exhausting the OGs: a case study

As a private GMAT tutor who presents himself in unconventional ways, I tend to attract unusual students. People who are “average” or “typical” tend to do well in prep classes; there’s no need for them to pay for a private GMAT tutor. Often, I find that I’m the GMAT resource of last resort. I get lots of calls from people who have already done everything they can (self-study, prep courses, perhaps repeated re-takings of the GMAT) and can’t think of anything else, so they call an independent tutor, hoping that I can offer some help.

Usually, I immediately have an idea of what to do for a student. Some people complain about their GMAT verbal scores, but haven’t had a lick of sentence correction grammar training–it’s easy to see that there is, at the very least, a content issue in these cases. Some students reveal major deficiencies in their math preparations, and these are also easy enough to fix. I’m about to start working with a student who has scored 330 and 430 on her first two practice tests, and is in the middle of a prep class; at least as a starting point, she just needs a little bit of one-on-one attention to help her grasp some fundamental concepts and build her confidence. Basically, there’s an obvious starting point with nearly every GMAT student I’ve ever worked with, and I can usually figure that out over the phone.

But when I first came to NYC last month, I met a student who might, in some ways, know more about the GMAT than I do. This guy has done every single official GMAT question (GMAT Official Guide 11th edition, GMAT Official Guide 12th edition, GMAT Verbal Review, GMAT Quant Review, GMATPrep, GMAT Focus)… twice. And he’s taken all of the Manhattan GMAT tests twice. He kept a journal of all of his mistakes. And he’s taken the real GMAT test twice. I couldn’t ask for a more thorough course of self-study.

Strangely, the poor guy (let’s call him Mr. V) is stuck with a sub-650 score, with particularly weak outcomes on the verbal section (low 40s on quant, but he was right around 30 on the verbal). Apparently, Mr. V called two other independent GMAT tutors before contacting me, and both said that they couldn’t do anything to help him. And I can understand why. What can possibly be done to help this guy, when he has apparently left no stone unturned? He has a strong work background, but is aiming for a 700+ GMAT score so that he can have a shot at top MBA programs. Jumping from, say, 620 to 700 is no joke under the best of circumstances, but it’s one hell of a task for a student who has already devoured every retired GMAT question that has ever been published.

I was honest with Mr. V from the start: I’m not sure how well any of this will work, but I gave him a smorgasbord of GMAT options. Ultimately, we decided to do a full run-through of all of the key grammar concepts on sentence correction, as well as a quick tour through the math content to see if we could find any holes in his understanding of the fundamentals. Beyond that, we realized that we needed to squeeze every possible drop of knowledge out of the official GMAT material, and we had to find some way to supplement the verbal content with outside sources.

For sentence correction, I’m forcing poor Mr. V to identify every single mistake in every wrong answer choice. Much of the material in the OGs is far easier than what he saw on the actual GMAT, and I realized that he probably hadn’t really trained himself to find every type of error. I think this approach is driving him nuts, but seems to be helping somewhat. (I’ve given the same assignment to other students, with mixed results.)

On the math section, we’ve discovered that Mr. V is an algebra genius, but that he gets tripped up by some of the logic- and word-based material. Combinations, permutations, conditional probability, and venn diagram questions tend to make him see double. So we’re working through some methods to make him more systematic in his approaches to those questions, and we’re both digging around to find as many additional, 700-level problems as we can for those topics.

The other two GMAT verbal sections, as is often the case, have proven to be more problematic. I’ve shown Mr. V several different tactics for approaching GMAT critical reasoning, most of which involve creating some sort of visual guide for navigating the questions. I’m not sure how well the tactics themselves are working, but we decided to make him suffer through LSAT logical reasoning questions alongside the OG critical reasoning material. At worst, the LSAT material will make the GMAT seem a little bit easier and more straightforward; I hope that he’ll look at the verbal section of the actual GMAT and be a little bit less intimidated by the convoluted language. At best, a steady practice diet of LSAT might actually cure him of his logical errors.

