GMAT Tip of the Week: Mother Knows Best

GMAT Tip of the WeekThis weekend is Mother’s Day here in the United States, and also, as the first full weekend in May, a weekend that will kick off a sense of study urgency for those intent on the September Round 1 MBA admissions deadlines. (If your mother were here she’d tell you why: if you want two full months to study for the GMAT and two full months to work on your applications, you have to start studying now!)

In honor of mothers everywhere and in preparation for your GMAT, let’s consider one of the things that makes mothers so great. Even today as an adult, you’ll likely find that if you live a flight or lengthy drive/train from home, when you leave your hometown, your mother loads you up with snacks for the plane, bottled water for the drive, hand sanitizer for the airport, etc. Why is that? When it comes to their children – no matter how old or independent – mothers are prepared for every possible situation.

What if you get hungry on the plane, or you’re delayed at your connecting airport and your credit card registers fraud because of the strange location and you’re unable to purchase a meal?! She doesn’t want you getting sick after touching the railing on an escalator, so she found a Purell bottle that’s well less than the liquid limit at security (and also packed a clear plastic bag for you and your toiletries). Moms do not want their children caught in a unique and harmful (or inconvenient) situation, so they plan for all possible occurrences.

And that’s how you should approach Data Sufficiency questions on the GMAT.

When a novice test-taker sees the problem:

What is the value of x?

(1) x^2 = 25

(2) 8 < 2x < 12

He may quickly say “oh it’s 5” to both of them. 5 is the square root of 25, and the second equation simplifies to 4 < x < 6, and what number is between 4 and 6? It’s 5.

But your mother would give you caution, particularly because her mission is to avoid *negative* outcomes for you. She’d be prepared for a negative value of x (-5 satisfies Statement 1) and for nonintegers (x could be 4.00001 or 5.9999 given Statement 2). Knowing those contingencies, she’d wisely recognize that you need both statements to guarantee one exact answer (5) for x.

Just like she’d tie notes to your mittens or pin them on your shirt when you were a kid so that you wouldn’t forget (and like now she’ll text you reminders for your grandmother’s birthday or to RSVP to your cousin’s wedding), your mom would suggest that you keep these unique occurrences written down at the top of your noteboard on test day: Negative, Zero, Noninteger, Infinity, Biggest/Smallest Value. That way, you’ll always check for those unique situations before you submit your answer, and you’ll have a much better shot at a challenge-level problem like this:

The product of consecutive integers a, b, c, and d is 5,040. What is the value of d?

(1) d is prime

(2) d < c < b < a

So where does mom come in?

Searching for consecutive integers, you’ll likely factor 5,040 to 7, 8, 9, and 10 (the 10 is obvious because 5,040 ends in a 0, and then when you see that the rest is 504 and know that’s divisible by 9, and you’re just about done). And so with Statement 1, you’ll see that the only prime number in the bunch is 7, meaning that d = 7 and Statement 1 is sufficient. And Statement 2 seems to support that exact same conclusion – as the smallest of the 4 integers, d is, again, 7.


Enter mom’s notes: did you consider zero? (irrelevant) Did you consider nonintegers? (they specified integers, so irrelevant) Did you consider negative numbers?

That’s the key. The four consecutive integers could be -10, -9, -8, and -7 meaning that d could also be -10. That wasn’t an option for Statement 1 (only positives are prime) and so since you did the “hard work” of factoring 5,040 and then finally got to where Statement 2 was helpful, there’s a high likelihood that you were ready to be finished and saw 7 as the only option for Statement 2.

This is why mom’s reminders are so helpful: on harder problems, the “special circumstances” numbers that mom wants to make sure you’re always prepared for tend to be afterthoughts, having taken a backseat to the larger challenges of math. But mother knows best – you may not be stranded in a foreign airport without a snack and your car might not stall in the desert when you don’t have water, but in the rare event that such a situation occurs she wants you to be prepared. Keep mom’s list handy at the top of your noteboard (alas, the Pearson/Vue center won’t allow you to pin it to your shirt) and you, like mom, will be prepared for all situations.

Getting ready to take the GMAT? We have free online GMAT seminars running all the time. And as always, be sure to follow us on Facebook, YouTubeGoogle+ and Twitter!

By Brian Galvin.

GMAT Tip of the Week: Death, Taxes, and the GMAT Items You Know For Certain

GMAT Tip of the WeekHere on April 15, it’s a good occasion to remember the Benjamin Franklin quote: “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Franklin, of course, never took the GMAT (which didn’t become a thing until a little ways after his own death, which he accurately predicted above). But if he did, he’d have plenty to add to that quote.

On the GMAT, several things are certain. Here’s a list of items you will certainly see on the GMAT, as you attempt to raise your score and therefore your potential income, thereby raising your future tax bills in Franklin’s honor:

Integrated Reasoning
You will struggle with pacing on the Integrated Reasoning section. 12 prompts in 30 minutes (with multiple problems per prompt) is an extremely aggressive pace and very few people finish comfortably. Be willing to guess on a problem that you know could sap your time: not only will that help you finish the section and protect your score, it will also help save your stamina and energy for the all-important Quant Section to follow.

Word Problems
On the Quantitative Section, you will certainly see at least one Work/Rate problem, one Weighted Average problem, and one Min/Max problem. This is good news! Word problems reward repetition and preparation – if you’ve put in the work, there should be no surprises.

Level of Difficulty
If you’re scoring above average on either the Quant or Verbal sections, you will see at least one problem markedly below your ability level. Because each section contains several unscored, experimental problems, and those problems are delivered randomly, probability dictates that every 700+ scorer will see at least one problem designed for the 200-500 crowd (and probably more than that). Do not try to read in to your performance based on the difficulty level of any one problem! It’s easy to fear that such a problem was delivered to you because you’re struggling, but the much more logical explanation is that it was either random or difficult-but-sneakily-so, so stay confident and move on.

Data Sufficiency
You will see at least one Data Sufficiency problem that seems way too easy to be true. And it’s probably not true: make sure that you think critically any time the testmaker is directly baiting you into a particular answer.

Sentence Correction
You will have to pick an answer that you don’t like, that doesn’t catch the ear the way you’d write or say it. Make sure that you prioritize the major errors that you know you can routinely catch and correct, and not let the GMAT bait you into a decision you’re just not qualified to make.

Reading Comprehension

You will see a passage that takes you a few re-reads to even get your mind to process it. Remember to be question-driven and not passage-driven – get enough out of the passage to know where to look when they ask you a specific question, but don’t worry about becoming a subject-matter expert on the topic. GMAT passages are designed to be difficult to read (particularly toward the end of a long test), so know that your competitive advantage is that you’ll be more efficient than your competition.

Critical Reasoning
You will have the opportunity to make quick work of several Critical Reasoning problems if you notice the tiny gaps in logic that each argument provides, and if you’re able to notice the subtle-but-significant words that make conclusions extra specific (and therefore harder to prove).

Few things are certain in life, but as you approach the GMAT there are plenty of certainties that you can prepare for so that you eliminate surprises and proceed throughout your test day confidently. On this Tax Day, take inventory of the things you know to be certain about the GMAT so that your test day isn’t so taxing.

Getting ready to take the GMAT? We have free online GMAT seminars running all the time. And as always, be sure to follow us on Facebook, YouTubeGoogle+ and Twitter!

By Brian Galvin.

GMAT Tip of the Week: Ernie Els, The Masters, and the First Ten GMAT Questions

GMAT Tip of the WeekAt this weekend’s The Masters golf tournament, the most notable piece of news isn’t the leaderboard, but rather the guy least likely to get near it. Ernie Els set a record with a nine-stroke, quintuple bogey on his first hole of the tournament, effectively ending his tournament minutes after he began it. And in doing so, he also provided you with some insight into the “First Ten Questions” myth that concerns so many GMAT test-takers.

With 18 holes each day for 4 days (Quick mental math! 18×4 is the same as 9×8 – halve the first number and double the second to make it a calculation you know well – so that’s 72 holes), any one hole shouldn’t matter. So why was Els’ first hole such a catastrophe?

It forces him to be nearly perfect the rest of the tournament, because he’s playing at such a disadvantage.

Meanwhile, Day 1 leader Jordan Spieth shot par (“average”) his first few holes and Rory McElroy, in second place at the end of the day, bogeyed (one stroke worse than average) a total of four holes on day one. The leaders were far from perfect themselves – another important lesson for the GMAT – but by avoiding a disastrous start, they allowed themselves plenty of opportunities to make up for mistakes.

And that brings us to the GMAT. Everyone makes mistakes on the GMAT, and that often happens regardless of difficulty level. So if you’re shooting for a top score and you miss half of the first ten questions, you have a few problems to contend with.

For starters, you have to “get hot” here soon and go on a run of correct answers. Secondly, you now have a lot fewer problems available to go on that hot streak (there are only 27 more Quant or 31 more Verbal questions after the first ten). And finally, the scoring/delivery algorithm doesn’t see you as “elite” yet so the questions are going to be a little easier and less “valuable,” meaning that you’ll need to “get hot” both to prove to the computer that you belong at the top level and then to demonstrate that you can stay there.

That’s the Ernie Els problem – regardless of how good you are, you’re probably going to make mistakes, so when you force yourself to be nearly perfect on the “easier” problems you end up with a tricky standard to live up to. Even if you really should be scoring at the 700-level, you don’t have a 100% probability of answering every 500-level problem correctly. That may well be in the 90%+ range, and maybe your likelihood at the 600 level is 75 or 80%. Getting 7, 8, 9 problems right in a row is a tall order as you dig your way out of that hole.

So the first 10 problems ARE important, but not because they have that much more power over the rest of the test – it’s because the more of them you miss, the more unrealistically perfect you have to be. The key is to “not blow it” on the first 10, rather than to “do everything you can to get them all right,” which is the mindset that holds back plenty of test-takers.

Again take the Masters: the leaderboard on Thursday night is never that close to the leaderboard on Sunday evening. Very often it’s someone who starts well, but is a few strokes off the lead the first few days, who wins. The GMAT is similar: a lot can happen from questions 11 through 37 (or 41), so by no means can you celebrate victory a quarter of the way through. Your goal shouldn’t be to be perfect, but rather to get off to a good start. Getting  7 questions right and having sufficient time to complete the rest of the section is much, much better than getting 9 right but forcing yourself to rush later on.

Essentially, as Ernie Els and thousands of GMAT test-takers have learned the hard way, you won’t win it in the first quarter, but you can certainly lose it there.  As you budget your time for the first 10 questions of each section, take a few extra seconds to double-check your work and make sure you’re not making egregious mistakes, but don’t over-invest at the expense of the critical problems to come.

Getting ready to take the GMAT? We have free online GMAT seminars running all the time. And as always, be sure to follow us on Facebook, YouTubeGoogle+ and Twitter!

By Brian Galvin.

GMAT Tip of the Week: Don’t Be the April Fool with Trap Answers!

GMAT Tip of the WeekToday, people across the world are viewing news stories and emails with a skeptical eye, on guard to ensure that they don’t get April fooled. Your company just released a press release about a new initiative that would dramatically change your workload? Don’t react just yet…it could be an April Fool’s joke.

But in case your goal is to leave that job for the greener pastures of business school, anyway, keep that April Fool’s Day spirit with you throughout your GMAT preparation. Read skeptically and beware of the way too tempting, way too easy answer.

First let’s talk about how the GMAT “fools” you. At Veritas Prep we’ve spent years teaching people to “Think Like the Testmaker,” and the only pushback we’ve ever gotten while talking with the testmakers themselves has been, “Hey! We’re not deliberately trying to fool people.”

So what are they trying to do? They’re trying to reward critical thinkers, and by doing so, there need to be traps there for those not thinking as critically. And that’s an important way to look at trap answers – the trap isn’t set in a “gotcha” fashion to be cruel, but rather to reward the test-taker who sees the too-good-to-be-true answer as an invitation to dig a little deeper and think a little more critically. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, and one examinee’s trap answer is another examinee’s opportunity to showcase the reasoning skills that business schools crave.

With that in mind, consider an example, and try not to get April fooled:

What is the greatest prime factor of 12!11! + 11!10! ?

(A) 2
(B) 7
(C) 11
(D) 19
(E) 23

If you’re like many – more than half of respondents in the Veritas Prep Question Bank – you went straight for the April Fool’s answer. And what’s even more worrisome is that most of those test-takers who choose trap answer C don’t spend very long on this problem. They see that 11 appears in both additive terms, see it in the answer choice, and pick it quickly. But that’s exactly how the GMAT fools you – the trap answers are there for those who don’t dig deeper and think critically. If 11 were such an obvious answer, why are 19 and 23 (numbers greater than any value listed in the expanded versions of those factorials 12*11*10*9…) even choices? Who are they fooling with those?

If you get an answer quickly it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re wrong, but it should at least raise the question, “Am I going for the fool’s answer here?”. And that should encourage you to put some work in. Here, the operative verb even appears in the question stem – you have to factor the addition into multiplication, since factors are all about multiplication/division and not addition/subtraction. When you factor out the common 11!:

11!(12! + 10!)

Then factor out the common 10! (12! is 12*11*10*9*8… so it can be expressed as 12*11*10!):

11!10!(12*11 + 1)

You end up with 11!*10!(133). And that’s where you can check 19 and 23 and see if they’re factors of that giant multiplication problem. And since 133 = 19*7, 19 is the largest prime factor and D is, in fact, the correct answer.

So what’s the lesson? When an answer comes a little too quickly to you or seems a little too obvious, take some time to make sure you’re not going for the trap answer.

Consider this – there are only four real reasons that you’ll see an easy problem in the middle of the GMAT:

1) It’s easy. The test is adaptive and you’re not doing very well so they’re lobbing you softballs. But don’t fear! This is only one of four reasons so it’s probably not this!

2) Statistically it’s fairly difficult, but it’s just easy to you because it’s something you studied well for, or for which you had a great junior high teacher. You’re just that good.

3) It’s not easy – you’re just falling for the trap answer.

4) It’s easy but it’s experimental. The GMAT has several problems in each section called “pretest items” that do not count towards your final score. These appear for research purposes (they’re checking to ensure that it’s a valid, bias-free problem and to gauge its difficulty), and they appear at random, so even a 780 scorer will likely see a handful of below-average difficulty problems.

Look back at that list and consider which are the most important. If it’s #1, you’re in trouble and probably cancelling your score or retaking the test anyway. And for #4 it doesn’t matter – that item doesn’t count. So really, the distinction that ultimately matters for your business school future is whether a problem like the example above fits #2 or #3.

If you find an answer a lot more quickly than you think you should, use some of that extra time to make sure you haven’t fallen for the trap. Engage those critical thinking skills that the GMAT is, after all, testing, and make sure that you’re not being duped while your competition is being rewarded. Avoid being the April Fool, and in a not-too-distant September you’ll be starting classes at a great school.

Getting ready to take the GMAT? We have free online GMAT seminars running all the time. And as always, be sure to follow us on Facebook, YouTubeGoogle+ and Twitter!

By Brian Galvin.

GMAT Tip of the Week: Verbal Is About The Beat, Not The Lyrics

GMAT Tip of the WeekOn our final Friday of Hip Hop Month here in the “GMAT Tip of the Week” space, let’s take a moment to appreciate the unsung (or at least non-singing) heroes of hip hop. Did you like Snoop and Tupac in the early 90s, or Eminem in the late 90s? They spit the rhymes, but what you likely enjoy most through your Beats By Dre are Dr. Dre’s classic beats.

A fan of Jay-Z and Cam’ron in the early 2000s? There’s no H to the Izzo or Heart of the City without Kanye West’s beats behind them. More recently, Kane Beatz and DJ Khaled have been the masterminds behind those bangers that you know as Drake, Lil’ Wayne, or Nicki Minaj hits.

So, ok The Game wouldn’t get far without Kanye behind him, and 50 Cent would be in da club cleaning the bathrooms without that classic beat by Dre. But what does this have to do with your GMAT score?

One of the biggest mistakes you can make as a GMAT examinee is to see the question for its subject matter (“it’s about crime rates” or “it’s about antihistamines”) and not for its structure (“it’s a wordplay difference” or “that’s classic generalization”). The subject matter is the lyrics that tend to get the glory, but the standardized-format structure is the beat. Even though you may find the lyrics “Go Shorty, it’s your birthday…” in your head, that’s not at all what you like about that song. It’s the epic beat. The same is true for GMAT verbal questions: what makes them tick, and what you should keep your focus on, is the structure behind that content.

Consider two examples, which may look entirely different but are actually the exact same question:

Example #1: The city of Goshorn has a substantial problem with its budgeting process for public works projects. Last year’s Sullivan Park expansion ran nearly 50% over budget, for example, and the city has gone from running an annual budget surplus for nearly two decades straight to now facing prohibitive budget deficits.

Which of the following, if true, most strengthens the argument that Goshorn has a substantial problem with its budgeting process?

(A) The Sullivan Park expansion project featured the smallest cost-above-budget percentage of all Goshorn’s public works projects.
(B) Goshorn’s budgeting process for public works has not been updated in nearly 20 years.
(C) A new hiking and jogging trail in Goshorn cost more than twice as much to construct as did a similar project completed just ten years earlier.
(D) Goshorn’s revenue from property taxes has decreased markedly since the height of the real estate boom five years earlier.
(E) The city of Goshorn does not receive any federal or state funding for its public works projects, although several nearby cities do.

Example #2: The introduction of a new drug into the marketplace should be contingent upon our having a good understanding of its social impact. However, the social impact of the newly marketed antihistamine is far from clear. It is obvious, then, that there should be a general reduction in the pace of bringing to the marketplace new drugs that are now being created.

Which one of the following, if true, most strengthens the argument?

(A) The social impact of the new antihistamine is much better understood than that of most new drugs being tested.
(B) The social impact of some of the new drugs being tested is poorly understood.
(C) The economic success of some drugs is inversely proportional to how well we understand their social impact.
(D) The new antihistamine is chemically similar to some of the new drugs being tested.
(E) The new antihistamine should be next on the market only if most new drugs being tested should be on the market also.

In each case, exactly one example is provided as evidence that there is an overall, general problem going on. In the first, that example is Sullivan Park, a project that ran over budget, leading to the conclusion that “the city has a substantial problem with its budgeting process.” In the second, exactly one new antihistamine is known to be poorly understood, leading to the conclusion that there should be a “general reduction” in the pace of bringing drugs to market (since, as the argument states, drugs should be well understood before they’re brought to the marketplace).

This is classic generalization, a common theme in Critical Reasoning problems. One example is given and a much broader conclusion is drawn, which is a flawed argument because you just don’t know whether that example is an outlier or the norm. In each of these two problems, your job is to strengthen the argument, so you want to employ the “Strengthen a Generalization Error” strategy – you want to find evidence in the answer choice that the single piece of evidence is indicative of the majority of data points.

With the first example, Answer Choice A does that by showing that Sullivan Park was actually the best-budgeted project (the smallest cost-above-budget percentage). If that poorly-budgeted project is the best, then all the other projects must be worse, and THEN you have a substantial problem overall. In the second example, again Choice A serves the exact same purpose: if the one antihistamine we know about is better understood than most, then most drugs are less-understood, meaning that the majority of drugs are poorly understood. And if that’s the case, then yes, we can draw that general conclusion.

The overall lesson?

GMAT verbal problems can be about anything under the sun: elections in fake countries, the heights of trees in the Galapagos, warranty claims on heavy duty trucks, the visibility of particles breaking off from comets…but that’s not what the test is about. Focus on the beats, and not the lyrics. And the common Critical Reasoning beats are:

1) Generalization
Like you saw here, if a general/universal conclusion is drawn from one data point, you want to either show that that data point is indicative of most/all (Strengthen) or that it’s an outlier (Weaken).

2) Correlation/Causation
Just because two things occur together (For example, “It’s dark so it must be nighttime.”) does not mean that one causes the other (What about an eclipse, or the fact that your hotel room has blackout shades?).

3) Clever Wordplay
This is the most common type of logical error in Critical Reasoning, in which one premise uses a closely-related term (for example “arrests”) to the term that another premise and/or the conclusion uses (“crimes committed”). When you identify that those two things are close but not quite the same, then your job is clear: find an answer choice that links them together (in a Strengthen question) or one that shows that they’re clearly not the same thing (Weaken).

