I went from a 640 Q50 V26 in my first attempt to a 750 Q49 V44 in my second attempt landing me an ISB admit. So I’ve made my fair share of mistakes along the way and having gone through both experiences, I can tell you what my mistakes were and how I learnt from them.
To begin, instead of telling you directly what you should do to get a high score in the GMAT, I’ll break down the factors that will prevent you from scoring well and what you can do to avoid them. Then I’ll explain the prep strategy.
They are, in order of importance:
- Decision paralysis
- Not having enough time
- Not being able to answer
Before proceeding, it’s a good idea to understand what exactly is the GMAT about. The GMAT is about more about correct decision making than about getting everything right. It tests your ability to make the right decisions in a pressurized environment, preparing you for the life of a manager.
Research has shown that you have finite willpower to make decisions in a day. This is also a reason why leaders like Obama and Zuckerberg don’t waste their valuable willpower in deciding what to wear in the morning. And that judges were more likely to grant parole to prisoners first thing in the morning, or immediately after lunch.
Every small decision you take depletes that finite store. The GMAT requires 100 of these small decisions. Rest and glucose restores this level.
Not having enough time
Timing is key in the GMAT. Your aim is to complete the test within the stipulated time. It’s not a perfection test, people who get 750+ still get a bunch of answers wrong.
Your preparation should include improving your time management as much as understanding concepts and practising problems.
Your error log + stopwatch will help you constantly improve your time management. But more on that later.
Not being able to answer
Going hand in hand with time management, the worst thing you can do in the test is to get stuck on a question thinking that you know the answer, why aren’t you able to solve it.
In management, you will not have all the information at the time of making decisions. Perpetually stalling on a decision is worse than making a wrong decision.
Educated guessing is your friend in these circumstances. If you still can’t get it, random mark and move on.
The Prep is designed to last for 2 months with 4–5 hours of per day effort. Start your Prep by taking the diagnostic test from the latest Original Guides to see where you stand and can accordingly make a plan targeting your weaknesses, as this would give you the biggest boost to the score. No point solving 1000 problem-solving questions if your inherent strength is quant.
Manhattan Quant Series — 5 books
SC — Manhattan
CR — PowerScore
RC — Manhattan for a few important strategies
Only solve questions from the official guides. Questions from other publishers do not come close to matching the pattern and standard of the questions that you will eventually face in the final exam.
Latest Original Guides 19, 18, 17, 16, 15
Verbal Review (and Quant Review if needed)
Sentence Correction and Critical Reasoning
Start with Manhattan SC rules and PowerScore CR concepts and strategies. Solve the exercise questions at the end of each chapter as they reinforce what you’ve gone through. Follow exactly what’s mentioned in the books. Do not deviate from its solving strategy.
Ensure you complete the first read-through of all chapters of Manhattan SC and Powerscore CR before you start attempting OG 12 questions.
RCs are key to your performance in the Verbal section so prep well for them.
Getting a string of 3–4 right answers can do wonders for your score and your confidence. Just go over Manhattan RC’s concepts once, and no need to solve the exercises.
For RC it is paramount to develop your strategy for the reading of the passage. This strategy should be something that works for you and should be tested by solving several passages from OG. I used to first check the length of the passage and accordingly classify it as one of two — short or long.
If it’s a short passage then you could read most of it thoroughly while making notes on the important transitions in the passage. While reading, be on the lookout for transition keywords like But, however, while, on the other hand, etc.
These are very important to understand the structure of the passage to answer the general questions properly.
If it’s a long passage, it is not possible to absorb all the information in the passage in the first read within the specified period.
Read with an eye to structure (author’s tone, points he is arguing for/against etc) while keeping details (such as examples, unimportant definitions) at bay.
This will ensure you can answer the general questions without too much trouble. For the specific questions, you will have to go back to the passage and reread around the mentioned section.
I used to take my time (3–4 mins) understanding the passage well and then attempting the questions (avg 1 min per question). This had a high success rate for me. Try what works for you. Many people skim through the passage quickly only to have to spend more time per question and possibly re-read the passage (not the way to go about it)
In summary, find your strategy that works best.
Once you’ve gone through the reference books, only then start solving from OG12, 13, Verbal Review. While solving the official questions, keep a stopwatch handy and time each question using the split feature of the stopwatch.
This would be one of the most important pieces of advice I could give because you must get the timing right. It doesn’t matter if you have 100% accuracy while taking 3 mins per question. It won’t be of any help.
- 45 seconds for SC
- 1.30 for CR
- 2 mins for each RC question including the initial reading of the passage
Make an error log containing accuracy (right/wrong) + time taken. Review those questions that you’ve got wrong and the questions you’ve taken more time on.
How to Make Educated Guesses on Verbal
To grasp the foundations of GMAT quant, the Manhattan series is a good place to start. However, note that this would require a good amount of time as the 5 books are quite comprehensive.
While studying from the Manhattan book, you can begin solving questions from OG, preferably in batches of 20 PS and 20 DS to get used to solving 37+ questions at a stretch.
The key is to solve a decent quantity of official questions and reviewing the ones you A. got wrong and B. got correct but took too much time on. Read the explanation of the incorrect question keeping a note of the reason for the mistake in your Error Log along with the topic.
Solve enough DS questions as the DS questions are more likely to trip you up.
For AWA, look no further than this post. I got 5.5 the first time and 6.0 the second time. You should ideally spend the least amount of mental cycles on this section and do this section last.
For IR, I didn’t do anything specific beyond solving the Manhattan tests. That gave me good enough practice.
1. Princeton Review free test
2. 6 Manhattan tests
3. GMAT prep 1 and 2 (preferably twice each)
The first few Manhattan tests are very difficult. Don’t worry about the score, just identify questions/topics where you’ve not done well and work on those. (I got a 620 in my first test)
Note: Give all the tests in one sitting. No saving and exiting and giving the next day. Defeats the primary purpose of taking these tests — which is to improve your stamina.
All tests with Essay and IR mandatory.
Make sure you are following official test conditions while giving the test. No pausing, no eating during the test, only 8-minute breaks etc.
I gave Manhattan 2–4 with an extended time limit of 120 minutes per section.
Give Manhattan 5 and 6 as well as GMAT prep 1 and 2 with the proper time limit.
7–14 days before the exam
You should be taking tests daily including all four sections in the same order that you will take the final exam. Make sure you have listed down the schools you will be applying to with the free score.
2 days before the exam
Stop taking tests, practising, or worrying about the exam. You can continue revising concepts.
1 day before the exam
Relax, spend time with family, continue with moderate aerobic exercise (don’t overdo it or injure yourself!).
Pick out what you are going to wear on the day of the exam. Something comfortable accounting for the AC at the test centre.
Identify directions, travel time, and travel mode to your test centre. Plan to leave with at least 15–45 mins to spare.
Arrange for food and drink items for the time before the test and to be consumed during the breaks (important) — Banana, granola bar, red bull, etc
Follow a relaxing ritual before going to sleep including warm shower, meditation, etc.
Go to bed 9–10 hours before you have to wake up, allowing for some time for you to fall asleep.
The day of the exam
If you have time in the morning, meditate. Have a good and filling breakfast with a balanced proportion of protein, fats and carbs. Remember, the GMAT is a stamina test as well.
While on the way to the test centre, listen to your favourite music that puts you in an upbeat and positive mood.
During the breaks, go to the washroom and splash cold water on your face to reduce anxiety. And make sure you consume enough glucose to stave away Decision Fatigue.