Mr. V’s test date is still a few weeks away, and I’ll probably be almost as nervous as he will be. I’ve certainly helped some unique individuals reach their MBA goals, but Mr. V has forced us to rewrite the GMAT test prep playbook. I just hope that the first draft of the new playbook is good enough to get him the points he needs to achieve his MBA goals. I’m fascinated, and will update this page with his progress, regardless of whether his result ultimately makes his GMAT tutor look good.

9 responses to “exhausting the OGs: a case study

  1. Pingback: My wake-up call: Complacency with GMAT practice tests « Freedom to Fail

  2. Pingback: my shortcomings, in plain view « GMAT Ninja (NYC)

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  4. at the end of the day…..MrV what did ? 🙂

    • Charles Bibilos

      Carcass, Mr. V did wonderfully on his last few GMAT practice tests, but had a fatigue-driven meltdown on the verbal section of his actual exam, unfortunately. But there’s a happy ending: he was ultimately admitted to a global top-ten program. Life is good. 🙂

  5. This is pretty much sounds like my story! In addition to the materials Mr.V used, I used the QuestionPack, during the last 2 weeks and still ended up with a terrible 630(Q38 V38). After some 20+ question in Quant, I didnt realize that I was losing time and ended up blind-clicking close to 10 questions.. 🙁 Verbal too blind-clicked 3-4 questions. Now I have no clues on how to prepare for a retake 🙁

  6. Charles Bibilos

    Radhika, I could be wrong here, but I’m willing to bet that the problem is in your approach, not in your study materials. My hunch is that you have a bad habit of getting waaaaaay too stubborn on the tougher quant questions, and then you end up rushing through easy questions. And that’s going to absolutely kill your score. It doesn’t take too many misses on easy questions to obliterate your chances at a 700+, if that’s what you’re shooting for.

    For some extra context on the scoring system, you might want to check out the following articles:
    Deciphering adaptive GMAT scores
    GMAT timing strategy: how much math do you really need for a 720
    Yes, GMAT scoring is weird

    So stop trying to be a hero on every question, and learn to let go of the hard questions. Focus on being mind-numbingly accurate on the easy questions, and try to develop a stronger sense of timing so that you know when you’ve spent more than two minutes on a hopeless question.

    What materials should you use? LSAT always works for CR and RC, there are billions of quant questions (albeit non-official ones) available from GMAT Club or GMAT Hacks or any number of other sources, and it’s not going to kill you to redo the official SC questions (and some of the quant questions) that you’ve already seen. Sure, the materials aren’t ideal at this phase, but focus on execution and timing, and you’ll be fine–even if the questions aren’t exactly brand new.

    • I think your stamina are builded setting a clock with a time inferior the standard.

      Fo instance: I do a battery of 50 question from OG (yup now mentally I handle such amount of questions in a row), so the time should be on average 50*1.20 = 60 minutes. I set my countdown to 50*1 minute= 50 and attack the questions.

      certainly is I pick a bit more wrong question but it doesn’t matter to some extent.

      I use this: simple and perfect http://sourceforge.net/projects/countdowntimer/files/latest/download?source=files

      Moreover, I think after a certain point is not a question of material or memorization and so forth BUT of pure training, building your confidence…

      I mean what you have to know must be like a second skin. For instance: if you have a SC where at the beginning of the sentence ther is a dependent clause then it must be follow by a main clause and the best first word in this sequence is suddenly the subject. No matter what

      Whenever you have such situation doing so you save a lot of time.

      it is all about strategy, really. Time to do this stupid test. Saturated


  7. Absolutely correct Charles. My problem area is certainly the difficulty in accepting that its okay to not get some questions correct and still get a fabulous score. Your articles are real eye-openers, hammering into the brain, every bit of strategy one needs to know on the GMAT 🙂 I wish I had read them before my GMAT. I am following the suggested materials right away.. Thank you Charles.

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