4) Statistics and Data Flaws
When statistics are used in Critical Reasoning problems, look to make sure that the proper type of statistic is used (does an absolute number make sense, or should it be a percentage?) and that the statistic directly relates to the conclusion (much like the “Clever Wordplay” strategy).

Most importantly, recognize that the content of these problems is more or less a necessary evil: the problems have to be about something, but that’s not what they’re really testing. They’re testing your understanding of the underlying logic and structure. So in honor of all the great DJs that have gotten your shoulders shaking and toes tapping over the years, remember that to beat the GMAT, you’ll have to do it with the beats.

Getting ready to take the GMAT? We have free online GMAT seminars running all the time. And as always, be sure to follow us on Facebook, YouTubeGoogle+ and Twitter!

By Brian Galvin.

GMAT Tip of the Week: Your Mind Is Playing Tricks On You

GMAT Tip of the WeekOf all the song lyrics of all the hip hop albums of all time, perhaps the one that captures the difficulty of the GMAT the most comes from the Geto Boys:

It’s f-ed up when your mind is playing tricks on you.

The link above demonstrates a handful of ways that your mind can play tricks on you when you’re in the “fog of war” during the GMAT, but here, four Hip Hop Months later in the middle of yet another election season that has many Millennial MBA aspirants feeling the Bern, it’s time to detail one more. Consider this Critical Reasoning problem:

Among the one hundred most profitable companies in the United States, nearly half qualify as “socially responsible companies,” including seven of the top ten most profitable on that list. This designation means that these companies donate a significant portion of their revenues to charity; that they adhere to all relevant environmental and product safety standards; and that their hiring and employment policies encourage commitments to diversity, gender pay equality, and work-life balance.

Which of the following conclusions can be drawn based on the statements above?

(A) Socially responsible companies are, on average, more profitable than other companies.
(B) Consumers prefer to purchase products from socially responsible companies whenever possible.
(C) It is possible for any company to be both socially responsible and profitable.
(D) Companies do not have to be socially responsible in order to be profitable.
(E) Not all socially responsible companies are profitable.

How does your mind play tricks on you here? Check out these statistics from the Veritas Prep Practice Tests:

Socially responsible

When you look at the two most popular answer choices, there’s a stark difference in what they mean outside the context of the problem. The most popular – but incorrect – answer says what you want it to say. You want social responsibility to pay off, for companies to be rewarded for doing the right thing. But it’s the words that don’t appeal to your heart and/or conscience that are the most important on these problems, and the justification for “any company” to be both socially responsible and profitable isn’t there in the argument.

Sure, several companies in the top 10 and top 100 are both socially responsible and profitable, but ANY company means that if you pick any given company, that particular company has to be capable of both. And it may very well be that in certain industries, the profit margins are too slim for that to be possible.

Say, for example, that in one of the commodities markets there simply isn’t any brand equity for social responsibility, and the top competitors are so focused on pushing out competition that any cost outside of productivity would put a company into the red. It’s not a thought you necessarily want to have, but it’s a possible outcome given the prompt, and it invalidates answer (C). Since Inference answers MUST BE TRUE, C just doesn’t meet that standard.

Which brings you to D, the correct but unpopular answer. That’s not what your heart and conscience want to conclude at all – you’d love for there to be a world in which consumers will reject any products from companies that aren’t made by companies taking the moral high ground, but if you look specifically at the facts of the argument, 3 of the top 10 most profitable companies and more than half of the top 100 are not socially responsible. So answer choice D is airtight – it’s not what you want to hear, but it’s definitely true based on the argument.

The lesson? Once you get that MBA you have the opportunity to change the world, but while you’re in the GMAT test center doing Critical Reasoning problems, you can only draw conclusions based on the facts that they give you. Don’t let your outside opinions frame the way that you read the problem. If you know that you have some personal interest in the topic, that’s a sign that you’ll need to be even more literal about what’s written. Your mind can play tricks on you – as it did for nearly half of test-takers here – so know that on test day you have to get it under control.

Getting ready to take the GMAT? We have free online GMAT seminars running all the time. And as always, be sure to follow us on Facebook, YouTubeGoogle+ and Twitter!

By Brian Galvin.

GMAT Tip of the Week: The Biggie Smalls Sufficiency Strategy

GMAT Tip of the WeekIf it’s March, it must be Hip Hop Month in the Veritas Prep GMAT Tip of the Week space, where this week we’ll tackle the most notorious GMAT question type – Data Sufficiency – with some help from hip hop’s most notorious rapper – Biggie Smalls.

Biggie’s lyrics – and his name itself – provide a terrific template for you to use when picking numbers to test whether a statement is sufficient or not. So let’s begin with a classic lyric from “Big Poppa” – you may think Big is describing how he’s approach a young lady in a nightclub, but if you listen closely he’s actually talking directly to you as you attack Data Sufficiency:

“Ask you what your interests are, who you be with. Things to make you smile; what numbers to dial.”

“What numbers to dial” tends to be one of the biggest challenges that face GMAT examinees, so let’s examine the strategies that can take your score from “it was all a dream” to sipping champagne when you’re thirsty.

Biggie Smalls Strategy #1: Biggie Smalls
Consider this Data Sufficiency problem:

What is the value of integer z?

1) z is the remainder when positive integer y is divided by positive integer (y – 1)

2) y is not a prime number

Statistically, more than 50% of respondents in the Veritas Prep practice tests incorrectly choose answer choice A, that Statement 1 alone is sufficient but Statement 2 alone is not sufficient. Why? Because they’re not quite sure “what numbers to dial.” People know that they need to test numbers – Statement 1 is very abstract and difficult to visualize with variables – so they test a few numbers that come to mind:

If y = 5, y – 1 = 4, and the problem is then 5/4 which leads to 1, remainder 1.

If y = 10, y – 1 = 9, so the problem is then 10/9 which also leads to 1, remainder 1.

If they keep choosing random integers that happen to come to mind, they’ll see that pattern hold – the answer is ALMOST always 1 remainder 1, with exactly one exception. If y = 2, then y – 1 = 1, and 2 divided by 1 is 2 with no remainder. This is the only case where z does not equal 1, but that one exception shows that Statement 1 is not sufficient.

The question then becomes, “If there’s only one exception, how the heck does the GMAT expect me to stumble on that needle in a haystack?” And the answer comes directly from the Notorious BIG himself:

You need to test “Biggie Smalls,” meaning that you need to test the biggest number they’ll let you use (here it can be infinite, so just test a couple of really big numbers like 1,000 and 1,000,000) and you need to test the smallest number they’ll let you use. Here, that’s y = 2 and y – 1 = 1, since y – 1 must be a positive integer, and the smallest of those is 1.

The problem is that people tend to simply test numbers that come to mind (again, over half of all respondents think that Statement 1 is sufficient, which means that they very likely never considered the pairing of 2 and 1) and don’t push the limits. Data Sufficiency tends to play to the edge cases – if you get a statement like 5 < x < 12, you can’t just test 8, 9, and 10 – you’ll want to consider 5.00001 and 11.9999. When the GMAT gives you a range, use the entire range – and a good way to remind yourself of that is to just remember “Biggie Smalls.”

Biggie Smalls Strategy #2:  Juicy
In arguably his most famous song, “Juicy”, Biggie spits the line, “Damn right I like the life I live, because I went from negative to positive and it’s all…it’s all good (and if you don’t know, now you know).”

There, of course, Biggie is reminding you that you have to consider both negative and positive numbers in Data Sufficiency problems. Consider this example:

a, b, c, and d are consecutive integers such that the product abcd = 5,040. What is the value of d?

1) d is prime

2) a>b>c>d

This problem exemplifies why keeping Big’s words top of mind is so crucial – difficult problems will often “satisfy your intellect” with interesting math…and then beat you with negative/positive ideology. Here it takes some time to factor 5040 into the consecutive integers 7 x 8 x 9 x 10, but once you do, you can see that Statement 1 is sufficient: 7 is the only prime number.

But then when you carry that over to Statement 2, it’s very, very easy to see 7, 8, 9, and 10 as the only choices and again see that d = 7. But wait! If d doesn’t have to be prime – primes can only be positive – that allows for a possibility of negative numbers: -10, -9, -8, and -7. In that case, d could be either 7 or -10, so Statement 2 is actually not sufficient.

So heed Biggie’s logic: you’ll like the life you live much better if you go from negative to positive (or in most cases, vice versa since your mind usually thinks positive first), and if you don’t know (is that sufficient?) now, after checking for both positive and negative and for the biggest and smallest numbers they’ll let you pick, now you know.

Getting ready to take the GMAT? We have free online GMAT seminars running all the time. And as always, be sure to follow us on Facebook, YouTubeGoogle+ and Twitter!

By Brian Galvin.

GMAT Tip of the Week: Verbal Answers Are Like Donald Trump

GMAT Tip of the WeekIn the winter/spring of 2016, Donald Trump is everywhere – always on your TV screen, all over your social media feeds, on the tip of everyone’s tongue, and, yes, even lurking in the answer choices on your GMAT verbal section.

Why are verbal answer choices like Donald Trump? Is it that they’re only correct 20% of the time? That they’re very often a lot of boastful verbiage about nothing? Hackneyed comedy aside, there’s a very valid reason and it’s one that Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio learned just last night:

Verbal choices, like Donald Trump, simply MUST be attacked. If you saw last night’s debate (or read any coverage of it) you saw how the two closest challengers changed tactics immensely, verbally attacking Trump all night. The rationale there is that if you let Trump go unchecked, he’s going to attack you and he’s going to get away with his own stump speeches all night. The exact same thing is true of GMAT verbal answer choices. If you don’t attack them – if you’re not actively looking for reasons that they’re wrong – they’ll both beat you tactically and wear you down over the test. You simply must be in attack mode throughout the verbal section.

What does that mean? For almost every answer choice, there’s some reason there why someone would pick it (after all, if no one picks it then it’s just a terrible, useless answer choice). And so if you’re looking for reasons to like an answer choice, you’re going to find lots to like (and in doing so pick some wrong answers) and you’re going to get worn down by keeping wrong answer choices in your “maybe” pile too long. But if, instead, you’re more skeptical about each answer choice, actively looking for reasons not to pick them, that discerning approach will help you more efficiently find correct answers.

Consider the example:

If Shero wins the election, McGuinness will be appointed head of the planning commission. But Stauning is more qualified to head it since he is an architect who has been on the planning commission for 15 years. Unless the polls are grossly inaccurate, Shero will win.

Which one of the following can be properly inferred from the information above?

(A) If the polls are grossly inaccurate, someone more qualified than McGuinness will be appointed head of the planning commission.
(B) McGuinness will be appointed head of the planning commission only if the polls are a good indication of how the election will turn out.
(C) Either Shero will win the election or Stauning will be appointed head of the planning commission.
(D) McGuinness is not an architect and has not been on the planning commission for 15 years or more.
(E) If the polls are a good indication of how the election will turn out, someone less qualified than Stauning will be appointed head of the planning commission.

Here there’s a lot to like about a lot of answer choices:

A seems plausible. We know that McGuinness isn’t the most qualified, so there’s a high likelihood that a different candidate could find someone better (maybe even Stauning). B also has a lot to like (and it’s actually ALMOST perfect as we’ll discuss in a second). And so on. But you need to attack these answers:

A is fatally flawed. You don’t know for certain that a different candidate would appoint anyone other than McGuinness, and you really only know that one person is more qualified (and does he even want the job?). This cannot be concluded. B has that dangerous word “only” in it – remove it and the answer is correct, but “only if the polls are a good indication” is way too far to go. What if the polls are flawed and the underdog candidate just appoints McGuinness, too? The same logic invalidates C (there’s nothing guaranteeing that a different candidate wouldn’t pick McGuinness), and the word “and” makes D all the harder to prove (how do you know that McGuinness lacks both qualities?).

The lesson? Much like John Kasich may find on that same stage, the nicer and more accommodating you are, the more the GMAT walks over you. If you want to give each answer a fair chance, you’ll find that many answers have enough reason to be tempting. So follow the new GOP debate strategy and always be attacking. You didn’t sign up for the GMAT to make friends with answer choices; you signed up to “win.”

Getting ready to take the GMAT? We have free online GMAT seminars running all the time. And, be sure to follow us on Facebook, YouTubeGoogle+ and Twitter!

By Brian Galvin.

GMAT Tip of the Week: OJ Simpson’s Defense Team And Critical Reasoning Strategy

GMAT Tip of the WeekIf you’re like many people this month, you’re thoroughly enjoying the guilty pleasure that is FX’s series The People v. OJ Simpson. And whether you’re in it to reminisce about the 1990s or for the wealth of Kardashian family history, one thing remains certain (even though, according to the state of California – spoiler alert! – that thing is not OJ’s guilt):

Robert Shaprio, Johnnie Cochran, F. Lee Bailey, Alan Dershowitz, and (yes, even) Robert Kardashian can provide you with the ultimate blueprint for GMAT Critical Reasoning success.

This past week’s third episode focused on the preparations of the prosecutors and of the defense, and showcased some crucial differences between success and failure on GMAT CR:

The prosecution made some classic GMAT CR mistakes, most notably that they went in to the case assuming the truth of their position (that OJ was guilty). On the other hand, the defense took nothing for granted – when they didn’t like the evidence (the bloody glove, for example) they looked for ways that it must be faulty evidence (Mark Fuhrman and the LAPD were racist).

This is how you must approach GMAT Critical Reasoning! The single greatest mistake that examinees make during the GMAT is in accepting that the argument they’re given is valid – like Marcia Clark, you’re a nice, good-natured person and you’ll give the argument the benefit of the doubt. But in law and on the GMAT, bullies like Travolta’s Robert Shapiro win the day. The name of the game is “Critical Reasoning” – make sure that you’re being critical.

What does that look like on the test? It means:

Be Skeptical of Arguments
From the first word of a Strengthen, Weaken, or Assumption question, you’re reading skeptically, and almost angrily so. You’re not buying this argument and you’re searching for holes immediately. Often times these arguments will actually seem pretty valid (sort of like, you know, “OJ did it, based on the glove, the blood in the Brondo, his footprint at the scene, etc.”), but your job is to attack them so you’d better start attacking immediately.

Look for Details That Don’t Match
If an argument says, for example, that “the murder rate is down, so the police department must be doing a better job preventing violent crime…” notice that murder is not the same thing as violent crime, and that even if violent crime is down, you don’t have a direct link to the police department being the catalysts for preventing it. This is part of not buying the argument – when the general flow of ideas suggests “yes,” make sure that the details do, too.

Look for Alternative Explanations
Conclusions on the GMAT – like criminal trial “guilty” verdicts – must be true beyond a reasonable doubt. So even though the premises might make it seem quite likely that a conclusion is true, if there is an alternate explanation that’s consistent with the facts but allows for a different conclusion, that conclusion cannot be logically drawn. This is where the Simpson legal team was so successful: the evidence was overwhelming in its suggestion that Simpson was guilty (as the soon-after civil trial proves), but the defense was able to create just enough suspicion that he could have been framed that the jury was able to acquit.

So whether you’re appalled or enthralled as you watch The People v. OJ Simpson and the defense team shrewdness it portrays, know that the show has valuable insight for you as you attempt to become a Critical Reasoning master. If you want to keep your GMAT verbal score out of jail, you might want to keep up with one particular Kardashian.

Getting ready to take the GMAT? We have free online GMAT seminars running all the time. And, be sure to follow us on Facebook, YouTubeGoogle+ and Twitter!

By Brian Galvin.

GMAT Tip of the Week: Marco Rubio, Repetition, and Sentence Correction

GMAT Tip of the WeekLet’s dispel with the fiction that Marco Rubio doesn’t know what he’s doing on Sentence Correction problems. He knows exactly what he’s doing. In his memorable New Hampshire debate performance this past week, Rubio famously delivered the same 25-second speech several times, even in direct response to Chris Christie’s accusation that Rubio only speaks in memorized 25-second speech form.

In doing so, he likely cost himself delegates in New Hampshire and perhaps even cost himself the election (was this his Rick Perry “I can’t remember the third thing” or Howard Dean “Hi-yaaaah!” moment?), but he also provided you with a critical Sentence Correction strategy:

Find what you do well, and keep doing it over and over until you just can’t do it anymore.

This strategy manifests itself in two ways on GMAT Sentence Correction problems:

1) Look for primary Decision Points first.
Rubio came into the debate with one strong talking point, and his first inclination – regardless of the question – was to go straight to that point. On Sentence Correction problems, that is the single most important thing you can do. Much like a debate moderator, the GMAT testmaker will try to get you “off message” by offering you several decisions you could make. And often the decision that comes first is one you’re just not good at, or that actually isn’t a good differentiator. For example, you may think you need to decide between:

“…so realistic as to…” vs. “…so realistic that it…”

“…not unlike…” vs. “…like…”

“…all things antique…” vs. “…all antique things…”

And in any of those cases, you might find that both expressions are actually correct; those are differences between answer choices, but they’re not the difference between correct and incorrect. Idiomatic differences, changes in word choice, etc. may seem to beg your attention, but like Marco Rubio, you should head into each question with your list of points you want to address: modifiers, verbs, pronouns, parallel structure, etc. Look for those primary decision points first and attack them until you’ve exhausted them. Nearly always, you’ll find that doing so eliminates enough answer choices that you never have to deal with the trickier, more obscure, and often irrelevant differences between choices.

Approach each Sentence Correction problem with your scripted and heavily-practiced Decision Points in mind first. Sentence Correction is a task tailor-made for Rubio-bots.

2) Once you identify an error, stay on message as long as you can.
Rubio’s strategy backfired, but that doesn’t mean that it was a poor strategy to begin with – in fact, it’s one that will immensely help you on Sentence Correction problems. He identified a message that resonated, and he decided to do that until he was – quite literally – forced to do something else. This is a critical Sentence Correction tactic: if you find a particular error (say, an illogical modifier), you should then hold each answer choice up to that standard checking for the same error. Nearly always, if you find an error in one answer choice that same type of error will appear in at least one more.

Don’t treat each individual answer choice as a “unique snowflake” that you’ve never seen before. If there’s a verb tense / timeline error in choice B, then immediately scan C, D, and E checking those verb tenses and quickly eliminating any choices with a problem.

For example, consider the problem:

The economic report released today by Congress and the Federal Reserve was bleaker than expected, which suggests that the nearing recession might be even deeper and more prolonged than even the most pessimistic analysts have predicted.

(A) which suggests that the nearing recession might be even deeper and more prolonged than even the most pessimistic analysts have predicted.
(B) which suggests that the nearing recession might be deeper and more prolonged than that predicted by even the most pessimistic analysts.
(C) suggests that the nearing recession might be even deeper and more prolonged than that predicted by even the most pessimistic analysts.
(D) suggesting that the nearing recession might be deeper and more prolonged than that predicted by even the most pessimistic analysts.
(E) a situation that is even more deep and prolonged than even the most pessimistic analysts have predicted.

If you’re attacking this problem like a Rubio-bot, you’ll notice before you ever look at the sentence that the answer choices supply different modifiers. A and B use the relative modifier “which,” D uses the participial phrase “suggesting,” and E uses an appositive “a situation.” Noticing that, you should begin reading the sentence with that Modifier talking point in mind.

When you realize that “which” is used incorrectly in A, you don’t need to read the rest of B to see that it makes the exact same mistake. Since the sentence calls for a modifier (the portion before the comma and underlined is a complete sentence on its own, so the role of the underlined section is to further describe) and the only correct modifier in this situation is the participial “suggesting,” you can eliminate three answer choices (A, B, and E) just with that one Decision Point and quickly arrive at the correct answer, D.

More importantly, remember the overarching strategy: before you attack any Sentence Correction problem, know the grounds upon which you’re hoping to attack it – have your primary Decision Points in mind before you’re ever asked the question. And then when you do find one of those Decision Points that you can use, repeat it ad nauseum until it no longer applies.

Let’s dispel with the fiction that Marco Rubio doesn’t know what he’s doing when he repeats the same talking point over and over again; he knows exactly what he’s doing…it just works better on the GMAT than it does in a presidential debate.

Getting ready to take the GMAT? We have free online GMAT seminars running all the time. And, be sure to follow us on Facebook, YouTubeGoogle+ and Twitter!

By Brian Galvin.

