GMAT Tip of the Week: The EpiPen Controversy Highlights An Allergic Reaction You May Have To GMAT Critical Reasoning

GMAT Tip of the WeekIt is simply the American way to need a villain, and this week’s Enemy #1 is EpiPen owner Mylan, which is under fire for massive price increases to its EpiPen product, a life-saving necessity for those with acute allergies. The outcry is understandable: EpiPens have a short shelf life (at least based upon printed expiration date) and are a critical item for any family with a risk of life-threatening allergic reactions.

But perhaps only a pre-MBA blog could take the stance “but what is Mylan’s goal?” and expect the overwhelming-and-enthusiastic response “Maximize Shareholder Value! (woot!)” Regardless of your opinion on the EpiPen issue, you can take this opportunity to learn a valuable lesson for GMAT Critical Reasoning questions:

When a Critical Reasoning asks you to strengthen or weaken a plan or strategy, your attention MUST be directed to the specific goal being pursued.

Here’s where this can be dangerous on the GMAT. Consider a question that asked:

Consumer advocates and doctors alike have recently become outraged at the activities of pharmaceutical company Mylan. In an effort to leverage its patent to maximize shareholder value, Mylan has decided to increase the price of its signature EpiPen product sixfold over the last few years. The EpiPen is a product that administers a jolt of epinephrine, a chemical that can open airways and increase the flow of blood in someone suffering from a life-threatening allergic reaction.

Which of the following, if true, most constitutes a reason to believe that Mylan’s strategy will not accomplish the company’s goals?

(A) The goal of a society should be to protect human life regardless of expense or severity of undertaking.
(B) Allergic reactions are often fatal, particularly for young children, unless acted on quickly with the administration of epinephrine, a product that is currently patent-protected and owned solely by Mylan.
(C) Computer models predict that, at current EpiPen prices, most people will hold on to their EpiPens well past the expiration date, leading to their deaths and inability to purchase future EpiPens.

Your instincts as a decent, caring human being leave you very susceptible to choosing A or B. You care about people with allergies – heck, you or a close friend/relative might be one of them – and each of those answer choices provides a reason to join the outcry here and think, “Screw you, Mylan!”

But, importantly for your chances of becoming a profit-maximizing CEO via a high GMAT score, you must note this: neither directly weakens the likelihood of Mylan “leveraging its patent to maximize shareholder value,” and that is the express goal of this strategy. As stated in the argument, that is the only goal being pursued here, so your answer must focus directly on that goal. And as horrible as it is to think that this might be the thought process in a corporate boardroom, choice C is the only one that suggests that this strategy might lead to lesser profits (first they buy the product less often, then they can’t buy it ever again; fewer units sold could equal lower profit).

The lesson here? Beware “plan/strategy” answer choices that allow you to tangentially address the situation in the argument, particularly when you know that you’re likely to have an opinion of some sort on the topic matter itself. Instead, completely digest the specifics of the stated goal, and make sure that the answer you choose is directly targeted at the objective. Way too often on these problems, students insert themselves in the larger topic and lose sight of the specific goal, falling victim to the readily available trap answers.

So give your GMAT score a much-needed shot of Critical Reasoning epinephrine – focus on the specifics of the plan, and save your tangential angst for the social media where it belongs.

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.

Quarter Wit, Quarter Wisdom: The Power of Deduction on GMAT Data Sufficiency Questions

Quarter Wit, Quarter WisdomIn a previous post, we have discussed how to find the total number of factors of a number. What does the total number of factors a number has tell us about that number? One might guess, “Not a lot,” but it actually does tell us quite a bit! If the total number of factors is odd, you know the number must be a perfect square. If the total number of factors is even, you know the number is not a perfect square.

We know that the total number of factors of a number A (prime factorised as X^p * Y^q *…) is given by (p+1)*(q+1)… etc.

So, if we know that a number has, say, 6 total factors, what can we say about the number?

6 = (p+1)*(q+1) = 2*3, so p = 1 and q = 2 or vice versa.

A = X^1 * Y^2 where X and Y are distinct prime numbers.

Today, we will look at a data sufficiency question in which we can use factors to deduce much more information than what we might first guess:

When the digits of a two-digit, positive integer M are reversed, the result is the two-digit, positive integer N. If M > N, what is the value of M?

Statement 1: The integer (M – N) has 12 unique factors.
Statement 2: The integer (M – N) is a multiple of 9.

With this question, we are told that M is a two-digit integer and N is obtained by reversing it. So if M = 21, then N = 12; if M = 83, then N = 38 (keeping in mind that M must be greater than N). In the generic form:

M = 10a + b and N =10b + a (where a and b are single-digit numbers from 1 to 9. Neither can be 0 or greater than 9 since both M and N are two-digit numbers.)

We also know that no matter what M and N are, M > N. Therefore:

10a + b > 10b + a
9a > 9b
a > b

Let’s examine both of our given statements:

Statement 1: The integer (M – N) has 12 unique factors.

