Test-takers struggle mightily with the concept of “Rate of Change” vs. “Actual Number”.

Consider this quick data table, which displays the average monthly temperature in Chicago, Illinois:

Month…….Average High Temperature

February……..34.7

March………46.1

April………58

May………69.9

June………79.2

July………83.5

August……..81.2

Now, from a quick glance you should see that the temperature increases every month from February through July. But there’s another angle to this data, too, and challenging Integrated Reasoning questions can hinge on that exact point. The temperature INCREASES every month, but the GROWTH RATE declines – from February to March the temperature increases by 11.4 degrees, but from June to July it only goes up 4.3 degrees as summer temperatures level off. So while the data table above might clearly demonstrate that the temperature is rising (we promise, Chicago – although we know it hasn’t been too noticeable just yet!), an Integrated Reasoning question might show you this graph:

Based on this graph, most students would incorrectly answer the question: “From March through August, how many months did the average temperature decrease?”, as most would look at the graph and see several months of decline. But the important thing to keep in mind is “WHAT declined?”. And in this case it’s “the growth rate in the temperature” not “the temperature itself”. In this graph, any time the data point is above 0, that means the temperature increased. Only one month (August) was colder than the month prior.

This next graph will plot both “average temperature” and temperature growth” together to highlight this concept.

So what is the lesson? Make sure that you’re aware of the difference between the “actual number” and the “rate of change” and that you look for that concept to be tested on Graphics Interpretation questions. When newscasters say that “Apple’s earnings growth dropped 5% this quarter” that doesn’t necessarily mean that Apple lost money or didn’t improve upon the last quarter; it just means that it grew slower. Think back to physics classes and the difference between acceleration and velocity – “percent change” is the acceleration component, but people often mistake it for the velocity. And based on Question Bank data, every time this concept has been tested more than half of users missed this concept!

So remember – the rate of change can decline while the actual number still increases…just not as quickly. Understanding and recognizing this concept can keep both metrics positive for your Integrated Reasoning score.

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

*By Brian Galvin*

In their incredibly-vulgar but even-catchier track “F*****g Problems,” they refrain “I love bad b******s that’s my f*****g problem; and yeah I like to f***, I’ve got a f*****g problem”. And in doing so, they (we promise) tell the familiar tale of GMAT pacing gone awry:

GMAT test-takers far too often go through easy-to-moderate level problems “A$AP”, which leads to a Rocky performance. Why? Because we love hard problems, that’s our effing problem. We’re in such a hurry to save time for the hardest problems out there that we make silly mistakes on the problems we should get right, then dump far too much time into the problems – those bad b*****s – that we probably wouldn’t have gotten right anyway.

Try this – look at your next practice test and see how you allocated your time. Your quant performance, for example, might look like:

Time taken….Correct/Incorrect

1:47….Correct

1:58….Incorrect

**1:22….Incorrect**

1:45….Correct

**3:05….Incorrect**

**1:12….Incorrect**

1:58….Correct

1:50….Correct

**2:58….Correct**

Because of the way the GMAT scoring algorithm works, missing “easy” questions – perhaps by going through them ASAP and not spending that extra few seconds double-checking your work – hurts you substantially more than getting really hard questions correct helps you. After all, the system has to assume that it’s possible for you to guess correctly on 20% of the questions way above your head, so it can chalk that up to “probability”, whereas when you miss easy questions that’s just on you. And if you look at this sample section breakdown, that’s likely what the user did – spending 1:22 and 1:12 on “easier” problems (those that came after another incorrect answer) and getting those wrong, while spending ~3 minutes on “harder” questions and not really helping the cause. Even that correct answer at the end came at the expense of some valuable time and may well have been a guess (or could have been guessed correctly, anyway.