GMAT Tip of the Week: Cam Newton’s GMAT Success Strategy

GMAT Tip of the WeekAs we head into Super Bowl weekend, the most popular conversation topic in the world is the Carolina Panthers’ quarterback, Cam Newton. Many questions surround him: is he the QB to whom the Brady/Manning “Greatest of All Time” torch will be passed? Is this the beginning of a new dynasty? Why do people like/dislike him so much? What the heck is the Dab, anyway? And most commonly:

Why is Cam dancing and smiling so much?

The answer? Because smiling may very well be the secret to success, both in the Super Bowl and on the GMAT.

Note: this won’t be the most mathematically tactical GMAT tip post you read, and it’s not something you’ll really be able to practice on Sunday afternoon while you hit the Official Guide for GMAT Review before your Super Bowl party starts. But it may very well be the tip that most impacts your score on test day, because managing stress and optimizing performance are major keys for GMAT examinees. And smiling is a great way to do that.

First, there’s science: the act of smiling itself is known to release endorphins, relaxing your mind and giving you a more positive outlook. And this happens regardless of whether you’re actually happy or optimistic – you can literally “fake it till you make it” by smiling through a stressful or unpleasant experience.

(Plus there’s the fact that smiling puts OTHER people in a better mood, too, which won’t really help you on the GMAT since it’s you against a computer, but for your b-school and job interviews, a smile can go a long way toward an upbeat experience for both you and the interviewer.)

There are plenty of ways to force yourself to smile. One is the obvious: just do it. Write it down on the top of your noteboard in all caps: SMILE! And force yourself to do it, even when it doesn’t feel natural.

But you can also laugh/smile at yourself more naturally: when Question 1 is a permutations problem and you were dreading the idea of a permutations problem, you can laugh at your bad luck but also at the fact that at least you’re getting it over with while you still have plenty of time to recover. When you blank on a rule and have to test small numbers to prove it, you can laugh at the fact that had you not been so fascinated with the video games on your calculator in middle school you’d know that cold. You can smile when you see a friend’s name in a word problem or a Sentence Correction reference to a place you want to visit someday.

And the tactical rationale there: when you can smile in relation to the subject matter on the test, you can remind yourself that, at least on some level, you enjoy learning and problem-solving and striving for achievement. The biggest difference between “good test takers” and “good students, but bad test takers” is in the way that each approaches problems: the latter group says, “I don’t know,” and feels doubt, while the former says, “I don’t know…yet,” and starts from a position of confidence and strength. Then when you apply that confidence and figure out a problem that for a second had you totally stumped, you’ve earned that next smile and the positive energy snowballs.

As you watch Cam Newton on Sunday (For you brand management hopefuls, he’ll be playing football between those commercials you’re so excited to see!), pay attention to that megawatt smile that’s been the topic of so much talk radio controversy the last few weeks. Cam smiles because he’s having fun out there, and then that smile leads to big plays, which is even more fun, and then he’s smiling again. Apply that Cam Newton “smile your way to success” philosophy on test day and maybe you’ll be the next one getting paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to go to school for two years… (We kid, Cam – we kid!)

Getting ready to take the GMAT? We have free online GMAT seminars running all the time. And, be sure to follow us on Facebook, YouTubeGoogle+ and Twitter!

By Brian Galvin.

GMAT Tip of the Week: Kanye, Wiz Khalifa, Twitter Beef…and GMAT Variables

GMAT Tip of the WeekThis week, the internet exploded with a massive Twitter feud between rappers Kanye West and Wiz Khalifa, with help from their significant others and exes. For days now, hashtags unpublishable for an education blog have topped the trending lists, all as a result of the epic social media confrontation. And all of THAT originated from a classic GMAT mistake from the Louis Vuitton Don – a man who so loves his hometown Kellogg School of Management that he essentially named his daughter Northwestern – himself:

Kanye didn’t consider all the possibilities when he saw variables.
A brief history of the beef: there was musical origin, as Wiz wanted a bit of credit for his young/wild/free friends for the term “Wave,” as Kanye changed his upcoming album title from Swish to Waves. But where things escalated quickly all stemmed from Wiz’s use of variables in the following tweet:

Hit this kk and become yourself.

Kanye, whose wife bears those exact initials, K.K., immediately interpreted those variables as a reference to Kim and lost his mind. But Wiz had intended those variables kk to mean something entirely different, a reference to his favorite drug of choice. And then…well let’s just say that things got out of hand.

So back to the GMAT: Kanye’s main mistake was that he didn’t consider alternate possibilities for the variables he saw in the tweet, and quickly built in some incorrect assumptions that led to disastrous results. Do not let this happen to you on the GMAT! Here’s how it could happen:

1) Forgetting about not-obvious numbers.
If a problem, for example, defines k as 10 < k < 12, you can’t just think “k = 11” because you don’t know that k has to be an integer. 11.9 or 10.1 are also possibilities. Similarly if k^2 = 121, you have to consider that k could be -11 as well as it could be 11.

Ultimately, that was Yeezy’s mistake: he saw KK and with tunnel vision saw the most obvious possibility. But why couldn’t “KK” have been Krispy Kreme or Kyle Korver or Kato Kaelin? Before you leap to conclusions on a GMAT variable, see if there’s anything else it could be.

2) Assuming that each variable must represent a different number.
This one is a bit more nuanced. Suppose you were asked:

For positive integers a and b, is the product ab > 1?

(1) a = 1

With that statement, you might start thinking, “Well if a is 1, b has to be something else…” but all the variable b really means is “a number we don’t know.” Just because a problem assigns two different variables does not mean that they represent two different numbers! B could also be 1…we just don’t know yet.

Where this manifests itself as a problem most often is on function problems. When people see the setup, for example:

The function f is defined for all values x as f(x) = x^2 – x – 1

They’ll often be confused when that’s paired with a question like, “Is f(a) > 1?” and a statement like:

(1) -2 < a < 2

“I know about f(x) but I don’t know anything about f(a),” they might say, but the way these variables work, f(x) means “the function of any number…we just don’t know which number” so when you then see f(a), a becomes that number you don’t know. You’ll do the same thing for a: f(a) = a^2 – a – 1. What goes in the parentheses is just “the number you perform the function on” – the function doesn’t just apply to the variable in the definition, but to any number, variable, or combination that is then put in the parentheses.

The real lesson here is this: variables on the GMAT are a lot like variables in Wiz Khalifa’s Twitter feed. You might think you know what they mean, but before you stake your reputation (or score) on your response to those variables, consider all the options. Hit this GMAT and become yourself.

Getting ready to take the GMAT? We have free online GMAT seminars running all the time. And, be sure to follow us on Facebook, YouTubeGoogle+ and Twitter!

By Brian Galvin.

GMAT Tip of the Week: Stay In Your Lane (In The Snow And On Sentence Correction)

GMAT Tip of the WeekAs the east coast braces for a historic winter storm (and Weezer fans can’t get “My Name is Jonas” out of their heads), there’s a lesson that needs to be taught from Hanover to Cambridge to Manhattan to Philadelphia to Charlottesville.

When driving in the snow:

  • Don’t brake until you have to.
  • Don’t make sudden turns or lane changes, and only turn if you have to.
  • Stay calm and leave yourself space and time to make decisions.

And those same lessons apply to GMAT Sentence Correction. Approach these questions like you would approach driving in a blizzard, and you may very well earn that opportunity to drive through blustery New England storms as you pursue your MBA. What does that mean?

1) Stay In Your Lane
Just as quick, sudden jerks of the steering wheel will doom you on snowy/icy roads, sudden and unexpected decisions on GMAT Sentence Correction will get you in trouble. Your “lane” consists of the decisions that you’ve studied and practiced and can calmly execute: Modifiers, Verbs (tense and agreement), Pronouns, Comparisons, Parallelism in a Series, etc. It’s when you get out of that lane that you’re prone to skidding well off track. For example, on this problem (courtesy the Official Guide for GMAT Review):

While Jackie Robinson was a Brooklyn Dodger, his courage in the face of physical threats and verbal attacks was not unlike that of Rosa Parks, who refused to move to the back of a bus in Montgomery, Alabama.

(A) not unlike that of Rosa Parks, who refused
(B) not unlike Rosa Parks, who refused
(C) like Rosa Parks and her refusal
(D) like that of Rosa Parks for refusing
(E) as that of Rosa Parks, who refused

Your “lane” here is to check for Modifiers (Is “who refused” correct? Is it required?) and for logical, clear meaning (it is required, because otherwise you aren’t sure who refused to move to the back of the bus). But examinees are routinely baited into “jerking the wheel” and turning against the strange-but-correct structure of “not unlike.” When you’re taken off of your game, you often eliminate the correct answer (A) because you’re turning into a decision you’re just not great at making.

2) Don’t Turn or Brake Until You Have To
The GMAT does test Redundancy and Pronoun Reference (among other things), but those are error types that are dangerous to prioritize – much like it’s dangerous while driving in snow to decide quickly that you need to turn or hit the brakes. Too often, test-takers will slam on the Sentence Correction brakes at their first hint of, “That’s redundant!” (like they would for “not unlike” above) or “There are multiple nouns – that pronoun is unclear!” and steer away from that answer choice.

The problem, as you saw above, is that often this means you’re turning away from the proper path. “Not unlike” may scream “double-negative” or “redundant” to many, but it’s a perfectly valid way to express the idea that the two things aren’t close to identical, but they’re not as different as you might think. And you don’t need to know THAT, as much as you need to know that you shouldn’t ever make redundancy your first decision, because if you’re like most examinees you’re probably not that great at you…AND you don’t have to be, because the path toward your strengths will get you to your destination.

Similarly, this week the Veritas Prep Homework Help service got into an interesting email thread about why this sentence:

Based on his experience in law school, John recommended that his friend take the GMAT instead of the LSAT.

has a pronoun reference error, but this sentence:

Mothers expect unconditional love from their children, and they are rarely disappointed.

does not. And while there likely exists a technical, grammatical reason why, the GMAT reason really comes down to this: Does the problem make you address the pronoun reference? If not, don’t worry about it. In other words, don’t brake or turn until you have to. If you look at those sentences in GMAT problem form, you might have:

Based on his experience in law school, John recommended that his friend take the GMAT instead of the LSAT.

(A) Based on his experience in law school, John

(B) Having had a disappointing experience in law school, John

(C) Given his experience in law school, John

Here, the question forces you to deal with the pronoun problem. The major differences between the choices are that A and C involve a pronoun, and B doesn’t. Here, you have to deal with that issue. But for the other sentence, you might see:

Mothers expect unconditional love from their children, and they are rarely disappointed.

(A) Mothers expect unconditional love from their children, and they are

(B) The average mother expects unconditional love from their children, and are

(C) The average mother expects unconditional love from their children, and they are

(D) Mothers, expecting unconditional love from their children, they are

Here, the only choice that doesn’t include the pronoun “they” is choice B, but that choice commits a glaring pronoun (and verb) agreement error (“the average mother” is singular, but “their children” is plural…and the verb “are” is, too). So you don’t need to worry about the “they” (which clearly refers to “mothers” and not “children,” even though there happen to be two plural nouns in the sentence).

Grammatically, the presence of multiple nouns doesn’t alone make the pronoun itself ambiguous, but strategically for the GMAT, what you really need to know is that you don’t have to hit the brakes at the first sign of “unclear reference.” Wait and see if the answer choices give you a chance to address that, and if they do, then make sure that those choices are free of other, more binary errors first. Don’t turn or brake unless you have to.

3) Stay calm and leave yourself space to make decisions.
Just like a driver in the snow, as a GMAT test-taker you’ll be nervous and antsy. But don’t let that force you into rash decisions! Assess the answer choices before you try to determine whether something outside your 100% confidence interval is right or wrong in the original. You don’t need to make a decision on Choice A right away, just like you don’t need to change lanes simply for the sake of doing so. Have a plan and stick to it, both on the GMAT and on those snowy roads this weekend.

Getting ready to take the GMAT? We have free online GMAT seminars running all the time. And, be sure to follow us on Facebook, YouTube, Google+ and Twitter!

By Brian Galvin.

GMAT Tip of the Week: Your MLK Study Challenge (Remove Your Biases)

GMAT Tip of the WeekAs we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. this weekend, you may take some of your free time to study for the GMAT. And if you do, make sure to heed the lessons of Dr. King, particularly as you study Data Sufficiency.

If Dr. King were alive today, he would certainly be proud of the legislation he inspired to end much of the explicit bias – you can’t eat here, vote there, etc. – that was part of the American legal code until the 1960s. But he would undoubtedly be dismayed by the implicit bias that still runs rampant across society.

This implicit bias is harder to detect and even harder to “fix.” It’s the kind of bias that, for example, the movie Freaknomics shows; often when the name at the top of a resume connotes some sort of stereotype, it subconsciously colors the way that the reader of that resume processes the rest of the information on it.

While that kind of subconscious bias is a topic for a different blog to cover, it has an incredible degree of relevance to the way that you attack GMAT Data Sufficiency problems. If you’re serious about studying for the GMAT, you’ll probably have long enacted your own versions of the Voting Rights Act and Civil Rights Act well before you get to test day – that is to say, you’ll have figured out how to eliminate the kind of explicit bias that comes from reading a question like:

If y is an odd integer and the product of x and y equals 222, what is the value of x?

1) x > 0

2) y is a 3 digit number

Here, you’ll likely see very quickly that Statement 1 is not sufficient, and come back to Statement 2 with fresh eyes. You don’t know that x is positive, so you’ll quickly see that y could be 111 and x could be 2, or that y could be -111 and x could be -2, so Statement 2 is clearly also not sufficient. The explicit bias that came from seeing “x is positive” is relatively easy to avoid – you know not to carry over that explicit information from Statement 1 to Statement 2.

But you also need to be just as aware of implicit bias. Try this question, as it is more likely to appear on the actual GMAT:

If y is an odd integer and the product of x and y equals 222, what is the value of x?

1) x is a prime number

2) y is a 3 digit number

On this version of the problem, people become extremely susceptible to implicit bias. You no longer get to quickly rule out the obvious “x is positive.” Here, the first statement serves to pollute your mind – it is, on its own merit, sufficient (if y is odd and the product of x and y is even, the only prime number x could be is 2, the only even prime), but it also serves to get you thinking about positive numbers (only positive numbers can be prime) and integers (only integers are prime). But those aren’t explicitly stated; they’re just inferences that your mind quickly makes, and then has trouble getting rid of. So as you assess Statement 2, it’s harder for you to even think of the possibilities that:

x could be -2 and y could be -111: You’re not thinking about negatives!

x could be 2/3 and y could be 333: You’re not thinking about non-integers!

On this problem, over 50% of users say that Statement 2 is sufficient (and less than 25% correctly answer A, that Statement 1 alone is sufficient), because they fall victim to that implicit bias that comes from Statement 1 whispering – not shouting – “positive integers.”

Harder problems will generally prey on your more subtle bias, so you need to make sure you’re giving each statement a fresh set of available options. So this Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend, applaud the progress that you have made in removing explicit bias from your Data Sufficiency regimen – you now know not to include Statement 1 directly in your assessment of Statement 2 ALONE – but remember that implicit bias is just as dangerous to your score. Pay attention to the times that implicit bias draws you to a poor decision, and be steadfast in your mission to give each statement its deserved, unbiased attention.

Getting ready to take the GMAT? We have free online GMAT seminars running all the time. And, be sure to follow us on Facebook, YouTube, Google+ and Twitter!

By Brian Galvin.

GMAT Tip of the Week: Make 2016 The Year Of Number Fluency

GMAT Tip of the WeekWhether you were watching the College Football Playoffs or Ryan Seacrest; whether you were at a house party, in a nightclub, or home studying for the GMAT; however you rang in 2016, if 2016 is the year that you make your business school goals come true, hopefully you had one of the following thoughts immediately after seeing the number 2016 itself:

  • Oh, that’s divisible by 9
  • Well, obviously that’s divisible by 4
  • Huh, 20 and 16 are consecutive multiples of 4
  • 2, 0, 1, 6 – that’s three evens and an odd
  • I wonder what the prime factors of 2016 are…

Why? Because the GMAT – and its no-calculator-permitted format for the Quant Section – is a test that highly values and rewards mathematical fluency. The GMAT tests patterns in, and properties of, numbers quite a bit. Whenever you see a number flash before your eyes, you should be thinking about even vs. odd, prime vs. composite, positive vs. negative, “Is that number a square or not?” etc. And, mathematically speaking, the GMAT is a multiplication/division test more than a test of anything else, so as you process numbers you should be ready to factor and divide them at a moment’s notice.

Those who quickly see relationships between numbers are at a huge advantage: they’re not just ready to operate on them when they have to, they’re also anticipating what that operation might be so that they don’t have to start from scratch wondering how and where to get started.

With 2016, for example:

The last two digits are divisible by 4, so you know it’s divisible by 4.

The sum of the digits (2 + 0 + 1 + 6) is 9, a multiple of 9, so you know it’s divisible by 9 (and also by 3).

So without much thinking or prompting, you should already have that number broken down in your head. 16 divided by 4 is 4 and 2000 divided by 4 is 500, so you should be hoping that the number 504 (also divisible by 9) shows up somewhere in a denominator or division operation (or that 4 or 9 does).

So, for example, if you were given a problem:

In honor of the year 2016, a donor has purchased 2016 books to be distributed evenly among the elementary schools in a certain school district. If each school must receive the same number of books, and there are to be no books remaining, which of the following is NOT a number of books that each school could receive?

(A) 18

(B) 36

(C) 42

(D) 54

(E) 56

You shouldn’t have to spend any time thinking about choices A and B, because you know that 2016 is divisible by 4 and by 9, so it’s definitely divisible by 36 which means it’s also divisible by every factor of 36 (including 18). You don’t need to do long division on each answer choice – your number fluency has taken care of that for you.

From there, you should look at the other numbers and get a quick sense of their prime factors:

42 = 2 * 3 * 7 – You know that 2016 is divisible by 2 and 3, but what about 7?

54 = 2 * 3 * 3 * 3 – You know that 2016 is divisible by that 2 and that it’s divisible by 9, so you can cover two of the 3s. But is 2016 divisible by three 3s?

56 = 2 * 2 * 2 * 7 – You know that two of the 2s are covered, and it’s quick math to divide 2016 by 4 (as you saw above, it’s 504). Since 504 is still even, you know that you can cover all three 2s, but what about 7?

Here’s where good test-taking strategy can give you a quick leg up: to this point, a savvy 700-scorer shouldn’t have had to do any real “work,” but testing all three remaining answer choices could now get a bit labor intensive. Unless you recognize this: for C and E, the only real question to be asked is “Is 2016 divisible by 7?” After all, you’re already accounted for the 2 and 3 out of 42, and you’ve already accounted for the three 2s out of 56.

7 is the only one you haven’t checked for. And since there can only be one correct answer, 2016 must be divisible by 7…otherwise you’d have to say that C and E are both correct.

But even if you’re not willing to take that leap, you may still have the hunch that 7 is probably a factor of 2016, so you can start with choice D. Once you’ve divided 2016 by 9 (here you may have to go long division, or you can factor it out), you’re left with 224. And that’s not divisible by 3. Therefore, you know that 2016 cannot be divided evenly into sets of 54, so answer choice D must be correct. And more importantly, good number fluency should have allowed you to do that relatively quickly without the need for much (if any) long division.

So if you didn’t immediately think “divisible by 4 and 9!” when you saw the year 2016 pop up, make it your New Year’s resolution to start thinking that way. When you see numbers this year, start seeing them like a GMAT expert, taking note of clear factors and properties and being ready to quickly operate on that number.

Getting ready to take the GMAT? We have free online GMAT seminars running all the time. And, be sure to follow us on Facebook, YouTube, Google+ and Twitter!

By Brian Galvin.

GMAT Tip of the Week: Your GMAT New Year’s Resolution

GMAT Tip of the WeekHappy New Year! If you’re reading this on January 1, 2016, chances are you’ve made your New Year’s resolution to succeed on the GMAT and apply to business school. (Why else read a GMAT-themed blog on a holiday?) And if so, you’re in luck: anecdotally speaking, students who study for and take the GMAT in the first half of the year, well before any major admissions deadlines, tend to have an easier time grasping material and taking the test. They have the benefit of an open mind, the time to invest in the process, and the lack of pressure that comes from needing a massive score ASAP.

This all relates to how you should approach your New Year’s resolution to study for the GMAT. Take advantage of that luxury of time and lessened-pressure, and study the right way – patiently and thoroughly.

