GMAT Debrief

This is the debrief I wrote immediately following my GMAT on The link at the bottom will guide you to the original post that has some useful follow up comments.

Start & Study Period

I began back in Oct 2011 with a burst of enthusiasm. I even found my first post on this forum! I took a GMATPrep test just to give myself an idea of my level and what I was potentially able to manage. I scored 610 after a few days of reading up on the structure of the test and taking a few practice questions. After taking it, it was clear I had forgotten most of what I knew about grammar, and was very rusty on Quant questions despite graduating with an engineering degree 5 years ago.

After this test I don’t really remember starting to study again seriously until August last year when I bought a Kaplan book and started studying some light math but mainly SC. I DID NOT study for a full 16 months. I think my main motivation to start again was because of achieving a promotion at work, and realising everyone around me was much more senior than me and suddenly had MBAs… I didn’t.

I’ve never been a great studier. I lack concentration and staying power. I can rarely study more than 2 hours at a time. I tried to allocate a morning at a time to studying, with two 2-hour blocks and other stuff in between. Because of my job I can’t really do any during the week so mainly studied on weekend mornings.

Study Materials

[*]Kaplan Premier – mainly for the 5 practice tests
[*]Kaplan Math Workbook – not used too much, but my background meant I had a good grasp of Quant topics already.
[*]Manhattan GMAT Sentence Correction – I CANNOT recommend this enough, I bought this after reading reviews on this forum and I agree wholeheartedly. I’m sure this book was worth 20-30 pts for me.
[*]Official Guide 12th Ed – last but not least!

Practice Test Results

GMATPrep 1 – 610 (10/11)
Kaplan 1 – No score – I managed to abort this mid-test such was my incompetence!
Kaplan 2 – 600 (8/2/12)
Kaplan 3 – 620 (11/4/12)
Kaplan 4 – 650 (11/25/12)
GMATPrep 1 – 710 (reinstalled software 1 year later)
Kaplan 5 – 660 (1/6/13)
GMATPrep 2 – 680 (2 days before test)

GMAT – 720 (!!!)

I took the test yesterday and I’m so pleased. I really wanted a 7 at the front. I think my scores showed me three things;
[*]1) I progressed pretty steadily. Regular practice tests helped me to track progress and a trend gave me confidence.
[*]2) Kaplan tests are HARD. I googled this a lot, consensus seems to be Kaplan is about -20 on the official test. I actually think its slightly more, 30-40 pts maybe.
[*]3) Test performance is REALLY important. The last two weeks, I ate well, slept well and made sure during the test I was well hydrated, took all the breaks and stretched out. Its difficult to concentrate after 3 1/2 hours so you need to practice this.

My Own Bits of Advice

Focus on your weaknesses. My job involves analysing data, spotting weaknesses and addressing them. I did the same with myself, with the error logs elsewhere on this forum. They’re a pain to do, but it pays off. In the last week, I went through and re-did every question I’d got wrong in a practice test, and any I still got wrong I read the explanation in detail. This helped a lot.

Be prepared for the lows. I almost gave up a few times, I was concerned about how I’d pay for business school etc… Go get a pizza or something and start again tomorrow.

Don’t worry too much about this forum. There’s loads of great advice and information here, but it can be demoralising – everyone seems to get 750+, standing on their head. I’m sure for every superstar there’s 99 others struggling through like you using it for advice.

Take 1 question at a time. I had tests where I thought I’d done well and was disappointed, and had tests where I thought I’d screwed up and surprised myself. You simply cannot predict computer-adaptive tests, a hard question you can’t answer normally means you’ve moved up a difficulty level and is often a good sign. Tests on paper can be read through and you get a feel for how you’re doing – these are different.

PS = problem solving
DS = data sufficiency
SC = sentence correction
CR = critical reasoning
RC = reading comprehension

It took me ages to find that out.

If you made it this far, well done. I’m off to put my head in ice to get rid of my hangover. Hope this was useful!

Original post on and some useful follow-up comments:

The calm before the storm (hopefully)



Its a few weeks now since I had my burst of excitement following the score, and had all the excited ‘I could actually do this’ thoughts. Reality has hit, and hit hard.

Once my scores were received at the schools I put on my list during the GMAT I got some congratulation mails from some of them and links to more information about their program. I made the wise move of replying with a brief thankyou and some starter questions. Rotman (Toronto) came out the blocks early letting me know that they were in the UK and were meeting prospective candidates.

I naively thought it’d be a friendly chat over a coffee and a chance to ask some questions face-to-face. I left well informed about the programme but had under-estimated the nature of the discussion, I should have been better prepared and left whimpering with my tail between my legs. Two things struck me;

  1. I need to get used to an American conversation style before interviews. My British polite style was swallowed up, and I struggled to get a word in. This could be a BIG problem, I’ll need to be much more forward.
  2. As soon as I was asked about my own background, I went blank. After mumbling a little about my experience in an unconvincing way I could tell I’d hardly made an impression. A big opportunity missed.

I’ll be staying positive though – I’m better off learning this early on rather than stumbling into my interviews badly prepared mentally.

Desperately seeking the right course

Following the initial GMAT score excitement and the quite decision of ‘yes I will apply’ you realize how useless any research you did before actually was.

The problem is, its incredibly difficult as an international student. Every school ‘strongly recommends’ you visit. Great. Thanks. I’m going to have to pay probably many thousands of dollars in fees, so I’m going to struggle to commute back and forwards across continents as well.

Its amazing considering international students are at least 30% of most intakes (and probably a far higher % of applications) that there’s so little to cater for them. In several cases the best video tour I can find of some facilities is an amateur video on Youtube. I logged on for an ‘information session’ at MIT. It was basically an internet chat room, with hundreds of potential applicants firing off questions in rapid succession with answers that were easily found on the MIT website. I wasn’t impressed and didn’t learn a lot, doubting whether this actually is the ‘Information Age’ after all.

On the other end of the scale Harvard seems ahead of the curve, yet I’ve seen their website critiqued for being flashy! (Read: Modern) They seem to embrace video rather than text where possible and I find it all a lot more helpful, it gives a much more personal touch. They also had an online session with an interactive slide show and a Q&A section at the end that was quite informative and covered areas not discussed on the website already

I’m also gradually realising that my primary aim for an MBA is a gateway to some international experience. Somewhere in Europe just won’t cut it, I’m already well traveled there. Asia would be great but with my GMAT score I want to make sure I get the best possible return on my investment, and Asian schools don’t seem to be sufficiently developed yet by Western standards. That leaves North America – the US and Canada.

With my score and experience I’m targeting a top 10 US school as a primary aim. The cost is so high I don’t think it’d be worth it unless I made it to the top. It simply commands more respect and if I want to stay abroad to work I want to make sure employers will be falling over themselves to pay for a Visa in the US.

But you can’t just aim at Top 10 in the world. It makes sense to have somewhere with a slightly better chance of admission. Canada’s Visa system is far more welcoming for you and your family. Its a wonderful place to live, so I think its a viable option too.

Obviously this is all a personal choice, it will vary hugely depending on your own circumstances. I can’t imagine a better place to live and study than London. I love it and can’t recommend it enough. But I’ve already lived here for 24 of my 28 years.