I’m a smart lady, but I’ve never been a natural at standardized tests. Don’t you hate those people who don’t study and get perfect scores on all the standardized tests they take?? I’ve known a few in my life, and they drove me nutso. Back in high school, I basically studied for the SATs for three years. I also took the exam five times: Once in 6th grade to gain entry to a summer program, once in 8th grade to gain entry into a special high school, once again in 9th grade to gain re-entry to that high school after my parents wouldn’t let me enroll the previous year, and then twice in 11th grade for college applications. So yeah, I basically grew up with the exam and knew it very, very well. I also took Princeton Review courses a couple times, made an ungodly number of flash cards and became very familiar with every coffee house within a 10 mile radius in my house. And with all those countless hours and days and months and years of studying and money spent on instruction, I barely broke 1500 (this was back in the day when SATs were still scored out of 1600). Of course, that’s not a bad score by any means, but when I think about how much time and effort and stress I poured into that exam, the score I got is not impressive. Meanwhile, I was surrounded by geniuses who got 1600s with minimal effort. They can go sit on a cactus.
Anyway, the saga of the SAT only enforced my worldview that you can hack your way through almost anything as long as you spend enough time on it. You probably won’t get a perfect score no matter how much effort you put in, though (unless you’re one of those cactus sitters), but you can get close (more so in quant than verbal).
Another key experience that affected how I approached the GMAT was the fact that I took the GRE once several years ago when I was considering other graduate programs. I paid for a Princeton Review classroom course and thought I had a pretty good handle on things. Back then, there were no computer adaptive tests to practice on and everything was on paper, but I was feeling pretty confident. I went to my GRE exam location, sat down in front of the computer and completed the essays with no problem. Then I started on the math section and breezed through the first few questions…then BAM. I was hit with a math question that I had absolutely NO. CLUE. how to solve. Didn’t even know where to begin. I wasted 7 minutes trying to figure it out, knowing that the first batch of questions were most important for my overall score. I finally gave up, guessed, and hoped it was one of those fake questions they use to test for future exams. The next question popped up, and once again, I was completely lost. I started panicking. Then it was allllllllllll downhill from there, and the score I received was absolutely terrible (I knew it would be terrible, but everyone always tells you to never cancel your scores because you probably did better than you think, so I accepted it. It was even worse than I thought it would be. I should have canceled them).
I took away a few very important lessons from my GRE experience.
- Practice exams on paper are COMPLETELY USELESS for computer adaptive tests. The experience is not even remotely the same. Use them for practice questions, but do NOT take them timed with the hopes of estimating the score you’ll receive at the real exam.
- Don’t freak out about the importance of the first few questions. Well, kind of freak out. But not enough to mess up your overall timing.
- This depends on how well you know yourself, but there are situations when canceling a score is the right choice. Make up your own mind.
- And lastly…Princeton Review’s score increase guarantee even applies if your score only increases by a mere 10 points, so you can’t get your money back. You can tell how poorly I did on the GRE if my final score was only 10 points higher than the first-ever exam I took at Princeton Review (and we all know that those companies skew the first test really difficult on purpose so you can feel like you’re improving). They did offer to let me take the course over again for free, though, which I declined. I was done with the GRE…I just wanted my money back. And they wouldn’t give it to me.
Anyway, these are all lessons and memories I carried with me when I started prepping for the GMAT, and they informed my entire studying strategy. I’ll be back in a later post with how I went about it.