First, let’s figure out what M – N is:

M – N = (10a + b) – (10b + a) = 9a – 9b

Say M – N = A. This would mean A = 9(a-b) = 3^2 * (a-b)

The total number of factors of A where A = X^p * Y^q *… can be calculated using the formula (p+1)*(q+1)* …

We know that A has 3^2 as a factor, so X = 3 and p = 2. Therefore, the total number of factors would be (2+1)*(q+1)*… = 3*(q+1)*… = 12, so (q+1)*… must be 4.

Case 1:
This means q may be 3 so that (q+1) is 4. Since a-b must be less than or equal to 9 and must also be the cube of a number, (a-b) must be 8. (Note that a-b cannot be 1 because then the total number of factors of A would only be 3.)

So, a must be 9 and b must be 1 in this case (since a > b). The integers will be 91 and 19, and since M > N, M = 91.

Case 2:
Another possibility is that (a-b) is a product of two prime factors (other than 3), both with the power of 1. In that case, the total number of factors = (2+1)*(1+1)*(1+1) = 12

Note, however, that the two prime factors (other than 3) with the smallest product is 2*5 = 10, but the difference of two single-digit positive integers cannot be 10. This means that only Case 1 can be true, therefore, Statement 1 alone is sufficient. This is certainly not what we expected to find from just the total number of factors!

Statement 2: The integer (M – N) is a multiple of 9.

M – N = (10a + b) – (10b + a) = 9a – 9b, so M – N = 9 (a-b) . This is already a multiple of 9.

We get no new information with this statement; (a-b) can be any integer, such as 2 (a = 5, b = 3 or a = 7, b = 5), etc. This statement alone is insufficient, therefore our answer is A.

Don’t take the given data of a GMAT question at face value, especially if you are expecting questions from the 700+ range. Ensure that you have deduced everything that you can from it before coming to a conclusion.

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

Karishma, a Computer Engineer with a keen interest in alternative Mathematical approaches, has mentored students in the continents of Asia, Europe and North America. She teaches the GMAT for Veritas Prep and regularly participates in content development projects such as this blog!

GMAT Tip of the Week: Making Your GMAT Score SupeRIOr to Ryan Lochte’s

GMAT Tip of the WeekWhat’s the worst thing that can happen on your GMAT exam? Is it running out of time well before you’re done? Or blanking on nearly every math formula you’ve studied?

Whatever it is, it can’t be nearly as bad as being pulled over by fake cops – no lights or nothing, just a badge – then being told to get on the ground and having a gun placed on your forehead and being like, “whatever.” So your big event of 2016 will already go a lot better than Ryan Lochte’s did; you have that going for you.

What else do you have going for you on the GMAT? The ability to learn from the most recent few days of Lochte’s life. Lochte’s biggest mistake wasn’t vandalizing a gas station bathroom at 4am, but rather making up his own story and creating an even larger mess. And that’s a huge lesson that you need to keep in mind for the GMAT:

Don’t make up your own story.

Here’s what that means, on three major question types:

DATA SUFFICIENCY
People make up their own story on Data Sufficiency all the time. And like a prevailing theory about Lochte (he didn’t connect the vandalism of the bathroom to the men coming after him for restitution; he really did think that he had been robbed for no reason), it’s not that they’re intentionally lying. They’re just “conveniently” misremembering what they’ve read or connecting dots that weren’t actually connected in real life. Consider the question:

The product of consecutive integers a, b, c, and d is 5040. What is the value of integer d?

(1) d is prime
(2) d < c < b < a

Once people have factored 5040 into 7*8*9*10, they can then quickly recognize that Statement 1 is sufficient: the only prime number in that bunch is 7, so d must be 7. But then when it comes to Statement 2, they’ve often made up their own story. By saying “d is the smallest, and, yep, that’s 7!” they’re making up the fact that these consecutive integers are positive. That was not specifically stated! So it could be 7, 8, 9, and 10 or it could be -7, -8, -9, and -10, making d either -10 or 7. And the GMAT (maybe like an NBC interviewer?) makes it easy for you to make up your own story.

With Statement 1, prime numbers must be positive, so if you weren’t already thinking only about positives, the question format nudges you further in that direction. The answer is A when people often mistakenly choose D, and the reason is that the question makes it easy for you to make up your own story when looking at Statement 2. So before you submit an answer, always ask yourself, “Am I only using the facts explicitly provided to me, or am I somehow making up my own story?”

CRITICAL REASONING
Think of your friends who are good storytellers. We hate to break it to you, but they’re probably making at least 10-20% of those stories up. Which makes sense. “It was a pretty big fish,” is a lot less compelling than, “It was the biggest fish any of us had ever seen!” Case in point, the Olympics themselves.

No commentator this week has said that Michael Phelps, Lochte’s teammate, is “a really good swimmer.” They’re posing, “Is he the greatest athlete of all time?” because words that end in -st capture attention (and pageviews). Even Lochte was guilty of going overly-specific for dramatic effect: there was, indeed, a gun pointed at his taxi, but not resting on his forehead. His version just makes the story more exciting and dramatic…and you may very well be guilty of such a mistake on the GMAT. Consider:

About two million years ago, lava dammed up a river in western Asia and caused a small lake to form. The lake existed for about half a million years. Bones of an early human ancestor were recently found in the ancient lake bottom sediments on top of the layer of lava. Therefore, ancestors of modern humans lived in Western Asia between 2 million and 1.5 million years ago.

