In life, you are often given binary choices. This is true even if the word binary isn’t something you recognize right away. Binary comes from the Latin “bini”, which means two together, and is used to regroup decisions in which you have exactly two choices. On forms, you might see categories such as “smoker” or “non-smoker”, and you are prompted to answer exactly one of the options. At a restaurant, you might get asked “Soup or salad?” (super salad??), and you are expected to make a decision as to which appetizer you want. Very frequently, these two choices cover the entirety of your options. There is no third option to select.
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If you’ve ever built a puzzle, you probably know that you can’t expect to start at a certain point and build the entire puzzle without moving around. You may find two or three pieces that fit together nicely, but then you find three pieces that fit together nicely somewhere else, and then work to connect these disparate sections.
When dealing with questions that ask us to compartmentalize information, there are two major sorting methods that we can use on the GMAT. The first, and perhaps more familiar concept, is the Venn diagram. This categorization is very useful for situations where information overlaps, as it allows a visual representation of multiple categories at once. However, if the information provided has no possible overlap, such as indicating whether something is made of gold or silver, or if they’re male or female (Bruce Jenner notwithstanding), the preferred method of organization is the matrix box.
Last year, I wrote an article for this blog discussing the pros and cons (and pros and cons and pros) of cancelling your GMAT score. At the time, you had to sit through an entire 3+ hour exam, go through every question asked and then be offered the possibility of cancelling your score without ever knowing what your grade would have been.
The most common question type that people tend to waste time on is Reading Comprehension. More than any other question type on the GMAT, students report reading and rereading the same sections of a passage, only to find themselves at the bottom of the page having retained no information. There are many reasons for this, from fatigue to mental inertia to daydreaming about the end of this test. However, it’s fairly common to have not internalized all the information in the passage, and still be able to answer the question asked.
One of the most difficult tasks on the GMAT is to properly interpret what the question is really asking. The GMAT is loaded with dense terminology, accurate but irrelevant prose and confusing technical jargon (and that’s just the instruction page!) The verbiage is dense on purpose, with the deciphering of the information part of the skills being tested. And since this task only gets more challenging as you get more tired throughout the exam, it’s important to recognize the vocabulary used on the GMAT. To borrow from geek culture, you need to understand the GMAT 1337 speak.
Some sentence structures seemingly stupefy scholarly students. One of the main reasons the GMAT chooses to test logic through sentence correction is that the rules of grammar are much more flexible than most students realize. We (hopefully) remember some of the basic rules of sentences. Sentences should have a subject and a predicate, but you can often shorten sentences in specific contexts. Like this. The rules we’ve learned in high school are relevant, but (to paraphrase Pirates of the Caribbean) they’re more like guidelines.
Succeeding on the GMAT requires a great many things. Firstly, you must be able to decipher and solve complex logic puzzles in mere minutes. Secondly, you must be able to maintain focus for many consecutive hours. (And thirdly, you must pay to take the exam). The exam can be particularly tricky because the questions asked are rarely straight forward. Indeed, all of these elements are often linked (except potentially the payment) on questions that ask you to decode functions specific to the question at hand.
There is one feeling that hampers momentum and takes all the wind out of your sails on the GMAT. That feeling is the thrill of quickly eliminating three incorrect answer choices on a question, followed by complete uncertainty between the last two choices. This paralysis is very frustrating, because your progress is halted in dramatic fashion, and you’re left with two options that both seem to make perfect sense as the correct answer.
Questions on the GMAT can be described in many different ways. I’ve heard them described as everything from juvenile to vexing, simple to impossible. One term that appears very infrequently as a characteristic of the questions on the GMAT is the word “clear”. Indeed, some questions are so convoluted that they appear to be written in Latin (or Aramaic if you happen to already speak Latin). This is not a coincidence or an accident; many GMAT questions are specifically designed to be vague.
