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Is the GMAT Really Designed to Break You?

So I just scored a 730 on my practice GMAT test, with a quant score of 49 and a verbal score of 41. I should be really happy with my score, but I’m not. The reason? I know I guessed correctly on at least two math problems and I feel I could have done better on verbal. I also failed to finish one of the questions in the math section due to bad timing.

The math was brutal. As I was taking the exam, it felt like the software became a pitching machine that only threw out data sufficiency (DS) questions.  I was almost hoping to answer some of them wrong so I would potentially get an easier question.

I did better in verbal, but I feel I can definitely improve in this area. My reading comprehension skills are not as honed as they could be and I should definitely practice some more. I’ve neglected these type of questions because many have said that you can’t improve on it for test day. Unfortunately for me, if I want to keep pushing above 41 on verbal, my reading comp needs to be even better.

Don’t get me wrong, I feel good about the score overall, but there are definitely a few things I need to focus on heading into test day.

Reverse Psychology

During my one of my study sessions, one member of the group described the CAT exam with this simple statement:

“It’s designed to break you.”

At first, I thought this was a funny joke. But after multiple CAT exams and particularly brutal experiences in the math section, I feel his statement couldn’t be more accurate. It’s an “adaptive” test. The better you’re doing, the harder it will push you. If you’re doing really well, expect to be punched in the mouth.

Unless you’re getting questions that make you want to pull your hair out and you feel like you’ve been “punched in the mouth” after the math section, you’re probably not doing to well. If you do happen to breeze through the math portion, then you’ve probably made some dumb mistakes on some relatively easy problems, and it will reflect in your score.

With this in mind, I need to establish some reverse psychology when it comes to interpreting my math performance. If I feel beat up and really dumb after the math section, it probably means I did pretty well. (I mean, during this last CAT, I didn’t even finish, and I scored higher in quant than I ever did before)  Using this technique, hopefully I can cheer up and focus during the verbal section.

The verbal is more difficult for me to gauge.  I’ve scored pretty consistently above the 90th percentile on most of my CAT exams, so I’m not sure I would notice an increase in difficulty, except maybe during some of the reading comprehension problems.

Be More Deliberate with Math

I find a strong correlation between the neatness of my notes and whether or not I get a question right.  For some of the harder DS questions, I’ll often get flustered and rapidly scribble some chicken scratches to try and save time.  I need to reverse this by taking more careful notes on tough questions. For DS especially, it’s important to write out all the initial conditions to a problem (the ones that aren’t in any of the statements) as it can be easy to forget them in a complex question.

Additionally, a lot of the errors I make are from not reading the question properly. For any question I find tough, I need to make sure that I re-read the question stem before I finalize my answer.  Sometimes the GMAT likes to change a 600 level question to a 700 level one just by using tricky wording.

Focus on My Health

My health has really taken a beating in the last couple of weeks. I’ve been studying pretty intensely and have been experiencing cases of both fatigue and insomnia.  I need to be in good shape for the test.  In fact, that could be one of the primary determinants of my score. How alert and focused I am on G-Day will likely be the difference between dumb mistakes and correct answers.

I think I’m going to get a massage before my test, as my back and neck have been acting up.  Not the day before, as I’ve had bad experiences in the past, but a couple days before.  I need to be relaxed and not thinking about back pain during the test.

At this point, I almost feel like I just want the test to be over.  The anticipation is starting to drain me.  I’m already thinking about the things I will enjoy when this test is finally over.  (Oh wait, still gotta do the essays.  Doh!)  But I try not let my mind stray for too long. Now is the time I need to work the hardest.

This post is adapted from Random Wok, a blog written by Mako from Silicon Valley. You can read all of his posts at Random Wok.

Previous posts by Mako at PoetsandQuants:

Why I Want an MBA

Climbing the GMAT Mountain: 630 to 710 on a Practice Test

Do Consultants Have An Unfair Edge Over Other Applicants?

Falling Behind & Stressed Out

My New Critical Reasoning Strategy

Figuring Out My Odds of Getting Into Harvard, Stanford, Wharton

With My GMAT Classes Over, It’s Now Just Me and the Test

Making a GMAT Test Taker Feel Like A Complete Pansy

With a Month to Go Before His GMAT Test, It’s Time to Focus