my gmat journey from 600 to 730

i’ve taken the gmat twice now–the first time was november 2010 and then again recently.

gmat structure

if you’re unfamiliar with the format of the gmat, you start the exam writing 2 essays (awa = analytical writing assessment): analysis of an argument (30 min), immediately followed by analysis of an issue (30 min). this is the only section of the test you don’t receive a score for immediately and is probably the least important; so of course they put it first to tire you out for the more important components. then you answer 37 quantitative questions within 75 minutes and the verbal section’s composed of 41 questions also within 75 minutes. between each section (awa/quant/verbal) is an optional 8 minute break. so the test itself can take up to nearly 4 hours. and because gmac is changing the format of the exam next year, they’ve added 30 minutes of experimental testing to the end of the exam for research on the new format. this section doesn’t count toward your score, but you can’t see your score until you finish it.

there is no skipping or going back on any section or questions. and both the quant and verbal sections are filled with their own experimental questions that don’t count towards your score, but there’s no way of knowing whether a question is experimental or not.

you aren’t provided or allowed a calculator but you are given a small booklet of laminated pages with a grid as scratch paper and a dry erase pen. you can raise your hand to get another if you run out of space or need to use the restroom or something, but since you can’t pause, this time will be counted against you. similarly, if you take longer than 8 minutes on your break, the next section will start without you.

in terms of scoring, it’s not like most other tests where your score’s dependent on how many you answer correctly. while it is important to answer questions correctly, you’re scored in comparison to other test-takers. your score is given as a percentile, meaning that you performed better than x% of people.

the test is also computer adaptive, which means that it’s difficult for everyone. when you answer a question correctly, it gives you a harder level question. if you get it wrong, it gives you an easier one. it continues on until the end where it gives you a scored based on your level/”limit”. so even if you’re performing really well, you’re working on questions that are pushing you and much more difficult than someone who’s performing at say a 400-level.

first try

last year, i took a veritas prep class because i know i can’t self-study too well. i think the class finished in august and i had been scoring 640-660 on the practice tests. i took the exam at 8 am on a saturday and i remember it was raining that day. i arrived early, but there were many other early arrivals and we waited in the hall for the testing facility to open. i brought a rice krispy treat to snack on during the break and my own ear plugs. other than the ear plugs, i had to keep everything else in the locker. the security measures are pretty intense as each time you enter/leave the room, you have to be escorted, present your id, and do a vein scan.

i had never done the awa before and while i felt my arguments were weak, i knew the scorers care more about the structure than the content so i wasn’t too bothered. i went to the bathroom during my break and ate my treat and had a cup of water. i think i might have taken too long but i don’t really remember.

quant was a disaster–i didn’t know how to answer a lot of the questions and i could tell they weren’t that difficult but i just didn’t know what to do. and of course realizing this made me feel worse. i ran out of the time in the end and didn’t finish…i think i was 1 or 2 questions away. i think i realized i was super short on time about 8 questions away and didn’t even have time to really read anything, i just had to blindly guess and click, but even then, i still didn’t finish. sounds horrible right? i took another break and i don’t remember what i did but i’m sure i was trying to recover from feeling like crap with quant.

verbal was ok…but as the last section, you’re pretty tired and those boring, long scientific reading comprehension passages can make you read them several times before anything sinks in.

then it was straight into the experimental section for 30 minutes but at that point, i didn’t want to spend the time or energy trying to answer questions that don’t impact my score, so i just rushed through it to see my score.

when i saw 600, my heart dropped. that was worse than anything i’ve ever scored on any of my practice tests, even before i ever studied. i felt ashamed to have submitted my scores to these top 10 schools with such an embarrassing score. actually, 600 isn’t that terrible (even though i feel like it was) as it’s 64th percentile. so i did better than average, but if you’re aiming for a top-tier school (like i am), it’s understood that you should try to get about a 700 (90% ranking). i think i cried in my car afterwards and felt like shit for a while.

the aftermath

i’ve been too embarrassed to tell people my score so i’ve mostly told people that i did really badly and bombed it. since i wasn’t planning on applying to bschool for another year, i wasn’t in a rush to take it again and just wanted to relax. well, i ended up relaxing for like nearly a year. i didn’t touch any of my gmat books until this past may. one of the great things about veritas is that you’re allowed a free retake of the course, so i retook it in may and scheduled my gmat for mid-july.

i had previously been stressing about getting from a 660 to 700 because although it may not seem like it, 40 points can be difficult to come by and i’ve heard that clearing the 700 threshold is especially hard. a lot of people get stuck at 680-690. and now i needed to clear 100 points; it felt impossible.