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

(A) There were not other lakes in the immediate area before the lava dammed up the river.
(B) The lake contained fish that the human ancestors could have used for food.
(C) The lava under the lake-bottom sediments did not contain any human fossil remains.
(D) The lake was deep enough that a person could drown in it.
(E) The bones were already in the sediments by the time the lake disappeared.

The correct answer here is E (if the bones were not already there, then they’re not good evidence that people were there during that time), but the popular trap answer is C. Consider what would happen if C were untrue: that means that there were human fossil remains that pre-date the time period in question.

But here’s where Lochte Logic is dangerous: you’re not trying to prove that the FIRST humans lived in this period at this time; you’re just trying to prove that humans lived here during that time. And whether or not there were fossils from 2.5 million or 4 million years ago doesn’t change that you still have this evidence of people in that 2 million-1.5 million years ago timeframe.

When people choose C, it’s almost always because they made up their own story about the argument – they read it as, “The earliest human ancestors lived in this place and time,” and that’s just not what’s given. Why do they do that? For Lochte’s very own reasons: it makes the story a little more interesting and a little more favorable.

After all, the average pre-MBA doesn’t spend much time reading about archaeology, but if some discovery is that level of exciting (We’ve discovered the first human! We’ve discovered evidence of aliens!) then it crosses your Facebook/Twitter feeds. You’re used to reading stories about the first/fastest/greatest/last, and so when you get dry subject matter your mind has a tendency to put those words in there subconsciously. Be careful – do not make up your own story about the conclusion!

READING COMPREHENSION
A similar phenomenon occurs with Reading Comprehension. When you read a long passage, your mind tends to connect dots that aren’t there as it fills in the rest of the story for you. Just like Lochte, who had to fill in the gap of, “Hey what would I have said if someone pointed a gun at me and told me to get on the ground? Oh right…’whatever’ is my default answer for most things,” your mind will start to fill in details that make logical sense.

The problem then comes when you’re asked an Inference question, for which the correct answer must be true based on the passage. For example, if two details in a passage are:

  1. Michael swam the fastest race of his life.
  2. Ryan’s race was one of the slowest he’s ever swam.

You might answer the question, “Which of the following is a conclusion that can be drawn from the passage?” with:

(A) Michael swam faster than Ryan.

Your mind – particularly amidst a lot of other text between those two facts – wants to logically arrange those two swims together, and with “fastest” for Michael and “slowest” for Ryan, it kind of seems logical that Michael was faster. But those two races are never compared directly to each other. Consider that if Michael and Ryan aren’t Phelps and Lochte, but rather filmmaker Michael Moore and Olympic champion Ryan Lochte, then of course Lochte’s slowest swim would still be way, way faster than Moore’s fastest.

Importantly, Reading Comprehension questions love to bait unwitting test-takers with comparisons as answer choices, knowing that your mind is primed to create your own story and draw comparisons that are probably true, but just not proven. So again, any time you’re faced with an answer that seems obvious, go back and ask yourself if the details you’re using were provided to you, or if instead, you’re making up your own story.

So learn a valuable lesson from Ryan Lochte and avoid making up your own story, sticking only to the clean facts of the matter. Stay true to the truth, and you’ll walk out of the test center saying “Jeah!”

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: What Simone Biles and the Final Five Can Teach You About GMAT Math

GMAT Tip of the WeekOn this Friday, ending the first week of the Rio Olympics, your office has undoubtedly said the name “Simone” exponentially more than ever before. Michael Phelps’ blowout win – his 4th straight – in the 200 IM was incredible, but last night belonged to two Texans named Simone.

Swimmer Simone Manuel and gymnast Simone Biles each won historic gold medals, and if you’re at all inspired to pursue your own “go for the gold” success in business school (maybe Stanford like Manuel, or UCLA like Biles), you can learn a lot from the Olympic experience. Two lessons, in particular, stand out from the performance of Biles and her “Final Five” teammates:

Connect Your Skills
There’s no way to watch Olympic gymnastics and not be overwhelmingly impressed by the skills that each gymnast brings to competition. So at times it’s frustrating and saddening to hear the TV announcers discuss deduction after deduction; shouldn’t everyone at all times just be yelling, “Wow!!!!” at the otherworldly talents of each athlete?

Much like the GMAT, though, Olympic gymnastics is not about the sheer possession of these skills – at that level, everyone has them. It’s more about the ability to execute them and, as becomes evident from the expert commentary of Tim Dagget and Nastia Liukin, to connect them. It’s not the uneven bars handstand or release itself that wins the gold, it’s the ability to connect skill after skill as part of a routine. The line, “She was supposed to connect that skill to another…” is always followed by, “That will be a deduction” – both in Olympic gymnastics and on the GMAT.

How does that affect you?

