Saturday, December 29, 2012

My GMAT story– 690 12/27 (Q-44 V-40) from 390(Q-21 V-22)

*posted in 'Share your GMAT Experience' in

I've achieved my target GMAT score,required for my profile(IT, Indian female,8+ years of experience).I found the GMAT experience to be particularly daunting one.My main struggle came from being out of touch from academics for 8+ years.I thought my story would help people struggling in quants and candidates like me who've been out of touch with exams for a long time.I was academically strong in school and college,but the GMAT taught me how out of touch I was. I had a greater struggle with quants compared to the verbal sections.I assume this could be be because I continued to maintain my strong reading habit during my work life,but did no math practice.

My GMAT journey Aug 2012 -Dec 2012

I started out in August 2012 trying to prepare for the GMAT on my own .I gave GMATprep-1 at this time to discover my level and scored a 390(Q-21,V-22,IR -4).I discovered that I could not understand concepts which had seemed easy to me in school and college.I felt really discouraged and my ego was severely dented.I was stumped for a bit,till a friend of mine suggested that I take GMAT classes.I could not make a decision of own,so I went ahead with his suggestion.

I joined Jamboree Gurgaon for their 4 week fast track course. The math instructor was really good,but the English instructor sucked. I started taking the verbal classes over the weekend(a different batch),and the English tutor was much better in that batch.The classes helped,but what really helped in this case was the thought in my head that I had shelled out a hefty amount for this course(30k INR).Plus,meeting other students studying for GMAT helped.Always helps to meet people undergoing similar hell :)

I completed the Jamboree basic material for quants and verbal and OG 13 by October.I was still very shaky with quant concepts at this time. I spent a lot of time beating myself up over the fact I could not understand these concepts easily. My friends in Jamboree were facing different problems.They were scoring in 47-49 range in quants,but were struggling in verbal. I was strong in RC by this time,decent in CR and weak in SC.But generally I was better in the Verbal section compared to the Quants section.

My test scores at this phase were:
OG 13 Diagnostic Test – DS-average,PS-average,CR-above average,RC-above average,SC-below average
Jamboree online Test 2- (no AWA,IR) -540 Q-12,V-43
Jamboree online Test 3-(no AWA,IR) -550 Q-22,V-35
Jamboree online Test 1 – (AWA,IR) – 600 Q-25,V-41

I knew my quants scores were way below my target score(650),and I needed to raise it to 40’s.My math instructor suggested that I should just learn concepts and learn to do easy sums.And avoid wasting time on learning to do harder sums. I discovered I had lot of ground to cover here.I did read up on lots of strategies in gmatclub at this phase,but they didn't help me much. I finally decided to just get strong on commonly covered topics in GMAT quant.I started following Bunel's posts and looked for his solutions for problems.I also referred to solutions given by Veritasprep Karishma.I could make sense of these,as they were clear and crisp,and delved into the basics.
These links helped me a lot during this time period to understand basics:
I could not get much use of the GMAT club math book as the book is aimed at providing a quick brief of topics,along with shortcuts for various problems. No shortcut made sense to me till I got my concepts clear.This included basic math,multiplication tables etc. I could make much better use of GMAT club math-book after my concepts were clear.

For verbal,my main weakness of SC continued to trouble me. I considered purchasing EGMAT SC and GMAT-pill SC.I picked gmat-pill SC since the trial content seemed more interesting than egmat. While the material was good,I found I could make very little improvement in trying out the suggested techniques on OG 13 SC questions. I realised that GMAT pill favored a highly intuitive approach which I could not grasp.I purchased EGMAT SC,and found that this content suited me much better.It was methodical and structured and I could apply their techniques successfully on OG problems.I tried Manhattan SC,but it did not help me much.