The problem that many GMAT students have – and it’s human nature, so you just need to be aware of it – is that they disproportionately spend their time on those “bad b******s” hard problems and go through the easier problems a little too ASAP. In doing so, they often make just enough careless mistakes on the easier questions that their score suffers mightily. So how can you fix that? Let’s borrow a line from A$AP Rocky as he opens the song in question:

“Hold up, b*****s simmer down…”

What he means, obviously, is to spend that extra 5-10 seconds on early problems to “hold up / simmer down” and double-check your work to make sure that you didn’t make a careless mistake or dive right into a trap answer. Those seconds are more valuable to you in rescuing yourself from a silly error than they are in attacking a problem that you probably wouldn’t have gotten right, anyway. ASAP answers can be rocky.

Now, you may be asking “okay, I’ll spend an extra 5 seconds per question double-checking my work, but what if I’m already short on time – where does that time come from?”. And the answer is this – most students struggle to comfortably complete the full section in 75 minutes, but most could complete most of that section – maybe 33-34 quant or 38-39 verbal questions – comfortably in that time. So rather than rush through all 37 / 41 questions ASAP leading to a rocky performance, learn from A$AP’s next lyric:

“Taking hella-long, b***, give it to me now”

Meaning, of course, on problems that would take you a hella-long time to answer, rather than spend 2-4 minutes en route to what might end up being a blind guess, anyway, make your guess now (and make that thing pop like a semi or a nine…). If you know you can’t comfortably answer all the questions in 75 minutes, give yourself 2-3 time-saving “I pass” questions per section, and when you see something that seems labor-intensive and outside your comfort zone, blow in your 20% shot at a guess and bank that 2 minutes to make sure you do your best work on the problems that you should get right. It’s better to do your best work on 34 quant questions and completely blow off 3 than it is to do 90% effective work on all 37, as silly little mistakes on the easier questions will significantly hold back your score. If you can get a question right, get it right.

Naturally, this takes practice to implement, and so it’s important to get a feel for your own pacing (ideally you never need to guess, but realistically most students do at some point). Which is why the Veritas Prep practice tests include pacing statistics per question (your pace vs. the average pace for all users) *and* a feature entitled “The Three Easiest Question You Got Wrong” to help you determine which types of questions require that extra 5-10 seconds to make sure you’re not leaving those easy points on the table. With any pacing or “triage” strategy, you’ll need to practice to see how it works for you, and if ‘finding a test that’s real is your f**** problem, bring your practice to our Item Response Theory tests and maybe we can solve it’.

Most importantly, recognize that one of the biggest f**** problems test takers have on the GMAT is going through problems ASAP and leaving themselves vulnerable to silly mistakes and a rocky performance. Don’t bank the time for those “bad b*****s”, the hardest problems out there; instead, hold up/simmer down, double-check for silly mistakes, and maximize your score. We hope this pep talk turns into a pep rally as you celebrate GMAT success.

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

*By Brian Galvin*

“How many brothers fell victim to the streets, rest in peace young brother there’s a heaven for a G. I’d be a liar if I told you that I’ve never thought of death. My brother, we’re the last ones left.”

While Pac isn’t necessarily talking about the GMAT, he might as well be, as arguably the single most important test-day strategy you need to have in mind is, essentially, Life Goes On. The computer-adaptive algorithm ensures that just about everyone will “lose” questions like Tupac loses homeboys. How many questions will fall victim to the pressures of time and difficulty? More than you’d think. The CAT algorithm is designed to keep testing your upper threshold of ability, so you will miss questions even if – and actually especially if – you’re doing really well. The key is to recognize that life goes on, that struggling through a problem or even guessing on a few problems isn’t a terrible thing. Like Tupac says in the line “my brother, we’re the last ones left” the GMAT is a test of survival and not as much of pure mastery. You need to roll with the punches and keep looking forward.