I’ve often contemplated who would excel at the GMAT. After all, the exam is about logic, analytical skills, problem-solving abilities and time management. Surely to shine on the exam a test taker should be smart, methodical, insightful and perceptive (and blindingly handsome). Clearly, some people have done quite well on this exam, but others never got the chance because they never actually took the test. While some have been intimidated by the nature of the test, others simply were born too early to have even heard of this exam.
There are few things more alluring than shortcuts. Oftentimes we’re aware of how much work, effort or time is required to accomplish a task, but we naturally gravitate towards something that can accomplish that task faster. From buying readymade rice to taking elevators to go up two floors, we’re drawn to things that make our lives even a modicum simpler (including dictionaries). This is why so many people are disappointed when they first learn that the calculator is not allowed on the GMAT.
There are many famous expressions in the English language. Many of them are clever turns of phrase that refer to commonplace ideas and concepts in everyday life. You obviously don’t need to memorize these for the GMAT (A house divided against itself is not an integer), however some expressions can be easily applied to various GMAT problems. One common expression is that you’re comparing apples and oranges. This expression typically means that you are attempting to compare two elements that are not analogous and therefore incomparable. This idiom can be particularly apt in sentence correction problems.
A common mantra heard when studying for the GMAT is that you have to be fast when answering questions. This is absolutely true, as the exam is testing not only your reasoning skills but also your time management skills. This does not, however, necessarily mean that you must solve every question quickly. Indeed, there may be times where you feel fairly confident in the answer choice you’ve selected, but you don’t feel 100% certain (maybe a strong 60%). In these situations, it’s perfectly acceptable to double check your answer manually.
The GMAT is known to be a demanding exam. Most students recognize that a lot of preparation is required in order to get the best score possible. Most students undertaking the GMAT are also used to studying for tests and have worked out their own strategies and their own methods of preparation. Indeed, people overwhelmingly study the GMAT in an orderly and structured way. This is a positive thing, but it can have its drawbacks.
On the GMAT quantitative section, the exam is testing your logic and analytical skills using mathematics as a medium. The topics used include geometry, algebra and arithmetic, all concepts that have been covered in high school curriculums around the world. However, the emphasis is really on the logic more than the math. In short, the question is simply asking you to solve a given problem by any means at your disposal. As such, many questions can be solved without doing any math whatsoever.
In today’s world of instant gratification and ubiquitous mobile phone usage, we are becoming used to things going fast. Multitasking has become the new norm, and it seems like no one takes the time to finish anything before jumping off to the next task. While this hectic pace may allow more tasks to be accomplished (although not necessarily well), it also makes it harder for any one task to be attentively completed. In short, it’s becoming harder to finish any one thought.
In life, it’s important to have a hobby or pastime that you find interesting. Sometimes, when the daily grind of work, school, family, social responsibilities, (updating Facebook) and preparing for the GMAT just seems like too much to handle, it’s good to take a step back. Diving into a hobby helps take your mind off things by pausing everything else and concentrating on something personal and somewhat intimate to you. One of my favorite diversions is watching movies and immersing myself in the fictional world created on screen. Surprisingly, this same distraction can be applicable to GMAT studying as well.
One common complaint that people have when finishing the GMAT is that they are mentally exhausted. Indeed the exam is a marathon that tests your overall endurance, but also your time management skills. You have about two minutes per question in the math section, and slightly less than that on the verbal part. Since timing is such an integral part of the exam, it’s important not to lose too much time on any specific question type on the exam. It’s perfectly natural to be more at ease with certain question types and thus process them faster than others, but you don’t want to have entire categories of questions you’re trying to avoid (or at least, not too many of them).
One common complaint I hear from GMAT students is: “I can get the right answer but it takes me too much time.” Many people preparing for the GMAT feel this way at one point or another during their preparation. While this complaint has some merit, it can usually be paraphrased as “I’m approaching the problem with little to no strategy.” Relying on brute force to get the right answer is rarely the best approach. The old adage states that a million monkeys writing on a million typewriters will eventually produce the greatest novel of all time (It was the best of times, it was the blurst of times…).
