Below is posted from my entry at the GMATClub Forum (http://gmatclub.com/forum/690-690-730-finally-conquered-the-gmat-133278.html)
Aaaaaah! Thats my sigh of relief as I sit down to write this post. A journey that started in 2008 (more here: http://gmatclub.com/forum/690-to-a-690-gmat-outdid-me-119104.html) has finally ended today. Just got back from the test center and am delirious to report that I scored a 730 (Q49 and V42; overall 96 percentile).
I had last taken my GMAT in August of 2011 and was terribly disappointed to have scored the exact score I did in 2008 - a 690. I have always been targeting the best programs in the US, so I knew I was at a disadvantage while applying as I come from the Indian applicant pool. I know admission officers say that being an Indian doesn't put you at any disadvantage in terms of high scores, but even if I compare my score to averages at my target schools, I was below the mark. Nonetheless, buoyed by friends and many on this forum, I applied to 4 schools last year - Columbia, Tuck, Kellogg and Duke. I was interviewed at Kellogg, but finally not invited to join the class.
In retrospect, getting the Kellogg interview (in India you are invited to interview by Kellogg unlike in the US) was a major boost, and interviewing with the alum was a major insight into how unprepared I went for it :) However, what I did realize was that I could do much better on my GMAT, and basically improve this one aspect of my candidature that is in my control (work ex, career growth etc. being others).
If I look back at why I didn't improve my score last August, the major reason was overconfidence. I went into the test thinking that the 2.5 years that had passed since I took the test in Dec 08, I had become 'wiser' just based on my life experiences. The GMAT brought me back to the ground - I was down in the dumps. After my app season got over, I could see with much more clarity as to why I needed to improve my GMAT score, not merely because I should being an Indian applicant, but because I wasn't doing justice to my candidature by showing a score that didn't reflect my true academic potential - for example, I have always ranked very high in English/Verbal examinations throughout school, and even at work am lauded for my English speaking/writing skills. I read a lot as well, and hence I thought I wasnt performing up to the mark in Verbal (I scored 35 in Verbal in my last GMAT). I have always been good at Math but a little slow. In both tests, I remained at 48, so my assumption was that I could improve my math to 49 maybe 50, but need to REALLY focus on Verbal - plus what better way of differentiating yourself from the Indian applicant pool than by outdoing most of the demographic in this section :)
My retake strategy was as follows:
1. Take the GMAT before the format changes - I was (un)fortunate to be in the testing window where test takers got a preview of the section. I HATED it and didnt want to take it. However, when it came to choosing dates, I was in a dilemma. i had started thinking about retaking the GMAT in Jan/Feb and thought I'd retake in March. However, better sense prevailed and I thought about delaying the test as much as possible, to allow myself maximum time to practice rather than rushing into it. This proved to be a great decision as 1) I was doing extremely well at work and hence a lot of pressure came about in March-April, thus not allowing me really to practice on the test, and 2) I made a plan to visit my sister in the US in April. I thought I'd go visit some schools and get inspired - I went to Wharton, attended class, loved it, and came back extremely motivated to do well
2. I focused a LOT on Verbal instead of Quant. I read the SC guide by Manhattan. At work where thankfully gmatclub.com is not blocked (but beatthegmat.com is - Hurray for BB!) I practiced a random question in verbal/quant as much as I could. Deliberately started reading more - Fortune, Forbes, NYTimes etc. and analyzing sentence structures. Helped me A LOT!
3. Did practice tests as often as I could. Did MGMAT tests 3 times (yes 3 X 6 = 18 tests!) but not really in the testing sense. I used to look at the question, attempt it, then search online and see if I did right or wrong - basically, I realized that once the test is over I am very lazy to really go into analysis mode. So the only way to keep analyzing was to do a live assessment. Hence, most of my MGMAT scores were >760 but I never took them as an indication of my actual performance. However, analyzing questions immediately helped me tremendously.
4. I saved the GMATPrep for last. Did 2 tests - one I did last week where I got a 770. Some of the questions were known to me as I had done the GMATPrep tests multiple time, so again I didnt let the score dictate my actual performance (do note, I kept my overconfidence in check!) The last test, I took yesterday and simulated the GMAT conditions as much as I could - got a 730
I had made up my mind that come what may, I wouldn't take this test lightly, won't go out saturday night etc. A very (hot) girl, who's a friend of mine, invited me to go out with her last night to a club. She had been under medication for a while and hence hadn't partied for long, and she actually said I want to get hammered tonight - GOD was really testing me. r much control I said No and stay put at home. Slept at 11 PM woke up at 7 AM feeling very refreshed. Btw, an interesting thing happened (Murphy's Law?) When I took my GMAT last year, I contracted viral fever 2 days before. This time something different happened - the electricity in our building went off and the power backup failed - which means I was trying to fall asleep in the arid Delhi hear (35-40 degree celsius yesterday night). However, God was kind - after an hour, the power backup was resuscitated and I slept peacefully around 12 AM.
Had a bath, ate a bar of Snickers and drank Red Bull on my way to the test center. Reached in time, smiled at the invigilator when he was explaining the rules - I had been through them too many times now - and started my test. Analysis of Argument/Issue were fine. Have a very fast typing speed so ended with more than 10 minutes in each case. Took a break, took a deep breath, prayed and started Quant.
Overall level varied from Moderate to Difficult. Overall, there were 5-7 VERY tough questions that ate my time. In fact I had only 3 mins for the last 2 and I got them both wrong. After I ended my exam, I went outside for the break and solved both questions in my head. Both took only a minute to solve mentally, but I succumbed to pressure - could have easily gotten a 50 on my Quant. Of course I didn't know this then, so I thought I may have just screwed up my quant, and hence really really focused my energy on verbal.
Verbal was pretty OK to say the least - 1 RC was tough, no boldface questions but 2-3 complete the argument types. I clicked next after the section ended and next, next next etc. until I came to the screen about reporting test scores. I closed my eyes, prayed for 1 minute to God, saying that if you deem me suitable enough to become what I dream of becoming, please let the score be >720. I first saw Quant at 49 and was aghast - I thought I had blown it. Then I saw verbal at 42 and immediately the total. Pumped my fist in the air, feeling like I had conquered the world, and thanked god for the amazing result.
Came out, went to the loo and released the tremendous pressure built inside, and exited. Called my dad who told me he's proud of me, and this my friends completed my day out with the GMAT. I have a blog (http://unclearadmit.blogspot.com) where I very bravely stated that my target school this year is HBS. I very enthusiastically wrote that I will score above 720 - and I did. One small step for business school, One giant leap for a kick-ass career!
Thanks to everyone on this forum - you all make it what it is. I look forward to now interacting with everyone on my (successful) app cycle.