was going to be asking for new scratch paper at each break. 
  • Was given the opportunity to start straight away. I choose not to start too early, because I wanted to calm down a little. At this point I skulled about 3/4 can of Red Bull and had a couple of seedless grapes. After going to the bathroom and splashing water on my face, I went back into the exam room. Because I was the only one there, I chose to sit in the far corner booth. I should have taken my sweater off, because it was pretty hot inside once I got started.
  • Pre-test
    • Went through the initial screens. It came time to pick 5 schools to send my results to. Being ambitious and thinking that I had nothing to lose, I chose Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, LBS and INSEAD. At this point I had not done all that much research into those schools, but my general impression was that they were among the best in the world.
  • AWA
    • The first AWA was analysis of an argument. I tried to use as little brain power / energy as possible. Just took decent time (7 minutes) sketching out a plan on my scratch paper and then went on autopilot for the remaining 20 minutes. Finished with 3 minutes to go and I just sat there, taking deep breaths and having a last proof read.
    • The second AWA was analysis of an issue. This one was quite tough and I took a while to even take a side. Took about 9 minutes sketching out a plan before I really got started. Finished with almost no time to spare.
  • Break 1
    • Finished off the rest of the first can of Red Bull. Grazed on the seedless grapes and choc/power bar. Had most of the fruit salad. Probably ate too much to be honest. 
    • Went to bathroom again, splashed water on my face and tried to get back into the zone.
    • Got back in the test room and started Quant. I had gone 1 minute over in terms of break time so I had 1 minute taken off my Quant time.
  • Quant
    • Could not think straight. Could not do simple calculations in my head. Too wired at this point. Took much care in the first 10 questions but was careful not to go over 2.5 minutes per question. I couldn't remember what was an appropriate split at the 50 minutes and 25 minutes to go marks, so I spent a good 2 minutes trying to work it out. 
    • Someone else came into the test centre and I had to put the ear plugs on.
    • Got a mix of questions (with about 40-50% DS) and in the second half of the test got some combinatorics / probability questions, which was a good sign that I was in a decent zone.
    • Managed to finish all questions with about 30 seconds to go. At this point I was just relieved that Quant, traditionally my weak area, was done. I was expecting something around 46+.
  • Break 2
    • Opened second can of Red Bull, gulped about 3/4 of it again. Ate some more seedless grapes and half of a choc/power bar. 
    • Went to the bathroom again and splashed water on my face. I knew the next 75 minutes would be the difference between getting an average score or a top score. 
  • Verbal
    • One of my weaknesses in verbal is pacing. I tend to finish the verbal sections with a good 20 to 25 minutes to go. So I tried to slow down my pace this time.
    • I knew I was going well as I kept getting impossibly difficult verbal questions. I had to break the age old rule against the usage of "being" in SC a number of times because the other answers contained even more egregious errors.
    • About half way through though, I was completely out of energy and focus. This was probably a combined result of waking up at 2am for two nights and having too much Red Bull and not enough wholesome food. 
    • I took a voluntary break when I stumbled across a reading comprehension question that I could just NOT finish. All I did was splash water on my face and neck and think - you're too close to let this one go.
    • The voluntary break took about 3 minutes in total but was worth it. I soon got back into the rhythm and finished with about 15 minutes to go. There were some super difficult questions in the end that I was fairly certain that I got wrong. It was my experience that if an answer didn't set off a "gotcha" moment in my head, and instead I used a process of elimination, I would get it wrong. 
  • Final screens
    • I then diligently went through the final screens, filling out certain information about my undergraduate studies and other survey type questions. I actually ran out of time and had to skip some non-essential questions. I feared that if I ran overtime, I would not be eligible to receive my scores.
    • When I got to the end, and I knew that I was within a couple of clicks of receiving my unofficial score, I began to get pretty nervous. "Anything above 700" was in the front of my mind, whereas in the back of my mind I had hope for 730 or above. I knew that I had gone well in verbal, but I was not that confident about quant.
    • I clicked on the next screen: 49 quantitative; 44 verbal; 760 overall. I took a double look at the screen and clenched my right fist; I also nearly jumped out of my chair. 
    • I looked to my right and noticed, for the first time, that there was a third person in the test centre - I was so focused that I had not even noticed her when I had gone on the voluntary break. Either that or she came into only recently - but I had not noticed her!
    • I clicked on the option to take a printout of my unofficial score and put up my hand. The test administrator logged me out, gave me my printout, and said congratulations. 
Final tally:
  • Vital stats
    • 192 hours of prep work (including going through materials, doing practice questions, attending class, and checking answers and mistakes; does NOT include taking practice CAT exams) since 3 January 2011.
    • 11 weeks of preparation (17.5 hours per week for ~ 3.5 months).
      • Month by month breakdowns
        • Jan: ~53 hours
        • Feb: ~42 hours
        • Mar: ~40.5 hours
        • Apr: ~56.5 hours
      • Last 30 days breakdown
        • 64.5 hours
  • Essential prep
    • Completed every question in OG12 once.
    • Completed every question in Veritas Prep materials once, and every wrong question twice.
    • Did every class in Veritas Prep (either in real life or using On Demand video) three times.
    • Went through Manhattan GMAT Foundations of Math once and Manhattan GMAT Sentence Correction once.
  • 7.5 practice CAT exams.
    • 620 (40Q/35V), 05.01.11 [GMATSim1] - 9 hours of prep work (went through maths essentials using Veritas Prep)
    • 610 (33Q/41V), 12.01.11 [800Score1] - 25 hours of prep work
    • 660 (42Q/40V), 29.01.11 [GMATPrep1] - 53 hours of prep work
    • 700 (51Q/37V), 26.02.11 [GMATLife1] - 95 hours of prep work
    • 650 (36Q/44V), 20.03.11 [800Score2] - 127.5 hours of prep work
    • 670 (46Q/35V), 03.04.11 [MGMAT1] - 138 hours of prep work
    • 760 (48Q/47V), 17.04.11 [GMATPrep2] - 182 hours of prep work
    • ? (46Q), 19.04.11 [MGMAT2] - 183.5 hours of prep work
  • Actual GMAT
    • 760 (49Q/44V), 21.04.11 - 192 hours of prep work
  • Thank you
    • My fiancee, for her never ending patience and support, for listening to my endless rambles about the GMAT and for taking the brunt of my nervousness/temper in the last couple of days before the exam.
    • Family, especially my mum, for cooking and delivering enough food in the last week so that I didn't have to worry about it.
    • Veritas Prep and Manhattan GMAT, for excellent prep materials.
    • Work, for letting me study for an exam that will ultimately see me change my job.
    • Various people in cyberspace that have supported me / followed my progress, in particular Karunya ( for ongoing encouragement and mvanbusk (from Gmatclub) for last minute words of advice when my error log stopped working with 1 day to go!