I booked my test date(Dec 14) and gave some mock tests. My scores at this time period were:
GMAT powerprep 1- 660(Q-46,V-35)
GMAT powerprep 2-660(Q-44,V-38)
GMAT prep Test 2- 640(Q-40,V-37)
Manhattan CAT 1- 650(Q-43,V-36)
Manhattan CAT 2- 630(Q-45,V-32)

Around Dec 10,I realised that my Math concepts were getting decent,and my rusty mind was starting to work again. I felt a extra week would help me improve further in math,as I had reached the base starting level that non-rusty candidates would start out with. All things went well till Dec 19(my new date).I fell ill with viral fever and was in a bad state on Dec 18.I decided to move my test to Dec 27,despite loss of money as I felt giving a test at lower mental and physical levels would bring my score down by 20-30 points. I was totally depressed with this,as it would delay my work for R2 admissions. I had to take the test by December 31,to be in time for R2 admissions so the option of postponing further was out. I was also all studied out,and felt sick at the thought of looking at another book. So I did not do any study till Dec 27(final date). I just did the rest of the Manhattan CAT's and spent my time analysing them.

Manhattan CAT 3 -590 (Q-37 V-34 IR 1) I gave this test when i had flu to determine if score went down with physical illness.Apparently it does.
Manhattan CAT 4 -590(Q-47 V-34 IR 3) Recovering from flu and bad mood
Manhattan CAT 5 -650 (Q -44,V-36 IR 4)
Manhattan CAT 6 -650(Q-43,V-36 IR -4)

Since I had decided not study and I was in a foul mood,I just went ahead with applying various strategies.I had tried all these strategies at early points in my study and they hadn't worked for me.But i didn't see any loss in trying them out now when I had nothing to lose. I finally figured out that I was the best person to craft my own strategy,as I knew my weakness and strengths.In my case I realized that I was just stronger in verbal compared to quants.I had tried my best and brought my quants to a decent level,but I'd gain more by improving my verbal score.Timing was a huge problem for me in quants,so I decided to guess on all difficult problems and do all easy problems correctly and carefully. I could finish my quants section after this and it kept my score in the range of 44-46. I analysed all the verbal questions on my Manhattan CATs and discovered some pattern in my mistakes. For example I would never pick answers starting with 'some of ..' in CR. I tended to miss checking for pronoun precedents in SC. In RC i missed inference questions,since i did not go back to verify the answers with the passage. However fixing these mistakes resulted in me facing timing problems in verbal.Prior to this I always finished verbal 8-10 minutes before time.I fixed up a timing strategy for verbal,but I had less practise with this compared to quants timing.(a problem i had faced for a much longer period)

The day before my GMAT exam,I stopped studying and went out for the day with a friend. I was relaxed compared to earlier times,as I told myself that I only had to follow my timing strategy,and nothing else mattered.

Test day
I went to the test center(pearson's in Delhi) a half an hour earlier for my 9 am slot. It was a noise-free environment and hassle free experience. I went in to my seat,and took deep breaths to control my rising panic.I calmed down a bit and started AWA.It went fine and I did my IR. IR was pretty tough and I completed only half the questions,and had to guess on the rest.I took my optional break and ran to my locker.I gulped down my Redbull and snickers bar and rushed to the loo. I used the rest of the time to stretch and do some breathing exercises. I went in and started my quants section with a single thought.I will only do easy questions, guess on the rest and stick to timing strategies. It went ok,and I actually could complete quants.I was elated that I could complete my quants sections and took my next break. I tucked in another redbull,a bit of snickers and headed to the loo once again. A bit of stretching and I went in to my verbal. I missed the timing a bit on first few questions,and that forced me to guess to maintain my timing.I kept telling myself I should just focus and finish the test. I completed my verbal in the nick of time,but I knew I had done verbal at levels below my normal level of accuracy. I got a couple a screens till i got to my test score. I had received a 690(Q-44,V-40) and I was pretty happy.This was the highest score I had ever received compared to my practice tests! I was proud of myself for having stuck to my timing strategy and managing to control my tension and panic. It was over and I had reached my target score.