By test day, you had better have all of the necessary skills to compete on the GMAT Quant Section. Area of a triangle, Pythagorean Theorem, Difference of Squares…if you don’t know these rules, you’re absolutely sunk. But to do really well, you need to quickly connect skill to skill, and connect items in the problems to the skills necessary to work with them. For example:

If a problem includes a term x^4 – 1, you should immediately be thinking, “That connects really well to the Difference of Squares rule: a^2 – b^2 = (a + b)(a – b), and since x^4 is a square [it’s (x^2)^2] and 1 is a square (it’s 1^2), I can write that as (x^2 + 1)(x^2 – 1), and for good measure I could apply Difference of Squares to the (x^2 – 1) term too.” The GMAT won’t ever specifically tell you, “Use the Difference of Squares,” so it’s your job to immediately connect the symptoms of Difference of Squares (an even exponent, a subtraction sign, a square of some kind, even if it’s 1) to the opportunity to use it.

If you see a right triangle, you should recognize that Area and Pythagorean Theorem easily connect. In a^2 + b^2 = c^2, sides a and b are perpendicular and allow you to use them as the base and height in the area formula. And the Pythagorean Theorem includes three squares with the opportunity to create subtraction [you could write it as a^2 = c^2 – b^2, allowing you to say that a^2 = (c + b)(c – b)…], so you could connect yet another skill to it to help solve for variables.

Similarly, if you see a square or rectangle, its diagonal is the hypotenuse of a right triangle, allowing you to use the sides as a and b in the Pythagorean setup, which could also connect to Difference of Squares…etc.

When you initially learned most of these skills in high school (much like when Biles, Aly Raisman, Gabby Douglas, etc. learned handstands and cartwheels in Gymboree), you learned them as individual, isolated skills. “Here’s the formula, and here are 10 questions that test it.” On the GMAT – as in the Olympics – you’re being tested more on your ability to connect them, to see opportunities to use a skill that’s not obvious at first (“Well, I’m not sure what to do but I do have multiple squared terms so let me try to apply Difference of Squares…or maybe I can use a and b in the Area calculation.”), but that helps you build more knowledge of the problem.

So as you study, don’t just learn individual skills. Look for opportunities to connect them, and look for signals that will tell you that a connection is possible. A rectangle problem with a square root of 3 in the answer choices should tell you “the diagonal of this rectangle may very well be connected to a 30-60-90 triangle, since those have the 1, √3, 2 side ratio…” The GMAT is about connections more so than just skills, so study accordingly.

Stick the Landing
If you’re like most in the “every four years I love gymnastics for exactly one week” camp, the single most important thing you look for on any apparatus is, “Did he/she stick the landing?” A hop or a step on the landing is the most noticeable deduction on a gymnastics routine…and the same holds true for the GMAT.

Again, the GMAT is testing you on how well you connect a variety of skills, so naturally there are places for you to finish the problem a step short. A problem that requires you to leverage the Pythagorean Theorem and the Area of a Triangle may ask for the sum of sides A and B, for example, but if you’ve solved for the sides individually first, you might see a particular value (A = 6) on your noteboard and in the answer choices and choose it without double checking that you answered the proper question.

That is a horrible and unnecessary “deduction” on your GMAT score: you did all the work right, all the hard part right (akin to the flip-and-two-twists in the air on your vault or the dazzling array of jumps and handstands on the tiny beam) and then botched the landing.

On problems that include more than one variable, circle the variable that the test is looking for and then make sure that you submit the proper answer for that variable. If a problem asks for a combination of variables (a + b, for example), write that down at the top of your scratchwork and go back to it after you’ve calculated. Take active steps to ensure that you stick the landing, because nothing is worse than doing all the work right and then still getting the problem wrong.

In summary, recognize that there are plenty of similarities between the GMAT and GyMnAsTics [the scoring system is too complex for the layman to worry about, the “Final Five” are more important than you think (hint: the test can’t really use the last five questions of a section for research purposes since so many people are rushing and guessing), etc.]. So take a lesson from Simone Biles and her gold-medal-winning teammates: connect your skills, stick the landing, and you’ll see your score vault to Olympian heights.

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: How to Avoid GMAT (and Pokemon Go) Traps

GMAT Tip of the WeekIn seemingly the most important development in world history since humans learned to create fire, Pokemon Go has arrived and is taking the world by storm. Rivaling Twitter and Facebook for mobile phone attention and battling the omnipresent selfie as a means of death-by-mobile-phone, Pokemon Go is everywhere you want to be…and often in places you don’t.

And that is why Pokemon Go is responsible for an ever-important GMAT lesson.

Perhaps most newsworthy about Pokemon Go these days is the dangerous and improper places that it has led its avid users. On the improper side,  such solemn and dignified places as the national Holocaust Museum and Arlington National Cemetery have had to actively prohibit gamers from descending upon mourners/commemorators while playing the game. And as for danger, there have been several instances of thieves luring gamers into traps and therefore robbing them of valuable (if you’re playing the game, you definitely have a smartphone) items.

And the GMAT can and will do the same thing.

