Writing the GMAT

Image Credit: Graduate Management Admission Council

When I graduated from university I wasn’t 100% sure what I wanted to do. I decided to hedge my bets a little bit just in case I ever wanted to attend business school, and wrote the GMAT! This is one of those tests that universities use as a proxy for your analytical abilities. There are a lot of useful resources I found during my preparation process, and I wanted to share them with those of you who are interested as well.

RESULT: 710 Overall (92nd percentile), 46 Quantitative, 41 Verbal, 6.0 AWA

BACKGROUND: Graduated with distinction from the University of Waterloo (in Canada) with an honours degree in mechanical engineering. I’m not a native speaker of english, but have been in Canada since grade 2 and speak the language with native fluency.

BEFORE I STARTED STUDYING: Based on my previous experience with standardized math tests up here in Canada, I thought I had a real solid foundation for numbers – and that verbal was going to be my downfall. However, for me at least, the way to score well on the GMAT math section is very different from the way for scoring well on other math tests. I believe that the reason for my struggles on the quant section was the time constraint, as I am used to reasoning stuff through in my head to see the solution path before I write down anything. I will also admit that I am extremely lazy when it comes to memorizing stuff and practice through repetition since I like to just understand something and derive it again if I need to; but this does not work well for the GMAT. I took the diagnostic test in the OG and got at most 2 questions wrong on every section, except SC, which killed me.

STUDYING: I took a prep course at the University of British Columbia, and didn’t find it overly useful. Most of these prep courses are aimed at the 500-600 level scorers, but if you haven’t had to do math in a long time then I would strongly recommend taking one of these courses. In addition to the course, I also used the following material: OG 12th edition, Manhattan GMAT SC (I strongly recommend this), Kaplan 800, and online resources such as Sahil’s grammar notes.

As I mentioned before, SC was the weakest part of my game prior to studying so I knew I had to do something about it. The Manhattan GMAT SC material was extremely useful, and I consistently scored higher on SC questions than any other types of problems after going through the book. My total study time was about 5 weeks and I did not take a single practice test until the last week. My study schedule went something like this:

Week 1 – Went through half of the OG

Week 2 – Finished the OG

Week 3 – Finished Manhattan SC

Week 4 – Finished Kaplan 800, and reviewed notes that I had made throughout the study process

Week 5 – Took one practice test a day at the same time as my actual test I had another 3 days before the real exam after I took my final practice test, and didn’t do too much studying since my brain works much faster when I’m fresh.


Prep Test 1: 690 (didn’t finish the quant section cuz I ran out of time)

Manhattan Test 1: 660 (again, didn’t finish the quant section)

Manhattan Test 2: 720 (actually finished the whole test this time)

Manhattan Test 3: 700

Manhattan Test 4: 720

Manhattan Test 5: 700

Prep Test 2: 720

So on test day I think I performed about on average with what I expected, but I did run into trouble again with my timing on the Quant and had to guess the last 3 questions.


  • Read Manhattan SC over and over if you are not good at sentence correction.
  • Be fast on the quant section and don’t get too attached to any one question. Give every question its fair share of time.

*A special note on this: On my first prep test, I got the first 7 quant questions wrong and didn’t answer the last two questions in the section (I did this test at 8am to simulate test day, and was still half asleep since I’m used to waking up at noon), but still ended up with a 690. So don’t spend too much time on the first few questions just because you think you need to nail them all to have a chance at a decent score. You can recover from a bad start.

  • Book your test in the afternoon so you’re 100% awake

FINAL THOUGHTS: I am slightly disappointed with the result as I was hoping for a 720 on the test, but a 710 will be good for most business schools – I believe Harvard’s average GMAT last year was around 712. I am still a bit surprised at how bad my performance was on the quant section as math has always been my strongest area, but again that time constraint was killer for me. My overall study period of 5 weeks was a little less than what I would have liked, but I think it did the trick. Good luck to everyone out there who still needs to write the test! I hope that my experience has been of some help!


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