On the GMAT, you will be asked to answer multiple questions in a relatively short period of time. One of the main difficulties test takers have with the GMAT is that they run out of time before finishing all the questions. For the quant section, there are 37 questions to solve in 75 minutes, which gives an average of just over two minutes per question. Since you don’t want to finish at the 74:59 mark (unless you’re MacGyver), you can figure two minutes per question as a good target. The good news is that most questions can easily be solved within a two minute timeframe. Unfortunately, many test takers spend three or four minutes on questions because they do not understand what they are trying to solve.
Studying for GMAT sentence correction questions can seem like a primer on grammatical rules. This is because any given phrase could have a pronoun issue, or a verb agreement issue, or even a logical meaning issue. Most GMAT preparation involves at least some amount of time on the specific issues that are frequently tested on the GMAT. There is, however, one important rule that must always be adhered to and that cannot be easily pigeonholed. This rule should cross your mind on every single sentence correction problem you may see, and is often overlooked when speeding through practice questions. Quite simply: the underlined portion of the phrase must work seamlessly with the rest of the sentence.
A common mantra at Veritas Prep is that the GMAT is a test of how you think, not of what you know. This shouldn’t be interpreted to mean that you can go into the exam without knowing anything and expect to get a good score. Rather, it means that how you apply concepts is crucial in this exam. You need to have a strong base, like the foundation of a house, but the difficulty is in using the information you have to solve the problem in front of you.
The question format least familiar to most prospective GMAT students is unquestionably Data Sufficiency. As a test exclusive (it has a no trade clause) question type, it is unlikely that you have come across such a question without having at least glanced at a GMAT prep book. However the format is completely logical. The question is asking when do you have sufficient data to answer a question, be it “always yes”, “always no” or “specific value x”. The enemy is uncertainty; any definitive answer will suffice to answer the question and move on to the next hurdle.
Many students who take the GMAT come from backgrounds that stressed mathematics. A significant percentage of GMAT test takers come from engineering backgrounds or other fields that require strong analytical skills. However, these students often find that the GMAT quantitative section is challenging for them. This is because the GMAT tests math in a way that is unfamiliar to these students, taking them out of their comfort zones and requiring them to solve questions in new and unfamiliar ways (most glaringly, without a calculator).
On GMAT Data Sufficiency questions, it’s important to note that you don’t have to do any calculations to get the right answer. In theory, it’s entirely possible to simply look at a problem and determine that the answer must be D (whilst eating your grey poupon). The question format simply asks you to confirm whether you have enough information to make a decision, not what that decision is or what any specific value is.
Sentence correction questions are among the least understood questions on the GMAT. Many native English speakers feel they can get by using their ears on sentence correction. However, the questions chosen on the GMAT generally have specific logical elements that must be evaluated in order to get to the right answer. Simply put, the grammar matters, but it’s more about the meaning than about the grammar.
Critical reasoning on the GMAT requires you to evaluate the author’s conclusion and select the answer choice that best answers the given question. While there are four broad categories of questions, the two most common types of questions are the ones that ask the student to either strengthen or weaken the conclusion provided. In actuality, strengthen and weaken questions are two sides of the same coin (possibly Two Face’s trick coin) and together account for roughly ¾ of the critical reasoning questions on the exam. With stats like these, it’s important to be comfortable with these questions!
The quantitative section of the GMAT is designed to test your understanding and application of concepts you learned in high school. The exam focuses on core mathematical concepts such as algebra, geometry and statistics. However some concepts are more engrained in the high school curriculum than others. Everyone’s done addition, multiplication, subtraction and division, but sometimes figuring out factorials or square roots may be a little more unusual.