How?

If you’re reading this on our GMAT blog, you’ve undoubtedly already learned that, on Data Sufficiency problems, you cannot assume that a variable is positive, or that it is an integer. But think about what makes Pokemon Go users so vulnerable to being lured into a robbery or to losing track of basic human decency. They’re so invested in the game that they lose track of the situations they’re being lured into.

Similarly, the most dangerous GMAT traps are those for which you should absolutely know better, but the testmaker has gotten your mind so invested in another “game” that you lose track of something basic. Consider the example:

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

Statement 1 is clearly sufficient. Since y is odd, and an integer, and the product of integers x and y is an even integer, that means that x must be even. And since x also has to be prime (which is how you know it’s an integer, too), the only even prime is 2, making x = 2.

From there your mind is fixated on the game. You can quickly see that in that case y = 111 and x = 2. Which you then have to forget about as you attack Statement 2. But here’s the reason that less than 25% of users in the Veritas Prep Question Bank get this right, while nearly half incorrectly choose D. Statement 1 has gotten your mind fixated on the even/odd/prime game, meaning that you may only be thinking about integers (and positive integers at that) at this point.

That y is a 3-digit number DOES NOT mean that it has to be 111. It could be -111 (making x = -2) or 333 (making x = 2/3). So only Statement 1 alone is sufficient, but the larger lesson is more important. Just like Pokemon Go has the potential to pollute your mind and have you see the real world through its “enhanced reality” lens, so does a statement that satisfies your intellect (“Ah, 2 is the only even prime number!”) give you just enough tunnel vision that you make poor decisions and fall for traps.

The secret here is that almost no one scoring above a 500 carries over all of Statement 1 (“Oh, well I already know that x = 2!”) – a total rookie mistake. It’s that Statement 1 got you fixated on definitions of types of integers (prime, even, odd) and therefore got your mind looking through the “enhanced reality” of integers-only.

The lesson? Much like Pokemon Go, the GMAT has tools to get you so invested in a particular facet of a game that you lose your universal awareness of your surroundings. Know that going in – that you have to consciously step back from that enhanced reality you’ve gained after Statement 1 and look at the whole picture. So take a lesson from Pokemon Go and know when to stop and step back.

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 Overly Specific Question Stem

GMAT Tip of the WeekFor most of our lives, we ask and answer relatively generic questions: “How’s it going?” “What are you up to this weekend?” “What time do the Cubs play tonight?”

And think about it, what if those questions were more specific: “Are you in a melancholy mood today?” “Are you and Josh going to dinner at Don Antonio’s tonight and ordering table-side guacamole?” “Do the Cubs play at 7:05 tonight on WGN?” If someone is asking those questions instead, you’re probably a bit suspicious. Why so specific? What’s your angle?

The same is true on the GMAT. Most of the question stems you see are relatively generic: “What is the value of x?” “Which of the following would most weaken the author’s argument?” So when the question stem get a little too specific, you should become a bit suspicious. What’s the test going for there? Why so specific?

The overly-specific Critical Reasoning question stem is a great example. Consider the problem:

Raisins are made by drying grapes in the sun. Although some of the sugar in the grapes is caramelized in the process, nothing is added.
Moreover, the only thing removed from the grapes is the water that evaporates during the drying, and water contains no calories or nutrients.
The fact that raisins contain more iron per food calorie than grapes do is thus puzzling.

Which one of the following, if true, most helps to explain why raisins contain more iron per calorie than do grapes?

(A) Since grapes are bigger than raisins, it takes several bunches of grapes to provide the same amount of iron as a handful of raisins does.
(B) Caramelized sugar cannot be digested, so its calories do not count toward the food calorie content of raisins.
(C) The body can absorb iron and other nutrients more quickly from grapes than from raisins because of the relatively high water content of grapes.
(D) Raisins, but not grapes, are available year-round, so many people get a greater share of their yearly iron intake from raisins than from grapes.
(E) Raisins are often eaten in combination with other iron-containing foods, while grapes are usually eaten by themselves.

Look at that question stem: a quick scan naturally shows you that you need to explain/resolve a paradox, but the question goes into even more detail for you. It reaffirms the exact nature of the paradox – it’s not about “iron,” but instead that that raisins contain more iron per calorie than grapes do. By adding that extra description into the question stem, the testmaker is practically yelling at you, “Make sure you consider calories…don’t just focus on iron!” And therefore, you should be prepared for the correct answer B, the only one that addresses calories, and deftly avoid answers A, C, D, and E, which all focus only on iron (and do so tangentially to the paradox).

Strategically speaking, if a Critical Reasoning question stem gets overly specific, you should pay particular attention to the specificity there…it’s most likely directing you to the operative portion of the argument.

Overly specific questions are most helpful in Data Sufficiency questions (and that same logic will help on Problem Solving too, as you’ll see). The testmaker knows that you’ve trained your entire algebraic life to solve for individual variables. So how can a question author use that lifetime of repetition against you? By asking you to solve for a specific combination that doesn’t require you to find the individual values. Consider this example, which appears courtesy the Official Guide for GMAT Quantitative Review:

If x^2 + y^2 = 29, what is the value of (x – y)^2?

