Like Duck to Water, thats how I have taken to life :). This blog is the saga of love and adventures of a small duck in a large water body called LIFE....

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Sunday, April 05, 2009

The jagged road to GMAT..

My situation for the past week has been this - my nails have been bitten to their very-possible ends. There has been very less sleep and lots of nerves. My stomach had this knot which grew day by day until 2 days ago when I could actually almost feel it. I've been on the edge and its been a long long time since I've felt something like this (probably 8 years back when my engineering life came to its end- wow, yes, its been 8 years!). I don't really like the way I was feeling. All this was on account of my GMAT test yesterday, April 4th 2009, morning. When the TOEFL demon feels like a cute fluffy dog comparatively, you can imagine how terrifying the GMAT monster is..

But wait, lets rewind to April 2007, when I completed TOEFL and was thinking of actually going for GMAT. Its not that I didn't put in the effort, I tried to study for about 2 months. But whenever I attempted a practice test, my pacing was terrible and I almost always had about 10 questions remaining whenever I completed a test. This kinda disappointed me (you think? :-p). Plus when I found out that I was pregnant, the already slackened pace came to a grinding halt. I'm going to blame the hormones, thank you very much :-D.

Fast forward to about December 2008. The pregnancy excuse had expired, even the child excuse was not working anymore. I had to do something, so I started off studying early in the mornings without telling anyone. Actually even Sri was unaware of this secret studies for quite sometime. I was able to study only for an hour because of "Snugli" circumstances :-D, yet something was better than nothing. I started practising some tests in January and one thing I realized that I was mistaking the "75" minutes for each section to be 45 minutes and falling behind pretty bad. To this day, I don't know whether thats what I did in 2007 when I tried all those tests. If so, then I could have actually taken the test way earlier {slaps forehead}. Once I realized my mistake, I was a bit more confident.

Pause. Before we talk about confidence and the actual prep of the test, lets get the basic definitions over and done with. GMAT stands for Graduate Management Admission Test and it is basically acts as a preliminary to apply to most management schools (some do accept GRE scores). GMAT is a computer adaptive test (hence called GMAT CAT) which means that the test adapts to the student's difficulty level. In simpler terms, if say difficulty of questions range from level 1 to 10 and say, the first question is a level 5, if the student answers correctly, then the test sets the next question to a higher level of difficulty. If the student answers wrong, then the next question will be a lower difficulty level. Totally confusing, I know.

In addition to this, the scores are not direct. Usually if there are 100 questions say and you answer 80 correctly then your score is 80. But in GMAT, this is not so. There is a difficulty factor that comes in. So if you answer 60 difficult questions and 20 not-so-difficult ones correctly, then your score might be 90. In the same way if you answer 60 not-so-difficult questions and 20 difficult ones correctly, then your score might be lower than 50. Mind you, this is just an example. Hence, the correct number of answers is converted to a scaled score and is tallied in a distribution to get your percentile and a score. Yeah it is as crazy as it sounds :-D. The maximum score is 800 and top schools in US and UK usually say 680 is the lowest they accept. The school I am looking at says that their average is 607.5, but I was expecting to score atleast a 650 and hoping to get a 700 ;-).

If your mind is not boggled yet, lets move on. The total test is about 4 hours inclusive of 2 10 min optional breaks and school selection/survey screens. The following are the sections in the GMAT:

1) Analytical Writing Assignment (AWA):

The AWA consists of 2 essays which need to be completed in 30 min each. This section is graded separately for 6 points and this does not count towards the total score. But if you plan to apply to top schools, then you need atleast a 5. It has 2 parts.

  • a) Analysis of an Issue: In this essay, we have to write for or against an issue stated.

  • b) Analysis of an Argument: Here we critique an argument given, state its flaws and suggest how it can be strengthened.
The essays are tougher than those on TOEFL, but I still wasn't worried, just looked at a few sample ones and that was it.

2) Quantitative section:

This is the Math section of GMAT and it has 37 multiple-choice questions to be completed in 75 minutes. That means about 2 min per question. The section has 2 types of questions but the problems are intermingled.
  • a) Problem Solving: This can range from a simple problem to a very wordy problem where you might need to figure out what the equations are and solve them to get to a solution (and yes, you have 2 min to do that!).