during the class i was really frustrated at how stagnant my improvement was…i remained at about 660 (81%) for the entire class. as my test date drew closer, i knew that i wasn’t close to my goal of 700 and decided to postpone it by about 3 weeks. you can reschedule the exam for a fee of $50 if you do it before a week of the actual date. you can still reschedule after but you have to pay the full $250 if it’s within 7 days.

after i postponed it i started to study a lot more seriously but admittedly, i still could have done a lot better. and i was baffled by wildly varying practice cat scores–i was scoring anywhere from 620 to 750, no trend up or down. and i was frustrated that even though i had only been studying quant the entire time, my verbal improved greatly without as much noticeable improvement in my quant. although i didn’t do stellar on verbal, i did well enough and really wanted to get my quant score up since it was my weakness. and as this test date came up, i contemplated postponing it yet again. i really didn’t want to take it a 3rd time since i still have a lot of other parts of my application to work on.

in the end, i decided to go for it. i knew that if i had postponed it, i probably could do better since i hadn’t finished all my books. and even though my scores were driving me crazy, i had gotten 720 and 710 pretty recently on my cat’s.


this time, i scheduled my appointment for 12:15 pm since i am not a morning person at all. i got there a tad early but the testing facility was really busy and i had to wait for people to finish and leave before i could get a locker or go into the testing area. i made sure to use the restroom while i waited and brought sliced peaches as my snack this time–figured i wouldn’t get a sugar crash and the juice from the fruit would also make me less thirsty, so i wouldn’t need to spend time both eating and drinking.

the proctor eyed my ear plugs suspiciously and said that we’re only allowed to bring in our id and they had their own that we could use. i told her that i had brought them in last time and she poked at them to make sure they weren’t actually ear pieces with a speaker or something and said she didn’t think they seemed out of the norm but she would have to indicate i brought them in.

i brought them in with me and started on the awa. i think i did pretty well on the analysis of an argument but fumbled on the analysis of an issue. the awa is pretty much to make sure that there aren’t huge discrepancies between your score and the essays you submit to the schools (you’re not paying someone to write your essays for you). i had previously gotten a 5.5/6 (77%) so i wasn’t too worried and i didn’t want to spend too much mental energy on something that doesn’t really matter.

i went to the bathroom and ate 2 peach slices on my break and was surprised that i was only gone for 5-6 minutes. i asked the proctor if my ear plugs were ok and she said she didn’t think so. i didn’t want to risk forfeiting my entire score over something so stupid so i put mine away and used theirs.

quant started off well and about mid-way i noticed that i had fallen behind so i quickly went through several problems until i was caught up or ahead. but i could tell that i wasn’t doing exceptional since i wasn’t getting a lot of really difficult questions. i finished with about 6 minutes to spare.

i couldn’t really gauge how well i was doing with verbal. i guess i should’ve realized it was a high level since the questions felt difficult and i spent more time thinking of the answers than i normally do. but i finished with about 14 minutes to spare.

i tried to go through the experimental section. they said they’ll refund $20 or something like that if you try your best. i didn’t get money last time; i think it’s because i didn’t “try”. i think they can tell by how much time you spend on it, so i had just wanted to sit there and let the minutes pass but i was too impatient and ended up just clicking through to see my score.

when i saw 730, i loudly whispered “YES!!!” (sorry if i disturbed you, other test takers). i had gotten into the 96th percentile. this is above average for all business schools so i feel much better now. but i was worried because my quant and verbal score were unbalanced. i’ve heard that besides getting a good overall score, they look at the break-down and like to see 80%+ for each. i was under 80% for my quant but very close.

i think it’s probable i could do better on quant if i took it again, but there’s no telling if my overall score would be better and i definitely did better than i expected so i will not be retaking it again.

i don’t know my awa score yet as it’s still too soon, but as long as i got 4+, i don’t care.

more to come

i know this post is really long but i hope it’s helpful for anyone still struggling with the gmat. it wasn’t easy for me to disclose that 600 score, but it should be encouraging that if i could break 700, really, anyone can.

i’ll post some gmat study/test day tips later.


3 thoughts on “my gmat journey from 600 to 730

  1. geez! you did such a good job!! after all the stressing and studying… you deserve it!!! =) =) =) =) =) =) so happy for you!!! yeah… maybe you don’t have to take it again and just concentrate on your apps now. GO YOU!! ❤

    • thanks! =) btw, i edited your comment because i prefer to stay anonymous on my blog for now (it’s ok if people who know me already know it’s me)…at least until admissions decisions are out.

  2. Pingback: gmat tips « studio bokeh

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