Books & materials used
gmatclub posts
AWA -chineseburned template was sufficient for me.
IR -OG 13 - I did not do anything beyond this,as adcoms admitted that this score is not of big consequence.
Jamboree Test materials,OG 13,e-gmat SC course
Timing strategies -
Best mock tests-Manhattan CAT's and GMAT prep 1,2

General Tips
  • Don't take the test if you are not in peak mental and physical condition near test date.
  • You can study for GMAT on your own. But Classes helped in forcing me to study,so it helped me.So this is optional based on what suits you.
  • Accuracy on problems has to be fixed before you can fix timing.
  • Fixing timing issues takes time. Sometimes improving accuracy can cause timing issues to pop up.I could not fix my verbal timing issue in time as it popped up after i increased my accuracy in it( a week before the test).I could fix my quants timing issue as it occurred much earlier.
  • GMAT is a game of strategy once you reach 650.But to reach 650,you need to study if you are not already there.
  • Apply all your strategies on OG material to determine if they work for you.You gain nothing if they work on some non-standard material.
  • I found keeping error log to be useful once I hit the 650 plateau.Till this point my errors were way too random.
  • Learn concepts before you apply strategies.After you learn concepts do apply strategies.Figure out which ones works for you and stick to them.
  • A wounded ego is an unnecessary burden to carry during GMAT study.Don't beat yourself if the what comes easily to others is very difficult for you. Discover your own superpowers and use them smartly.I discovered I could use my speed reading skills to my advantage in GMAT.
  • You can formulate the best strategy for yourself,if you honestly evaluate your strengths and weakness.
  • The importance of mental conditioning for GMAT is huge! I watched this everyday for the last week of the exam.I wish I had seen this everyday.
  • Play your own GMAT game.Don't let the GMAT play you.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Cocktail and all it's fizz

Themes: love triangle,bad girl,good girl,modern woman
Positives:Deepika as Veronika and the songs
Negatives:Indian stereotypes trying to pass itself off as cool and modern
My Rating: 2/5

I recently tagged along with a friend to watch the much 'hyped' Bollywood 'Cocktail'. The awesome threesome in this movie consists of Veronika(note the Christian sounding name)- the bad girl,Meera-the good girl and Gautam- the irrepressible flirt who is the love interest of both the girls. Remember Kuch Kuch Hota Hai ...where Anjali the tomboy had to turn into a sari-clad  bharitya nari  to catch the eye of her best friend Rahul? Well,don't worry...the same stereotypes still continue to be present rampantly in this movie.

Veronika is the all time party girl who rescues Meera,the shy newlywed stranded in Australia after her husband dumps her. Gautam  and Veronika end up in a casual relationship,with Veronika falling for him.Problem is that Gautam ends up falling for Meera,seeing her all round 'indianess'.She ends up falling for him too for no good reason.
Deepika Padukone has given her best performance till date as Veronika,with all the sass and wild eyed look that  you'd expect to see in an all round wild child.Impressive,considering how plastic she's been in all her movies till date.Just as I was about to dismiss her as another plastic Ash in the making,she shows indications of possible acting skills.Saif Ali Khan  has his moments as Gautam,but is a bit 'over-cute' in his attempts to be the charming flirt.Diane Penty(I feel like going easy on her .Poor gal.Just imagine the nicknames she must have endured as  a kid with that name :p) is beautiful and does her best in the boring good girl role.The thing is there's not much in the movie to make you believe why both these girls would fall for Gautham,who does nothing much beyond bed-hopping and mooching off his current girlfriend.The second half of the movie basically puts you through the ordeal of watching Gautam moon for Meera,and Veronika try to turn herself into Meera.It's like the film-makers decided ..see ..we got you bad  rich girl drinking and sleeping with different men.Now let's see her reform and discover 'Indian culture'. So basically Cocktail actually just a Mocktail.For all it's fizz and hype,it's not got the guts to go all the way .