  • b) Data Sufficiency: This one is a bit too weird to explain. Here a question is asked and 2 pieces of data are given. You have to determine whether the 1st data or the 2nd data or both the data or both the data individually or neither the data is sufficient to determine the solution to the question asked. Phew!
I was scared about this mainly due to the computer adaptivity part. I am good at Math and that became the scary part. If you are good, the test adapts to that and you always get difficult problems. And difficult problems usually take more than 2 steps to solve. Yup the 2 min was a major constraint. Moreover I was making some totally silly mistakes (once I got totally stuck in a problem thinking 9*9=36!!!) and was completely irritated with myself. The problems require concentration. If the problem asks x directly, you can solve it. But if it asks for x/2, you solve for x and forget the x/2, one of the 5 choices will always have that answer {rolls her eyes}. Now imagine it asks 30% of x/2, then more wrong choices are littered your way. I'm giving a very simple example, but you get the idea.

All in all, the Math is supposed to test whether you answer difficult questions under pressure correctly (and not by fluke). The test is brilliant, but you can see how this whole thing is a big problem for the person actually taking the test ;-).

3) Verbal section:

The final section of the GMAT is verbal. If you think that verbal will be easy after the TOEFL, you are utterly wrong! GMAT verbal is on a totally different level. It has 41 questions and again has to be completed by 75 min, which makes it about 1.5 min per question. There are 3 types of questions here:
  • a) Sentence Correction (SC): You have to determine whether a sentence or part of it is correct. Usually atleast 2 of the 5 choices sound correct.

  • b) Critical Reasoning (CR): This consists of a 4-line argument and after reading it, you have to determine which of the 5 choices strengthen the conclusion/weaken the conclusion/is the conclusion/is an assumption and so on. The questions require full concentration.

  • c) Reading Comprehension (RC): Its all about passages and questions. But TOEFL passages look like children stories compared to this. The passages maybe on Science/History/Art/Finance/Economics or whatever. So first of all, you may not even understand the passage. Plus the questions are never direct. For example, if the passage is on Mona Lisa, say, TOEFL question might be "who painted it?". But GMAT question as such would be "What is the main idea of the passage?" (choices may range from the Mona Lisa, to Leonardo Da Vinci's paintings, to paintings in general) or "what's the author's attitude in the passage?" (choices ranging from appreciation to condemnation :-\). Please feel free to extrapolate this to serious passages with similar questions :-p.
English was never my first language. So grammar isn't something that is an integral part of me. I speak/write good English, but actual grammar is something else. If it "sounds" correct, it doesn't mean it is! I was doing okay, but wasn't getting any better with study. "Practice" was the only advice I got from everywhere :-p.

And thats that! And so by the end of February I was hardly managing to study an hour, but stepped up the pace in March. What was my strategy, you ask? Strategy? Are you kidding me? With Snugli around, the only time I get is when she naps. During her morning nap I cook, so what was left was her afternoon nap. And she doesn't nap continuously, so couldn't really take a test on weekdays at all. So I made it a point to study atleast 2 hours a day (I did skip days sometimes) and take one test per weekend. In 2007 I actually had completed studying Princeton Review's Cracking the GMAT with DVD, 2006 edition. So I started off with Barron's GMAT, 2007 edition this time. I didn't buy any books, the books were all courtesy of our library :). Once I was done with it, I again reviewed the Princeton review book and also took their free online test.

By this time I had to take an appointment date. I took my TOEFL test 2 years ago on March 17th and it expires after 2 years. I wanted to be done with GMAT within then. But I mailed the university I want to take up MBA in and they said that the TOEFL scores would be valid this year (well, if they change their mind, I'll have to take up TOEFL again, but it should be much smoother after GMAT :-D). That gave me the excuse to postpone it a little longer and I finally set the GMAT test appointment to be April 4th, morning 8 AM, shelling out $250 for the same :-p. Thankfully there is a centre here in Lexington about 10 miles away. And so the crunch time had begun ;-).

What really helped me more than the books I mentioned earlier, was the official guide (OG) from the GMAT people. About a fortnight ago, I downloaded pieces of the 11th edition from the internet (Esnips is a good source :-D), took printouts and started on the sentence correction questions of the verbal section. Man, they have a hugge set which kinda made me more confident. Then went onto study the critical reasoning and about half of Reading comprehension. But then I discovered the best thing. The MBA site has a GMATPrep tool which you can download and practice tests on. The tool has only 2 practice tests, but just by deleting a folder and reinstalling the tool you can get multiple tests (though some of the questions might be repeated since its the same database). Whats really wonderful is that the tool is a replica of the actual test and also has the same algorithm. So you see the same screens plus you get the computer adaptive part.

