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Increasing from a 540 to a 730 on the GMAT after several years of studying: Reddit success story


Spent over two years and thousands of dollars studying for the test, finally scored a 730 (Q49, V41, IR8).

Tried Kaplan course and Manhattan Prep books but didn’t find them useful. Found Target Test Prep much more useful, although difficult.

Very happy to have scored well on the exam, but sad that she was so over anxious over it for so many years.


from Finished my emotional multi-year GMAT journey: from a 540 to a 730 : GMAT (

Just wanted to share my experience with the GMAT now that I’ve finally finished it after several years of on-and-off studying. I’m not a quant person at all, so my journey has really been about the quant side of things. Sorry in advance that this is so long, but TLDR; I spent over two years and thousands of dollars studying for this test and finally finished with a 730 (Q49, V41, IR8).

I first started studying around 3 years ago. I figured the GMAT would be like any other standardized test and that all the prep companies would be the same, so I bought a book from Princeton Review and went through the whole thing. Took an official practice exam and scored a shocking 540; I was pretty demoralized and decided I needed to take an actual class. I signed up for a two-month, in-person class through Kaplan and studied hours and hours on top of the class. I thought it was working; I was pulling down 700 / 710 on Kaplan’s practice tests and felt ready to go, given I’d heard a lot of people do 10-30 points better on the real thing. I signed up for a test and got a 640, which was pretty upsetting given where I had been testing and that my goal was 720+ since I’m shooting for an M7.

When I got my score, I cried almost instantly. At that point, I finally realized just how exhausted I was. I had been putting all my spare time into studying, in doing so skipping social events and falling behind at work. I had lost all my motivation to keep studying, and 80 points felt like a chasm I couldn’t bridge. I put my GMAT prep books in the back of my closet and tried to forget about them for a while, but every time I had free time, a nagging feeling made me feel guilty for not studying. I ignored it for months and months, telling myself I needed to focus on my career and live my life a little bit. These excuses worked for a while, but I’m a habitual over-achiever and I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was letting myself down. Finally, about a year and a half ago, I purchased the Manhattan Prep books. Despite traveling every week and working 60-80 hours, I would wake up before I had to be at my client site to get in anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours of studying in. It was long, slow, and honestly, pretty depressing. It took me months to get through the books, and sometimes I took a week or two off from studying because I truly couldn’t motivate myself to study more. Finally, I got through all the books, and had a four inch stack of notecards to show for it.

I purchased the 2019 OG books and the Advanced Quant MPrep book. Wanting to prove to myself that I was finally ready for the hardest problems, I dove into the AQ book. I was very, very wrong. Reading through the material didn’t make any sense to me, and I didn’t even know where to begin with the problems. I realized that while I had learned the material and knew the flashcards, I had no idea how to actually apply the concepts to GMAT problems, despite doing the Manhattan ones that were in the books. I had taught myself how to do the problems only in an isolated environment, and I couldn’t apply them to the AQ book or the OG problems. No matter how much I studied, I couldn’t seem to get the problems right.

At that point I hit another wall. Work had been grueling for a while and I had some challenges in my personal life, and I decided that I was going to take another break for my mental health. The same nagging feelings I had from my previous break returned whenever I had free time, and I found watching Netflix or hanging with friends had become stressful. To make matters worse, I had a lot of friends applying to business school at that time, and all of them had 720+ scores (many 740+) and were getting into M7 programs. I felt like a complete failure but I avoided talking about it. The break lasted months, much longer than I had anticipated, but I couldn’t bring myself to study anymore.

Finally, three months ago, I was speaking to a friend who had just started at an M7, and opened up about my terrible journey. Fortunately, she had a similar experience; she told me that the first three times she sat for the GMAT, she scored lower with each consecutive test. In the end, it took her 5 attempts to get her score (I think a 740, but maybe higher). She told me that TTP had gotten her to where she needed to go, and highly recommended it.

I set an ultimatum for myself. I would try ONE more prep program (at this point, I had done Princeton Review, Kaplan, Manhattan Prep, and the OGs) and give myself to the end of 2020 to finish. If I couldn’t get what I needed by then, I’d either try my hand at the GRE or give up on an MBA altogether. I started TTP in September and immediately noticed the difference between it and the other GMAT programs I had tried. No frills, straightforward, easy to use, and HARD. But I really felt like I was learning new ways of thinking about quant problems, and for once I was actually getting the Medium and Hard problems right. Concurrently, I would try 10-15 OG problems a day to make sure I could actually apply what I was learning from TTP to the real thing. Slowly, I watched my error log go from 8, 9, 10 problems wrong a day to 5 or 6, and then finally, 1 or 2 wrong a day. I couldn’t believe it. I was feeling confident for the first time ever, and decided to sign up for a test.