Many students feel that the GMAT is only necessary to get into business school, and otherwise serves no real purpose in their everyday lives. I, as a GMAT enthusiast (and overall math nerd), see a lot of real world applications in the concepts being tested on this exam. It’s actually somewhat surprising how often splitting the cheque at a restaurant or calculating investment returns requires me to delve into my GMAT knowledge. Such an instance just happened the other weekend, and it’s the kind of story I’d like to use to illustrate how pervasive GMAT knowledge is in daily life.
When answering sentence correction problems on the GMAT, it’s very common to use your ear as a barometer of how the answer choice sounds. Particularly for native English speakers, this is often the number one way they approach any given sentence. The problem with this strategy is that sentence correction is often much more about the meaning than about the grammar. By extension, the test makers of the GMAT know they can fool many students by simply making the correct answer choice unappealing to the students’ ears (Won’t get fooled again!).
When preparing for the GMAT, there are many different types of questions that you must master. You know the verbal section will force you to answer questions about tedious passages, strengthen dubious arguments and correct unclear sentences. The ability to juggle these three elements will be paramount to your success as the question types are interspersed throughout the 75 minute verbal section. You cannot break down the exam into 25-minute sections each based on one broad topic and then move on. You don’t know what type of question is coming next, so you have to constantly be ready for any of the three major topics.
The GMAT is an exam that primarily tests your use of logic. One of the most consistent methods used to evaluate your use in logic is to take away your calculator and ask you “difficult” math questions. More specifically, questions that seem really difficult, but break down to simple concepts once you understand what is actually happening.
On test day, you will see 78 different questions designed to test how you think, how you approach a given problem, and how well you manage your time in a stressful environment. Most of these questions are unknown to you. You’ve probably spent tens of hours poring over hundreds of GMAT problems and trying to dissect questions from every possible vantage point. However, there is one question you are guaranteed to see on test day, and the question is deceptively simple. At one point, in the verbal section, you will simply be asked: “What is the primary purpose of this passage”
There are certain numbers that will show up on every GMAT. Some of these numbers you need to be able to manipulate, and some others will just lie there like the rocks of Stonehenge: static and immovable. Numbers like ? and ?2, which can be converted into decimals but generally simply encumber the equation.
Two weeks ago I wrote an article about whether the GMAT was hard. It is a question I get asked regularly from many different students with many different interpretations of what “hard” actually means. On test day, you may get a question that seems impossible to solve, and yet most other students get it right. This means that the question wouldn’t be considered difficult by the GMAT (say a 500 level question), but for you it seemed exceptionally difficult. The notion of difficulty is thus subjective, and while many would argue that the GMAT is hard, I have a much simpler explanation I have been postulating for the past couple of years:
One of the main goals of the GMAT is to determine whether or not you can analyze a situation in front of you and determine the information needed to solve the question. In this way, the GMAT is testing the same skills required to solve a business case. The numbers in front of you are not important, but your method of solving the question is. Crunching numbers and measuring hypotenuses are not useful skills in business; you’ll have a calculator (or an abacus) to do that. Understanding how to approach and solve problems is the true skill being tested.
As a GMAT instructor, I get asked a lot of questions about the exam. Most of these questions are about what can be done to prepare for the exam and what to concentrate on, but one of the simplest questions I get asked all the time is simply: “Is the GMAT hard?” Sadly, the answer is not very clean cut for a given prospective student, but I’ve spent enough time thinking about this test that I now have a definite answer that I think captures the heart of what is being tested. My answer is simply this:
Everyone who takes the GMAT wants to get a good score. The exact definition of “good” varies from student to student and from college recruiter to college recruiter. However no one can argue that scoring in the top 1% of all applicants can be considered anything less than a good score. Getting into your local university’s business program may not require a terrific score, but it can’t hurt to have one.
The GMAT is an exam that students generally study for over a few months, but it can be argued that students have been preparing for it their entire lives. From mastering addition in elementary school to understanding geometric properties and reading Shakespeare sonnets, your whole life has arguably been a prelude to your success on the GMAT. You might not need everything you’ve ever learnt on this one exam, but you will already have been exposed to everything you need to be successful.