My Test Prep Experience: Two Students, Two Stories, Two GMAT Scores

Posted on July 24, 2015 | Filed in GMAT

My Test Prep Experience: Two Students, Two Stories, Two GMAT Scores

Compare the effectiveness of two different student's test preparation methods utilizing a GMAT test-prep course. Two students detail their test-preparation in a journal starting from the first class of their course up to and following the actual GMAT exam.

Let’s imagine two students each preparing for the GMAT exam. Both Alex and Brad decide to register for a several week test-preparation course. What follows are excerpts from journals they were asked to keep starting from the day of the first class and maintain until the last entry following the GMAT exam.

  • Week 1 (Alex)

    I signed up for a classroom course and after completing the first day am exhausted. I didn’t have a chance to talk to the other students and don’t think I will, even though it was recommended that we exchange information. I just don’t feel comfortable doing that. If I need help I can just contact the instructor. There was a lot of talk about the structure of the exam so I figure once I learn that I should be set. I’ll probably study later in the week.

  • Week 1 (Brad)

    I do not live close to a test-prep center so I signed up for the online classroom course. I didn’t know what to expect but decided to treat it as I would an actual classroom. I locked myself in a quiet room with my laptop and was surprised at how real the experience felt. Using the instant messenger I discussed my ambitions with several other students and learned about their experiences and goals, we decided to share contact information and begin a study group. One student actually lives nearby so we decided to meet in person before each new class session as sort of a review for the last class.

  • Week 3 (Alex)

    I took a GMAT practice test and it seems just like any other exam. I know they said that it’s a CAT exam but it really did feel just like any other exam. We started learning about deconstructing questions but I’m still not too sure how that’s different from just trying to answer the question. I guess I’ll figure it out as the course goes on. We were also told to boost our vocabulary and review grammar rules but I already read a lot for work so that should take care of it. I’ll do some homework this week, it didn’t look too hard so it shouldn’t take too long.

  • Week 3 (Brad)

    I took a practice test and wasn’t too happy with my score. I’m beginning to understand the concept of a CAT exam and find it a bit scary. I’m worried that I’ll fall into a lower proficiency level and will feel like I’m doing well but only because I’m answering easier questions. My colleague in the class had the same concern so we contact the instructor and he assured us to focus only on what’s important. He said he was going to assess our strengths and weaknesses and help us focus our studies on those areas. I plan on doing the homework tonight then taking another look at it tomorrow. I’m having difficulty trying to think like a test-maker instead of a test-taker but do understand that the traditional instincts I had for test taking might not apply for this exam. I trust the instructor and will see what comes next in the course.

  • Week 6 (Alex)

    I took a look at a few questions and decided it’s time to start focusing. I also think I’m starting to get the hang of the exam based on classwork. The instructor told me what he felt my weaknesses were and stressed that my study plan focus on those areas. I decided to dedicate one night a week to really studying, about an hour of study. I worked in a group today and one of the other students mentioned something that I found interesting. He was confused about something on the Critical Reasoning portion of the exam and I had the same questions but there was something he said that I don’t remember. I’m going to try to schedule a tutoring session with the instructor.

  • Week 6 (Brad)

    I’ve been doing timed drills and have been getting faster and faster at answering questions. My instructor helped me develop a study plan so I focus a lot of my time on those areas but try to keep fresh on everything. He said we should plan for about two minutes for each question so I’ve been practicing with only 1.5 minutes available for each question. I try not to panic and not dwell on questions, I worry more about my right answers than possible wrong ones. I’m a little nervous and anxious but my instructor told me to use those feelings and rely on the instinct that we’re currently conditioning. I trust his experience and told him about my review sessions with a fellow classmate. He said it was a good idea and gave a few suggestions on how we can improve our studies.

  • Week 8 (Alex)

    I had a tutoring session and just had the last class session and feel like I’m ready. I did some studying, one time last week and once before this class, half an hour each time. I’m trying to find the time to take a practice exam before the actual test but don’t know if I’ll be able to. I’m very strong with the quantitative problems so my goal is to focus on that and hopefully it will outweigh the rest of the exam for me.

  • Week 8 (Brad)

    I took another practice test and am glad that I have no problems working with the time constraints. I decided to work on the essay portion of the exam and will trade off with several other classmates, two students reviewing each essay. Hopefully I can implement everything I learned but still plan on reviewing some of the online lectures before the exam and possibly a tutoring session with the instructor on the area of Sentence Correction. I still feel a little weak with grammar and am trying to go through a grammar guide.

  • POST EXAM (Alex)

    Although my score was average I still feel a little disappointed. I was doing very well on the Quantitative section, however, ran out of time and wasn’t able to answer all the questions. I started the Critical Reasoning section off a little slow but once I got the hang of it I did alright but again had difficulty finishing. This exam puts a lot of pressure on the test-taker and the whole time I felt stressed. Even when I knew the answers I was worried and kept rechecking them. The scratch sheet to take notes was also difficult to work with. I tried relying on my instincts like the instructor said but my gut never went one way or the other.

  • POST EXAM (Brad)

    I scored in the 96th percentile and at no point felt nervous while taking the exam. There were a few questions that I was not sure about so I just checked off an answer I felt could be right and moved on. Practicing and reviewing questions really paid off because I felt like I was familiar with everything that came up. My pace was very good from start to finish. I’m glad I worked with that grammar book and had that last tutoring session because some stuff came up on the Sentence Correction section that my instructor specifically discussed. It only helped with two questions but every question counts. When I got them right my confidence just soared. The test did get progressively harder though but I maintained my same strategy and trusted that what I was doing was right.

The Manhattan Review test-prep course will lead to improved scores, however, to reach maximum potential it is important to fully dedicate your efforts. Brad treated the GMAT as the Olympics and conditioned himself as an athlete with repetition and exercises. Alex, although confident in his understanding of the exam, was unprepared for the test-like conditions. For the GMAT it is just as important to know how to take the exam as it is to know how to answer the questions. There were missed opportunities as well. He did not utilize the classroom environment by learning from fellow students insights. Sure it was because he felt uncomfortable, however, this is something that should have been discussed with the instructor. It is important to maintain open communication and voice any concerns. Alex’s test preparation was passive, he relied too heavily on others. Instructors can definitely help but it is important to take what they have to give and master it on your own. Brad was very active in his approach to preparing for the exam. If he had concerns he sought advice and instruction, he did not just sit back and wait for the solution to fall into his lap. Competitive Business schools are interested in Brad because they know he will bring the same level of intensity he had while preparing for the GMAT to their MBA program.

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