To better exemplify the Life Goes On approach to test-day strategy, take this lesson from GMAC’s OG, Dr. Rudner. The brain behind the GMAT’s scoring algorithm was once taking the exam (for both “fun” and “quality control”) in pursuit of a perfect 51 on the quant section. At one point he encountered a question that he couldn’t quite solve – even with a PhD in statistics and a day job that *is* the GMAT – but couldn’t let go of, either. As the minutes ticked by and his multiple approaches to the problem continued to fall short, he says he laughed to himself that “I wrote the algorithm – I know this is stupid to waste time on one question when one single question probably won’t affect my score” but still he soldiered on. And when he checked the internal report the next day to see his question-by-question performance and the statistics on that particular item, he had to laugh again – that question was an unscored, experimental item that absolutely did not count toward his score. Life goes on; you’ll fall victim to a few questions now and then, and you have to know that it’s okay to let them go.

So as you take the GMAT, remember:

-You will miss questions and you can miss quite a few questions and still get a great score. Don’t let any one question affect your confidence or your pace.

-You can guess to save time. The 37 questions in 75 minutes quant pace and 41 in 75 verbal pace is aggressive for most students, who would perform significantly better if the section were just 3-4 questions shorter. Don’t rush through and make silly mistakes on several questions because you’re intent on doing your best on absolutely every question; if you need to guess on couple awful-looking questions to bank a few minutes to perform comfortably on the others, that’s not a bad strategy.

-Not all questions will look difficult, and that’s okay too – don’t let the “hard questions mean you’re doing well” logic convince you of the inverse, that an easy question means you’ve blown it. You may see an easy experimental, or you may find that a question looks easy but has a subtle twist that you didn’t see that makes it hard. Don’t try to read into your performance as you go – that mental energy and time are better spent solving the problem you’re on. Easy or hard, life goes on.

On the GMAT, as in life, hardships will hit you but life goes on. You’ll miss questions like we’ll miss Jeremy; in either case, Tupac can slow jam you back to success.

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

*By Brian Galvin*

In MBA-speak, Drake is a natural Kellogg candidate, a collaborative type who loves group projects, always appearing on tracks with other artists and bragging not just about his own success, but “now my whole team here.” So in that teamwork spirit, let’s work with Drake to help him solve his most famous math problem with some lyrics of his own:

**
The problem:** “The square root of 69 is 8 something; I’ve been trying to work it out”

**The solution:** “Started from the bottom, now we here.”

On the GMAT, a problem that asks you for the square root of a not-that-common square (you have to have the squares memorized up to about 15 and you should know that 25^2 is 625, too) is almost always going to be an exercise in “starting from the bottom,” using the answer choices to help guide your work. The GMAT doesn’t care if you can calculate the square root of 69, but it does care about whether you can leverage assets like answer choices to help you solve the problem. So on a problem like Drake’s, answer choices might look like:

(A) Between 6 and 7

(B) Between 7 and 8

(C) Between 8 and 9

(D) Between 9 and 10

(E) Between 10 and 11

And in that case, starting from the bottom – looking at the answer choices before you begin your work – can tell you two things:

1) You don’t need an exact number; an estimate will suffice.

2) They’re giving you the numbers to use as an estimate; if you start in the middle of the range (using 8 and 9), you can determine whether you need bigger or smaller numbers.

So if you try 8^2 to give yourself a range of numbers, you’ll see that the square root of 69 is going to be bigger than 8, since 8^2 is 64. So then try the next highest integer, 9, and when you see that 9^2 is 81, bigger than 69, you’ve bracketed in the range at between 8 and 9 and you don’t need to do any more work. When math looks like it could be labor-intensive, the answer choices often show you that you don’t have to do it all!

Even if the problem were a bit tougher, and gave exact numbers like:

(D) 8.31

(E) 8.66

You could again lighten the load by picking an easier-to-calculate number in between, like 8.5. That’s not the easiest math in the world, but multiplying by 5s is typically fairly quick and you’d see that the number has to be less than 8.5 (since 8.5-squared is 72.25).

