Thursday, October 16, 2008

JK's GMAT Debrief

I registered for the GMAT exam on 1st of October. I created my account on, picked the center in PJ and selected a date. You can take the GMAT 6 days a week and there are options for morning appointments (between 8-9am) and afternoon appointments (1pm onwards). The GMAT is a 4 hour exam and you only have two 10 minute breaks in between so make sure you pick the time you think your brain works best. I picked a Monday morning because I was hoping for an empty test center and I know I will feel sleepy in the afternoon right after lunch. Besides, I get fidgety if I have too much time early in the day while waiting for an important exam to start. Once you've set up an appointment, it's time to whip out your credit card and pay for the US$250 exam. Any rescheduling 7 days before the exam will incur an additional US$50 while rescheduling within the 7 days will cost you an additional US$250 so pick wisely!

Now this is probably where I erred... while I started studying for the GMAT in June I did not maintain a disciplined regime. I will hit the books on some weekends, polishing up my rusty maths skills and doing the exercises. Only after I registered for the exam did I really start to study hard for the GMAT and boy did it hurt. This is not a glorified IQ exam. The GMAT is TOUGH! In hindsight, my advice is to take a timed GMAT CAT before you schedule (and pay) for the exam. Manhattan offers a free CAT and its the closest (with the exception of GMATPrep) to the real thing.

You've probably heard this before but I'll say this again. The OG is the BEST example of the type of questions that you will encounter on the GMAT. No other study guides come close to the OG in terms of question prose and difficulty. The other thing I found out is that attempting a timed GMAT exam is completely different from answering questions without the pressure of a timer. Use the GMATPrep software that comes with the registration. Do not skip the AWA in your mock exams. Remember the GMAT is both a test of your intellectual capability, focus and stamina. Trust me, in the real test, you will be tired in the verbal section. I did 2 mock exams on the GMATPrep, one from Manhattan (it's free) and one from Kaplan. If you tried the Kaplan CAT exams, dont' worry about the skewed low scores. I reserved one GMATPrep CAT exam for the day before the exam. I got 650 and 690 on the GMATPrep tests. Not stellar but within the 80th percentile range.

Fast foward to test day. I arrived early at Phileo Damansara I, the test location, and parked in the basement. My advice is to park in Eastin because it cost me 11 bucks in Phileo. I think Eastin operates a 5 bucks per entry system. The test centre is quite pleasant and comfortable. Nice open spaces and bright red sofas. I passed my passport to them and they checked the details againts my record in PearsonVue's database. Your DOB and your name must match exactly. I was then asked to sign on an electronic pad (similar to those credit card machines), pose for a picture, and then place my index finger on the fingerprint reader. I was a little disappointed that the new palm vein recognition sensor was not utilised. It's a really cool technology that scans the distinct vein patterns in an individuals hand and it's faster than the fingerprint reader. (OK I'm a geek)

There were 2 other candidates who will take the GMAT with me (so much for the deserted Monday morning theory...). We were asked to read the terms and conditions and then we were required to place everything (keys, handphone and even coins!) in the locker. You will not be allowed to take anything into the test centre. The test administrator will then give you a laminated writing pad, a marker and some ear plugs. TEST THE MARKER as one of us had a dried up marker. The ear plugs are optional but I had to use it, which leads me to my next point. The test centre doubles up as a learning centre for a host of other courses. I was unlucky enough to have my test scheduled with an ongoing lecture. While the test rooms were quiet and separated from the rest of the office, it is right next to the lounge area and you will have people moving around outside the frosted glass doors.

The test room itself is really small and there are four cubicles. Each with a PC. Above the tables are three CCTV cameras so the entire test is recorded. Room temperature was pleasant. The test administrator will login and start up the GMAT CAT. Before the exam starts, you will go through the introduction cum tutorial screens similar to GMATPrep and you will then be asked to pick 5 schools to which your official GMAT scores will be sent. You do not need to know the institution's GMAT code as the school list is exhaustive. If you do not pick the schools on test day, you will be required to pay US$25 for the official scores to be sent to the MBA schools.

Now to the test itself.. the AWA went pretty ok. It's a good way to warm up before the Quant and Verbal section. I took the 10 minute break after the AWA to freshen up. In the quant section, I struggled a bit. I was hit with loads of DS and number theory problems (more than my prep tests). These were my weak points but I knew I had to soldier on and take the questions one at a time. I paced myself pretty well. The formula I used was to attempt 11-12 questions for Quant and about 13-15 questions every 25 minutes. It's better to break down the test to 3 sections than to limit yourself to 1.5-2 minutes per question. After the quant section, you are given another 10 minute break. Took the break, rested my eyes, freshened myself up again and got myself ready for the Verbal section. Remember to allocate some time for checking in and checking out of the test room. To check in and check out, the test administrator will need to take your finger print. It's pretty quick and painless but 10 minutes is really short so give yourself some allowance for the check in procedure.

The verbal section was quite tough. I was pretty confident about my CR and RC before sitting for the GMAT but the questions I got this time were really tricky and I had to guess for quite a number of the CR and RC questions. SC was pretty much similar to those you'd find in the GMATPrep and OG. By this stage of the test, I was pretty tired and it was difficult to focus on the questions. I will read the questions but I found that I needed to read it 3-4 times to digest it. Many times I had to verbalise the questions just to force myself to stay focus. I finally reached the last question with 2 minutes on the clock. I took as much time as possible and then clicked 'Next'. The ordeal was over :)

I filled up some questionnaires and finally the most important section, the score report. If you were expecting a 700 pointer GMAT debrief, this ain't it. I got a 630. I was quite disappointed frankly as I was hoping for something around 650. I've thought about retaking but upon reflecting, the schools I'm aiming for aren't the typical 700 pointer schools. The GMAT is important but it's not the only criteria. It's going to be a competitive year for business school admit but do not strike out a 'dream school' just because you tanked in the GMAT. Some elite schools have large GMAT spread but other elements of your admission package will need to be superb. Re-taking is another option but be realistic. Two 'low' GMAT exams will only reinforce the fact that the scores are not an anomaly. In the end its up to you.

Ok that's all from me.



K-lynn said...

wow. this is scary. thanks for sharing. really appreciate it.

JK said...

Well it wasn't my intention to scare anybody. I just hope the information here will help people prepare for the GMAT.

No surprises on test day!

All the best!

Winston said...

nice debrief! I would say time management is absolutely critical during test-taking. I screwed up in the verbal section big time by taking 2min+ in few questions and end up running out of time and having to guess quite a few questions. I used to get 42-45 in all verbal practice sets but end up getting 36 in the actual exam. My advice for would be gmat takers is taking lots of online practice exams with timing set to practice efficient time management.