My mistake was that I took my first GMATPrep test only last Sunday. Though I wasn't very accurate on the verbal, the pacing wasn't a problem there. But quantitative was a major problem, my pacing was all wrong and I ended up guessing about 10 questions because I just didn't have time left to answer them (one tip is that its better to guess than leave the questions unanswered as there is a penalty :-D). Overall, my score wasn't that bad even with about 10 incorrect questions in Math and another 10 in verbal (lets talk about the scores later ;-) :-D). I had initially thought of taking only 2 GMATPrep tests, but it was then I knew I had to take atleast a couple more. I decided not to overstress myself the last 2 days. So Sunday noon was my 1st test. I took the 2nd on Monday evening locking myself up in the room while Sri watched over Snugli. Then deleted and reinstalled the tool. Took my 3rd on Tuesday evening and 4th on Wednesday. I was totally tired by then. So on Thursday and Friday though I did work out the OG Math questions. I didn't take any tests.

Also on Thursday we drove and checked out the test centre, which was a good thing to do, as on the test day I planned to go by myself (ofcourse driving around with Snugli so early in the morning didn't make sense). By Friday I was a nervous wreck. I knew it wasn't a matter of life and death (which my dad always says), or the end of the world (courtesy of mom) or it wasn't as if I couldn't retake the exam (this one's by Sri). But I didn't want to retake the exam. I wanted it over and done with once and for all. I wanted no regrets and didn't want to waste away $250 :-p. I was scared of making a silly mistake and ending up with a disastrous score.

Also I read a GMAT experience which further scared me. That person had scored just like me in the prep tests, but scored very less in the actual test. One of the reasons suggested was that he hadn't practiced the essays and probably that resulted in more pressure. I hadn't practiced essays either! I just couldn't the whole thing out of my head. I tried to relax myself as much as possible. I was taking deep breaths all the time. I even went to my Zoomba exercize class because I find that I enjoy dancing very much and that it relaxes me. I made it a point to stop studying altogether by night and sleep early (but that I was up another hour awake was a different matter :-D). Then finally I realized that this was exactly how I felt before Bungee-jumping. But then it was an exhilarating experience. The idea somehow gave me peace and I managed to sleep.

On the D-day, I was up at 5:30 AM and ready by 6:30 AM. Again made it a point to eat some light breakfast (all tips and tricks of tackling GMAT) and to carry a couple of energy bars with me to the centre. I had to carry my passport and had to be there 30 min before the appointment. I was there at about 7:15 AM and inside the centre at about 7:25 AM. There were a couple of students with me and one of them had a couple of books in front of her and was studying away. This kinda made me smile and helped me relax some more. Later I found out that she was taking a different test on ultrasound :-\. I was the first person, so they gave me a sheet full of disclaimers to read (:-D) which screamed that anyone who is found cheating will be blacklisted with all the universities, hehehehe :)). Since I wasn't planning to be blacklisted, this helped me relax further.

Finally the lady in charge called me, took my passport, got my signature and scanned my palm (!!). I had read about palm scanning, but it was a very cool thing to experience eventhough the device was nowhere near cool :-p. Then she gave me a locker key, asked me to remove my watch (I knew stopwatches/digital watches were not allowed, but I was wearing a simple feminine watch and was surprised that even that wasn't allowed). She also asked me remove my bracelet as it might make a sound against the table and disturb others (!!!). I could only take my passport and locker key inside, so locked up everything else and proceeded to the test room.

Now this was really very cool. They had a small hall fitting about 15-20 students. 1/4th of the room was a glass cubicle from which a person could continuously monitor everyone in the room. Plus they had cameras and microphones in the room to see everyone's facial expressions and hear any mutterings (all anti-cheat mechanisms). This was continuously streamed to the cubicle on a comp. As someone seeing such a thing for the first time, it was all very exciting. Anyways, the lady there scanned my palm again (this would be done every time anyone entered/exited the hall) and escorted me to my seat.