What does that mean? Let’s equate the GMAT to MBA admissions New Year’s resolution to the most common New Year’s resolution of all: weight loss.

Someone with a GMAT score in the 300s or 400s is not unlike someone with a weight in the 300s or 400s (in pounds). There are easy points to gain just like there are easy pounds to drop. For weight loss, that means sweating away water weight and/or crash-dieting and starving one’s self as long as one can. As boxers, wrestlers, and mixed-martial artists know quite well, it’s not that hard to drop even 10 pounds in a day or two…but those aren’t long-lasting pounds to drop.

The GMAT equivalent is sheer memorization score gain. Particularly if your starting point is way below average (which is around 540 these days), you can probably memorize your way to a 40-60 point gain by cramming as many rules and formulas as you can. And unlike weight loss, you won’t “give those points” back. But here’s what’s a lot more like weight loss: if you don’t change your eating/study habits, you’re not going to get near where you want to go with a crash diet or cram session. And ultimately those cram sessions can prove to be counterproductive over the long run.

The GMAT is a test not of surface knowledge, but of deep understanding and of application. And the the problem with a memorization-based approach is that it doesn’t include much understanding or application. So while there are plenty of questions in the below-average bucket that will ask you pretty directly about a rule or relationship, the problems that you’ll see as you attempt to get to above average and beyond will hinge more on your ability to deeply understand a concept or to apply a concept to a situation where you might not see that it even applies.

So be leery of the study plan that nets you 40-50 points in a few weeks (unless of course that 40 takes you from 660 to 700) but then holds you steady at that level because you’re only remembering and not *knowing* or *understanding*. When you’re studying in January for a test that you don’t need to take until the summer or fall, you have the luxury of starting patiently and building to a much higher score.

Your job this next month isn’t to memorize every rule under the sun; it’s to make sure you fundamentally understand the building blocks of arithmetic, algebra, logic, and grammar as it relates to meaning. Your score might not jump as high in January, but it’ll be higher when decision day comes later this fall.

Getting ready to take the GMAT? We have free online GMAT seminars running all the time. And, be sure to follow us on Facebook, YouTube, Google+ and Twitter!

By Brian Galvin.

GMAT Tip of the Week: Listen to Yoda on Sentence Correction You Must

GMAT Tip of the WeekSpeak like Yoda this weekend, your friends will. As today marks the release of the newest Star Wars movie, Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, young professionals around the world are lining up dressed as their favorite robot, wookie, or Jedi knight, and greeting each other in Yoda’s famous inverted sentence structure. And for those who hope to awaken the force within themselves to conquer the evil empire that is the GMAT, Yoda can be your GMAT Jedi Master, too.

Learn from Yoda’s speech pattern, you must.

What can Yoda teach you about mastering GMAT Sentence Correction? Beware of inverted sentences, you should. Consider this example, which appeared on the official GMAT:

Out of America’s fascination with all things antique have grown a market for bygone styles of furniture and fixtures that are bringing back the chaise lounge, the overstuffed sofa, and the claw-footed bathtub.

(A) things antique have grown a market for bygone styles of furniture and fixtures that are bringing
(B) things antique has grown a market for bygone styles of furniture and fixtures that is bringing
(C) things that are antiques has grown a market for bygone styles of furniture and fixtures that bring
(D) antique things have grown a market for bygone styles of furniture and fixtures that are bringing
(E) antique things has grown a market for bygone styles of furniture and fixtures that bring

What makes this problem difficult is the inversion of the subject and verb. Much like Yoda’s habit of putting the subject after the predicate, this sentence flips the subject (“a market”) and the verb (“has grown”). And in doing so, the sentence gets people off track – many will see “America’s fascination” as the subject (and luckily so, since it’s still singular) or “all things antique” as the subject. But consider:

  • Antique things can’t grow. They’re old, inanimate objects (like those Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader action figures that your mom threw away that would now be worth a lot of money).
  • America’s fascination is the reason for whatever is growing. “Out of America’s fascination, America’s fascination is growing” doesn’t make any sense – the cause can’t be its own effect.

So, logically, “a market” has to be the subject. But in classic GMAT style, the testmakers hide the correct answer (B) behind a strange sentence structure. Two, really – people also tend to dislike “all things antique” (preferring “all antique things” instead), but again, that’s an allowable inversion in which the adjective goes after the noun.

Here is the takeaway: the GMAT will employ lots of strange sentence structures, including subject-verb inversion, a la Yoda (but only when it’s grammatically warranted), so you will often need to rely on “The Force” of logic to sift through complicated sentences. Here, that means thinking through logically what the subject of the sentence should be, and also removing modifiers like “out of America’s fascination…” to give yourself a more concise sentence on which to employ that logical thinking (the fascination is causing a market to develop, and that market is bringing back these old types of furniture).

Don’t let the GMAT Jedi mind-trick you out of the score you deserve. See complicated sentence structures, you will, so employ the force of logic, you must.

Getting ready to take the GMAT? We have free online GMAT seminars running all the time. And, be sure to follow us on Facebook, YouTube, Google+ and Twitter!

By Brian Galvin.

GMAT Tip of the Week: The Detroit Lions Teach How NOT to Take the GMAT

GMAT Tip of the WeekIf you’re applying to business schools in Round 2, you’re looking for good news (acceptance!) or a chance to advance to the next round (you’ve been invited to interview!) or even just a lack of bad news (you’re on the waitlist…there’s still a chance!) in January or February. Well if those who don’t learn from history are condemned to repeat it, you’d be well served to avoid the pitfalls of the Detroit Lions, an NFL franchise that hasn’t had January/February good news or a chance to advance since 1991.

Any Detroit native could write a Grishamesque (same thing year after year, but we keep coming back for more) series of books about the many losing-based lessons the Lions have taught over the years, but this particular season beautifully showcases one of the most important GMAT lessons of all:

Finish the job.

Six weeks ago, this lesson was learned as Calvin Johnson took the game-winning touchdown within inches of the goal line before having the ball popped out by Seattle Seahawks star Kam Chancellor. And last night this lesson was learned as Green Bay Packers star Aaron Rodgers completed a 60+ yard Hail Mary pass on an untimed final down.

On the GMAT, you have the same opportunities and challenges as the Detroit Lions do: stiff competition (there are Rodgerses and Chancellors hoping to get that spot at Harvard Business School, too) and a massive penalty for doing everything right until the last second. Lions fans and GMAT instructors share the same pain — our teams and our students are often guilty of doing absolutely everything right and then making one fatal mistake at the finish and not getting any credit for it. Consider the example:

A bowl of fruit contains 14 apples and 23 oranges. How many oranges must be removed so that 70% of the pieces of fruit in the bowl will be apples?

(A) 3

(B) 6

(C) 14

(D) 17

(E) 20

Here, most GMAT students get off to a great start, just like the Lions did going up 17-0. They know that the 14 apples (that number remains unchanged) need to represent 70% of the new total. If 14 = 0.7(x), then the algebra becomes quick. Multiply both sides by 10 to get rid of the decimal: 140 = 7x. Then divide both sides by 7 and you have x = 20. And you also have your first opportunity to “Lion up”: 20 is an answer choice! But 20 doesn’t represent the number of oranges; that’s the total for pieces of fruit after the orange removal. So 20 is a trap.

You then need to recognize that 14 of that 20 is apples, so you have 14 apples and 6 oranges in the updated bowl. But Lions beware! 6 is an answer choice, but it’s not the right one: you have 6 oranges LEFT but the question asks for the number REMOVED. That means that you have to subtract the 6 you kept from the 23 you started with, and the correct answer is D, 17.

What befalls many GMAT students is that ticking clock and the pressure to move on to the next problem. By succumbing to that time/pace pressure — or by being so relieved, and maybe even surprised, that their algebra is producing numbers that match the answer choices — they fail to play all the way to the final gun, and like the Lions, they tragically lose a “game” (or problem) that they should have won. Which, as any Lions fan will tell you, is tragic. When you get blown out in football or you simply can’t hack the math on the GMAT, it’s sad but not devastating: you’re just not good enough (sorry, Browns fans). But when you’ve proven that you’re good enough and lose out because you didn’t finish the job, that’s crushing.

Now, like Lions fans talking about the phantom facemask call last night, you may be thinking, “That’s unfair! What a dirty question to ask about how many ‘left over’ instead of how many remaining. I hate the GMAT and I hate the refs!” And regardless of whether you have a fair point, you have to recognize that it’s part of the game.

The GMAT won’t give you credit for being on the right track — you have to get the problem right and be ready for that misdirection in the question itself. So learn from the Lions and make sure you finish every problem by double-checking that you’ve answered exactly the question that they asked. Finish the job, and you won’t have to wait 24 years and counting to finally have good news in January.

Getting ready to take the GMAT? We have free online GMAT seminars running all the time. And, be sure to follow us on Facebook, YouTube, Google+ and Twitter!

By Brian Galvin.

GMAT Tip of the Week: What Test-Takers Should Be Thankful For

GMAT Tip of the WeekIf you’re spending this Thanksgiving weekend studying for the GMAT in hopes of a monster score for your Round 2 applications, there’s a good chance you’re feeling anything but grateful. At the very least, that practice test kept you inside and away from the hectic horror that has become Black Friday, but it’s understandable that when you spend the weekend thinking more about pronouns than Pilgrims and modifiers than Mayflowers, your introduction to the holiday season has you saying “bah, humbug.”

As you study, though, keep the spirit of Thanksgiving close to your heart. Those who made the first pilgrimage to New England didn’t have it easy, either – Thanksgiving is about being grateful for the small blessings that allowed them to survive in the land of HBS, Yale, Sloan, and Tuck. And the GMAT gives you plenty to be thankful for as you attempt to replicate their journey to the heart of elite academia. This Thanksgiving, GMAT test-takers should be thankful for:

1) Answer Choices

While it’s normal to dislike standardized, multiple-choice tests, those multiple choices are often the key to solving problems efficiently and correctly. They let you know whether you can get away with an estimate, allow you to backsolve or pick numbers to test the choices, and offer you insight into how you should attack the problem (that square root of 3 probably came from a 30-60-90 triangle if you can find it). On the Verbal Section, they allow you to use process of elimination, and particularly on Sentence Correction, to see what the true Decision Points are. A test without answer choices would mean that you’d have to do every problem the long way, but those who know to be thankful for answer choices will often find a competitive advantage.

2) Right Triangles

Right triangles are everywhere on GMAT geometry problems, and learning to use them to your advantage gives you a huge (turkey?) leg up on the competition. Right triangles:

  • Provide you with side ratios, or at least the Pythagorean Theorem
  • Make the base-height combination for the area of a triangle easy (just use the two sides adjacent to the right angle as your base and height)
  • Allow you to use the Pythagorean Theorem to solve for the distance between any two points in the coordinate plane
  • Let you make the greatest difference between any two points in a square, rectangle, cylinder, or box the hypotenuse of a right triangle
  • Help you divide strange shapes into easy-to-solve triangles

Much of GMAT geometry comes down to finding and leveraging right triangles, so thankful that you have that opportunity.

3) Verbs

When there are too many differences between Sentence Correction answer choices, it can be difficult to determine which decision points are most important. One key: look for verbs. When answer choices have different forms of the same verb – whether different tenses or singular-vs.-plural – that’s nearly always a primary decision point and a decision that you can make well using logic. Does the timeline make sense or not? Is the subject singular or plural? Often the savviest test-takers are the ones who save the difficult decisions for last and look for verbs first. Whenever you see different versions of the same verb in the answer choices, be thankful – your job just got easier.

4) “The Other Statement”

Data Sufficiency is a challenging question type, and one that seems to always feature a very compelling trap answer. Very often that trap answer is tempting because:

A statement that didn’t look to be sufficient actually is sufficient.

A statement that looked sufficient actually isn’t.

And that, “Is this tricky statement sufficient or not?” decision is an incredibly difficult one in a vacuum, but the GMAT (thankfully!) gives you a clue: the other statement. When one statement is obvious, its role is often to serve as a clue (“you’d better consider whether you need to know this or not when you look at the other statement”) or a trap (“you actually don’t need this, but when we tempt you with it you’ll think you do”). In either case, the obvious statement is telling you what you need to consider – why would that piece of information matter, or not? So be thankful that Data Sufficiency doesn’t require you to confirm your decision on each statement alone before you get to look at them together; taking the hint from one statement is often the best way to effectively assess the other.

5) Extra Words in Critical Reasoning Conclusions

If you spend any of this holiday weekend watching football, watch what happens when the offense employs the “man in motion” play (having one of the wide receivers run from one side of the offense to the other). Either the defensive player opposite him follows (suggesting man coverage) or he doesn’t (suggesting zone). With the “man in motion”, the offense is probing the defense to see, “What kind of defense are you playing?”. On GMAT Critical Reasoning, extra words in the conclusion serve an almost identical purpose – if you’re looking carefully, you’ll see exactly what’s important to the problem:

Country X therefore has to increase jobs in oil refinement in order to avoid a surge in unemployment. (Why does it have to be refinement? The traps will be about other jobs related to oil but not specifically refinement.)

Therefore, Company Y needs to cut its marketing expenses. (Why marketing and not other kinds of expenses?)

The population of black earthworms is now almost equal to that of the red-brown earthworm, a result, say local ecologists, solely stemming from the blackening of the woods. (Solely? You can weaken this conclusion by finding just one alternate reason)

For much of the Verbal Section, the more words you have to read, the more difficult your job is to process them all. But on Critical Reasoning, be thankful when you see extra words in the conclusion – those words tell you exactly what game the author is playing.

6) The CAT Algorithm

For many test-takers, the computer-adaptive scoring algorithm is something to be angry or frustrated about, and certainly not something to be thankful for. But if you look from the right angle (and you know we’re already thankful for right angles…) there’s plenty to be happy about, including:

  • You’re allowed to miss questions and make mistakes. The CAT system ensures that everyone sees a challenging test, so everyone will make mistakes. You don’t have to be perfect (and probably shouldn’t try).
  • You get your scores immediately. Talk to your friends taking the LSAT and see how they feel about turning in their answer sheet and then…waiting. In an instant gratification society, the GMAT gives you that instant feedback you crave. Do well and celebrate; do worse than you thought and immediately start game-planning the next round while it’s fresh in your mind.
  • It favors the prepared. You’re reading a GMAT blog during your spare time… you’ll be among those who prepare! The pacing is tricky since you can’t return to problems later, but remember that everyone takes the same test. If you’ve prepared and have a good sense of how to pace yourself, you’ll do better than those who are surprised by the setup and don’t plan accordingly. An overall disadvantage can still be a terrific competitive advantage, so as you’re looking for GMAT-themed things to be thankful for, keep your preparation in mind and be thankful that you’re working harder than your competition and poised to see the rewards!

Getting ready to take the GMAT? We have free online GMAT seminars running all the time. And, be sure to follow us on Facebook, YouTube, Google+ and Twitter!

By Brian Galvin.

GMAT Tip of the Week: Movember and Moving Your GMAT Score Higher

GMAT Tip of the WeekOn this first Friday of November, you may start seeing some peach fuzz sprouts on the upper lips of some of your friends and colleagues. For many around the world, November means Movember, a month dedicated to the hopefully-overlapping Venn Diagram of mustaches and men’s health. Why – other than the fact that this is a GMAT blog – do we mention the Venn Diagram?

Because while the Movember Foundation is committed to using mustaches as a way to increase both awareness of and funding for men’s health issues (in particular prostate and testicular cancer), many young men focus solely on the mustache-growth facet of the month. And “I’m growing a mustache for Movember” without the fundraising follow-through is akin to the following quotes:

“I’m growing a mustache for Movember.”

“I’m running a marathon for lymphoma research.”

“I’m dumping a bucket of ice water over my head on Facebook.”

“I’m taking a GMAT practice test this weekend.”/”I’m going to the library to study for the GMAT.”

Now, those are all noble sentiments expressed with great intentions. But another thing they all have in common is that they’re each missing a critical action step in their mission to reach their desired outcome. Growing a mustache does very little to prevent or treat prostate cancer. Running a marathon isn’t what furthers scientists’ knowledge of lymphoma. Dumping an ice bucket over your head is more likely to cause pneumonia than to cure ALS. And taking a practice test won’t do very much for your GMAT score.

Each of those actions requires a much more thorough and meaningful component. It’s the fundraising behind Movember, Team in Training, and the Ice Bucket Challenge that advances those causes. It’s your effort to use your mustache, sore knees, and Facebook video to encourage friends and family to seek out early diagnosis or to donate to the cause. And it’s the follow-up to your GMAT practice test or homework session that helps you increase your score.

This weekend, well over a thousand practice tests will be taken in the Veritas Prep system, many by young men a week into their mustache growth. But the practice tests that are truly valuable will be taken by those who follow up on their performance, adding that extra step of action that’s all so critical. They’ll ask themselves:

Which mistakes can I keep top-of-mind so that I never make them again?

How could I have budgeted my time better? Which types of problems take the most time with the least probability of a right answer, and which types would I always get right if I just took the extra few seconds to double check and really focus?

Based on this test, which are the 2-3 content areas/question types that I can markedly improve upon between now and my next practice test?

How will I structure this week’s study sessions to directly attack those areas?

And then they’ll follow up on what they’ve learned, following the new week’s plan of attack until it’s time to again take the first step (a practice test) with the commitment to take the substantially-more-important follow-up steps that really move the needle toward success.

Taking a practice test and growing a Movember mustache are great first steps toward accomplishing noble goals, but in classic Critical Reasoning form, premise alone doesn’t guarantee the conclusion. So make sure you don’t leave the GMAT test center this November with an ineffective mustache and a dismal score – put in the hard work that has to accompany that first step, and this can be a Movember to Remember.

Getting ready to take the GMAT? We have free online GMAT seminars running all the time. And, be sure to follow us on Facebook, YouTube, Google+ and Twitter!

By Brian Galvin.

GMAT Tip of the Week: Trick or Treat

ZombieinsteinOne of the most dreaded things about the GMAT is the time-honored “Testmaker Trick” – the device that the GMAT question author uses to sucker you into a trap answer on a question. You’ve done all the math right, but forgot to consider negative numbers or submitted the answer for x when the question really asks for y. The “Testmaker Tricks” are enough to make you resent the test and to see it in a derogatory light. This is a grad school test, not Simon Says! Why should it matter that Simon didn’t say “positive”?

But as we head into Halloween weekend, it’s an appropriate time for you to think back to the phrase that earned you pounds and pounds of candy (and maybe tons if you followed Jim Harbaugh’s double-costume strategy): Trick or Treat.

In a GMAT context, that means that on these challenging questions, what tricks one examinee is the “treat” or reward for those who buy into the critical thinking mindset that the GMAT is set up to reward. The GMAT testmakers themselves are defensive about the idea of the “trap” answer, preferring to see it as a reward system; the intent isn’t to “trick” people as much as it is to “treat” higher-order thinking and critical reasoning. Consider the Data Sufficiency example:

Is x > 3z?

(1) x/z > 3

(2) z > 0

Here the “trick” that the testmaker employs is that of negative numbers. Many people will say that Statement 1 is sufficient (just multiply both sides by z and Statement 1 directly answers the questions, x > 3z), but it’s important to remember that z could be negative, and if it were negative you’d have to flip the sign, as you do in an inequality problem when you multiply or divide by a negative. In that case x < 3z and the answer is an emphatic no.

Now, those test takers who lament the trick after getting it wrong are somewhat justified in their complaint that “you forgot about negatives!” is a pretty cheap trick. But that’s not the entire question: Statement 2 exists, too, and it’s a total throwaway when you consider it alone. Why is it there? It’s there to “treat” those who are able to leverage that hint: why would it matter if z is greater than 0? That statement provides a very important clue as to how you should have been thinking when you looked at Statement 1.

If your initial read of Statement 1 – under timed pressure in the middle of a test, mind you – had you doing that quick algebra and making the mistake of saying that it’s sufficient, that’s understandable. But if you blew right past the clear hint in the second statement, you missed a very important opportunity to seize the treat. To some degree this problem is about the math, but the GMAT often adds that larger degree of leveraging hints – after all, much of business success comes down to your ability to find an asset that others have overlooked, or to get more value out of an asset than anyone else could.

