This is going to be a long post so I have broken it under different sections for easier reading. Hope the post will be useful to some of you. Note that I had taken the test in the good old days of no data analysis/interpretation.Motivation
It was in January this year (2012) when I realized that my career is not moving as fast I would like it to. When I started to evaluate my options I figured out that they fell in two broad categories: change my job or do an MBA. Changing my job would have been easier but probably the more short term solution because I was beginning to realize that I wanted to move onto something new. Oh I skipped my introduction, I am a 27 year Indian old engineer working in Europe with some good experience in R&D and innovation. After 10 years in engineering (6 as a student) I believe it is time for me to move on from the pure engineering side of it and explore the business side of the hi-tech industry. Also I am someone who believes that learning and experiences have to be multidimensional, I have learned new languages, practiced new sports and even done a course in Finance(CFA). So I decided that it was time for me to take off a year or two, spend time with great people, learn some new things and then come back to the industry.My Start
With the decision to do an MBA made it was time to write the GMAT. To be honest I had some experience with GMAT preparation, my soon-to-be wife had written her GMAT in 2009 and I knew how the test looks. So I began with downloading the GMAT prep software and took one of the two practice tests. I knew I will get a decent score and was expecting it to be around 700, in fact I was expecting the preparation be a long haul and had prepared myself to see something around 680. So when I saw 760(Q50, V42) on my first test I was pleasantly surprised. My confidence was boosted and I decided to research a bit and try to set myself a target for the final test. Your Start
I would advise anyone beginning his/her preparation to start by getting a familiarity with the test, freshen up your concepts if needed and then take a practice test. NEVER take your first test without familiarizing yourself with it, I know many people did so and got disheartened on seeing their first score. Also do not judge yourself on your first total score. Note down your section scores and try here(http://www.800score.com/score2.html
) to see how your score will change as your scores for individual sections change. It is a very useful exercise as it will help you understand how the scoring works and you might realize that maybe your low initial score is not too bad because it could be improved by targeting your weak section. This weak section is usually the verbal section for most Indian aspirants.General Advice
After some analysis of my score and the test in general I set myself the targets for individual sections. My targets were Q≥50 and V≥42 because I figured our that these will guarantee me an overall score ≥760 and the 99th percentile. These were my targets and your targets will be different based on how you perform on the first practice test. You could either set yourself the final targets or you could set incremental targets as you move forward. And I strongly advice that the first test be an official GMAT prep test.
Then start with deciding on which books you will follow. You can build a list by following the very good online forums like gmatclub etc. One general advice, keep the list short. My main source for practice were the Official Guide and the GMAT Verbal and Quant reviews. Other books that I used for individual sections follow later.
Try to set yourself daily and weekly targets, even if you do not meet them all the time they help you keep yourself disciplined. And try to feel guilty when you miss your targets for 2-3 consecutive days :). Try to time your practice sessions once you have refreshed your concepts and the rustiness is gone. I practiced approximately 50 questions every day and timed all my sessions.
Important things to remember are that GMAT is all about keeping yourself focused, remaining confident and trying to minimize the standard deviation of your scores on the practice tests.Verbal
I would advice to start your verbal preparation by focusing solely on the sentence correction rules for a week or two. Take the Manhattan guide and go through the first 8 chapters as quickly as possible. Sentence correction is one of the trickiest sections of the test but the good news is that it is based on rules that can be learnt and mastered. The Manhattan guide will help you do that. In addition to the official material mentioned above I used the Aristotle SC grail which has good questions with explanations.
Critical reasoning is a lot about reading and analyzing quickly and avoiding silly mistakes. Begin by getting to know the different question types, if you have enough time definitely try the Powerscore Critical Reasoning Bible. Once you are familiar with the format all the remains is practice, practice and practice :).
Reading comprehension is a section where it is very difficult to give general tips. However, try to improve your reading speed and learn to identify some answers that act as traps. I did not use any book for it and just used the official practice content.Quantitative
Start your preparation for this section with the knowledge that you have done it all during your school days. So if you are willing to spend some time it will all come back to you. However this does not mean that you have to go through all the mathematics books from your school days. The Manhattan guides (5 in total) are great and precise, use them.
You will need sometime to get to grips with the data sufficiency questions, start with the A,D or B,C,E rule from the beginning, it saves you a lot of time.
Most of you will find this section easier, however you will be frustrated to see yourself making the same mistakes again and again. I tried to make a list of the mistakes that I was repeating, it looked like:
1. Reading too quickly
2. When moved to option B took option A with it.
3. Not distinguishing between clearly stated integer and non-integer variables.
Make such a list, it will help you identify potential traps. Also I read this somewhere and I believe it is true. "If a question seems "super easy", particularly for your skill level, it probably isn't. You may have just been fooled."
I used questions posted on the gmatclub.com forums in addition to the official content. Questions there are very good, especially for higher difficulty levels.
In my days we had to write 2 essays and I prepared well for this section because I had time and also because it was the first section and I did not want to start my test on a bad note. However you do not have to be as thorough as me, just make sure you look at the advice here http://gmatclub.com/forum/how-to-get-6-0-awa-my-guide-64327.html
and practice a few essays. Practice Tests
Use the GMAT Prep tests. They are closest indicators of your performance on the actual test. The bad news is there are just 4 of them. I know only 2 of them come with the software but there is another version of the software that was retired few years ago. Google it and download it, I remember I found it one of the forums. After you have taken one test in the beginning save the remaining three for when you are more prepared. Do not waste them, they are precious. My scores on these tests were, 760, 770, 780 and 770.
In addition to the official test I purchased the Manhattan tests. While they are good for the verbal section, their quant section is not close to the actual test. They are computation intensive and do not get disheartened if you do not score well on their quant section, I never did except for the last test. I took four of these and scored 730, 740, 760, 760.Choosing the Date
One simple advise, don't rush and don't delay. I know it is tricky and it depends on the individual. But don't worry much about the date when you begin. After some time into your preparation you will start to feel more confident and hopefully see your scores moving toward your desired level. At this point your should pick a date. I picked a date after 2 weeks of preparation. I started my preparation in mid-January and wrote the test on 16th of March. But you have to make your decision based on your progress. Remember do not rush but when feel ready do not delay.
The Test Day
It will fly by, so remember that you should slow down when you think there is a trap question in front of you. Stay calm, hopefully you will have taken enough practice tests and will have your own time management plan. One general advise is always remember when to move on to the next question, because you should never leave the test unfinished. And when you have finished your test, unwind :). Don't bother much about your score if it is in your desired range because in the end it is only a part of the whole application.