(1) xy = 10
(2) x = 5

Two major clues should stand out to you that you need to Leverage Assets on this problem. For one, using both statements together (answer choice C) is dead easy. If xy = 10 and x = 5 then y = 2 and you can solve for any combination of x and y that anyone could ever ask for. But secondly and more subtly, the question stem should jump out as a classic way-too-specific, Leverage Assets question stem. They asked for a really, really specific value: (x – y)^2.

Now, immediately upon seeing that specificity you should be thinking, “That’s too specific…there’s probably a way to solve for that exact value without getting x and y individually.” That thought process alone tells you where to spend your time – you want to really leverage Statement 1 to try to make it work alone.

And if you’re still unconvinced, consider what the specificity does: the “squared” portion removes the question of negative vs. positive from the debate, removing one of the most common reasons that a seemingly-sufficient statement just won’t work. And, furthermore, the common quadratic (x – y)^2 shares an awful lot in common with the x^2 and y^2 elsewhere in the question stem. If you expand the parentheses, you have “What is x^2 – 2xy + y^2?” meaning that you’re already 2/3 of the way there (so to speak), since they’ve spotted you the sum x^2 + y^2.

The important strategy here is that the overly-specific question stem should scream “LEVERAGE ASSETS” and “You don’t need to solve for x and y…there’s probably a way to solve directly for that exact combination.” Since you know that you’re solving for the expanded x^2 – 2xy + y^2, and you already know that x^2 + y^2 = 29, you’re really solving for 29 – 2xy. Since you know from Statement 1 that xy = 20, then 29 – 2xy will be 29 – 2(10), which is 9.

Statement 1 alone is sufficient, even though you don’t know what x and y are individually. And one of the major signals that you should recognize to help you get there is the presence of an overly specific question stem.

So remember, in a world of generic questions, the oddly specific question should arouse a bit of suspicion: the interrogator is up to something! On the GMAT, you can use that to your advantage – an overly specific Critical Reasoning question usually tells you exactly which keywords are the most important, and an overly specific Data Sufficiency question stem begs for you to leverage assets and find a way to get the most out of each statement.

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: Exit the GMAT Test Center…Don’t Brexit It

GMAT Tip of the WeekAcross much of the United Kingdom today, referendum voters are asking themselves “wait, did I think that through thoroughly?” in the aftermath of yesterday’s Brexit vote. Some voters have already admitted that they’d like a do-over, while evidence from Google searches in the hours immediately following the poll closures show that many Brits did a good deal of research after the fact.

And regardless of whether you side with Leave or Stay as it corresponds to the EU, if your goal is to Leave your job to Stay at a top MBA program in the near future, you’d be well-served to learn a lesson from those experiencing Brexit Remorse today.

How can the Brexit aftermath improve you GMAT score?

Pregrets, Not Regrets (Yes, Brexiters…we can combine words too.)
The first lesson is quite simple. Unlike those who returned home from the polls to immediately research “What should I have read up on beforehand?” you should make sure that you do your GMAT study before you get to the test center, not after you’ve (br)exited it with a score as disappointing as this morning’s Dow Jones.

But that doesn’t just mean, “Study before the test!” – an obvious tip. It also means, “Anticipate the things you’ll wish you had thought about.” Which means that you should go into the test center with list of “pregrets” and not leave the test center with a list of regrets.

Having “pregrets” means that you already know before you get to the test center what your likely regrets will be, so that you can fix them in the moment and not lament them after you’ve seen your score. Your list of pregrets should be a summary of the most common mistakes you’ve made on your practice tests, things like:

  • On Data Sufficiency, I’d better not forget to consider negative numbers and nonintegers.
  • Before I start doing algebra, I should check the answer choices to see if I can stop with an estimate.
  • I always blank on the 30-60-90 divisibility rule, so I should memorize it one more time in the parking lot and write it down as soon as I get my noteboard.
  • Reading Comprehension inferences must be true, so always look for proof.
  • Slow down when writing 4’s and 7’s on scratchwork, since when I rush they tend to look too much alike.
  • Check after every 10 questions to make sure I’m on a good pace.

Any mistakes you’ve made more than once on practice tests, any formulas that you know you’re apt to blank on, any reminders to yourself that “when X happens, that’s when the test starts to go downhill” – these are all items that you can plan for in advance. Your debriefs of your practice tests are previews of the real thing, so you should arrive at the test center with your pregrets in mind so that you can avoid having them become regrets.

Much like select English voters, many GMAT examinees can readily articulate, “I should have read/studied/prepare for _____” within minutes of completing their exam, and very frequently, those elements are not a surprise. So anticipate in the hour/day before the test what your regrets might be in the hours/days immediately following the test, and you can avoid that immediate remorse.