Signing off with links to some awesome reviews of Cocktail :
The Vigil Idiot Version and
Spot the Slut version

Friday, January 20, 2012

Review of Dork: The Incredible Adventures Of Robin 'Einstein' Varghese

Author : Sidin Vadakut,  a former management consulting guy from IIMA,turned writer.The author has an interesting humorous blog called  Domain Maximuswhich you might like to check out.
Genre: satire
Themes: office culture,IIM,management consulting,mallu networking,dorks
Formats available: Paperback
My Rating: 3.5/5

I picked up Dork for some light holiday reading during my trip to YelagiriIt turned out to be a good random pick,and I spent  an enjoyable evening with this book,sitting on my park swing in Zeenat Taj Resorts in Yelagiri.

Robin 'Einstein' Varghese is a naive graduate from IIM A,who joins this mid-market  management consulting firm called Dufresne. The book follows his  comic misadventures at the firm,while he tries to learn management consulting  and make Senior Associate within the same year. 

Einstein is an obvious caricature,a naive and blundering mallu guy  who believes that companies completely follow the rules in their manifestos. But he's endearing,and I think some of the author's sympathies lie with the character,despite the many jokes made at his expense.The full force of the author's  rage and sarcasm actually falls on the myriad smaller smaller characters -the ego-centric boss,the ass kissing colleague,the supercilious colleague and on the generally incompetent and un-ethical ways that management consulting business is run at some companies.

There is also an amusing one-sided romance with Gowri,a former classmate from IIM,who surprisingly doesn't screw over 'Einstein' like I expected her to do.

This book is a marriage of sorts with Dilbert,satire and Indian corporate office culture.I enjoyed  the many jokes in this book(especially Einstein's  adventures which end up as viral videos),and also felt the full force of Sidin' s  harsh critism of his former colleagues and they way they managed their client's interests.

Intrigued enough to want to read the sequel 'God Save the Dork' and the next.Apparently this is a trilogy!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Review of ‘The Hunger Games’ Trilogy

Books: The Hunger Games,Catching Fire,MockingJay
Genre: Young Adult fiction
Themes: reality television, love triangle,poverty,war,self-preservation,alpha heroine
Formats available: Paperback,Hardcover,audiobook,ebook,kindle editions
My Rating: 4/5

I always consciously try to prevent myself from reading a book from a book series.
I normally read books from start to scratch in a go, filled with an obsessive need to know the ending.  So if I end up getting hooked on a series like I did with Harry Potter, I remain in that state of single-minded desperation, till I manage to read the complete series. And, that’s exactly what happened to me with ‘The Hunger Games’, but in this case it was totally worth it.

The books are set in the future in the nation of ‘Panem’, where the controlling district ‘The Capitol’ enslaves the remaining twelve districts and suppresses dissent with an iron hand. The districts rebelled against the Capitol several years ago, and lost the war. As a punishment, every year each district has to send in two children by a system of lottery, between the ages of twelve and eighteen to fight to death in a  survival skills based reality show called’ The Hunger Games’. This cruel ‘reality show’ is the highlight of year for the Capitol citizens, who cheer and send in gifts for their favorite tributes.

Enter our very own kickass alpha heroine – Katniss Everdeen from District 12. She’s tough, manipulative and no stranger to hardship, poverty and the struggle for survival. She’s no passive Bella Swan*, and is used to being the sole provider in her family. And right from the age of twelve, when her father died in a coal mine explosion. An expert with a bow and arrow, she hunts and kills animals for money, with her friend and hunting partner Gale Hawthorne.

In Book 1 “The Hunger Games’ Katniss volunteers in place of her younger sister Prim for the games. Peeta Mellark (an obvious reference to ‘pita’ bread), the other tribute from her district is a baker’s son, physically strong and courageous, but not really used to hunger and poverty like Katniss is. And he’s also been in love with Katniss right from childhood, though she’s unaware of this. Peeta declares his love for Katniss in front of the Capitol audience, and she goes along with it, thinking it’s a ploy for audience approval. It ends up being successful, and Peeta and her end up being the final two survivors in the game. In a calculated move, Katniss suggests that they both commit suicide together. She realizes there must at least be one surviving winner as per the rules, and the Gamemakers would be forced to intervene. Her ultimatum forces the Gamemakers to declare them both winners. She eventually discovers that Peeta was not faking being in love with her, and he ends ups being hurt when he discovers Katniss had just been pretending. This book is definitely the best book in the series, which will have you cheering for Katniss as she clears the obstacles in the hunger games and wins over her opponents with a good amount of violence and skill.