So as you study for the GMAT, keep that Halloween spirit close by. When you miss a problem because of a dirty “trick,” take a second to also go back and see if you missed a potential treat – a reward that the GMAT was dangling just out of reach so that only the most critical thinkers could find it and take advantage. GMAT problems aren’t all ghosts, goblins, and ghouls out to frighten and trick you; often they include very friendly pieces of information just disguised or camouflaged enough that you have to train yourself to spot the treat.

Getting ready to take the GMAT? We have free online GMAT seminars running all the time. And, be sure to follow us on Facebook, YouTube and Google+, and Twitter!

By Brian Galvin.

GMAT Tip of the Week: Percents Are Easy, Words Are Hard

GMAT Tip of the WeekPop quiz: 1) Your restaurant bill came to exactly $64.00 and you want to leave a 20% tip. How much do you leave? 2) You’re running a charity half-marathon and your fundraising goal is $6000. You’ve raised $3300. What percent of your goal have you reached? 3) Your $20,000 investment is now worth $35,000. By what percent has your investment increased in value?

[Answers: $12.80; 55%; 75%]


If that was easy for you, good. It better have been. After all, you’re applying to graduate school and that’s maybe 6th grade math in three real-life contexts. Percents are not hard! But percent problems can be. And that’s what savvy GMAT test-takers need to learn:

On the GMAT, percent problems aren’t hard because of the numbers. They’re hard because of the words.

Consider two situations:

1) A band sells concert t-shirts online for $20 each, and in California, web-based sales are subject to a 10% sales tax. How much does a California-based purchaser pay in sales tax after buying a t-shirt?

2) At a concert in California, a band wants to sell t-shirts for $20. For simplicity’s sake at a cash-only kiosk, the band wants patrons to be able to pay $20 even – hopefully paying with a single $20 bill – rather than having to pay sales tax on top. If t-shirts are subject to a 10% tax on the sale price, and the shirts are priced so that the after-tax price comes to $20, how much will a patron pay in sales tax after buying a t-shirt?

So what are the answers?

The first, quite clearly, should be $2. Take 10% of the $20 price and there’s your answer. And taking 10% is easy – just divide by 10, which functionally means moving the decimal point one place to the left and keeping the digits the same.

The second is not $2, however, and the reason is critical to your preparation for percent questions above the 600 level on the GMAT: the percent has to be taken OF the proper value. Patrons will pay 10% OF the before-tax price, not 10% of the after-tax price. $20 is the after-tax price (just as $22 is the after-tax price in the first example…note that there you definitely did not take the 10% of the $22 after-tax price!). So the proper calculation is:

Price + 10% of the Price = $20

1.1(P) = 20

P = 20/1.1 = 18.18

So the price comes out to $18.18, meaning that $1.82 is the amount paid in tax.

While the calculation of 20/1.1 may have been annoying, it’s not “clever” or “hard” – the reason that many people will just say $2.00 to both isn’t that they screwed up dividing $20 by 1.1, but instead because they saw a percent problem with two numbers (10% and $20) and just “calculated a percent.” That’s what makes the majority of GMAT percent problems tricky – they require an attention to detail, to precision in wording, for examinees to ensure that the (generally pretty darned easy) percent calculations are taking the percent of the proper value.

They’re logic puzzles that require a bit of of arithmetic, not simple arithmetic problems that just test your ability to divide by 10 absent critical thought. So as you approach GMAT percent problems, remember that the math should be the easy part. GMAT percent problems are often more about reading comprehension and logic than they are about multiplication and division.

Getting ready to take the GMAT? We have free online GMAT seminars running all the time. And, be sure to follow us on Facebook, YouTube and Google+, and Twitter!

By Brian Galvin.

GMAT Tip of the Week: Your GMAT Verbal (Donald) Trump Card

GMAT Tip of the WeekThe general consensus coming out of this week’s Democratic debate for the 2016 U.S. Presidency was this: the Democrats were quick to defend and agree with each other, particularly in contrast to the recent Republican debates in which the candidates were much more apt to attack each other.

The Democrats discussed, but the Republicans DEBATED, fiercely and critically. And – putting politics aside – one of the main issues on which those Republican candidates have attacked each other is “who is the more successful CEO/entrepreneur?” (And the answer to that? Likely Wharton’s finest: Donald “You’re Fired” Trump.)

So as you watch the political debates in between GMAT study sessions, keep this in mind: on the GMAT verbal section, you want to think more like a Republican candidate, and if possible you want to think like The Donald. Trump thinking is your Trump card: on GMAT verbal, you should attack, not defend.


Because incorrect answers are very easy to defend if that’s your mindset. They’re wrong because of a small (but significant) technicality, but to the “I see the good in all answer choices” eye, they’ll often look correct. You want to be in attack mode, critically eliminating answer choices and enjoying the process of doing so. Consider an example:

From 1998 to 2008, the amount of oil exported from the nation of Livonia increased by nearly 20% as the world’s demand soared. Yet over the same period, Livonia lost over 8,000 jobs in oil drilling and refinement, representing a 25% increase in the nation’s unemployment rate.

Which of the following, if true, would best explain the discrepancy outlined above?

A) Because of a slumping local economy, Livonia also lost 5,000 service jobs and 7,500 manufacturing jobs.

B) Several other countries in the region reported similar percentages of jobs lost in the oil industry over the same period.

C) Because of Livonia’s overvalued currency, most of the nation’s crude oil is now being refined after it has been exported.

D) Technological advancements in oil drilling techniques have allowed for a greater percentage of the world’s oil to be obtained from underneath the ocean floor.

E) Many former oil employees have found more lucrative work in the Livonia’s burgeoning precious metals mining industry.

The paradox/discrepancy here is that oil exports are up, but that jobs in oil drilling and refinement are down. What’s a Wharton-bound Trump to do here? Donald certainly wouldn’t overlook the word “Critical” in “Critical Reasoning.” Almost immediately, he’d be attacking the two-part job loss – it’s not that “oil jobs” are down, it’s that oil jobs in “drilling AND refinement” are down. Divide and conquer, he’d think, one of those items (either drilling or refinement) is bound to be a “lightweight” ready to be attacked.

Choice A is something that you could talk yourself into. “Hey, the economy overall is down, so it only makes sense that oil jobs would be down, too.” But think critically – you ALREADY know that the oil sector is not down. Oil exports are up 20% and global demand is soaring, so these oil jobs should be different. Critical thinking shows you that the general economy and this particular segment are on different tracks. Choice A does not explain the discrepancy.

Choice B is similar: if you’re looking for a reason to make it right, you might think, “See, it’s just part of what’s going on in the world.” But again, be critical. This is a bad answer, because it overlooks information you already have. Livonia’s oil exports are up, so absent a major reason that those exports are occurring without human labor, we don’t have a sound explanation.

Choice C hits on Trump’s “divide and conquer” attack strategy outlined above: if a conclusion to a Critical Reasoning problem includes the word “AND” there’s a very high likelihood that one of the two portions is the weak link. So fixate on that “and” and try to find which is the lightweight. Here you see that the oil is being exported from Livonia, but no longer being REFINED there. Those are the jobs that are leaving the country, and that explains why exports could be up with employment going down.

Choice D is tempting (statistically the most popular incorrect answer choice to this problem, with Trump-like polling numbers in the ~25% range). Why? Because you’re conditioned to think, “Oh, they’re losing jobs to technology.” So if you’re looking to find a correct answer without much critical thought and effort, this one shines like a beacon. But get more critical on the second half of the sentence: it’s not that technology makes it easier to obtain oil without human labor, it’s that technology is allowing for more drilling from the ocean. But that’s irrelevant, because, again, Livonia’s exports are up! So whether it’s Livonia getting that seafloor oil or other countries doing so, the fact remains that with oil exports up, you’d think that Livonia would have more jobs in oil, and this answer doesn’t explain why that’s not the case.

Here it pays to be critical all the way through the sentence: just because the first few words match what you think you might want to hear, that doesn’t mean that the entire statement is true. Think of this in Trump terms: Megyn Kelly might start a sentence with, “Mr. Trump, you’re arguably the most successful businessman of your generation,” (and you know Trump will love that) but if she follows that with, “But many would argue that your success was largely a result of your father’s money and that your manipulation of bankruptcy laws is unbefitting of an American president,” you know he’d be in attack mode immediately thereafter. Don’t fall in love with the first few words of an answer choice – stay ready to attack at a moment’s notice!

And choice E is similarly vulnerable to attack: yes some oil employees may have taken other jobs, but someone has to be doing the oil work. And if unemployment is up overall (as you know from the stimulus) then people are waiting to take those jobs, so the fact that some employees have left doesn’t explain why no one has filled those spots. When Donald Trump had to surrender his post as the star of The Apprentice, Arnold Schwarzenegger was ready to take his place; so, too, should unemployed members of the labor pool in Livonia be ready to take those oil jobs, absent a major reason why they wouldn’t, and choice E fails to present one.

Overall, your job on GMAT Verbal is to be as critical as possible. You’re there to debate the answer choices, not to defend or discuss them. As you read the conclusion of a Critical Reasoning problem, you want to be scanning for a “lightweight” word or phrase that makes it all the more vulnerable to attack. And as you read each answer choice, you shouldn’t be quick to see the good in the sentence, but instead you should be probing it to see where it’s weak and vulnerable to attack.

Let the answer choices view you as a bully – you’re not at the GMAT test center to make friends. Always be attacking, always be looking for words, phrases, or ideas that are an answer choice’s undoing. Trump logic is your Trump card, take joy from telling four of five answer choices “You’re Fired.”

Getting ready to take the GMAT? We have free online GMAT seminars running all the time. And, be sure to follow us on Facebook, YouTube and Google+, and Twitter!

By Brian Galvin.

GMAT Tip of the Week: What To Do When The GMAT Gets All Netflix On You

GMAT Tip of the WeekPicture this: a friend texts you and asks, “Do you want to get a pizza and watch a movie after work?”. Do you find that odd at all?

But now picture this: that same friend asks, instead, “Do you want to get a pepperoni, mushroom and olive pizza with white sauce on thin crust from Domino’s and watch a Critically-Acclaimed Inspiring Underdog movie on Neflix after work?”. That’s strange, right? And why is that? Because it’s so specific.

Well, on the GMAT you’ll often see questions that ask for something oddly specific; “What is the value of x?” is pretty normal, but “What is the value of 6x – y?” is the equivalent of the specific pizza and odd Netflix category question. Why did they ask that? Often that’s a clue, and if you notice that clue it will help you better set up the problem. Consider this example:

Specific Question





Reflect on what this question is asking about. Not x. Not y. But to paraphrase Netflix, “a partially coefficiented combination of additive variables with a strong horizontal lead.” 6x – y. That’s oddly specific, so your first inclination should be, “Is there an easy way to get 6x – y?” as opposed to, “Let’s start solving for x” (which of course you can’t do here…that’s why E is a trap answer choice).

With that in mind, even if you’ve forgotten (or temporarily blanked on) some exponent rules, you should immediately be thinking, “I have 2x – how does that become 6x,” and, “Where does the subtraction come from?”.

The 6x, of course, comes from breaking 27 down into 3^3, so that you have (3^3)^2x, which then becomes 3^6x. And then with that, you have a fraction:





And that’s where the subtraction comes from. When you divide two exponents of the same base, you subtract the exponents, so now you have your 6x – y ready to go. Of course, from there, you need to get a base of 3 on the other side of the equation, so you can express 81 as 3^4, and now you know that 6x – y = 4, answer choice B.

Most importantly here, when the GMAT asks you an oddly-specific question in the vein of the oddly-specific Netflix category, you should seize on that specificity. Very frequently on the GMAT, it’s easier to solve for that oddly-specific combination of variables than it is to solve for any of the individual variables themselves!

On Problem Solving questions this can save you plenty of time, taking that extra few seconds to ask yourself how you’d arrive at that specific combination. On Data Sufficiency, this practice can be even more a matter of correct or incorrect. Data Sufficiency problems often give you sufficient information to arrive at the oddly-specific combination from the question stem, but insufficient information to determine any of the individual components. Imagine this problem as a Data Sufficiency problem:

Data Sufficiency 1





Here, as you know from above, Statement 1 is sufficient, but if you go into the problem trying to solve for the variables individually, you’ll likely think that you need Statement 2 so that you can plug the value of y back into Statement 1 to supply the value of x. That way you’ll have the entire picture filled in: x = 1, y = 2, and 6x – y = 4.

But you don’t NEED Statement 2, so on a question like this the GMAT will punish you for not seeing that Statement 1 alone is sufficient. And it’s only sufficient because of that oddly-specific question stem. Check out this follow-up question (with a similar setup, but variables changed to a and b since the actual numbers will change):

Data Sufficiency 2





Here you cannot use Statement 1 to get directly to the oddly-specific question stem. You can get to 4a – b = 4, but that doesn’t tell you about 6a – b. So here, the answer is C because you need Statement 2 so that you can solve for each variable individually.

More often than not, when the GMAT asks for an oddly-specific combination of variables it provides a way to arrive at it. So pay attention to the question itself: if it’s asking for something out of the ordinary or oddly specific, see that as a thinly-veiled clue that allows you to be the Confident GMAT Problem Solver With Excellent Think Like The Testmaker Skills En Route To A 700+ that you know you can be.

Getting ready to take the GMAT? We have free online GMAT seminars running all the time. And, be sure to find us on Facebook, YouTube and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

By Brian Galvin.

GMAT Tip of the Week: Yogi Berra Teaches GMAT Sentence Correction

GMAT Tip of the WeekThe world lost a legend this week with the passing of Yogi Berra, a New York Yankee and World War II hero. Yogi was universally famous – his name was, of course, the inspiration for beloved cartoon character Yogi Bear’s – but to paraphrase the man himself, those who knew him didn’t really know him.

As news of his passing turned into news reports summarizing his life, many were stunned by just how illustrious his career was: 18 All-Star game appearances (in 19 pro seasons), 10 World Series championships as a player, 3 American League MVP awards, part of the Normandy campaign on D-Day… To much of the world, he was “the quote guy” who also had been a really good baseball player. His wordsmithery is what we all remembered:

  • Never answer an anonymous letter.
  • It ain’t over ’til it’s over.
  • It gets late early out here.
  • Pair up in threes.

And his command (or butchering) of the English language is what you should remember as you take the GMAT. Yogi Berra famously “didn’t say some of the things I said” but he did, however inadvertently, have a lot to say about GMAT Sentence Correction:

Pronouns Matter

What’s funny about his quote, “Always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise they won’t come to yours”?

It’s the pronoun “they.” You know what Yogi means – go to other people’s funerals so that other people will come to yours. But in that sentence, the logical referent for “they” is “other people(‘s)”, and those other people have already been designated in the sentence as people who have already died. So the meaning is illogical: those same people cannot logically attend a funeral in the future. When you use a pronoun, it has to refer back to a specific noun. If that noun cannot logically do what the pronoun is said to be doing, that’s a Sentence Correction, illogical meaning problem.

What’s funny about his quote, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it”?

Again, it’s the pronoun, this time “it.” Since a fork in the road is a place where the road diverges into two paths, you can’t take “it” – you have to pick one path. And this is a good example of another sentence correction theme. In order to fix this thought (and the one above), there’s really not a pronoun that will work. “Them” has no logical referent (there’s only one fork) so the meaning is extremely important.

The only way to fix it is to change something prior in the sentence. Perhaps, “When you come to a turnoff on the road, take it,” or, “when the road presents a turn, take it.” On the GMAT, a pronoun error isn’t always fixed by fixing the pronoun – often the correct answer will change the logic that precedes the pronoun so that in the correct answer the previously-incorrect pronoun is correct.

Modifiers Matter

What’s funny about his quote, “Congratulations. I knew the record would stand until it was broken”?

Of course records stand until they’re broken, but in a grammatical sense Yogi’s primary mistake was his placement of the modifier “until it was broken.” What he likely meant to say is, “Until the record was broken, I thought it might stand forever.” That’s a perfectly logical thought, but we all laugh at the statement he actually made because the placement of the modifier creates a laughable meaning. So learn to spot similarly-misplaced modifiers by checking to make sure the language means exactly what it should.

Redundancy Is Funny (but sometimes has its place)

What’s funny about, “We made too many wrong mistakes,” and “It’s like déjà vu all over again”?

They’re redundant. A mistake is, by nature, something that went wrong. And déjà vu is the feeling that something happened before, so of course it’s “all over again.” Redundancy does come up on the GMAT, but as Yogi himself would point out, there’s a fine line between “redundant (and wrong)” and “a useful literary device”.

Take, for example, his famed, “It ain’t over ’til it’s over” quote. In a sports context, even though the word “over” is repeated, that sentence carries a lot of useful meaning: “when someone might say that the game is over, if there is still time (or outs) remaining there’s always a chance to change the result.” The world chuckles at this particular Yogi quote, but in actuality it’s arguably his most famous because, in its own way, it’s quite poignant.

What does that mean for you on the GMAT? Don’t prioritize redundancy as a primary decision point! GMAT Sentence Correction, by nature, involves plenty of different literary devices and sentence structures, and it’s extremely unlikely that you’ll feel like an expert on all of them.

Students often eliminate correct answers because they perceive redundancy, but a phrase like “not unlike” (a “not” next to an “un-“? That’s a redundant double-negative!) actually has a logical and important meaning (“not unlike” means “it’s not totally different from…there are at least some similarities,” whereas “like” conveys significantly more similarity). Rules for modifiers and pronouns are much more absolute, and you can get plenty of practice with those. Be careful with redundancy because, as Yogi might say, sometimes saying it twice is twice as good as saying it once.

It’s all in your head.

“Baseball is ninety percent mental and the other half is physical.”

To paraphrase the great Yogi Berra, 90% of Sentence Correction is mental and the other half is grammatical. When he talked about baseball, he was talking about the physical tools – the ability to hit, run, throw, catch –  as meaning substantially less than people thought, but the mental part of the game – strategy, mental toughness, stamina, etc. – being more important than people thought. The exact percentages, as his quote so ineloquently suggests, are harder to pin down and less important than the takeaway.

So heed Yogi’s advice as it pertains to Sentence Correction. Memorizing and knowing hundreds of grammar rules is “the other half” (or maybe 10%) of the game – employing good strategy (prioritizing primary Decision Points, paying attention to logical meaning, etc.) is the more-important-but-often-overlooked part of success. However eloquently or inelegantly Yogi Berra may have articulated his lessons, at least he made them memorable.

Getting ready to take the GMAT? We have free online GMAT seminars running all the time. And, be sure to find us on Facebook, YouTube and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

By Brian Galvin.

GMAT Tip of the Week: There’s a Hole in the Bucket… But Not in Your GMAT Score!

GMAT Tip of the WeekIf you’ve ever attended a summer camp or roasted marshmallows over a campfire, there’s a good chance you know the popular children’s singalong song “There’s a Hole in the Bucket.”  Sparing you the repeat lyrics, let’s take a look at the ridiculous (and GMAT-relevant) musical conversation between Dear Henry and Dear Liza:

Henry: There’s a hole in the bucket (dear Liza, dear Liza, dear Liza…)

Liza: Then fix it (dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry…)

Henry: With what shall I fix it?

Liza: With straw.

Henry: The straw is too long.

Liza: Well, cut it.

Henry: With what shall I cut it?

Liza: With an axe.

Henry: The axe is too dull.

Liza: Then sharpen it.

Henry: With what shall I sharpen it?

Liza: With a stone.

Henry: The stone is too dry.

Liza: Then wet it.

Henry: With what shall I wet it? (Editor’s note: really, Henry?)

Liza: With water.

Henry: With what shall I fetch it?

Liza: With a bucket.

Henry (and his redemption): There’s a hole in the bucket.

<Repeat over and over again>

Now, what makes that song such a children’s and family favorite?  In some part it’s popular because it repeats upon itself, but mostly it’s popular because even small children have to laugh at Henry’s heroic lack of critical thought.  Henry simply can’t function unless Liza directly hands him the specific next step.

…and Liza and Henry’s conversation is not all that much unlike many GMAT tutoring sessions.