Double Cheque Your Work
Much like a Brexit vote, you only get one shot at each GMAT problem, and then the results lead to consequences. But the GMAT gives you a chance to save yourself from yourself – you have to both select your answer and confirm it. So, unlike those who voted and then came home to Google asking, “Did I do the right thing?” you should ask yourself that question before you confirm your answer. Again, your pregrets are helpful. Before you submit your answer, ask yourself:

  • Did I solve for the proper variable?
  • Does this number make logical sense?
  • Does this answer choice create a logical sentence when I read it back to myself?
  • Does this Inference answer have to be true, or is there a chance it’s not?
  • Am I really allowed to perform that algebraic operation? Let me try it with small numbers to make sure…

There will, of course, be some problems on the GMAT that you simply don’t know how to do, and you’ll undoubtedly get some problems wrong. But for those problems that you really should have gotten right, the worst thing that can happen is realizing a question or two later that you blew it.

Almost every GMAT examinee can immediately add 30 points to his score by simply taking back those points he would have given away by rushing through a problem and making a mistake he’d be humiliated to know he made. So, take that extra 5-10 seconds on each question to double check for common mistakes, even if that means you have to burn a guess later in the section. If you minimize those mistakes on questions within your ability level, that guess will come on a problem you should get wrong, anyway.

Like a Brexit voter, the best you can do the day before and day of your important decision-making day is to prepare to make the best decisions you can make. If you’re right, you’re right, and if you’re wrong, you’re wrong, and you may never know which is which (the GMAT won’t release your questions/answers and the Brexit decision will take time to play out). The key is making sure that you don’t leave with immediate regrets that you made bad decisions or didn’t take the short amount of time to prepare yourself for better ones. Enter the test center with pregrets; don’t Brexit it with regrets.

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 Least Helpful Waze To Study

GMAT Tip of the WeekIf you drive in a large city, chances are you’re at least familiar with Waze, a navigation app that leverages user data to suggest time-saving routes that avoid traffic and construction and that shave off seconds and minutes with shortcuts on lesser-used streets.

And chances are that you’ve also, at some point or another, been inconvenienced by Waze, whether by a devout user cutting blindly across several lanes to make a suggested turn, by the app requiring you to cut through smaller streets and alleys to save a minute, or by Waze users turning your once-quiet side street into the Talladega Superspeedway.

To its credit, Waze is correcting one of its most common user complaints – that it often leads users into harrowing and time-consuming left turns. But another major concern still looms, and it’s one that could damage both your fender and your chances on the GMAT:

Beware the shortcuts and “crutches” that save you a few seconds, but in doing so completely remove all reasoning and awareness.

With Waze, we’ve all seen it happen: someone so beholden to, “I must turn left on 9th Street because the app told me to!” will often barrel through two lanes of traffic – with no turn signal – to make that turn…not realizing that the trip would have taken the exact same amount of time, with much less risk to the driver and everyone else on the road, had he waited a block or two to safely merge left and turn on 10th or 11th. By focusing so intently on the app’s “don’t worry about paying attention…we’ll tell you when to turn” features, the driver was unaware of other cars and of earlier opportunities to safely make the merge in the desired direction.

The GMAT offers similar pitfalls when examinees rely too heavily on “turn your brain off” tricks and techniques. As you learn and practice them, strategies like the “plumber butt” for rates and averages may seem quick, easy, and “turn your brain off” painless. But the last thing you want to do on a higher-order thinking test like the GMAT is completely turn your brain off. For example, a “turn your brain off” rate problem might say:

John drives at an average rate of 45 miles per hour. How many miles will he drive in 2.5 hours?

And using a Waze-style crutch, you could remember that to get distance you multiply time by rate so you’d get 112.5 miles. That may be a few seconds faster than performing the algebra by thinking “Rate = Distance over Time”; 45 = D/2.5; 45(2.5) = D; D = 112.5.

But where a shortcut crutch saves you time on easier problems, it can leave you helpless on longer problems that are designed to make you think. Consider this Data Sufficiency example:

A factory has three types of machines – A, B, and C – each of which works at its own constant rate. How many widgets could one machine A, one Machine B, and one Machine C produce in one 8-hour day?

(1) 7 Machine As and 11 Machine Bs can produce 250 widgets per hour

(2) 8 Machine As and 22 Machine Cs can produce 600 widgets per hour

Here, simply trying to plug the information into a simple diagram will lead you directly to choice E. You simply cannot separate the rate of A from the rate of B, or the rate of B from the rate of C. It will not fit into the classic “rate pie / plumber’s butt” diagram that many test-takers use as their “I hate rates so I’ll just do this trick instead” crutch.

However, those who have their critical thinking mind turned on will notice two things: that choice E is kind of obvious (the algebra doesn’t get you very close to solving for any one machine’s rate) so it’s worth pressing the issue for the “reward” answer of C, and that if you simply arrange the algebra there are similarities between the number of B and of C:

7(Rate A) + 11(Rate B) = 250
8(Rate A) + 22(Rate C) = 600

Since 11 is half of 22, one way to play with this is to double the first equation so that you at least have the same number of Bs as Cs (and remember…those are the only two machines that you don’t have “together” in either statement, so relating one to the other may help). If you do, then you have:

14(A) + 22(B) = 500
8(A) + 22(C) = 600

Then if you sum the questions (Where does the third 22 come from? Oh, 14 + 8, the coefficients for A.), you have:

22A + 22B + 22C = 1100

So, A + B + C = 50, and now you know the rate for one of each machine. The two statements together are sufficient, but the road to get there comes from awareness and algebra, not from reliance on a trick designed to make easy problems even easier.

