update: March 2008 - since I wrote this post on my GMAT Debrief / GMAT Experience in Aug 2006, much has chanced. I went on to get into INSEAD, and I recently wrote this post on Consulting Recruitment and Relevance of GMAT score that you might find useful.
I decided late May 2006 that I might want to consider going into business school, and I had to decide on taking GMAT. On June 1st, I decided that I should - and even checked my calendar and mentally decided that I would take the exam on August 26th. Since I had zero knowledge of gmat format and all other statistics related to preparation - I went to www.mba.com, did some reading, downloaded the software and took my first test (and I had no idea that it was actually adaptive). GMATPrep1 - got a 620, and I just quit the results screen without even bothering to see my Q and V. Stupid, I know.
In a day or two after that, I knew 620 wasn't good enough, and that 700+ was great. In any case, by first week of June, I was absolutely sure I would do GMAT.
Without bothering to research much, I just went ahead and purchased OG 11 and Kaplan 2006-7 around 1st week of June, and once I received them, I began to work out the problems. Needless to say, I wasn't doing well. My Math was creaky, and while I thought I was good in verbal (because while I'm non-native English speaker, I've done all my education in English and am quite fluent in it), I realized very soon that I at it sucked big time. This realization, though, came rather late (as you will read later on).
My preparation was spotty - my job requires me to manage multiple projects and also be technically involved in some, so I would spend about 30-45 minutes a day at an average of about 4-5 days per week - and this continued through July. However, I did manage to spend time over weekends to at least take a full length test and analyse my weakness. In August, I did not prepare for a full week as I was out on business travel, but I kicked up a notch in the last 2 weeks with some intense preparation. My preparation style is a little unusual from most others, so be cautious what you take from it (I'll cover it in a little while)
I used the usual culprits, OG, Kaplan, Princeton and MGMAT. Here is my preference list:
a) OG - you should do this to get a good feel of all sections. In my case, I actually did not finish DS or RC by the time I got to the test.
b)MGMAT SC - great book for SC, a must for non-native speakers.
c)Veritas math - for permutations and statistics. Great book but return-on-investment was 0 because I got no frikkin question on perm/comb
d)Princeton review - from my own experience - I actually liked this book! I really liked their sections on SC and RC, and their on-line tests weren't too bad either.
a) GMATPrep is your bible, bhagavad-gita, Quran, Zend-avesta, star trek guide, latest edition of playboy - whatever is holy to you. Nothing even comes close to how close GMATPrep is to the real test - I'll cover this in more detail below because it's really important.
b)Princeton review tests - Good practice, they don't intimidate you by giving you idiotic scores (like Kaplan). The flip side is that their Quant correction is very unlike real GMAT - I got 47 by getting just 3 wrong, where in the real GMAT - only 3 wrong might give you 50 or 51.
c)MGMAT tests - again, very good practice especially for Quant.
d)Kaplan - dog crap. What more do you want to say?
The ETS paper tests should be used purely for questions practice, they are in no way representative of real GMAT. Don't try to analyze how you would do in GMAT by how you did in ETS paper tests. The Powerprep software is slightly better.
My preparation scores
I'll put up my full XLS sheet in a link soon - so I'll only summarize my performance here.
Kaplan CAT1 - 580 !@#$%#$
Kaplan CAT2 - 610 !@#$$!@#
Kaplan CAT3 - did not finish, got so infuriated and lost interest
Kaplan CAT4 - did not do.
In words of my good friend Eric Cartman - here's what I say to their material, "Scr--w you guys, I'm going home!"
MGMAT CAT1 - 620
MGMAT CAT2 and 3 - 680, 690. MGMAT is quite tough, so it's a good sign if you're hitting close to 700 there.
PR CAT1,CAT2,CAT3 - 680,690,690 (or maybe I got 710 in one..not sure)
GMATPrep - 700,710 ; 740,750 ; 770, 760; 770; Now you'll wonder if I was nuts doing it so many times, and I'll tell you you'll thank me why. And I did all these in the last 7 days.
As you can see, my scores improved over time - and I hovered close to 700 in MGMAT/PR and touched 700+ on GMATPrep.
My study strategy/style
*warning: My style was a little unusual compared to most. You can choose to use aspects of it, but you need to know what works best for you. My reasoning may not be the best one for you!*
1. I actually did not even finish OG completely, I focused more on basics and then analyzed answers from my tests. My reason? OG has questions that sometimes repeat in the prep software - it skews performance in the tests. I wanted my tests to be as accurate as possible. I read initial parts of OG, did most of SC, some CR, Q and DS (about 50-70%) by Aug last week and then went through the problems after I finished a couple of rounds of GMATPrep only learn techniques for harder areas.
2. I did not use any error log as such. Once I did a test, I looked at my statistical performance - where did I get hit the most? how many questions? This worked nicely for me. Instead of obsessing over every single type - I focused on a category. Here is how it actually worked for me.