Among the pool of GMAT test-takers, there are plenty of Henrys.  And as much as you may laugh at him, you’re playing the part of Henry just a little too much when you:

  • Stop working on a problem in less than 2 minutes and flip to the back of the book for the solution. (“With what shall I solve it, dear textbook, dear textbook…”)
  • Give up on the calculations without first checking the answer choices to see if they afford you a shortcut. (“The calculation is too long, dear GMAT, dear GMAT”)
  • Frustratedly ask “but how am I supposed to see that I should do that?”. (“But how should I know that, dear teacher, dear teacher…”)
  • Write off the question as flawed because you disagree with the correct answer. (“The solution is just wrong, dear answer key, dear answer key…”)

Eavesdrop on a GMAT tutoring session at your local library or coffee shop and there’s a good chance you’ll hear more Liza-and-Henry than you’d expect.  Students frequently ask for the rule but not the lesson, and tutors often simply oblige.  But to avoid Henrydom on test day (this conversation should last 3-5 seconds, not be a song that kids will sing for an entire field trip bus ride.  Figure it out, Henry!) you need to train yourself to ask and answer those questions for yourself.

We at Veritas Prep suggest the “toolkit” approach as opposed to a “if it’s this kind of problem I will steadfastly use this method without critical thought” mindset.  When the bucket has a hole or the straw is too long, ask yourself what other tools are in your toolkit.

For example, if you blank on a rule, try proving it with small numbers.  Unsure whether Even + Odd is Even or Odd?  Just try 2 + 1 (an even plus and odd) and recognize that the answer is 3 (Odd!).  Or if the algebra looks too messy, see if you can plug in an answer choice to get a better feel for the solutions’ relationship to the problem.

What makes “There’s a Hole in the Bucket” funny is what could ultimately make your own GMAT test experience miserable: you (and Henry) have to employ a combination of critical thinking, trial-and-error, and patience to solve problems. The exam simply isn’t testing your ability to memorize a “Liza List” of steps to solve each problem; many hard problems are designed specifically to reward those who overcome the adversity of the “obvious” method leading you down a rabbit hole of awful algebra or those who find a familiar theme in a completely unfamiliar setup.  So to train yourself to be an anti-Henry:

  • Force yourself to fight and struggle through hard practice problems. The written solution isn’t likely to be nearly as helpful as your having had to struggle to gain understanding.
  • Think in terms of your “toolkit” – if your first inclination doesn’t lead to success, rummage around your toolkit to see what other types of concepts might apply to that problem.
  • When you don’t know or can’t remember a rule, test the concept with small numbers to see if you can retrain your brain or prove the relationship to yourself.
  • Hold your tutor accountable – they should be asking you probing questions like Socrates, not handing you one-time solutions and steps like Liza (she’s not totally innocent in this either…she enables Henry way too much!)

The way the song goes, there will be a hole in Henry’s bucket forever, but if there’s a hole in your GMAT score you can fix it with a new study mindset (even if the straw is too long…).

Getting ready to take the GMAT? We have free online GMAT seminars running all the time. And, be sure to find us on Facebook, YouTube and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

By Brian Galvin.

GMAT Tip of the Week: 10 Must-Know Divisibility Rules For the GMAT (#3 Will Blow Your Mind!)

GMAT Tip of the WeekYou clicked, didn’t you? You’re helpless when presented with an enumerated list and a teaser that at least one of the items is advertised to be – but probably won’t be – mind-blowing. (In this case it kind of is…if not mind-blowing, it’s at least very powerful). So in this case, let’s use click bait for good and enumerated lists to talk about numbers. Here are 10 important (and “BuzzFeedy”) divisibility rules you should know heading into the GMAT:



1) 1

1 may be the loneliest number but it’s also a very important number for divisibility! Every integer is divisible by 1, and the result of any integer x divided by 1 is just x (when you divide an integer by 1, it stays the same). On the GMAT, the fact that every integer is divisible by 1 can be quite important. For example, a question might ask (as at least one official problem does): Does integer x have any factors y such that 1 < y < x?

Because every integer is divisible by itself and 1, that question is really just asking, “Is x prime or not?” because if there is a factor y that’s between 1 and x, x is not prime, and there is not such a factor, then x is prime. That “> 1” caveat in the problem may seem obtuse, but when you understand divisibility by 1, you can see that the abstract question stem is really just asking you about prime vs. not-prime as a number property. The concept that all integers are divisible by 1 may seem basic, but keeping it top of mind on the GMAT can be extremely helpful.

2) 2

It takes 2 to make a thing go right…in relationships and on the GMAT! A number is divisible by 2 if that number is even (and a number is even if it’s divisible by 2). That means that if an integer ends in 0, 2, 4, 6, or 8, you know that it’s divisible by 2. And here’s a somewhat-surprising fact: the number 0 is even! 0 is divisible by 2 with no remainder (0/2 = 0), so although 0 is neither positive nor negative it fits the definition of even and should therefore be something you keep in mind because 0 is such a unique number.

The GMAT frequently tests even/odd number properties, so you should make a point to get to know them. Because any even number is divisible by 2 (which also means that it can be written as 2 times an integer), an even number multiplied by any integer will keep 2 as a factor and remain even. So even x even = even and even x odd = even.

3) 3

It’s been said that good things come in 3s, and divisibility rules are no exception! The divisibility rule for 3 works much like a magic trick and is one that you should make sure is top of mind on test day to save you time and help you unravel tricky numbers. The rule: if you sum the digits of an integer and that sum is divisible by 3, then that integer is divisible by 3. For example, consider the integer 219. 2 + 1 + 9 = 12 which is divisible by 3, so you know that 219 is divisible by 3 (it’s 3 x 73).

This rule can help you in many ways. If you were asked to determine whether a number is prime, for example, and you can see that the sum of the digits is a multiple of 3, you know immediately that it’s not prime without having to do the long division to prove it. Or if you had a messy fraction to reduce and noticed that both the numerator and denominator are divisible by 3, you can use that rule to begin reducing the fraction quickly. The GMAT tests factors, multiples, and divisibility quite a bit, so this is a critical rule to have at your disposal to quickly assess divisibility. And since 1 out of every 3 integers is divisible by 3, this rule will help you out frequently!

4) 4

Presidential Election and Summer Olympics enthusiasts, be four-warned! You already know the divisibility rule for 4: take the last two digits of an integer and treat them as a two-digit number, and if that’s divisible by 4 so is the whole number. So for 2016 – next year and that of the next presidential election and Brazil Olympics – the last two-digit number, 16, is divisible by 4, so you know that 2016 is also divisible by 4.

If you fail to see immediately that a number is divisible by 4 given that rule, fear not! Being divisible by 4 just means that a number is divisible by 2 twice. So if you didn’t immediately see that you could factor a 4 out of 2016 (it’s 504 x 4), you could divide by 2 (2 x 1008) and then divide by 2 again (2 x 2 x 504) and end up in the same place without too much more work.

5) 5

Who needs only 5 fingers to divide by 5? All of us – divisibility by 5 is so easy you should be able to do it with one hand tied behind your back! If an integer ends in 5 or 0 you know that it’s divisible by 5 (and we’ll talk more about what extra fact 0 tells you in just a bit…).

6) 6

Your favorite character from the hit 1990’s NBC sitcom “Blossom” is also an easy-to-use divisibility rule! Since 6 is just the product of 2 and 3 (2 x 3 = 6), if a number meets the divisibility rules for both 2 (it’s even) and 3 (the sum of the digits is divisible by 3) it’s divisible by 6. So if you need to reduce a number like 324, you might want to start by dividing by 6, instead of by 2 or 3, so that you can factor it in fewer steps.

7) 7

Ah, magnificent 7. While there is a “trick” for divisibility by 7, 7 occurs much less frequently in divisibility-based problems (as do other primes like 11, 13, 17, etc.), so 7 is a good place to begin to think about a strategy that works for all numbers, rather than memorizing limited-use tricks for each number. To test whether a large number, such as 231, is divisible by 7, find an obvious multiple of 7 nearby and then add or subtract multiples of 7 to see whether doing so will land on that number. For 231, you should recognize that a nearby multiple of 7 is 210 (you know 21 is 7 x 3, so putting a 0 on the end of it just means that 210 is 7 x 30). Then as you add 7s to get there, you go to 217, then to 224, then to 231. So in your head you can see that 231 is 3 more 7s than 7 x 30 (which you know is 210), so 231 = 7 x 33.

8) 8

8 is enough! As you saw above with 4s and 6s, when you start working with non-prime factors it’s often easier to just divide out the smaller prime factors one at a time than to try to determine divisibility by a larger composite number in one fell swoop. Since 8 = 2 x 2 x 2, you’ll likely find more success testing for divisibility by 8 by just dividing by 2, then dividing by 2 again, then dividing by 2 a third time. So for a number like 312, rather than working through long division to divide by 8, just divide it in half (156) then in half again (78) then in half again (39), and you’ll know that 312 = 39 x 8.

9) 9

While “nein” may be German for “no,” you should be saying “yes” to divisibility by nine! 9 shares a big similarity with 3 in that a sum-of-the-digits rule applies here too. If you sum the digits of an integer and that sum is a multiple of 9, the integer is also divisible by 9. So, for example, with the number 729, because 7 + 2 + 9 = 18, you know that 729 is divisible by 9 (it’s 81 x 9, which actually is 9 to the 3rd power).

10) 10

We’ve saved the best for last! If a number ends in 0, it’s divisible by 10, giving you a great opportunity to make the math easy. For example, a number like 210 (which you saw above) lets you pull the 0 aside and say that it’s 21 x 10, which means that it’s 3 x 7 x 10.

Working with 10s makes mental (or pencil-and-paper) math quick and convenient, so you should seek out opportunities to use such numbers in your calculations. For example, look at 693: If you add 7, you get to a number that ends in two 0s (so it’s 7 x 10 x 10), meaning that you know that 693 is divisible by 7 (it’s 7 away from an easy multiple of 7) *and* that it’s 7 x 99 because it’s one less 7 than 7 x 100. Because the GMAT rewards quick mental math, it’s a good idea to quickly check for, “If I have to add x to get to the nearest 0, then does that give me a multiple of x?” (297 is 3 away from 300, so you know that 297 = 99 x 3). And since 10 = 2 x 5, it’s also helpful sometimes to double a number that ends in 5 (try 215, which times 2 = 430) to see how many 10s you have (43). That tells you that 215 = 43 x 5 because 215 x 2 = 43 x (2 x 5). Working with 10s can make mental math extremely quick – we’d rate numbers that end in 0 a perfect 10!

Getting ready to take the GMAT? We have free online GMAT seminars running all the time. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

By Brian Galvin

GMAT Tip of the Week: Small Numbers Lead to Big Scores

GMAT Tip of the WeekThe last thing you want to see on your score report at the end of the GMAT is a small number. Whether that number is in the 300s (total score) or in the single-digits (percentile), your nightmares leading up to the test probably include lots of small numbers flashing on the screen as you finish the test. So what’s one of the most helpful tools you have to keep small numbers from appearing on the screen?

Small numbers on your noteboard.

Have you found yourself on a homework problem or practice test asking yourself “can I just multiply these?”? Have you forgotten a rule and wondered whether you could trust your memory? Small numbers can be hugely valuable in these situations. Consider this example:

For integers x and y, 2^x + 2^y = 2^30. What is the sum x + y?

(A) 30
(B) 40
(C) 50
(D) 58
(E) 64

Every fiber of your being might be saying “can I just add x + y and set that equal to 30?” but you’re probably at least unsure whether you can do that. How do you definitively tell whether you can do that? Test the relationship with small numbers. 2^30 is far too big a number to fathom, but 2^6 is much more convenient. That’s 64, and if you wanted to set the problem up that way:

2^x + 2^y = 2^6

You can see that using combinations of x and y that add to 6 won’t work. 2^3 + 2^3 is 8 + 8 = 16 (so not 64). 2^5 + 2^1 is 32 + 2 = 34, which doesn’t work either. 2^4 + 2^2 is 16 + 4 = 20, so that doesn’t work. And 2^0 + 2^6 is 1 + 64 = 65, which is closer but still doesn’t work. Using small numbers you can prove that that step you’re wondering about – just adding the exponents – isn’t valid math, so you can avoid doing it. Small numbers help you test a rule that you aren’t sure about!

That’s one of two major themes with testing small numbers. 1) Small numbers are great for testing rules. And 2) Small numbers are great for finding patterns that you can apply to bigger numbers. To demonstrate that second point about small numbers, let’s return to the problem. 2^30 again is a number that’s too big to deal with or “play with,” but 2^6 is substantially more manageable. If you want to get to:

2^x + 2^y = 2^6, think about the powers of 2 that are less than 2^6:

2^1 = 2
2^2 = 4
2^3 = 8
2^4 = 16
2^5 = 32
2^6 = 64

Here you can just choose numbers from the list. The only two that you can use to sum to 64 are 32 and 32. So the pairing that works here is 2^5 + 2^5 = 2^6. Try that again with another number (what about getting 2^x + 2^y = 2^5? Add 16 + 16 = 32, so 2^4 + 2^4), and you should start to see the pattern. To get 2^x + 2^y to equal 2^z, x and y should each be one integer less than z. So to get back to the bigger numbers in the problem, you should now see that to get 2^x + 2^y to equal 2^30, you need 2^29 + 2^29 = 2^30. So x + y = 29 + 29 = 58, answer choice D.

The lesson? When problems deal with unfathomably large numbers, it can often be quite helpful to test the relationship using small numbers. That way you can see how the pieces of the puzzle relate to each other, and then apply that knowledge to the larger numbers in the problem. The GMAT thrives on abstraction, presenting you with lots of variables and large numbers (often exponents or factorials), but you can counter that abstraction by using small numbers to make relationships and concepts concrete.

So make sure that small numbers are a part of your toolkit. When you’re unsure about a rule, test it with small numbers; if small numbers don’t spit out the result you’re looking for, then that rule isn’t true. But if multiple sets of small numbers do produce the desired result, you can proceed confidently with that rule. And when you’re presented with a relationship between massive numbers and variables, test that relationship using small numbers so that you can teach yourself more concretely what the concept looks like.

The best way to make sure that your GMAT score report contains big numbers? Use lots of small numbers in your scratchwork.

Getting ready to take the GMAT? We have free online GMAT seminars running all the time. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

By Brian Galvin

GMAT Tip of the Week: Eazy E Shows You How To Take Your Quant Score Straight Outta Compton And Straight To Cambridge

GMAT Tip of the WeekIf you listened to any hip hop themed radio today, the day of the Straight Outta Compton movie premiere, you may have heard interviews with Dr. Dre. You almost certainly heard interviews with Ice Cube. And depending on how old school the station is there’s even a chance you heard from DJ Yella or MC Ren.

But on the radio this morning – just like on your GMAT exam – there was no Eazy-E. Logistically that’s because – as the Bone Thugs & Harmony classic “Tha Crossroads” commemorated – Eazy passed away about 20 years ago. But in GMAT strategy form, Eazy’s absence speaks even louder than his vocals on his NWA and solo tracks. “No Eazy-E” should be a mantra at the top of your mind when you take the GMAT, because on Data Sufficiency questions, choice E – the statements together are not sufficient to solve the problem – will not be given to you all that easily (Data Sufficiency “E” answers, like the Boyz in the Hood, are always hard).

Think about what answer choice E really means: it means “this problem cannot be solved.” But all too often, examinees choose the “Eazy-E,” meaning they pick E when “I can’t do it.” And there’s a big chasm. “It cannot be solved” means you’ve exhausted the options and you’re maybe one piece of information (“I just can’t get rid of that variable”) or one exception to the rule (“but if x is a fraction between 0 and 1…”) that stands as an obstacle to directly answering the question. Very rarely on problems that are above average difficulty is the lack of sufficiency a wide gap, meaning that if E seems easy, you’re probably missing an application of the given information that would make one or both of the statements sufficient. The GMAT just doesn’t have an incentive to reward you for shrugging your shoulders and saying “I can’t do it;” it does, however, have an incentive to reward those people who can conclusively prove that seemingly insufficient information can actually be packaged to solve the problem (what looks like E is actually A, B, C, or D) and those people who can look at seemingly sufficient information and prove why it’s not actually quite enough to solve it (the “clever” E).

So as a general rule, you should always be skeptical of Eazy-E.

Consider this example:

A shelf contains only Eazy-E solo albums and NWA group albums, either on CD or on cassette tape. How many albums are on the shelf?

(1) 2/3 of the albums are on CD and 1/4 of the albums are Eazy-E solo albums.

(2) Fewer than 30 albums are NWA group albums and more than 10 albums are on cassette tape.

(A) Statement (1) ALONE is sufficient, but statement (2) alone is not sufficient to answer the question asked
(B) Statement (2) ALONE is sufficient, but statement (1) alone is not sufficient to answer the question asked
(C) Both statements (1) and (2) TOGETHER are sufficient to answer the question asked; but NEITHER statement ALONE is sufficient
(D) EACH statement ALONE is sufficient to answer the question asked
(E) Statements (1) and (2) TOGETHER are NOT sufficient to answer the question asked, and additional data specific to the problem are needed

Statistically on this problem (the live Veritas Prep practice test version uses hardcover and paperback books of fiction or nonfiction, but hey it’s Straight Outta Compton day so let’s get thematic!), almost 60% of all test-takers take the Eazy-E here, presuming that the wide ranges in statement 2 and the ratios in statement 1 won’t get the job done. But a more astute examinee is skeptical of Eazy-E and knows to put in work! Statement 1 actually tells you more than meets the eye, as it also tells you that:

  • 1/3 of the albums are on cassette tape
  • 3/4 of the albums are NWA albums
  • The total number of albums must be a multiple of 12, because that number needs to be divisible by 3 and by 4 in order to create the fractions in statement 1

So when you then add statement 2, you know that since there are more than 10 albums total (because at least 11 are cassette alone) so the total number could be 12, 24, 36, 48, etc. And then when you apply the ratios you realize that since the number of NWA albums is less than 30 and that number is 3/4 of the total, the total must be less than 40. So only 12, 24, and 36 are possible. And since the number of cassettes has to be greater than 10, and equate to 1/3 of the total, the total must then be more than 30. So the only plausible number is 36, and the answer is, indeed, C.

Strategically, being wary of Eazy-E tells you where to invest your time. If E seems too easy, that means that you should spend the extra 30-45 seconds seeing if you can get started using the statements in a different way. So learn from hip hop’s first billionaire, Dr. Dre, who split with Eazy long ago and has since seen his business success soar. Avoid Eazy-E and as you drive home from the GMAT test center you can bask in the glow of those famous Ice Cube lyrics, “I gotta say, today was a good day.”

Getting ready to take the GMAT? We have free online GMAT seminars running all the time. And, be sure tofind us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

By Brian Galvin

GMAT Tip of the Week: Jim Harbaugh Says Milk Does A GMAT Score Good

GMAT Tip of the WeekSomeday when he’s not coaching football, playing with the Oakland Athletics, visiting with the Supreme Court, or Tweeting back and forth with Lil Wayne and Nicki Minaj, Jim Harbaugh should sit down and take the GMAT.

Because if his interaction with a young, milk-drinking fan is any indication, Harbaugh understands one of the key secrets to success on the GMAT Quant section:


Harbaugh, who told HBO Real Sports this summer about his childhood plan to grow to over 6 feet tall – great height for a quarterback – by drinking as much milk as humanly possible – is a fan of all kinds of milk: chocolate, 2%… But as he tells the young man, the ideal situation for growing into a Michigan quarterback is drinking whole milk, just as the ideal way to attend the Ross School of Business a few blocks from Harbaugh’s State Street office is to use whole numbers on the GMAT.

The main reason? You can’t use a calculator on the GMAT, so while your Excel-and-calculator-trained mind wants to say calculate “75% of 64” as 0.75 * 64, the key is to think in terms of whole numbers whenever possible. In this case, that means calling “75%” 3/4, because that allows you to do all of your calculations with the whole numbers 3 and 4, and not have to set up decimal math with 0.75. Since 64/4 is cleanly 16 – a whole number – you can calculate 75% by dividing by 4 first, then multiplying by 3: 64/4 is 16, then 16 * 3 = 48, and you have your answer without ever having to deal with messier decimal calculations.

This concept manifests itself in all kinds of problems for which your mind would typically want to think in terms of decimal math. For example:

With percentages, 25% and 75% can be seen as 1/4 and 3/4, respectively. Want to take 20%? Just divide by 5, because 0.2 = 1/5.

If you’re told that the result of a division operation is X.4, keep in mind that the decimal .4 can be expressed as 2/5, meaning that the divisor has to be a multiple of 5 and the remainder has to be even.