The lesson? Much like Waze, which can lead to lack-of-awareness accidents and to shortcuts that dramatically up the degree of difficulty for a minimal time savings, you should take caution when deciding to memorize and rely upon a knee-jerk trick in your GMAT preparation.

Many are willing (or just unaware that this is the decision) to sacrifice mindfulness and awareness to save 10 seconds here or there, but then fall for trap answers because they weren’t paying attention or become lost when problems are more involved because they weren’t prepared.

So, be choosy in the tricks and shortcuts you decide to adopt! If a shortcut saves you a minute or two of calculations, it’s worth the time it takes to learn and master it (but probably never worth completely avoiding the “long way” or knowing the general concept). But if its time savings are minimal and its grand reward is that, “Hey, you don’t have to understand math to do this!” you should be wary of how well it will serve your aspirations of scores above around 600.

Don’t let these slick shortcut waze of avoiding math drive you straight into an accident. Unless the time savings are game-changing, you shouldn’t make a trade that gains you a few seconds of efficiency on select, easier problems in exchange for your awareness and understanding.

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 Curry Twos Remind You To Keep The GMAT Simple

GMAT Tip of the WeekHappy Friday from Veritas Prep headquarters, where we’re actively monitoring the way that Twitter is reacting to UnderArmour’s release of the new Steph Curry shoes. What’s the problem with the Curry Twos? Essentially they’re too plain and buttoned up – much more Mickelson than Michael, son.

OK, so what? The Curry 2s are more like the Curry 401(k)s. Why should that matter for your GMAT score?

Because on the GMAT, you want to be as simple and predictable as a Steph Curry sneaker.

What does that mean? One of the biggest study mistakes that people make is that once they’ve mastered a core topic like “factoring” or “verb tenses,” they move on to more obscure topics and spend their valuable study time on those.

There are two major problems with this: 1) the core topics appear much more often and are much more repeatable, and 2) in chasing the obscure topics later in their study regimen, people spend the most valuable study time – that coming right before the test – feverishly memorizing things they probably won’t see or use at the expense of practicing the skills and strategies that they’ll need to use several times on test day.

Consider an example: much like Twitter is clowning the Curry Twos, a handful of Veritas Prep GMAT instructors were laughing this time last week about an explanation in a practice test (by a company that shall remain nameless…) for a problem similar to:

Two interconnected, circular gears travel at the same circumferential rate. If Gear A has a diameter of 30 centimeters and Gear B has a diameter of 50 centimeters, what is the ratio of the number of revolutions that Gear A makes per minute to the number of revolutions that Gear B makes per minute?

(A) 3:5
(B) 9:25
(C) 5:3
(D) 25:9
(E) Cannot be determined from the information provided

Now, the “Curry Two” approach – the tried and true, “don’t-overcomplicate-this-for-the-sake-of-overcomplicating-it” method – is to recognize that the distance around any circle (a wheel, a gear, etc.) is its circumference. And circumference is pi * diameter. So, if each gear travels the same circumferential distance, that distance for any given period of time is “circumference * number of revolutions.” That then means that the circumference of A times the number of revolutions of A is equal to the circumference of B times the number of revolutions for B, and you know that’s:

30π * A = 50π * B (where A = # of revolutions for A, and B = # of revolutions for B). Since you want the ratio of A:B, divide both sides by B and by 30, and you have A/B = 50/30, or A:B = 5:3 (answer choice C).

Why were our instructors laughing? The explanation began, “There is a simple rule for interconnected gears…” Which is great to know if you see a gear-based question on the test or become CEO of a pulley factory, but since the GMAT officially tests “geometry,” you’re much better off recognizing the relationship between circles, circumferences, and revolutions (for questions that might deal with gears, wheels, windmills, or any other type of spinning circles) than you are memorizing a single-use rule about gears.

Problems like this offer the “Curry Two” students a fantastic opportunity to reinforce their knowledge of circles, their ability to think spatially about shapes, etc. But, naturally, there are students who will add “gear formula” to their deck of flashcards and study that single-use rule (which 99.9% of GMAT examinees will never have the opportunity to use) with the same amount of time/effort/intensity as they revisit the Pythagorean Theorem (which almost everyone will use at least twice).

Hey, the Curry Twos are plain, boring, and predictable, as are the core rules and skills that you’ll use on the GMAT. But simple, predictable, and repeatable are what win on this test, so heed this lesson. As 73 regular season opponents learned this basketball season, Curry Twos lead to countless Curry 3s, and on the GMAT, “Curry Two” strategies will help you curry favor with admissions committees by leading to Curry 700+ scores.

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: 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.

Right?

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.

Why?

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:

Exponent

 

 

 

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.

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By Brian Galvin