Inspired by a perfect scorer’s story on MBA Crystal Ball, Sravan Potnuru set out to achieve the maximum score possible on the GMAT – 800/800.
He shares his GMAT debrief and how he got the score with under 60 days of preparation.
GMAT debrief strategy: Score 780 AWA 6/6 IR 8/8
by Sravan Potnuru
“If you can dream it, you can do it.” – Walt Disney
Quite a few people have asked me about my GMAT journey and how I scored a 780 with self-prep in two months. When they reach out to me, their most common questions are along the lines of
- “Which sources did you use?”
- “How many hours did you spend per day studying?”
- “How many mocks did you take?”
- “How many months should I prepare for the GMAT?”
While I understand the rationale behind this line of questioning, to benchmark your preparation with that of somebody who has already finished the exam, I think these are the least important questions to ask.
While I will address some of these questions, I will also share some of my insights on what the right questions to ask are, how to approach the exam and my strategy to test taking that allowed me to get a high score within an accelerated timeline.
Finally, I will describe the ABC(s) framework for the GMAT.
I had always planned on getting my MBA – Even when I was still in college at NIT Rourkela, as I always felt I had an aptitude for business. My father had a career at a financial organization, and would teach me the workings of business, even when I was a child.
Pursuing an MBA was taken as a given. However, the need for an MBA was becoming increasingly urgent over the past year, due to a MBA need at work and the requirements of my desired career path, leading up to me deciding to start studying for the GMAT in December 2020, after a CAT attempt that did not lead to the three select schools I wanted.
Gearing up for the GMAT
After a few weeks spent researching, my GMAT journey finally started in the last week of January, 2020, and ended in the middle of March, 2020, spanning just under two months.
I took a free mock from MBA.com to establish my baseline score, scoring a 740 on the same, with a high Q50, and a lower Verbal score. I set my target as 800 and decided to start preparing.
There was no shortage of motivation for me. I wanted to do extremely well and avoid a retake. My partner was also very supportive, always encouraging me to do well.
Every day at work was a constant reminder of the need to get an MBA, as enjoyable as my work was. I worked six days a week at the HQ of the Indian division of a building materials conglomerate, going to office at 9am, and returning at 8 or 9pm.
I would rush through dinner, hit the books at 10 on the dot, and study till 1am or 2am. I rarely missed a day of prep, finishing the prep season with only 3 or 4 odd days of missed prep. Definitely no room for Netflix and chill.
Somedays I would be too tired and my accuracy would start dipping, forcing me to stall prep after an hour or so.
Sundays often had spill-over office work – not to mention house-keeping and other personal work – and I didn’t study any more on Sundays than usual.
After a month of this, I took another mock towards the middle of February. Scored a 770, with a far improved Verbal Score.
I booked the test slot around this time, for a test date of March 18th, and purchased the official mocks 3 through 6.
I also applied for leaves for the test day and the day before, to ensure a clear, untired mind. I intensified preparation around this time, completing all the questions from the OGs.
The goal was clear.
800 it must be.
Towards the last few days, I started taking the mocks I had bought, scoring 780, 790 and 790, with perfect Quant scores.
The last two mocks I took in the same time slot as that of the GMAT appointment, to minimize post-lunch lethargy-induced inaccuracy. The last mock I left unused.
I was still keen on the 800. Just had to make sure I wouldn’t make that single question error or so in the Verbal section and I was good to go.
I visited the test center the day before to familiarize myself with the location and accessibility.
On the day of the exam, I went well ahead of time, and walked in with a composed mindset.
Scored a 780, with V47, Q50, and a perfect IR 8/8.
I was satisfied with my performance until I noticed the Q50. I had been scoring Q51 consistently and was a tad disappointed.
I was also apprehensive about my AWA performance.
After the exam, after the usual intimation of scores to my partner and the family, I researched GMAT scores online and was pleased to find that my score was considered quite strong.
After a few days, I received the Official Test Report with a perfect AWA score of 6/6, bringing my GMAT Journey to an end.
Understand the GMAT
This is the most critical step of the process, especially if you want to spend lesser time on preparation and more time on actual B-school applications like I do. The GMAT is primarily a test of managerial aptitude.
It tests your problem-solving abilities, your analytical skills, your level of communication and comprehension ability and your time-management skills.
It is not intended to test the knowledge of the question material, but rather to test how you can craft an approach that works for any question.
Avoid non-productive exercises like free-reading difficult subject material, remembering answers to questions, and trying out untested speed-reading tricks and styles.
The GMAT intends its applicants to prepare and do well – High GMAT scores are essential to retain the differentiation that the GMAT intends to allow B-schools to do.
If everybody scored the same score as the average, how is the GMAT helping?
This is where the GMAT is unique from other exams you may have taken in the past, like the CAT.
For this very reason, there is a wealth of information on test-taking methods and strategy in the GMAT Official Guide (OG), which I felt was very useful and recommend all readers to go through.
Over and above this, the test taking strategy building exercise you should do before the GMAT is a great measure of managerial ability, even more than the actual test itself. This includes having a strategy covering:
- How much time to spend on a question
- How many questions to answer
- Milestones of number of questions against time
- Order of sections
- Segmenting questions by question type and building an approach for each type
Being able to do basic geometry or identify verbs is not directly relevant to post-MBA work.
This is the right question to ask as I was mentioning earlier. It does not matter how many hours I put in, or how many mocks I took. What matters is this question, “How much effort is required for me?”.
I am sure those among you with an aptitude for numbers will like the formula I have created for you to understand this:
If you are at a 620, and want to become a 690, that is a 70-point gap size. However, a similar 70-point gap between 720 and 790 requires much, much more effort.