If at some point in a calculation it looks like you need to divide, say, 10 by 4 or 15 by 8 or any other type of operation that would result in a decimal, wait! Leaving division problems as improper fractions just means that you’re keeping two whole numbers handy, and knowing the GMAT at some point you’ll end up having to multiply or divide by a number that lets you avoid the decimal math altogether.

So learn from Jim Harbaugh and his obsession with whole milk. Whole milk may be the reasons that his football dreams came true; whole numbers could be a major reason that your business school dreams come true, too.

Getting ready to take the GMAT? We have free online GMAT seminars running all the time. And, be sure tofind us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

By Brian Galvin

GMAT Tip of the Week: Behind the Scenes of Your GMAT Score

GMAT Tip of the WeekAmong the most frequent questions we receive here at Veritas Prep headquarters (sadly, “How much am I allowed to tip my instructor?” is not one of them!) is the genre of “On my most recent practice test, I got X right and Y wrong and only Z wrong in a row… Why was my score higher/lower than my other test with A right and B wrong and C wrong in a row?” inquiries from students desperately trying to understand the GMAT scoring algorithm. We’ve talked previously in this space about why simply counting rights and wrongs isn’t all that great a predictor of your score. And perhaps the best advice possible relates to our Sentence Correction advice here a few months ago: Accept that there are some things you can’t change and focus on making a difference where you can.

But we also support everyone’s desire to leave no stone unturned in pursuit of a high GMAT score and everyone’s intellectual curiosity with regard to computer-adaptive testing. So with the full disclosure that these items won’t help you game the system and that your best move is to turn that intellectual curiosity toward mastering GMAT concepts and strategies, here are four major reasons that your response pattern — did you miss more questions early in the test vs. late in the test; did you miss consecutive questions or more sporadic questions, etc. — won’t help you predict your score:

1) The all-important A-parameter.

Item Response Theory incorporates three metrics for each “item” (or “question” or “problem”): the B parameter is the closest measurement to pure “difficulty”. The C parameter is essentially a measure of likelihood that a correct answer can be guessed. And the A parameter tells the scoring system how much to weight that item. Yes, some problems “count” more than others do (and not because of position on the test).

Why is that? Think of your own life; if you were going to, say, buy a condo in your city, you’d probably ask several people for their opinion on things like the real estate market in that area, mortgage rates, the additional costs of home ownership, the potential for renting it if you were to move, etc. And you’d value each opinion differently. Your very risk-loving friend may not have the opinion to value highest on “Will I be able to sell this at a profit if I get transferred to a new city?” (his answer is “The market always goes up!”) whereas his opinion on the neighborhood itself might be very valuable (“Don’t underestimate how nice it will be to live within a block of the blue line train”). Well, GMAT questions are similar: Some are extremely predictive (e.g. 90% of those scoring over 700 get it right, and only 10% of those scoring 690 or worse do) and others are only somewhat predictive (60% of those 700+ get this right, but only 45% of those below 700 do; here getting it right whispers “above 700” whereas before it screams it).

So while you may want to look at your practice test and try to determine where it’s better to position your “misses,” you’ll never know the A-values of any of the questions, so you just can’t tell which problems impacted your score the most.

2) Content balancing.

OK, you might then say, the test should theoretically always be trying to serve the highest value questions, so shouldn’t the larger A-parameters come out first? Not necessarily. The GMAT values balanced content to a very high degree: It’s not fair if you see a dozen geometry problems and your friend only sees two, or if you see the less time-consuming Data Sufficiency questions early in the test while someone else budgets their early time on problem solving and gets a break when the last ten are all shorter problems. So the test forces certain content to be delivered at certain times, regardless of whether the A-parameter for those problems is high or low. By the end of the test you’ll have seen various content areas and A-parameters… You just won’t know where the highest value questions took place.

3) Experimental items.

In order to know what those A, B, and C parameters are, the GMAT has to test its questions on a variety of users. So on each section, several problems just won’t count — they’re only there for research. And this can be true of practice tests, too (the Veritas Prep tests, for example, do contain experimental questions). So although your analysis of your response pattern may say that you missed three in a row on this test and gotten eight right in a row on the other, in reality those streaks could be a lot shorter if one or more of those questions didn’t count. And, again, you just won’t know whether a problem counted or not, so you can’t fully read into your response pattern to determine how the test should have been scored.

4) Item delivery vs. Score calculation.

One common prediction people make about GMAT scoring is that missing multiple problems in a row hurts your score substantially more than missing problems scattered throughout the test. The thinking goes that after one question wrong the system has to reconsider how smart it thought you were; then after two it knows for sure that you’re not as smart as advertised; and by the third it’s in just asking “How bad is he?” In reality, however, as you’ve read above, the “get it right –> harder question; get it wrong –> easier question” delivery system is a bit more nuanced and inclusive of experimentals and content balancing than people think. So it doesn’t work quite like the conventional wisdom suggests.

What’s more, even when the test delivers you an easier question and then an even easier question, it’s not directly calculating your score question by question. It’s estimating your score question-by-question in order to serve you the most meaningful questions it can, but it calculates your score by running its algorithm across all questions you’ve seen. So while missing three questions in a row might lower the current estimate of your ability and mean that you’ll get served a slightly easier question next, you can also recover over the next handful of questions. And then when the system runs your score factoring in the A, B, and C parameters of all of your responses to “live” (not experimental) questions, it doesn’t factor in the order in which those questions were presented — it only cares about the statistics. So while it’s certainly a good idea to get off to a good start in the first handful of problems and to avoid streaks of several consecutive misses, the rationale for that is more that avoiding early or prolonged droughts just raises your degree of difficulty. If you get 5 in a row wrong, you need to get several in a row right to even that out, and you can’t afford the kinds of mental errors that tend to be common and natural on a high-stakes exam. If you do manage to get the next several right, however, you can certainly overcome that dry spell.

In summary, it’s only natural to look at your practice tests and try to determine how the score was calculated and how you can use that system to your advantage. In reality, however, there are several unseen factors that affect your score that you just won’t ever see or know, so the best use of that curiosity and energy is learning from your mistakes so that the computer — however it’s programmed — has no choice but to give you the score that you want.

Getting ready to take the GMAT? We have free online GMAT seminars running all the time. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

By Brian Galvin

GMAT Tip of the Week: Kanye West’s Everything I Am Teaches Critical Reasoning

GMAT Tip of the Week“Everything I’m not made me everything I am,” says Kanye West in his surprisingly-humble track Everything I Am. And while, unsurprisingly, much of what he’s talking about is silencing his critics, he might as well be rapping about making you an elite critic on Critical Reasoning problems. Because when it comes to some of the most challenging Critical Reasoning problems on the GMAT, everything they’re not makes them everything they are. Which is a convoluted way of saying this:

On challenging Strengthen and Assumption questions, the correct answer often tells you that a potential flaw with the argument is not true.

Everything that’s not true in that answer choice, then, makes the conclusion substantially more valid.

Consider this argument, for example:

Kanye received the most votes for the “Best Hip Hop Artist” award at the upcoming MTV Video Music Awards, so Kanye will be awarded the trophy for Best Hip Hop Artist.

If this were the prompt for a question that asked “Which of the following is an assumption required by the argument above?” a correct answer might read:

A) The Video Music Award for “Best Hip Hop Artist” is not decided by a method other than voting.

And the function of that answer choice is to tell you what’s not true (“everything I’m not”), removing a flaw that allows the conclusion to be much more logically sound (“…made me everything I am.”) These answer choices can be challenging in context, largely because:

1) Answer choices that remove a flaw can be difficult to anticipate, because those flaws are usually subtle.

2) Answer choices that remove a flaw tend to include a good amount of negation, making them a bit more convoluted.

In order to counteract these difficulties, it can be helpful to use “Everything I’m not made me everything I am” to your advantage. If what’s NOT true is essential to the conclusion’s truth, then if you consider the opposite – what if it WERE true – you can turn that question into a Weaken question. For example, if you took the opposite of the choice above, it would read:

The VMA for “Best Hip Hop Artist” is decided by a method other than voting.

If that were true, the conclusion is then wholly unsupported. So what if Kanye got the most votes, if votes aren’t how the award is determined? At that point the argument has no leg to stand on, so since the opposite of the answer directly weakens the argument, then you know that the answer itself strengthens it. And since we’re typically all much more effective as critics than we are as defenders, taking the opposite helps you to do what you’re best at. So consider the full-length problem:

Editor of an automobile magazine: The materials used to make older model cars (those built before 1980) are clearly superior to those used to make late model cars (those built since 1980). For instance, all the 1960’s and 1970’s cars that I routinely inspect are in surprisingly good condition: they run well, all components work perfectly, and they have very little rust, even though many are over 50 years old. However, almost all of the late model cars I inspect that are over 10 years old run poorly, have lots of rust, and are barely fit to be on the road.

Which of the following is an assumption required by the argument above?

A) The quality of materials used in older model cars is not superior to those used to make other types of vehicles produced in the same time period.

B) Cars built before 1980 are not used for shorter trips than cars built since then.

C) Manufacturing techniques used in modern automobile plants are not superior to those used in plants before 1980.

D) Well-maintained and seldom-used older model vehicles are not the only ones still on the road.

E) Owners of older model vehicles take particularly good care of those vehicles.

First notice that several of the answer choices (A, B, C, and D) include “is not” or “are not” and that the question stem asks for an assumption. These are clues that you’re dealing with a “removes the flaw” kind of problem, in which what is not true (in the answer choices) is essential to making the conclusion of the argument true. Because of that, it’s a good idea to take the opposites of those answer choices so that instead of removing the flaw in a Strengthen/Assumption question, you’re introducing the flaw and making it a Weaken. When you do that, you should see that choice D becomes:

D) Well-maintained and seldom-used older model vehicles ARE the only ones still on the road.

If that’s the case, the conclusion – “the materials used to make older cars are clearly superior to those used in newer ones” – is proven to be flawed. All the junkers are now off the road, so the evidence no longer holds up; you’re only seeing well-working old cars because they’re the most cared-for, not because they were better made in the first place.

And in a larger context, look at what D does ‘reading forward’: if it’s not only well-maintained and seldom-driven older cars on the road, then you have a better comparison point. So what’s not true here makes the argument everything it is. But dealing in “what’s not true” can be a challenge, so remember that you can take the opposite of each answer choice and make this “Everything I’m Not” assumption question into a much-clearer “Everything I Am” Weaken question.

Are you studying for the GMAT? We have free online GMAT seminars running all the time. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

By Brian Galvin

GMAT Tip of the Week: Shake & Bake Your Way To Function Success

GMAT Tip of the WeekFor many of us, cooking a delicious homemade meal and solving a challenge-level GMAT math problem are equally daunting challenges. So many steps, so many places to make a mistake…why can’t there be an easier way? Well, the fine folks at Kraft foods solved your first problem years ago with a product called “Shake and Bake.” You take a piece of chicken (your input), stick in the bag of seasoning, shake it up, bake it, and voila – you have yourself a delicious meal with minimal effort. So gourmet level cooking is now nothing to fear…but what about those challenging GMAT quant problems?

You’re in luck. Function problems on the GMAT are essentially Shake and Bake recipes. Consider the example:

f(x) = x^2 – 80

If that gets your heart rate and stress level up, you’re not alone. Function notation just looks challenging. But it’s essentially Shake and Bake if you dissect what a function looks like.

The f(x) portion tells you about your input. f(x) = ________ means that, for the rest of that problem, whatever you see in parentheses is your “input” (just like the chicken in your Shake and Bake).

What comes after the equals sign is the recipe. It tells you what to do to your input to get the result. Here f(x) = x^2 – 80 is telling you that whatever your input, you square it and then subtract 80 and that’s your output. …And that’s it.

So if they ask you for:

What is f(9)? (your input is 9), then f(9) = 9^2 – 80, so you square 9 to get 81, then you subtract 80 and you have your answer: 1.

what is f(-4)? (your input is -4), then f(4) = 4^2 – 80, which is 16 – 80 = -64.

What is f(y^2)? (your input is y^2), then f(y^2) = (y^2)^2 – 80, which is y^4 – 80.

What is f(Rick Astley), then your input is Rick Astley and f(Rick Astley) = (Rick Astley)^2 – 80.

It really doesn’t matter what your input is. Whatever the test puts in the parentheses, you just use that as your input and do whatever the recipe says to do with it. So for example:

f(x) = x^2 – x. For which of the following values of a is f(a) > f(8)?

I. a = -8
II. a = -9
III a = 9

A. I only
B. II only
C. III only
D. I and II only
E. I, II, and III

While this may look fairly abstract, just consider the inputs they’ve given you. For f(8), just put 8 wherever that x goes in the “recipe” f(x) = x^2 – x:

f(8) = 8^2 – 8 = 64 – 8 = 56

And then do the same for the three other possible values:

I. f(-8) means put -8 wherever you see the x: (-8)^2 – (-8) = 64 + 8 = 72, so f(-8) > f(8).
II. f(-9) means put -9 wherever you see the x: (-9)^2 – (-9) = 81 + 9 = 90, so f(-9) > f(8)
III. f(9) means put a 9 wherever you see the x: 9^2 – 9 = 81 – 9 = 72, so f(9) > f(8), and the answer is E.

Ultimately with functions, the notation (like the Shake and Bake ingredients) is messy, but with practice the recipes become easy to follow. What goes in the parentheses is your input, and what comes after the equals sign is your recipe. Follow the steps, and you’ll end up with a delicious GMAT quant score.

Are you studying for the GMAT? We have free online GMAT seminars running all the time. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

By Brian Galvin

GMAT Tip of the Week: Oh Thank Heaven For Seven-Eleven

GMAT Tip of the WeekA week after the Fourth of July, a lesser-known but certainly-important holiday occurs each year. Tomorrow, friends, is 7-11, a day to enjoy free Slurpees at 7-11 stores, to roll some dice at the craps table, and to honor your favorite prime numbers. So to celebrate 7-11, let’s talk about these two important prime numbers.

Checking Whether A Number Is Prime

Consider a number like 133. Is that number prime? The first three prime numbers (2, 3, and 5) are easy to check to see whether they are factors (if any are, then the number is clearly not prime):

2 – this number is not even, so it’s not divisible by 2.
3 – the sum of the digits (an important rule for divisibility by three!) is 7, which is not a multiple of 3 so this number is not divisible by 3.
5 – the number doesn’t end in 5 or 0, so it’s not divisible by 5

But now things get a bit trickier. There are, in fact, (separate) divisibility “tricks” for 7 and 11. But they’re relatively inefficient compared with a universal strategy. Find a nearby multiple of the target number, then add or subtract multiples of that target number. If we want to test 133 to see whether it’s divisible by 7, we can quickly go to 140 (you know this is a multiple of 7) and then subtract by 7. That’s 133, so you know that 133 is a multiple of 7. (Doing the same for 11, you know that 121 is a multiple of 11 – it’s 11-squared – so add 11 more and you’re at 132, so 133 is not a multiple of 11)

This is even more helpful when, for example, a question asks something like “how many prime numbers exist between 202 and 218?”. By finding nearby multiples of 7 and 11:

210 is a multiple of 7, so 203 and 217 are also multiples of 7
220 is a multiple of 11, so 209 is a multiple of 11

You can very quickly eliminate numbers in that range that are not prime. And since none of the even numbers are prime and neither are 205 and 215 (the ends-in-5 rule), you’re left only having to check 207 (which has digits that sum to a multiple of 3, so that’s not prime), 211 (more on that in a second), and 213 (which has digits that sum to 6, so it’s out).

So that leaves the process of testing 211 to see if it has any other prime factors than 2, 3, 5, 7, and 11. Which may seem like a pretty tall order. But here’s an important concept to keep in mind: you only have to test prime factors up to the square root of the number in question. So for 211, that means that because you should know that 15 is the square root of 225, you only have to test primes up to 15.

Why is that? Remember that factors come in pairs. For 217, for example, you know it’s divisible by 7, but 7 has to have a pair to multiply it by to get to 217. That number is 31 (31 * 7 = 217). So whatever factor you find for a number, it has to multiply with another number to get there.

Well, consider again the number 211. Since 15 * 15 is already bigger than 211, you should see that for any number bigger than 15 to be a factor of 211, it has to pair with a number smaller than 15. And as you consider the primes up to 15, you’re already checking all those smaller possibilities. That allows you to quickly test 211 for divisibility by 13 and then you’re done. And since 211 is not divisible by 13 (you could do the long division or you could test 260 – a relatively clear multiple of 13 – and subtract 13s until you get to or past 211: 247, 234, 221, and 208, so 211 is not a multiple of 13. Therefore 211 is prime.

Are you studying for the GMAT? We have free online GMAT seminars running all the time. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

By Brian Galvin

GMAT Tip of the Week: Raising Your Data Sufficiency Accuracy From 33% To 99%

GMAT Tip of the WeekYou’re looking at a Data Sufficiency problem and you’re feeling the pressure. You’re midway through the GMAT Quantitative section and your mind is spinning from the array of concepts and questions that have been thrown at you. You know you nailed that tricky probability question a few problems earlier and you hope you got that last crazy geometry question right. When you look at Statement 1 your mind draws a blank: whether it’s too many variables or too many numbers or too tricky a concept, you just can’t process it. So you look at Statement 2 and feel relief. It’s nowhere near sufficient, as just about anyone even considering graduate school would know immediately. So you smile as you cross off choices A and D on your noteboard, saying to yourself: “Good, at least I have a 33% chance now.”

You’re better than that.

Too often on Data Sufficiency problems, people are impressed by giving themselves a 33% or even 50% chance of success. Keep in mind that guessing one of three remaining choices means you’re probably going to get that problem wrong! And of more strategic importance is this: if one statement is dead obvious, you haven’t just raised your probability of guessing correctly – you should have just learned what the question is all about!

If a Data Sufficiency statement is clearly insufficient, it’s arguably the most important part of the problem.

Consider this example:

What is the value of integer z?

(1) z represents the remainder when positive integer x is divided by positive integer (x – 1)

(2) x is not a prime number

Many examinees will be thrilled here to see that statement 2 is nowhere near sufficient, therefore meaning that the answer must be A, C, or E – a 33% chance of success! But a more astute test-taker will look closer at statement 2 and think “this problem is likely going to come down to whether it matters that x is prime or not” and then use that information to hold Statement 2 up to that light.

For statement 1, many will test x = 5 and (x – 1) = 4 or x = 10 and (x – 1) = 9 and other combinations of that ilk, and see that the result is usually (always?) 1 remainder 1. But a more astute test-taker will see that word “prime” and ask themselves why a prime would matter. And in listing a few interesting primes, they’ll undoubtedly check 2 and realize that if x = 2 and (x – 1) = 1, the result is 1 with a remainder of 0 – a different answer than the 1, remainder 1 that usually results from testing values for x. So in this case statement 2 DOES matter, and the answer has to be C.

Try this other example:

What is the value of x?

(1) x(x + 1) = 2450

(2) x is odd

Again, someone can easily skip ahead to statement 2 and be thrilled that they’re down to three options, but it pays to take that statement and file it as a consideration for later: when I get my answer for statement 1, is there a reason that even vs. odd would matter? If I get an odd solution, is there a possible even one?

Factoring 2450 leaves you with consecutive integers 49 and 50, so x could be 49 and therefore odd. But is there any possible even value for x, a number exactly one smaller than (x + 1) where the product of the two is still 2450? There is: -50 and -49 give you the same product, and in that case x is even. So statement 2 again is critical to get the answer C.

And the lesson? A ridiculously easy statement typically holds much more value than “oh this is easy to eliminate.” So when you can quickly and effortlessly make your decision on a Data Sufficiency statement, don’t be too happy to take your slightly-increased odds of a correct answer and move on. Use that statement to give you insight into how to attack the other statement, and take your probability of a correct answer all the way up to “certain.”

Are you studying for the GMAT? We have free online GMAT seminars running all the time. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

By Brian Galvin

GMAT Tip of the Week: Talking About Equality

cupid-gmat-tipIf you’ve ever struggled with algebra, wondered which operations you were allowed to perform, or been upset when you were told that the operation you just performed was incorrect, this post is for you. Algebra is all about equality.

What does that mean?

