Monthly Archives: October 2012

4,000 verbal questions: a (painful) GMAT success story

Everybody loves a good, hyper-dramatic GMAT success story. That’s why our friends at Beat the GMAT have so many dedicated readers and contributors: we’re all addicted to the “I went from a 460 to a 740 in just one month!!!” stories. The faster somebody improves, the more excited we get in the GMAT world.

I certainly love to watch a student (or a perfect stranger) jump 100 points in a few weeks, but I love it even more when a GMAT student succeeds after fighting like crazy to improve. Put another way, I admire plucky test-taking persistence more than I admire pure test-taking talent. And today’s story features the amazing Ms. HP, who is probably the most incredibly dedicated GMAT student I’ve ever met.

(Before I tell you about Ms. HP, a quick note for anybody who might be wondering about my long absence from my GMAT blog: during the years that have passed since my last post, I’ve traveled to eight countries, taught three courses in a NYC public school, moved cross-country to Colorado, written over 170 (!!) articles for an odd mix of food and plastic surgery websites, and proposed to my lovely soon-to-be-wife… all while maintaining a completely full schedule of GMAT students and MBA applicants. Life is calmer now. Please forgive my absence, and brace yourself for a small flurry of pent-up GMAT blog posts before I get too busy again.)

And now, back to Ms. HP. When I first met Ms. HP (not her real name, of course– “HP” refers to Chinese hot pot, which is one of her favorite meals), she had just earned a string of 640s on her MGMAT practice tests, with equally erratic performances on quant and verbal. After a session or two, I realized that Ms. HP had excellent math skills; once she learned to consistently check her work to avoid unforced errors, I wasn’t really worried about her GMAT quant score at all.

Verbal was a different story. After Ms. HP completed some critical reasoning and reading comprehension diagnostic tests from my favorite LSAT book, I discovered that she had some legitimate weaknesses. She had a tendency to rush through questions, she would occasionally over-think CR passages, and she simply didn’t feel confident battling through the dense language of CR and RC texts. Her GMAT score goal was a 720, but her error rate was easily twice as high as it needed to be to achieve her goals.

If you’re struggling with CR or RC, you won’t like what I’m about to tell you: for certain students—including Ms. HP—the only reliable cure for GMAT verbal ailments is tons and tons of practice.

Sure, a good GMAT (or LSAT) tutor can help you to conquer difficulties with particular question types. If you’re disproportionately bad at, say, inference questions or assumption questions or main idea questions, we can fix that. If you have some bad note-taking habits—such as taking too many or too few notes, or focusing on the wrong details—a good GMAT tutor can help with that. And a good GMAT tutor can help you organize your time, and help you organize the information in the passage.

But if your reading skills are fundamentally flawed or if you consistently misunderstand the passages, there’s really only one (unappealing) cure: craploads of practice. Sure, some occasional guidance from a GMAT tutor can help you to focus on the right details, but there are no GMAT test-prep gimmicks that can make you a better reader. You simply have to work hard at improving your skills, often over a long period of time.

Ms. HP, for better or worse, really didn’t have many bad habits with CR or RC, and her errors were evenly distributed among the question types. The bottom line was that she wasn’t great at reading the passages and answer choices. So I told her to do as much practice as she could: three or four 25-question practice sets per week, at the very least.

To make a long story short, Ms. HP proceeded to work like crazy, and consistently did far more homework than I assigned each week. Her CR and RC results improved dramatically, and she ultimately earned a 750/49Q/42V. If we use Ms. HP’s original MGMAT scores as a baseline, she improved by 110 points. Awesome, right?

Here’s the truly incredibly part: Ms. HP completed a total of roughly 4,000 CR and RC questions before her GMAT exam. Yes, you read that correctly: 4,000 questions, give or take a few. In addition to completing every official GMAT verbal question ever published—most of them at least twice—she also completed every CR and RC question from 43 full LSAT exams, for an approximate total of 3,225 LSAT questions. If we include her work in GMAT books and on practice GMAT tests, she did somewhere in the neighborhood of 4,000 CR and RC questions—in just a few months.

At the risk of jinxing poor Ms. HP, I’ll call my shot right now: WHEN she gets into a top-ten MBA program, she will richly deserve it. I’ve seen plenty of students work hard for their (often dramatic) GMAT score improvements, but I’ve never seen anybody work as mind-blowingly hard as Ms. HP. The qualities that made her an incredible GMAT student are exactly the qualities which make her great at everything she does: she has a positive attitude, an incredible work ethic, a laser-like focus on her goals, and—pardon the expression—cajones of steel. (Not literally, of course.)  She’ll be an outstanding MBA student, wherever she ultimately ends up.

If you’re completely terrified by the thought of completing 4,000 CR and RC questions, don’t worry: Ms. HP is clearly an extreme character (in a good way), and I suspect that she could have achieved an amazing GMAT score with a less-heroic quantity of verbal exercises. And if you’re studying for the GMAT right now, odds are good that you’ll be able to reach your peak with substantially fewer questions.

But next time you sit down in front of a GMAT book and dread the thought of doing another few dozen CR questions, think of Ms. HP. Hopefully, her story will provide a little bit of inspiration… or at least remind you that this GMAT verbal crap isn’t always as easy as we’d like it to be.