This is the gap location – effort required for a similar gap at a higher score level needs more effort.
How quick are you to learn? I may need 10 hours to master a concept that you can master in 4 hours.
You are more agile. This is the reason why the amount of time I spent is hardly an indicator of the amount of time you would require.
And finally, some deficit areas are simply tougher for some people than others. This is due to your upbringing, your conditioning, your education and your exposure to test-taking.
I grew up with a love for writing and reading, and did not need to spend as much time on AWA or Reading Comprehension.
Given the Indian propensity to be accustomed to incorrect grammatical parlance used in daily conversation, I struggled much more to identify nuanced errors while doing Sentence Correction.
If you were a person who paid extra attention to the nuances of Grammar, but had limited reading exposure, it might have been the opposite for you!
On a general note however, given the significantly higher quality of Mathematics at all levels of Indian education, a deficit area in Quant might be easier to overcome, or take lesser time to overcome, than a similar deficit area in the Verbal section.
So if you’ve been struggling with Verbal for a long time with limited results, do not give up. Light is just around the corner, keep at it!
Self-Study versus Tutoring
This is directly related to the earlier point.
- Are you good with sticking to a schedule?
- Are you able to identify your problem areas?
- Does your schedule permit you to attend classes?
- What value addition is happening to your GMAT journey by being tutored?
These are questions you will have to answer for yourself. My work schedule did not permit any form of tutoring, which gave me a swift conclusion to this question.
I haven’t used any resources other than the GMAT Official Guide and mock tests from MBA.com for practice. I think they are the two best sources of quality content.
Consistency & Agility
What are you seeing to achieve through GMAT preparation? 10,000 questions and 1000 hours on the clock are not the answers. Stop sprinting.
Remember, unlike undergrad, cramming does nothing for the GMAT as there is no knowledge, no hard facts being tested.
GMAT results reflect how well your mind has adapted to the approach you have created for each question type. This adaption happens with sustained practice, not a lot of practice.
Also, GMAT preparation never ends. It is not to be done only for the two hours or four hours that you sit and study.
Do constant GMAT prep for the duration of the preparation. Calculate numbers in your head at work.
Correct sentences and check for errors according to Sentence Correction rules in every document you make. This helped me fit in a lot of prep in under two months.
24 hours a day is equal to 12 days of working only for two hours 🙂
Also, make sure the prep counts. Do not grind. If you are good at Sentence Correction, but weak in Algebra, do not neglect Algebra to see a few more correct answers in your sentence correction prep.
This is more relevant for those looking to finish prep with an accelerated schedule, however. If you are preparing for a longer duration, lack of regular touching up of the concepts could cause them to fade.
Do not over-prep. It does not serve any purpose. Unless your prep is contributing to enriching the adaption model for the question types I have mentioned, do not do it.
Ticking off textbooks and grinding for the sake of it does not help. The GMAT is smarter than that.
Do not shy away from the hard questions while practicing.
While the easy questions are fun to complete and a definite ego boost, the computer-adaptive nature of the GMAT is such that you WILL see a lot of hard questions if you are performing well, and they are what will increase your score.
Practice as many hard questions as possible.
Break Taking Strategy
Again, another factor that differentiates the GMAT from other exams (not GRE). Breaks can be a good way to reset and recollect your composure after a bad section.
If you are the type to get in the zone and hammer out work product however, breaks could be counter-productive. Experiment with breaks in the mocks. I finalized one break between Verbal and Quant, and no breaks after.
Something else might work for you. Either which way, it hardly matters, as the GMAT is fairly short compared to some exams like the CFA or the IIT-JEE Advanced, which are marathon exams.
Then again, I have been the type to sit on a task till it’s done, with a long break after. If you work in sporadic intervals with short breaks in between, this might be critical for you.
AWA and IR
IR requires basic analytical aptitude. Practice is necessary to familiarize yourself with the question types, however.
AWA – I followed the OGs to identify what a 6/6 AWA essay looks like and prepared from the wealth of valuable information and tips given in the question itself.
I structured my essay along the same points that the question mentions. Did not practice AWA in the mocks, but would build the essay structure in my head.
Spend less time preparing, and more time identifying what went wrong and why. Do not leave a single question in the post-mock analysis without being fully informed on what went wrong.
Mindset & Motivation
The GMAT is not the end of the world. Do not put it on a pedestal. Take it easy. Worst case scenario, you can always re-take.
Working and trying to study concepts long gone rusty can be a daunting prospect. Find your motivation, from your colleagues, from your workplace, from your partner or family or friends, and keep at it. It will happen.
Finally, I want to share my ABC(s) to the GMAT:
- Aim High: The GMAT wants you to succeed. Understanding the exam is paramount. Set your targets as high as possible.
- Be Consistent: Remember, the GMAT does not test your knowledge of a particular question, it tests your approach for every question. Run a marathon, not a sprint.
- Constantly Analyze and Adapt: The true test of the GMAT is how well you build the approach to test-taking. Keep analyzing your errors, keep strengthening your weak areas, keep adapting the test-taking approach.
- Stay Positive, Stay Motivated: The GMAT can seem daunting, but find your motivation, and stay positive. The results will follow.
I hope I was able to motivate you and provide some guidance based on my own experience.
You can share your specific questions in the comments below. I will try to answer them based on my availability and to the best of my ability.
This was just the first step in Sravan’s impressive journey. He went on to join the Dartmouth Tuck MBA program, got invited by the Boston Consulting Group for his summer internship and is looking forward to a career in consulting.
After you get your GMAT score, send us an email to set your application process going: info [at] mbacrystalball [dot] com
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– How Thrishnaa thrashed it to get a 770 score on the GMAT