In Book 2 ‘Catching Fire’ Katniss faces the repercussions of her act of dissent in the Hunger Games. Some of the districts have started rebelling against the Capitol emboldened by her defiance. She is warned by the psychopathic Capitol President Coriolanus Snow to keep up the star crossed lovers act, so that the act can be passed off as the act of a lovesick girl. Peeta and Katniss are forced back into the arena for a special edition of the Hunger Games, where they have to compete with other past winners. The love triangle between Peeta, Katniss and Gale is a predominant theme in the series. Katniss identifies more with Gale, since he is similar to her, and is used to hardship like she is. But her need for Peeta’s gentle comfort intensify in this book, leaving her confused and vulnerable. Peeta and Katniss survive the games, by teaming up with the other tributes. But Peeta gets captured by the Capitol, while Katniss and her family get transported by the rebel alliance to District 13, the district that was supposedly destroyed during the district wars with the Capitol.

In 'Mockingjay', the third and final book, the districts' rebellion against the Capitol is up in a full swing, with Katniss being the symbolic ‘Mockingjay’ of the rebellion. She struggles with being a rebel propaganda symbol, similar to Harry Potter* struggle with being ‘The boy who lived’ and ‘The boy with the scar’. She’s also troubled by the fact, that there are lots of similarities between the Capitol and District 13, with the ruthlessness and element of control. Gale, her love interest and former hunting partner fits in well though, and identifies with ‘the end justifies the means’ philosophy that runs in District 13, which troubles Katniss a lot.Peeta ends up being rescued by the rebel alliance, but he’s been brainwashed against Katniss and tries to kill her.
Eventually a group including Katniss, Gale, and a still somewhat unstable Peeta go off on their own on a mission to assassinate President Snow. Before the mission is completed, Prim is killed in a bombing targeting Capitol children and rebel rescuers. A captive Snow tells Katniss that Coin, the president of District 13, was behind the bombing, which she initially doesn’t believe. When asked to carry out Snow's execution, Katniss kills Coin instead, realizing that she is identical to Snow, and Snow was telling the truth. Katniss, Peeta, and Haymitch eventually return to a ruined District 12 after Katniss is exonerated of the death of Coin, on account of her mental instability. Katniss slowly begins to recover from her many mental scars. Katniss' mother and Gale both take jobs in different districts, wanting to forget and move on. Katniss eventually realizes that she loves Peeta, marries him, needing his gentleness and love, and not Gale’s fire and need for revenge, so similar to her own personality.

The most fascinating part of the Hunger games is the way the fights in the arena are described, with an almost poetic description of violence and bloodshed. The overdose of violence is surprisingly matched with a minimal amount of physical affection. Katniss shares only a few innocent kisses and hugs with either Peeta or Gale, and even those seem almost ‘brotherly’. :)

Peeta Mellark is an obvious beta hero while Gale Hawthorne is an alpha hero, like Katniss. However Peeta is obviously more likeable and totally in love with our heroine, and I could understand why Katniss eventually falls for him. Gale and Peeta are not totally fleshed out characters, but Katniss more than makes up for them. Haymitch, Katniss’s mentor is my second favorite character in the series.  He’s flawed and ruthless, but he has his heart in the right place. Sarcastic, manipulative and a compulsive alcoholic, he’s a master strategizer who actually identifies with Katniss, and tries his maximum to keep her alive in the games. Katniss herself is definitely a role model for teen audience she’s aimed at, with her self-reliance and strength. But just like any other girl, she has her moments of vulnerability and confusion, despite the backdrop of war. Katniss matures through the series with the books growing darker, a strong heroine who has the capacity to inspire Harry Potter like/Lizbeth Salander* like fan craziness.

