A real-time look at taking the GMAT


7:00

Ah it’s a lovely spring day and my morning starts when my alarm rudely reminds me that I should rise and dress so that I’ll be on time for my latest bout with the Graduate Management Admissions Test®. Unfortunately, today’s test is occurs at the ungodly hour of 8:30 thus my early start to the day (yes, early being a professional test prep guru for the last 15 years has meant that I’m almost never awake before 9 am and very rarely out of my day before 8:30).

7:07

I jump out of bed, say “oh sh*t!”, run to the shower, and “hole a fresh” (shout out the my island people and shout out to all those that recognized the list). I put on my smartest zoot suit and dash out the door. I grab the digital gadget of the century (the 10 gig tony apartment building. My stomach begins to growl. I skipped breakfast. My eyes start to sag because I only managed 3 hours of sleep. I wonder if I have time to stop at Starbucks. Speaking of Starbucks, I think that Howard Schultz, like tobacco executives, puts addictive substances into the coffee. Over the last 5 years, I’ve tutored quite a bit in various Starbucks locations because its convenient and has wireless access. And not being a coffee drinker, I spent several of those years refusing to buy overpriced coffee or tea. However, one summer day a student of mine (we’ll call him Nino Brown) bought me a Caramel Frappuccino (CF) without my requesting it. Because it was a hot summer day and the drink was frosty, had caramel, and I’m not rude so I decided to drink it (did you notice the list? is it parallel?). That was the innocuous start of my spiral into GISA. I blame the GMAT for my continued slide (thus the name of the condition from which I suffer). As I began to work longer hours building Bell Curves I’ve needed a pick me up now and again. And conveniently there is a Starbucks located every three blocks. At first it was only once or twice a week during the summer. Then it was every other day. Now it’s everyday, twice a day. Now whenever I tutor GMAT I must have one. Whenever I sit writing new GMAT questions I must have one. Whenever I work GMAT problems out I must have one. Caramel Macchiato in the winter, Caramel Frappuccino in the summer. It’s my drug, my fix, I need it, I got to have it. I’d do just about anything for a tasty coffee flavored caramel drink, as a matter of fact that’s how I was conned into taking the GMAT again, someone offered me a $250 Starbucks card.

Anyway, I have to get moving. I have to stop thinking about CM and get to the test.

7:35

Luckily, the B54 shows up just as I reach the corner and I’m off. Put in a little road music and start putting myself in the GMAT frame of mind.

7:42

I reach Dekalb avenue train station (big up Brooklyn!) and luckily again there is only a short wait for the Q train.

8:14

Arrive 42nd street – Grand Central Station (after a quick transfer to the 4/5 line). I jump out of the train and look longingly as I pass the long line in my favorite dealer’s spot (Starbucks at 150 E. 42nd street) and estimate I do not have time to get my sugar high and caffeine fix. Anyway, I head over to 201 East 42nd street, get checked in by security and head up to the 10th floor.

8:23

As I enter the Prometrics center, an older distinguished graying black man politely asks my name and to see my ID. He hands me a clipboard and instructs me to copy a paragraph that states basically I will not cheat, I’m not taking the test for anyone else, and I will not copy and release any questions under the penalty of death (ok the last part is a paraphrase). The waiting room is quite full for 8:30 in the morning with about 10 people waiting to take a test, there is a mother and a 8 year old boy in one corner and several 30 something men and women milling about or waiting in chairs for their name to be called. After filling out my form somewhat properly (forgive me if I “accidentally” inserted a random not here and there in the paragraph). I returned it to the gentleman at the desk and I’m given a key on a keychain attached to a big plastic 3 x 3 square with the number 15 on it. I’m instructed to place all my belongings in the locker and turn off all electronic devices. (This guy is about the politest Prometrics worker I’ve encountered.) After putting away my stuff I am told to take a seat until I’m called.

8:34

“Mr. Bello, please come sign in” I pop out of my seat and head over to the desk. I verify the address on the screen as mine, smile prettily for the camera (they take a digital picture of you) and then sign my name on the dotted line and put the time in. Another helpful soul, we’ll call her Maria, comes over hands me a booklet containing 4 sheets of yellow 8.5 x 11 paper. This is a change from last year when the scrap paper was 6 sheets of paper stapled in the upper right hand corner. It’s also different from the next year when test-takers will be given personal dry erase boards. Anyway, I follow Maria (she has a nice smile) over to station 3 and she says to me “There are earmuffs there if it get too loud,” pointing to the yellow industrial “airplane worker” earmuffs sitting atop the computer monitor.

Station 3 is a large cubical with a substantial desk, much larger it seems then some of the other centers where the cubical only fits the computer and not much else. This desk has ample space for the computer and for you to write on your scrap without having to move the keyboard. This station however is located right by the window which faces onto 42nd Street one of the busier streets in New York and I can hear car horns blowing as they pass by, not quite the epitome of quiet. (As with all test centers for every pro there is a con.) I sit down at my posh station and get myself set to take my test. Anyway on to the good stuff.

