The Day I Scored 780 on the GMAT

So I’ve been working for Veritas Prep at headquarters for over 4 years now and I’d been reluctant to actually take the GMAT. One, I felt pressured to score in the 99th percentile like all our instructors have, and two, because I hadn’t found the time to really get down and study in earnest. In addition to that, most of the practice tests that I had taken had me scoring between 680 and 720 — still quite a bit of work left to get past that 99th percentile threshold. I’m happy to report however, that over this past weekend, I took the test and scored a 780!

I wanted to share with everyone my test day experience as well as some of the Veritas Prep strategies that I found most helpful in getting through that last scoring barrier. Although the strategies helped me jump into the 99th percentile, I think they will be very helpful for anyone trying to significantly improve their score at any level.

The Play-by-Play on my GMAT Test Day
OK. So I had my appointment for 8:00 AM on a Saturday, an ungodly hour when I would usually be sound asleep on any other weekend. I made sure to go to sleep at around 9:00 PM the night before so that I would have a comfortable nine hours of sleep that night before having to wake up for the test. Not getting enough sleep the night before is one of the worst things I can do for my brain. I already have a hard time doing my daily routine when sleep deprived, but imagine trying to take a 4 hour exam without enough sleep!

Luckily, I woke up with plenty of time to take a nice long morning shower, eat a light breakfast and feel refreshed on my way to the test center. I drove listening to the Mozart station on Pandora because I heard somewhere that Mozart makes you smarter or something. If anything, it definitely kept me calm. (Mozart may have helped Jason stay calm, but we advise that test takers stick to their normal routine on test day. Don’t do anything too far out of the ordinary! — Ed.) Once I arrived at the test center, it was still early and they hadn’t opened the doors yet. I saw one poor soul sitting near the door doing some last-minute studying with his iPad — awful idea in my opinion since that would just make me horribly anxious going into the test. (Agreed! — Ed.)

Gradually, more people file into the hallway until the door to the testing center opens up and we are called in one by one and handed out a number and instructions based on which test we were taking that day. They call up all the numbers one by one and go through the registration process (ID, electronic signature, picture, palm vein scan). This whole process seemed more intensive than going through airport security!

I finally get seated at my computer, put in the earplugs and get started on test. I hadn’t studied with the earplugs up until that point, but I think they helped since they muted out all the keyboard typing around me and also put me in a sort of “sensory deprivation” state where, absent any auditory stimulation, my mind had an easier time focusing on seeing what was on the screen and processing information.

I start the exam and get the Analysis of an Argument AWA prompt. I quickly jot down an outline following the Veritas Prep AWA Template and get down to writing out my thoughts. After 25 minutes had gone by, I had a nice five paragraph essay on all the argument’s flaws and assumptions, do a quick proofread and hit “continue.” The next section, the Analysis of an Issue AWA comes up and luckily I get a topic that I had an easy time talking about. Again I do a quick bullet-point outline on the computer screen using the AWA Template and fill it in with sentences, making sure to put a good number transition words into the fray. I really didn’t want to expend too much brain power on this section since GMAC is getting rid of one of the essays next year and B-schools don’t really look at it unless you get some kind of awful score. The AWA template really made the whole process nice and easy on my brain, reserving some of that precious stamina for the Quant and Verbal sections.

At this point, I took a break to go to the bathroom to make sure that I had taken care of everything in that department before starting the 75 minute Quant section. Having to take bathroom break during one of the sections would have been inconvenient, to say the least. While washing my hands, I had an “Eminem” moment when I looked at myself in the mirror and the words to “Lose Yourself” starting playing through my mind. This was it…the real test starts now. This is what I’ve been studying for.

“His palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy
There’s vomit on his sweater already, mom’s spaghetti
He’s nervous, but on the surface he looks calm and ready…”

Needless to say, I was pretty pumped and ready to take on the Quant section. I get back into the testing room, sit down at my computer with three minutes left on my break and take a deep breath. Readying my noteboard and dry-erase pen, I click “Continue” and get ready to take on whatever the screen throws at me. After reading the first question, my heart starts to race. “Oh crap…this is really hard and I have no idea how to do this problem!” I say to myself.

Normally, I would expect see a medium-level question and it gets a bit harder from there, but this time what I saw on the screen was some kind of sum of a sequence ridiculousness I hadn’t seen before. After spending a good minute looking at the problem and not coming up with a solution with my heart racing, I finally calm down a bit and start working by writing out the first few terms of the sequence. I remembered that one of the Veritas Prep strategies for tough problem solving questions like these was to try and find a pattern and see if the solution presented itself. Luckily it did! After that question, I calmed down a bit and started to really hit a stride around questions 6-7. I neared the end of the Quant section with 4 minutes to spare and checked over my last few answers a little more than I had with the previous ones to finish strong.

After taking another break to recover a bit from the Quant section, I get started on the Verbal section. In the beginning, I felt pretty good, but towards the middle the biggest thing I was facing was fatigue. After almost three hours of this test, my mind was starting to get tired. Reading poorly constructed sentences and boring passages was made worse by the fact that I was getting tired. However, I had prepared for this by practicing verbal questions when I was a bit tired (usually after coming home from work) to get my effectiveness up under conditions of mental fatigue. As I neared the last few questions, I was actually tight on time since there were a few questions I had to read over multiple times to find the correct answer. I sit up in my chair and kick it into overdrive to solve the last 5 questions in 6 minutes. Luckily, all of them were Sentence Correction and Critical Reasoning which took me less time than the Reading Comp passages.

I finish the section and reach the last page, breathing a sigh of relief having just completed the exam. I go through all of the demographic questions which had already been mostly pre-filled when I first registered for the test. On the last page, it asks you whether you want to report your scores or cancel them. Note that this page only gives you two minutes to read through the text and make a decision or else your scores are automatically canceled! Realizing that there was a timer ticking down in the top right corner, I quickly hit “Report scores!” and click next.

The computer processes for a while and after 10 seconds of breathless anticipation staring at the screen, I welcome the sight of a 780 (50Q, 48V)! I do a little silent fist pump a-la Tiger Woods and call over the proctor. The first thing out of my mouth was “Can I get a printout!?” He smiled and said, “Yes, when you check-out at the front.” I grab my stuff from my locker, get my printout, take a picture with my phone camera and walk out to the parking lot with a sense of victory and proceed to text a bunch of my friends about my score!

In my next post this week, I will be sharing the top 5 strategies I found the most useful when I was studying for the GMAT.  Stay tuned…!

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