Liam was proactive in his GMAT preparation, reaching out to me in January in anticipation of applying to schools for Round 1 in September. Totally fresh to the exam, Liam barely knew what Data Sufficiency was, so I was excited to work with someone with a clean slate! As I always do with students new to the exam, I first had Liam take a diagnostic exam from mba.com.
Liam’s diagnostic wasn’t too shabby: 590, with a 39 Quant and 32 Verbal. His goal was a lofty 730, so we had our work cut out for us, needing to see big improvements in both Quant and Verbal. One thing I pride myself in as a GMAT tutor is really getting into the weeds of my students’ thought process, so instead of just creating a generic curriculum, I spent time figuring out where his specific issues were.
Liam felt that he could do much better on Reading Comprehension. He had done very well on the SAT and was a voracious reader, so the fact that he missed almost half of the Reading Comprehension questions surprised him. Such a result, however, isn’t entirely unexpected. Students new to the GMAT will often have difficulty settling on the proper approach toward questions, but with proper instruction, we’re usually able to identify the necessary modifications to get the student back on track. Liam did relatively well on CR, though I didn’t let him off the hook: high CR scores are integral to high Verbal scores, so I emphasized that we should spend at least some time exposing him to proper methods there. SC was his biggest weakness in Verbal, but as I told him, this was encouraging! Of all Verbal topics, SC is the easiest to improve in, so once we identified the specific SC concepts that troubled him, we incorporated these into our SC lesson plan and got the ball rolling.
Quant: Many of our students new to the exam score in the 38-40 range on Quant, so Liam’s performance there was something I was very familiar with. Upon review, we determined that his issues were pretty much across the board: He was shaky in proper quant methodology and rusty on most of the major concepts. We settled on a Quant curriculum emphasizing the core foundations in all of the major content areas, then building up to tougher concepts and questions.
In situations like Liam’s, I like to start by covering Verbal methods first. While this might sound counterintuitive, the fact is that success on Verbal comes down to developing an airtight, rigorous methodology toward the questions, so the sooner we start developing and refining these habits, the better. At our first session, we covered RC strategies, after which I had Liam do several passages on his own for homework. The results were impressive. All right or at most one wrong on each passage, and he had a clear sense of where his issues were. Feeling confident there, we moved on to CR at the next session and had a similar result. We decided to have him practice these questions consistently and to continuously monitor his performance on these areas, but it was time to move on to the “meaty” topics: SC and Quant.
For both SC and Quant, I had Liam learn the core conceptual foundations for the topics and do “easy” and “medium” questions from the Official Guide corresponding to these topics. I’ve structured my program in such a way that we were able to easily monitor Liam’s performance and to modify the lessons and homework accordingly. Our proprietary error log lets us monitor your performance in real-time, and we we were able to use this to figure out topics on which Liam needed additional work.
After Liam mastered the foundations, we moved on to harder questions from the Official Guide and weekly quizzes. He had a couple hiccups on his first quizzes, but after we discussed some important time management techniques, he saw the results we wanted, so we moved on to practice tests.
His practice test scores were impressive: 710, 730, 740. With these scores down, Liam had my seal of approval to take the real exam, which he did one week after his 740 practice test. I was expecting a jubilant e-mail from him celebrating something in the 730 range, but instead, we had a problem. 690, with a 46 Quant and 39 Verbal. Liam attributed the performance to nerves, and I concurred. He’d been scoring in 42-45 range on Verbal on his practice tests, so there was no other explanation for the drop. The question was: how to fix this test-day underperformance?
Less is better!
Liam had put in the work, and he had the results on the practice tests to prove it. The real issue was that he was getting into his head and putting too much pressure on himself. He told me that before the exam, he had actually ramped up his studying, which is a big no-no! Leading up to the exam, you either have the skills and knowledge or you don’t. Trying to cram or learn a new concept last-minute usually does more harm than good. So my advice to him was simple: take a week off of the GMAT completely. Don’t study it, don’t think about it, don’t touch a book. The following week, do a handful of questions per day, and a couple quizzes, then take the exam. Liam was surprisingly receptive to this advice and took it to heart. Two weeks later, he sat for the exam. He’d done it: 750, with a 48 Quant and 45 Verbal. He’ll be attending Columbia Business School in the fall.