8:35

So I start my test. The typical survey comes first, what schools do I want to send scores to, what’s my demographic background, etc. I just skip the survey. I’m hungry, tired, and starting to go into withdrawal (got to find my CM dealer soon). After the survey comes the essay (and here is where I realized that I have a problem with GISA). In both my essays Caramel and coffee played a major role. It’s interesting how coffee can be proof of almost anything and how you can use coffee to weaken almost any argument.

8:50

Essays done. I skip the break and move on to math. In my I have a master plan I need to test, my boss the VP of Operations, has given me a specific assignment to accomplish and if I do not accurately accomplish it I will be fired. The master plan is much the same as it was in the summer; achieve the best test possible with the least effort possible. I start the test, here’s what I saw:

Question Numbers PS DS Basics Arith. Alg. Geo. Stats
1 – 10 6 4 4 1 3 1 2
11 – 20 6 5 2 2 4 1 4
27 – 37 blind guesses

There was an fairly complicated series function that required you to combine algebraically 2 different series, “tricks” such as plugging in were not as helpful as many testers claim (I only saw one or two opportunities where plugging in or substituting numbers would have been the better approach.) Functions appeared in several places and always overlapped with other concepts (such as number properties. The test continued to overlap concepts; a probability questions that requires knowledge of number properties, rate question that disguises a percent question, etc. Overall, the math was quite typical for my scoring level. A keen understanding of number properties and arithmetic is important as well as a solid basis in all other topics. Contrary to most of the myths circulating, statistics questions appear at the mid-level, as you can see. To fully prepare for the test you should be ready for all topics. There was nothing really special that a well-prepared test-taker should not have been ready to answer, if they worked most of the problems on the Bell Curves site. Visit the insights section (Practice > Homework > Insights) to find some illuminating questions.

Final Results: 35 In the middle of the section I got slightly distracted by the noise from the cars outside. It’s somewhat distracting but I refocused and finished my assigned task.

9:58

I finished the quant section with good confidence that I will keep my job. I get up take my scrap paper book with me and leave the room. I have to stop at the desk and sign out of the testing room and get the key for the men’s room. On my way to the men’s room I decide run out and get my fix (FYI officially the break is 5 minutes long). I dash to the elevator, past security, out of the door, around the corner, and up the street. Take a look into Starbucks store #125 and see a line 7 people deep! Damn it! Foiled again! I run back to the corner grab a water (probably healthier anyway) and head back upstairs.

10:03

Throat no longer parched (though I’m still bleary-eyed) I’m ready to tackle the Verbal Section. I return to the check-in desk and sign in and I’m told to go to my station. This is odd since you need a proctor to start the test, but I go without saying anything. Anyway I go back to station 3 and sit there waiting for someone to come over. After 5 minutes of waiting I get tired of waiting so I try waving them over, but they don’t see me, so I get up and go knock on the window. Finally, the proctor comes over and pushes some magic buttons and the test starts (a good 12 minutes after I started my break). I really wish I had a chance to pick up my CM hit. Anyway here is what the verbal looked like: SC 8 in the first half of the test 7 in the second 3 related to pronouns 5 related to verbs 9 related to idioms 10 related to modifiers adverb modifiers showed up twice 3 related to lists 1 related to comparisons 1 misc use of may possibly CR 8 CR in the first half of the test, 3 in the second half 2 inference 1 weaken 1 assumption 1 paradox 4 complete the argument! 1 evaluate the argument 1 bolded phrase RC Passage 1, questions 11 – 13, 1 paragraph 42 lines. Alice Paul and her approach to women’s rights versus another woman’s previous approach. Passage 2: questions 17 – 19, 1 paragraph 42 lines. Sorry forgot what this topic was. Passage 3: questions 25 – 28, 65 lines. The pros and cons of using focus groups to determine advertising strategy. Passage 4: questions (somewhere toward the end), 65 lines. New theory about what information the solar constant actually conveys about the age of a star. All but one passage had a general question. Specific questions had answers that were fairly easy to spot once I had my outline. There was mostly standard fare in the reading comprehension and in the verbal overall. The one thing about the verbal section that was slightly odd was that it started with 5 SC before I was given another question type. The SC was chock full of common errors. The distribution of question types in CR was a little bit more unusual, there were fewer assumption-based arguments then there has been (present perfect) on past tests.

10:49

I take my scrap paper and leave station 3 and head back to the check in desk where I sign out for the final time that day. I get my unofficial score results and gather my belongings. The elderly gentleman with the graying hair says nice job.

Final results: Quant: 35 (44%) Verb: 38 (85%) Total: 610 (73%) On a final note, notice how much closer to the verbal percentile the total percentile is. In general when predicting your score you should think of the math and verbal numbers as a weighted average, the verbal will contribute more to the total percentile since it’s harder to achieve a high score. I hope this gives you some insight, entertainment, and inspiration. That’s it another days testing done. Starbucks calls! (I really have to get into a program.)

Wishing you success!

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