Initially, I was hurting in Quant, specifically number theory. My geometry and algebra were strong and needed only brush up. So I focused on number theory and fair enough - scored improved. I targeted statistics next, and finally word translations. I knew I had no time or patience to master perm/comb - so I brushed the basics and left it at that. Attack what you can master, and understand what you are willing to trade-off on. Once I hit 48-49 on Quant, I went after verbal. My CR improved quickly after I read through some tips on PR, and then went after SC. Lots of practice (about 200 from 1000SC, all of OG, and great summaries in PR) and I got better. Not great, but better.
3. Here's the most important thing: I did GMATPrep about 8 times! Of which 6 were in the last 5 days. This is unusual but it really, really helped. Do not think that once you do the 2 tests, you should stop because questions might repeat. The great thing about GMATPrep is that Quant will get you fresh questions for most part while verbal will repeat in increasing amounts (RC will repeat a lot, but you can get newer SC questions). GMATPrep is really close to the real thing, and when I sat in the real test - it just felt so comfortable and familiar! I knew the type of traps they were laying out for me, I knew what to look out for, and what approach to take to many questions. Even if you take everything else I say to be a rant of a senile mind, please don't ignore this! I will post a separate note on some useful tips on GMAT quant.
Leading to the test/The test day
I slept late the 2nd day before the test, and woke up early the day before the test. This ensured I would sleep fitfully the day before the test. Thankfully, tests have never fazed me all my life (regardless of my level pf preparation ;) ) - they don't make me nervous so I was peaceful the day before. I did 2 GMATPrep tests, practised 50 SC - and in the evening visited my test center (which is was really useful because the directions were confusing and it took me time to find it). I slept fitfully because I was exhausted.
Test day - my test was at 12:15 but I thought I'll take a chance by going in early. Was there at 11 AM and voila, they said I could take it right then if I wanted to. Nice center, friendly staff. After ID verification (non-US citizens take your passport to the center) I was taken in to the center. The first thing I did was to test the writing pen, it wasn't writing! I got a replacement immediately, and here's another funny thing - I actually liked the writing pad and pen! Center was reasonably quiet - I did not use the ear plugs, they annoy me. Ambient noise was not an issue.
I had never practised with AWA, not once. Hey, I'm a manager, I write reams of pompous stuff all the time, 2 essays weren't going to fatigue me ;) I think I did a decent job at AWA. Nothing much to say here.
took a break of 5-6 minutes, and took a deep breath to face quant.
Question 1: Wham! darned question - type of which I had never done before. Spent 3 minutes....no solution...clicked on a guess, but hesitated to confirm answer. My mind was racing, can't get the first question wrong! Took an alternate approach by using a sample value - great! it worked! Next question - number properties, got it right. Then geometry, not simple - I think I nailed it. I knew the questions were not simple - but I couldn't really make out if it was getting harder and harder. My only guess was that since questions were longer and needed me to think, they were probably in the harder sections. Lot of number properties - so please prepare for them. No question on Probability, and I don't think even a single question made me think "what the hell..?" My repeat GMATPreps really helped in feeling familiar. By the time I ended the quant with 30s to spare (I guessed the last-second question), I knew I had done decently.
break. 4 minutes, some water. No snacks. Back for verbal.
Q1: Pretty involved CR - had to think quite a lot before answering. Second question was a big underlined SC - big but not hard, choices were easy to decide on. I could never make out if verbal was getting harder or easier - I felt good all the way. Couple of SC's got me, but that was OK.
Test over with 20 seconds to spare, and the survey started. I felt peaceful, so I went through the questions without any irritation. Finally, "do you want to see your score" (do you want to see carmen electra in a bikini?) - I clicked yes and it took about 15-20 seconds for the result. Man it felt long. Finally, 740 flashed! I grinned all the way to the car and home :)
Now I can get to the next step with confidence. To summarize some key points
a) Study basics first, get your fundamentals clear in quant. Number theory is important.
b) SC will get you the best improvement in score in verbal
c) Very important to be calm and composed during the test. Get good sleep beforehand.
d) During the test, don't let a hard question faze you. If you cannot understand the question, take a call whether you can solve it or not. If you can't, guess and move on. Try to get the earlier questions correct. I'll write a separate post on some tips.
e)Practise using GMATPrep, a lot. The real test is very close to it.
f)Don't try to guess if a question is hard, experimental etc. etc while testing. Just focus on solving it and getting it right withing 2 minutes.
g)Spend time on this forum. If you got a a question wrong, search for threads here and understand the solution. This forum and its people are fantastic, for guidance, help and inspiration. I spent some amount of time every single day on this forum.
What I wish I had done better
Given that I got 740 - in hindsight, it might have helped if I practised SC a lot more, that might have got me 760.. and some more practise in mixture questions might have got me a 50 in Q. But once you cross the 730-740 mark, every 10 points requires a lot of preparation - so I think I should shut up and be happy at what I got. Sure I would have liked 770, but then I would have also liked to have Warren Buffet donate me a 100 million dollars, "ain't gonna happen."
(The original post is in http://www.gmatclub.com , a fantastic forum with great people, whose help and advice was a significant factor for my preparations and result. You can read the post and responses here http://www.gmatclub.com/phpbb/viewtopic.php?t=34197)