Consider the statement:

8 = 8

That’s obviously not groundbreaking news, but it does show the underpinnings of what makes algebra “work.” When you use that equals sign, =, you’re saying that what’s on the left of that sign is the exact same value as what’s on the right hand side of that sign. 8 = 8 means “8 is the same exact value as 8.” And then as long as you do the same thing to both 8s, you’ll preserve that equality. So you could subtract 2 from both sides:

8 – 2 = 8 – 2

And you’ll arrive at another definitely-true statement:

6 = 6

And then you could divide both sides by 3:

6/3 = 6/3

And again you’ve created another true statement:

2 = 2

Because you start with a true statement, as proven by that equals sign, as long as you do the exact same thing to what’s on either side of that equals sign, the statement will remain true. So when you replace that with a different equation:

3x + 2 = 8

That’s when the equals sign really helps you. It’s saying that “3x + 2” is the exact same value as 8. So whatever you do to that 8, as long as you do the same exact thing to the other side, the equation will remain true. Following the same steps, you can:

Subtract two from both sides:

3x = 6

Divide both sides by 3:

x = 2

And you’ve now solved for x. That’s what you’re doing with algebra. You’re taking advantage of that equality: the equals sign guarantees a true statement and allows you to do the exact same thing on either side of that sign to create additional true statements. And your goal then is to use that equals sign to strategically create a true statement that helps you to answer the question that you’re given.

Equality applies to all terms; it cannot single out just one individual term.

Now, where do people go wrong? The most common mistake that people make is that they don’t do the same thing to both SIDES of the inequality. Instead they do the same thing to a term on each side, but they miss a term. For example:

(3x + 5)/7 = x – 9

In order to preserve this equation and eliminate the denominator, you must multiply both SIDES by 7. You cannot multiply just the x on the right by 7 (a common mistake); instead you have to multiply everything on the right by 7 (and of course everything on the left by 7 too):

7(3x + 5)/7 = 7(x – 9)

3x + 5 = 7x – 63

Then subtract 3x from both sides to preserve the equation:

5 = 4x – 63

Then add 63 to both sides to preserve the equation:

68 = 4x

Then divide both sides by 4:

17 = x

The point being: preserving equality is what makes algebra work. When you’re multiplying or dividing in order to preserve that equality, you have to be completely equitable to both sides of the equation: you can’t single out any one term or group. If you’re multiplying both sides by 7, you have to distribute that 7 to both the x and the -9. So when you take the GMAT, do so with equality in mind. The equals sign is what allows you to solve for variables, but remember that you have to do the exact same thing to both sides.

Inequalities? Well those will just have to wait for another day.

Are you studying for the GMAT? We have free online GMAT seminars running all the time. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

By Brian Galvin

GMAT Tip of the Week: Dave Chappelle’s Friend Chip Teaches Data Sufficiency Strategy

Chappelle GMAT Tip“Officer, I didn’t know I couldn’t do that,” Dave Chappelle’s friend, Chip, told a police officer after being pulled over for any number of reckless driving infractions. In Chappelle’s famous stand-up comedy routine, he mocks the audacity of his (privileged) friend for even thinking of saying that to a police officer. But that’s the exact type of audacity that gets rewarded on Data Sufficiency problems, and a powerful lesson for those who, like Dave in the story, seem more resigned to their plight of being rejected at the mercy of the GMAT yet again.

How does Chip’s mentality help you on the GMAT? Consider this Data Sufficiency fragment:

Is the product of integers j, k, m, and n equal to 1?

(1) (jk)/mn = 1

The approach that most students take here involves plugging in numbers for j, k, m, and n and seeing what answer they get. Knowing that jk = mn (by manipulating the algebra in statement 1) they may pick combinations:

1 * 8 = 2 * 4, in which case the product is 64 and the answer is no

2 * 5 = 1 * 10, in which case the product is 100 and the answer is no

And so some will, after picking a series of arbitrary number choices, claim that the answer must be no. But in doing so, they’re leaving out the possibilities:

1 * 1 = 1 * 1, in which case the product jkmn = 1*1*1*1 = 1, so the answer is yes

-1 * 1 = -1 * 1, in which case the product is also 1, and the answer is yes

And here’s where Chip Logic comes into play: in any given classroom, when the two latter sets of numbers are demonstrated, at least a few students will say “How are we allowed to use the same number twice? No one told us we could do that?”. And the best response to that is Chip’s very own: “I didn’t know I COULDN’T do that.” Since the problem didn’t restrict the use of the same number twice (to do so they might say “unique integers j, k, m, and n”), it’s on you to consider all possible combinations, including “they all equal 1.” Data Sufficiency tends to reward those who consider the edge cases: the highest or lowest possible number allowed, or fractions/decimals, or negative numbers, or zero. If you’re going to pick numbers on Data Sufficiency questions, you have to think like Chip: if you weren’t explicitly told that you couldn’t, you have to assume that you can.

So on Data Sufficiency problems, when you pick numbers, do so with a sense of entitlement and audacity. Number-picking is no place for the timid – your job is to “break” the obvious answer by finding allowable combinations that give you a different answer; in doing so, you can prove a statement to be insufficient. So as you chip away at your goal of a 700+ score, summon your inner Chip. When it comes to picking numbers, “I didn’t know I couldn’t do that” is the mentality you need to know you can use.

Are you studying for the GMAT? We have free online GMAT seminars running all the time. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

By Brian Galvin

GMAT Tip of the Week: Making the Most of Your Mental Stamina

GMAT Tip of the WeekOne of the most fascinating storylines during the current 2015 NBA Finals is that of LeBron James’ workload and stamina. Responsible for such a huge percentage of Cleveland’s offense and a key component of the team’s necessarily suffocating defense, James needs to parcel out his energy usage much like an endurance athlete does in the Tour de France or Ironman World Championships. And it’s fascinating to watch as he slowly walks the ball up the court (killing time to shorten the game and also buying valuable seconds of rest before initiating the offense) and nervously watches his teammates lose ground while he takes his ~2 minute beginning-of-the-4th rest on the bench. At the final buzzer of each game he looks exhausted but thus far has been exhaustedly-triumphant twice. And watching how he handles his energy can teach you valuable lessons about how to manage the GMAT.

At the end of your GMAT exam you will be exhausted. But will you be exhaustedly triumphant? Here are 5 things you can do to help you tiredly walk out of the test center with a championship smile:

1) Practice The Way You’ll Play

The GMAT is a long test. You’ll be at the test center for about 4 hours by the time you’re done, and even during those 8-minute section breaks you’ll be hustling the whole time. Think of it this way: with a 30-minute essay, a 30-minute Integrated Reasoning section, a 75-minute Quant section and a 75-minute Verbal section, you’ll be actively answering questions for 3 hours and 30 minutes – a reasonable time for someone your age to complete a marathon (and well more than an hour off the world record). If you were training for a marathon, you wouldn’t stop your workouts after an hour or 90 minutes each time; at the very least you’d work up to where you’re training for over two hours at least once a week. And the same is true of the GMAT. To have that mental stamina to stay focused on a dense Reading Comprehension passage over 3 hours after you arrived at the test center, you need to have trained your mind to focus for 3+ hours at a time. To do so:

-Take full-length practice tests, including the AWA and IR sections.
-Practice verbal when you’re tired, after a long day of work or after you’ve done an hour or more of quant practice
-Make at least one 2-3 hour study session a part of your weekly routine and stick to it. Work can get tough, so whether it’s a Saturday morning or Sunday afternoon, pick a time that you know you can commit to and go somewhere (library, coffee shop) where you know you’ll be able to focus and get to work.

2) Be Ready For The 8-Minute Breaks

Like LeBron James, you’ll have precious few opportunity to rest during your “MBA Finals” date with the GMAT. You have an 8-minute break between the IR section and the Quant section and another 8-minute break between the Quant section and the Verbal section…and that’s it. And those breaks go quickly, as in that 8 minutes you need to check out with the exam proctor to leave the room and check back in to re-enter. A minute or more of your break will have elapsed by the time you reach your locker or the restroom…time flies when you’re on your short rest period! So be ready:

-Have a plan for your break, knowing exactly what you want to accomplish: restroom, water, snack. You shouldn’t have to make many energy-draining decisions during that time; your mind needs a break while you refresh your body, so do all of your decision-making before you even arrive at the test center.
-Practice taking 8-minute breaks when you study and take practice tests. Know how long 8 minutes will take and what you can reasonably accomplish in that time.

3) Use Energy Wisely

If you’re watching LeBron James during the Finals you’ll see him take certain situations (if not entire plays) off, conserving energy for when he has the opportunity to sprint downcourt on a fast break or when he absolutely has to get out on a ready-to-shoot Steph Curry. For you on the GMAT, this means knowing when to stress over calculations on quant or details on reading comprehension. Most students simply can’t give 100% effort for the full test, so you may need to consider:

-On this Data Sufficiency problem, do you need to finish the calculations or can you stop early knowing that the calculations will lead to a sufficient answer?
-As you read this Reading Comp passage, do you need to sweat the scientific details or should you get the gist of it and deal with details later if a question specifically asks for them?
-With this Geometry problem, is it worth doing all the quadratic math or can you estimate using the answer choices? If you do do the math, are you sure that it will get you to an answer in a reasonable amount of time?

Sometimes the answer is “yes” – if it’s a problem that you know you can get right, but only if you grind through some ugly math, that’s a good place to invest that energy. And other times the answer is “no” – you could do the work, but you’re not so sure you even set it up right and the numbers are starting to look ugly and you usually get these problems wrong, anyway. Practice is the key, and diagnosing how those efforts have gone on your practice tests. You might not have enough mental energy to give all the focus you’d like all day, so have a few triggers in there that will help you figure out which battles you can lose in an effort to win the war.

4) Master The “Give Your Mind A Break” Problems

Some GMAT problems are extremely abstract and require a lot of focus and ingenuity. Others are very process-driven if you know the process – among those are the common word problems (weighted averages, rate problems, Venn diagram problems, etc.) and straightforward “solve for this variable” algebra problem solving problems. If you’ve put in the work to master those content-driven problems, they can be a great opportunity to turn your brain off for a few minutes while you just grind out the necessary steps, turning your mind back on at the last second to double check for common mistakes.

This comes down to practice. If you recognize the common types of “just set it up and do the work” problems, you’ll know them when you see them and can relax to an extent as you perform the same steps you have dozens of times. If you recognize the testmaker’s intent on certain problems – in an “either/or” SC structure, for example, you know that they’re testing parallelism and can quickly eliminate answers that don’t have it; if a DS problem includes >0 or <0, you can quickly look for positive/negative number properties with the “usual suspects” that indicate those things – you can again perform rote steps that don’t require much mental heavy lifting. The test is challenging, but if you put in the work in practice you’ll find where you can take some mental breaks without getting punished.

5) Minimize What You Read

The verbal section comes last, and that’s where focus can be the hardest as you face a barrage of problems on a variety of topics – astronomy, an election in a fake country, a discovery about Druid ruins, comparative GDP between various countries, etc. A verbal section will include thousands of words, but only a couple hundred are really operative words upon which correct answers hinge. So be proactive as you read verbal problems. That means:

-Scan the answer choices for obvious decision points in SC problems. If you know they’re testing verb tense, for example, then you’re looking at the original sentence for timeline and you don’t have to immediately focus on any other details. On many questions you can get an idea of what you’re reading for before you even start reading.

-Let details go on RC passages. Your job is to know the general author’s point, and to have a good idea of where to find any details that they might ask about. But in an RC passage that includes a dozen or more details, they may only ask you about one or two. Worry about those details when you’re asked for them, saving mental energy by never really stressing the ones that end up not mattering at all.

-Read the question stem first on CR problems. Before you read the prompt, know your job so that you know what to look for. If you need to weaken it, then look for the flaw in the argument and focus specifically on the key words in the conclusion. If you need to draw a conclusion, your energy needs to be highest on process-of-elimination at the answers, and you don’t have to stress the initial read of the prompt nearly as much.

Know that the GMAT is a long, exhausting day, and you won’t likely get out of the test center without feeling completely wiped out. But if you manage your energy efficiently, you can use whatever energy you have left to triumphantly raise that winning score report over your head as you walk out.

Are you studying for the GMAT? We have free online GMAT seminars running all the time. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

By Brian Galvin

GMAT Tip of the Week: No Calculator? No Problem.

GMAT Tip of the WeekFor many GMAT examinees, the realization that they cannot use a calculator on the GMAT quantitative section is cause for despair. For most of your high school career, calculators were a featured part of the math curriculum (what TI are we up to now?); nowadays you almost always have Microsoft Excel a click away to perform those calculations for you.

But remember: it’s not that YOU don’t get to use a calculator on the GMAT quant section. It’s that NO ONE gets to use a calculator. And that creates the opportunity for a competitive advantage. If you know that the GMAT doesn’t include “calculator problems” – the testmakers know that you don’t get a calculator, too, so they create questions that savvy examinees can find efficient ways to solve by hand (or head) or estimate – then you can use that to your advantage, looking for “clean” numbers to calculate and saving calculations until they’re truly necessary. As an example, consider the problem:

A certain box contains 14 apples and 23 oranges. How many oranges must be removed from the box so that 70 percent of the pieces of fruit in the box will be apples?

(A) 3
(B) 6
(C) 14
(D) 17
(E) 20

If you’re well-versed in “non-calculator” math, you should recognize a couple things as you scan the problem:

1) The 23 oranges represent a prime number. That’s an ugly number to calculate with in a non-calculator problem.
2) 70% is a very clean number, which reduces to 7/10. Numbers that end in 0 don’t tend to play well with or come from double-digit prime numbers, so in this problem you’ll need to “clean up” that 23.
3) The 14 apples are pretty nicely related to the 70%. 14*5 = 70, and 14 = 7 * 2, where 70% is 7/10. So in sum, the 14 is a pretty “clean” number you’re working with to find a relationship that includes that also “clean” 70%. And the 23 is ugly.

So if you wanted to plug in numbers here to see how many oranges should be removed, keep in mind that your job is to get that 23 to look a lot cleaner. So while the Goldilocksian conventional methodology for backsolving is to “start with the middle number, then determine whether it’s correct, too big, or too small,” if you’re preparing for non-calculator math you should quickly see that with answer choice C of 14, that would give you 14 apples and 9 (which is 23-14) oranges), and you’re stuck at that ugly number of 23 as your total number of pieces of fruit. So your goal should be to find cleaner numbers to calculate.

You might try choice A, 3, which is very easy to calculate (23 oranges minus 3 = 20 oranges left), but a quick scan there would show that that’s way too many oranges (still more oranges than apples). So the other number that can clean up the 23 oranges is 17 (choice D), which would at least give you an even number (23 – 17 = 6). Because you’re now dealing with clean numbers (14, 6, and 70%) it’s worth doing the full calculation to see if choice D is really correct. And since 14 apples out of 20 total pieces of fruit is, indeed, 70%, you know that D is correct.

Now, if you follow these preceding paragraphs step-by-step, they should look just as long and unwieldy as the algebra or some traditional backsolving. But to an examinee seasoned in non-calculator math, finding “clean numbers worth testing” is more about the scan than the process. You should know that Odd + or – Odd = Even, but that Odd + or – Even is Odd. So with an even “fixed” number of 14 apples and an odd “changeable” number of 23 oranges, an astute GMAT test-taker looking to save time would probably eschew plugging in C first and realize that it’s just not going to be correct. Then another scan of numbers shows that only 3 and 17 are odd and prone to becoming “clean” when subtracted from the prime 23, so D should start looking tempting within seconds.

Note: this strategy isn’t for everyone or for every problem, but for those shooting for the 700s it can be extremely helpful to develop enough “number fluency” that you can save time not-testing numbers that you can see don’t have a real chance. On a non-calculator test that typically involves “clean” (even, divisible by 10, etc.) numbers, quickly recognizing which numbers will result in good, clean, non-calculator math is a very helpful skill.

Are you studying for the GMAT? We have free online GMAT seminars running all the time. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

By Brian Galvin

GMAT Tip of the Week: Snoop Dogg Keeps Your Data Sufficiency Ability Out Of Limbo

GMAT Tip of the WeekWhenever you’re picking numbers on a Data Sufficiency problem, you have to keep one image in your mind: Snoop Dogg at a limbo contest. How will that help you master Data Sufficiency? How can the Doggfather help you beat the Testmaker? Well think about the two questions that Snoop would be asking himself constantly at such a contest:

1) How high can I get? (Snoop’s general state of mind)

2) How low can I go? (Because you know Snoop’s in it to win it)

And that mindset is absolutely crucial in a Data Sufficiency number-picking situation. On these problems, the GMAT Testmaker knows your tendencies well: you’re predisposed to picking numbers that are easy to work with. Consider an example like:

If x is a positive integer less than 30, what is the value of x?

(1) When x is divided by 3 the remainder is 2.

(2) When x is divided by 5 the remainder is 2

On this problem, most can quite quickly eliminate statement 1, as x could be 5, 8, 11, 14, 17, 20, 23, 26, or 29. Typically your quick-thinking methodology will have you look at 3, then add the remainder of 2 (producing 5), then start looking at other multiples of 3 and doing the same (6 + 2 gives you 8, 9 + 2 gives you 11, and so on).

And similarly you can apply that logic to statement 2 and eliminate that pretty quickly. The obvious first candidate is 7 (add the remainder of 2 to 5), and then you should see the pattern: 7, 12, 17, 22, and 27 are your options.

So when you look at these quick lists and see that the only place they overlap is 17 (17/5 is 3 remainder 2 and 17/3 is 5 remainder 2), you might opt for C.

But where does Snoop Dogg’s Limbo Contest come in? Look at the range they gave you: a POSITIVE INTEGER (so anything > 0) LESS THAN 30 (so anything <30). So when you combine those, your range is 0 < x < 30. Then ask yourself:

*How high can you get? Well, on either list you’ve gotten as close to 30 as possible. The next possible number on the first list (5, 8, 11, 14, 17, 20, 23, 26, 29…) is 32, but they tell you that x is less than 30 so you can’t get that high. And the next possible number on the second list (7, 12, 17, 22, 27…) is also 32, but again you’re not allowed to get that high. So you’ve definitely answered that question well.

*How low can you go? On this one, you haven’t yet exhausted the lower limit. Look at the patterns on those lists – on the first one, all numbers are 3 apart but you started at 5. If you move down 3, you get to 2 (2, 5, 8…). And 2/3 is 0 remainder 2, so 2 is a legitimate number on that list, a positive integer that leaves a remainder of 2 when divided by 3. And on the second list, you started at 7 and kept adding 5s. Move 5 spots to the left and you’re again at 2, which does leave a remainder of 2 when divided by 5. So upon closer examination, this problem has two solutions: 2 and 17.

The GMAT does a masterful job of setting ranges that test-takers don’t exhaust, and that’s where the Snoop Limbo mentality comes into play. If you’re always asking yourself “how high can I get and how low can I go?” you’ll force yourself to consider all available options. So for example, if the test were to tell you that:

x^2 < 25 –> This doesn’t just mean that x is less than 5 (how high can you get) it also means that x is greater than -5 (how low can you go)

x is a positive three-digit integer –> make sure you try 100 (how low can you go) and 999 (how high can you get)

x > 0 –> You might want to start with 1, but make sure you consider fractions like 1/2 and 1/8, too (how low can you go? all the way to 0.00000….0001), and try a number in the thousands or millions too (how high can you get?) since most people will just test easy-reference numbers like 1, 2, 5, and 10. A massive number might react differently.

In triangle ABC, angle ABC measures greater than 90 degrees –> remember that “how high can you get” is capped by the fact that the three angles have to add to 180, but this obtuse angle can get up even above 179 (how high can you get?)

x is a nonnegative integer –> the smallest integer that’s not negative is 0, not 1! How low can you go? You’d better check 0.

3 < x < 5 –> it doesn’t have to be 4, as x could be 3.0000000001 or 4.99999999

So keep Snoop’s Limbo Contest in mind when you pick numbers on Data Sufficiency problems. Don’t just pick the easiest numbers to plug in or the first few numbers that come to mind. The GMAT often plays to the edge cases, so always ask yourself how high you can get and how low you can go.

(and for our readers who prefer East Coast rap to West Coast rap, feel free to substitute this with the “Biggie (how big a number can you use) Smalls (how small a number can you use)” method and you can end up with a notoriously big score).

Are you studying for the GMAT? We have free online GMAT seminars running all the time. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

By Brian Galvin