So the lesson is this – on most Problem Solving and Sentence Correction questions, it pays to “start at the bottom” so to speak, at least taking a quick glance at the answer choices to see if anything jumps out to help you guide your work on the problem. For Problem Solving, some of the prime candidates are:

- If the units digits of the answers are all different, you can shortcut the multiplication
- If one variable from the problem (say the problem has x, y, and z) is missing in the answers (say they only have x and z), you’ll want to start working to eliminate that missing variable
- If the answer choices contain telltale signs of a certain shape or relationship (the square root of 3 usually comes from a 30-60-90 or equilateral triangle; pi usually comes from circles), your job is to find and leverage that shape
- If the answer choices include fractions, you can use the factors in the numerator and denominator to guide your math (for example, if three of the choices have a denominator of 3 and two have a denominator of 6, part of your work will include the question “will the denominator be even?”)

On Sentence Correction, pay attention to the first and last words (or phrases) of the answer choices for obvious differences. You may see:

- Two use a singular pronoun (its) and three use a plural (their) – this means that as you read the sentence you’re looking to find the noun that the pronoun refers to
- The answer choices use different tenses of the same verb (are vs. were vs. have been) – this means that your job is to pay attention to the timeline in the sentence to see which verb tenses are consistent with the logical sequence of events
- Two use “that of (noun)” and three just use the noun – this means that there’s a comparison going on, and you need to determine whether you’re comparing the possessions (the GDP of Canada vs. that of the UK) or the nouns themselves

Naturally, there are many, many more examples of clues that the answer choices can leave for you, so the true lesson is as simple as Drake’s lyrics. On Problem Solving and Sentence Correction problems, start (briefly) from the bottom to see if there’s anything you can glean from a quick peek at the answers that will help you more quickly get “here”, to the right answer.

*By Brian Galvin*

On his latest album, Eminem talks about feeling like a “Rap God”. And while that track – 6,077 words in 6 minutes, or about 18 Reading Comprehension passages’ worth of words – is more dense than anything you’ll have to read for the GMAT, it supplies a few nuggets of wisdom that can dramatically increase your score, most notably this lyric in which he mocks other MCs who have accused him of being too mainstream, too pop:

“I don’t know how to make songs like that

I don’t know what words to use”

Let me know when it occurs to you

While I’m ripping any one of these verses that versus you

Now, while Em is mocking other emcees, he could very well be mimicking the way that the GMAT would mock *you* on certain problems. The GMAT is designed in large part to be a “quantitative reasoning” test as opposed to a “math” test, and leads a lot of students to stare at problems nervously saying, essentially, “I don’t know how to solve problems like that; I don’t know what tools to use”. All the while, the 75-minute section clock ticks down and the GMAT sits back, smirking, thinking “let me know when it occurs to you how to solve this problem that versus you”.

In other words, difficult GMAT problems are often difficult because people waste a lot of time sitting scared not knowing how to get started. And in many of those cases, the way to get started is to go much more “mainstream” than you’d think. Consider this example:

With # and & each representing different digits in the problem below, the difference between #&& and ## is 667. What is the value of &?

#&&

-##

667

(A) 3

(B) 4

(C) 5

(D) 8

(E) 9

Now, many would look at this problem and think “I don’t know how to solve problems like that…”, as it’s not a classic “Algebra” problem, but it’s not a straight-up “Subtraction” problem, either. It uses the common GMAT themes of Abstraction and Reverse-Engineering to test you conceptually to see how you think critically to solve problems. And in true Eminem-mocking form, the key to a complicated-looking problem like this is a lot more mainstream than it is advanced. You have to just get started playing with the numbers, testing possibilities for # and & and seeing what you learn from it.

When GMAT students lament that “I don’t know what tools to use” to start on a tough problem, they’re often missing this piece of GMAT wisdom – *that’s* the point. You’re supposed to look at this with some trial-and-error like you would in a business meeting, throwing some ideas out and eliminating those that definitely won’t work so that you can spend some more time on the ones that have a good chance. In this case, throw out a couple ideas for #. Could # be 5? If it were, then you’d have a number in the 500s and you’d subtract something from it. There’s no way to get to 667 if you start smaller than that and only subtract, so even with pretty limited information you can guarantee that # has to be 6 or bigger.