* References to Bella Swan, female protagonist from Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series
* References to Harry Potter, male protagonist of J.K Rowling popular fantasy series.
* References to Lizbeth Salander, female super heroine of Stieg Larsson’s ‘The Girl with the Dragon tattoo’ series.

Love,Romance and Heartbreak in two movies

I'm not really sure under what category this article really falls under. I've just tried to put into the words,the ramblings of my mind after watching two movies. Two slightly bittersweet romantic comedies - 'He's Just Not That Into You' and '500 Days of Summer’, which have a slight common thread running between them.

He's Just Not That Into You' has nine characters and deals with their romantic troubles. I’m going to skip all of them except for the central character Gigi. You may ask why. I guess she's the only one who captured my interest.Gigi has a long history of mis-interpreting signals from the men she dates. Any casual act by one of her love interests  always sends her into fits of obsessing over if this means  that they're interested in her. She meets Alex, a canny bar-manager, who is able to point out all her past mistakes of mis-reading signals. He tells her that if a guy is really interested in a woman, he would make no excuses and would definitely pursue her. It’s when he isn't, that he offers lame excuses. She starts following his advice, but also ends up falling for him. When he learns of her interest, he tells her that he is not interested in her, and that she has ended up misreading his motives once again.

I guess this movie just set me off to think a bit. I guess I'm addressing this question to everybody. How many times have you done this? Misunderstood some casual expression of interest by your crush/love interest and ended up obsessing over it. Will he ever call? Because she smiled at me, does this mean she interested in me? And the best part is, we end up discussing this with our friends, who confuse us even further. They assure us that our assumptions are true, and throw in a few stories where some similar couple got together. Rarely, would your friends(or in many cases. ourselves) be willing to point out the bald truth that 'He Just Not That Into You’. Isn’t it just as important to admit to yourself when your love interest is not interested in you, as it is to get the inkling that somebody is falling for you?
'500 Days of Summer' declares that it's a 'boy meets girl story’. But it adds a warning 'That this is no love story'. Tom, a writer in a greeting card company falls heavily for his  beautiful and quirky co-worker Summer. They start getting romantically involved with each other, despite Summer warning Tom that she does not want a serious relationship and does not believe in love. Summer splits up with Tom eventually. This sends Tom in a sinking depression and he is desperate to get her back. He meets Summer some days later at a friend's wedding party and she invites him to a party at her house. Tom has a lot of expectations from this invite, as he thinks the romance is getting re-kindled. At Summer's party however, he discovers that Summer is engaged to be married. He runs out of the party and enters into a deep depression. He eventually recovers, and meets Summer a few weeks later. She explain that she had  unexpectedly ended up falling in love with somebody. And that she actually now believed in love. She had just been too unsure of her feelings when she had been with him, to return his love. Tom accepts this, and moves on with his life.

There comes a point in many relationships, where things may start to cool off .One person might not be into the relationship, while the other could be. And sometimes relationships just end up dying a natural death, without any big event to cause the breakup. Beautiful while they last, but with an expiry date nevertheless. In today's lingo, this translates to a facebook relationship status of 'It's complicated'.

So why do you think people still want to fall in love? Well, I think because it's an amazing feeling. Nothing else can really compare to it. And, that's perfectly OK in my book. Because making a fool of yourself over love, is just one of the paths to self-discovery. If you don't let yourself ever take risks, what kind of  a life would you ever have? Safe and boring. That will definitely stop appealing to you at some time in your life. So what am I really rambling about. Well. ..Go and fall in love ...experience it's magic. It’s alright to get your heart broken. You can pick yourself up and heal again.If he/she's not into you? Well…just try again :)

P.S: In case you wanted to know. Gigi and Alex get together finally. Alex realizes he loves her, after she rejects him. Dumb ending in my opinion.