I have horrible test anxiety – as in, shaking the day before, can’t focus on anything else, extremely irritable, nauseous stomach type anxiety. It’s always been an issue for me, but given my history with this exam, it was truly at its worst the day before. I had been forcing myself to go to bed at 9 pm every night, but I would lay there for hours before I could actually fall asleep and would wake up once or twice a night. I tried CBD oil and melatonin, but couldn’t get anything to work. The night before my exam was the worst. I truly think I slept maybe 2 hours before my alarm went off, and I felt awful getting out of bed. But I was determined to focus, and that I wouldn’t waste my chance just because I hadn’t slept well. I drank coffee and did a short morning workout to get my blood flowing, and repeatedly told myself that it was just a test, and I could take it again if I bombed.

When I got to the start of the test, I was shaking so hard I could barely click the bubbles on the screen. I always do Quant first since I subscribe to the ideology that your brain does best when it’s fresh (rather than warmed up with Verbal). I think I spent maybe 4 minutes on the first question. I totally blanked and couldn’t write steadily, and I almost gave up right there. But I decided to take 20 seconds to close my eyes and breathe, and that actually helped. When I started back up again, something switched. The problems became easier all of the sudden – so much so that I kept thinking I must’ve been bombing them or missing something – and when I got to my final question I had six minutes left. I purposely don’t look at the time left during the middle of the exam because I get distracted by trying to calculate how much time I have left per question, so I couldn’t believe it when I saw how much time I had left left because time management had been an issue for me before. The panic set in again, and I was sure I had bombed it. Luckily, I answered the last question pretty quickly, and took a few minutes to just breathe and relax.

The rest of the exam is a blur to me. I remember thinking the Verbal was unusually hard and I was annoyed at myself for ignoring it (I truly hadn’t studied any Verbal for over a year, but I read a lot, so I figured that would help). I felt better about IR; it’s usually hit or miss for me, but for some reason that day I found all the problems to be very straightforward. By the time I got to the essay, I was shaking again, because I knew all that separated me from my score was a few measly paragraphs that I could quickly piece together. I wrote them out, feeling my heart pounding out of my chest the whole time. I finished with seven minutes left, and again took a few minutes just to breathe. I was mentally preparing for a terrible score, telling myself that if I could get more sleep next time, if I could review the problems I got wrong on TTP and in the OG to see where I was going wrong, then I could deal with yet another low score because I’d have a real plan of attack to address it. Finally, I felt calm enough, and hit submit to get my score.

I could see out of my peripheral vision that my scores had popped up, but I avoided looking for 10 or so seconds until I really couldn’t wait anymore. I looked and gasped out loud. I had scored a 730, with a Q49, V41, and IR8 split. I’d never done so well on Quant or IR, and again I cried right in the testing room, but this time tears of joy. Never in my life have a clicked “ACCEPT SCORE” so fast, and I have to say it was the best feeling I’ve had in a long time.

When I got to my car, the real tears started flowing. Up until that point I had felt so much anxiety about this test, and it hung over my head any time I wanted to do something fun with my free time. My body was exhausted from years of studying, but particularly from the endless TTP problems I did from morning to night during my time off. I hadn’t really had time to process how much it had taken out of me. I called my family, who had eagerly been awaiting to hear my score, and they cried over the phone with me. My friends too. Honestly, as lame as it sounds, it was probably the best moment of my life in the past five years (and yes, that includes undergrad graduation).

I know this all sounds very dramatic, but I’m very hard on myself and rarely pleased with my performance when it comes to work or academics. To be honest, the way I handled this anxiety and the pressure I put on myself has made me realize I could really benefit from therapy to understand how not to base my sense of self-worth on my accomplishments. As I type this, I actually have a few tabs of potential therapists open now. It had been so hard for me to accept that I couldn’t perform as well as the people around me had, and it was so demoralizing to see how easy it seemed for them. I think a lot of us have this problem: basing our view of ourselves solely on our accomplishments. To me, the GMAT felt like my biggest failure to-date, and it weighed on me for years. Now that I’m done, I really regret how much it took over my life. I’m young, and I’m not going to get my early 20s back, so it’s somewhat sad to me to know that at least a few of these years will be marred by the nonstop anxiety I felt from this exam. I’m proud I finally got the score I wanted, but if there’s any advice I’d give to someone beyond “use TTP,” it’s that having a 7 in front of your GMAT score shouldn’t be something that consumes you, and if you find that it’s getting to be that way, reach out to your support systems for help.

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