I took a deep breath and began. Before starting the tests you have to select the schools. I chose 5 schools nearest to where I live. Also this particular screen is not timed (every other screen in the test is), so I checked the laminated scratch-sheet and markers they gave me. I moved through the tutorials pretty fast and soon encountered the 1st essay question. I'm not supposed to mention any questions here, so I'll just say, I did pretty okay in the analysis of argument and was able to complete it in 30 min (I was just reading it for the final time when the time expired :-p). The Issue essay was also pretty okay. I think I'll get above 4 on the section, but have to wait for official scores (which will come only after about 21 days). It was time for my first optional break.

You have to raise your hand if you want to take the break and wait until you are escorted out. After palm scanning, went to the locker, ate the energy bar, went to the restroom, washed my face with cold water, drank some water from a water fountain nearby, stretched/walked around a bit and was ready to tackle the Math monster :). The quantitative section was, well, I still don't know how to describe it, tough. I was able to stop myself from making some silly mistakes, but there is no way to know whether you are getting, if not every question, atleast some of the questions right. People say that if you find the test tough, it means that things are looking good - it indicates that you are on a more difficult level. I did screw up on the pacing and in the last had only about 2 minutes for 3 questions. Tried and marked my answers based on process of elimination and finished the section. Took the next optional break (Its good to take the breaks. It helps you forget the past and move on ;-). Even the energy bars are supposed to help as the test requires tremendous mental energy. Also it keeps your mind from jumping to hunger in the middle of the test and lose concentration).

My head was still reeling with the Math, so I kept muttering "Let go of it, its done" to myself. Did a repeat of things of the previous break and went back in. Again took several breaths and began. The Verbal was pretty okay I thought. Very early in the section, my pace was strong, so I had more than enough time. The CR and SC questions were as tough as usual, but the RC passages were thankfully understandable. Halfway through the section, My eyes started feeling the strain, so I started resting them and taking short breaks. With 10 questions remaining I still had 30 min time, so was able to close my eyes and relax whenever I wanted. I actually finished the test with 10 min left! Now came the really-scary part- the scores of the quantitative and verbal sections would be reported immediately. But first I had to chose to report or cancel the scores.

For me there was never really a choice, I had gone determined to report the scores no matter what. Before it gave me my unofficial report, I had to go through a series of survey questions (which ask about your experience, your field, where you studies etc) which was a bit irritating :-p. Then it was time to see the scores. I was out-of-mind scared, took a very very very deep breath and clicked Next. And there it was -


Scaled Score Percentile
Quantitative 4884

700! 700?? I had this huge smile on my face immediately, got out and got a printout of the unofficial score report. Called Sri immediately and literally shouted into his ears :-D. Jumped up and down and danced the whole day yesterday, called everyone and told stories about the whole experience in detail ;-) :-D. I was on a high whole of yesterday and was brought down only today morning when I realized that had I only attempted the tests a bit earlier, maybe I'd have scored better. Oh well :-p. I'll be receiving the official score report in 21 days and am planning to head to the university this week to get things moving. Finally!

My scores in the prep tests were as follows:
GMATPrep1 - 650
GMATPrep2 - 660
GMATPrep1(repeat) - 700 (but there were a few questions repeated)
GMATPrep2(repeat) - 720 (again a few questions repeated)

They say usually the real score will fall between + or - 30 of the prep test score :-D. Also just wanted to add that in the real test, I never got a single question repeated from the Prep tests or the OG, though basically the screens were the same and that really helped a lot :).

And so in the pond of life, the duck encountered another duck-eating monster. Yes the duck was prepared, but it couldn't help but be scared. But you know what? This duck scan still fly, baby :))).


~nm retorted...

Wowie!! Congrats girl!

And it sure was a real jagged road to GMAT :D

Geetha retorted...


Love you Deeps,,,,,,

Amrita retorted...

Congrats!! Well done!! :-D

PRIDERA retorted...

That was a very neat account of the whole experience !!!
Hope you get into your preferred university !

WordPower retorted...

Awesome!! Congrats, Deepthi!!!

Orchid retorted...

hey stopping by after a looong time..congrats, so what's next?
and how is the little one?

Ranjani retorted...

Going to a university in the US is so much better than being a student in India. You really should experience it. Also, learning with many other fellow students from different countries gives a totally new perspective. Enjoy the experience!

Harish Suryanarayana retorted...

Very nice! Congratulations!

Kimi Stremmings retorted...

Cheers! Taking and succeeding in the test can be pretty tough if you're aiming for a high score. It's the time limit that makes things hectic. You need to think quickly in solving problems in order to get not just one, but many questions right.

-Kimi Stremmings