And by the same logic, try a value like 9 for #. That would give you 900-and-something, and the most that ## could be is 99 (the largest two-digit number), which would mean that your answer would still be greater than 800. You need a number for # that allows you to stay in the 667 range, meaning that # has to be 6 or 7. That means that you’re working with:

6&& – 66 = 667

or

7&& – 77 = 667

And just by playing with numbers, you’ve been able to take a very abstract problem and make it quite a bit more concrete. If you examine the first of those options, keep in mind that the biggest that & can be is 9, and that would leave you with:

699 – 66 = 633, demonstrating that even at the biggest possible value of &, if # = 6 you can’t get a big enough result to equal 667. So, again, by playing with numbers to find minimums and maximums, we’ve proven that the problem has to be:

7&& – 77 = 667, and now you can treat it just like an algebra problem, since the only unknown is now 7&&. Adding 77 to both sides, you get 7&& = 744, so the answer is 4.

More important than this problem, however, is the takeaway – GMAT problems are often designed to look abstract and to test math in a different “order” (here you had two unknowns to “start” the problem and were given the “answer”), and the exam does a masterful job of taking common concepts (this was a subtraction problem) and presenting them to look like something you’ve never seen. The most dangerous mindset you can have on the GMAT quant section is “I don’t know how to solve problems like this” or “I’ve never seen this before”, whereas the successful strategy is to take a look at what you’re given and at least try a few possibilities. With symbol problems (like this), sequence problems, numbers-too-large-to-calculate problems, etc., often the biggest key is to go a lot more mainstream than “advanced math” – try a few small numbers to test the relationship in the problem, and use that to narrow the range of possibilities, find a pattern, or learn a little more about the concept in the problem.

If your standard mindset on abstract-looking problems is “I don’t know how to solve problems like that”, both Em and the G-Em-A-T are right to chide you a bit mockingly, as that’s often the entire point of the problem, to reward those who are willing to try (the entrepreneurial, self-starter types) and “punish” those who won’t think beyond the process they’ve memorized. Even if you don’t become a GMAT God, if you follow some of Eminem’s lessons you can at least find yourself saying “Hi, my name is…” over and over again at b-school orientation.

*By Brian Galvin*

And almost none of us will miss Bob Costas’s pinkeye, aggressive interviews designed to make Bode Miller cry, prime time events that lasted well past bedtime for a school night, and the way that announcers for figure skating so critically point out potential deductions and problems even while these athletes do unconscionably amazing things on thin blades on ice.

But we can learn from those skating announcers. They’re critical because the job demands it, because the untrained eye doesn’t recognize those ever-important subtleties that take otherwise amazing performances and separate the gold from the bronze. Much like a good Critical Reasoning test-taker has to notice those subtle-but-significant flaws that make otherwise-valid arguments fail, skating judges and announcers make their money by noting those tiny flaws. That’s the way the game is played.

So your job on Critical Reasoning questions is essentially to be a figure skating announcer – you need to notice those subtle flaws. In skating, sometimes the twizzles aren’t perfectly synchronized; in Critical Reasoning, too, sometimes the premises and conclusion aren’t perfectly synchronized. As an example, try this problem:

The team of Schleicher and Sun should win the gold medal in ice dancing. After all, they were leading after the short program and they skated the long program with fewer mistakes than any other pair. Therefore, they should end up with the highest overall score.

The argument above relies on which of the following assumptions?

(A) None of the judges will allow bias to affect their scoring decisions.

(B) Schleicher and Sun also skated the short program with fewer mistakes than any other pair.

(C) Schleicher and Sun did not make any noticeable mistakes in either the short or the long program.

(D) Factors other than their number of mistakes do not affect a pair’s overall score.

(E) Schleicher and Sun’s twizzles were perfectly synchronized.

On the surface, the argument above may make a lot of sense. But look at the way that the major premise (“they skated the long program with fewer mistakes”) and the conclusion (“they should end up with the highest overall score”) are not synchronized. “Fewest mistakes” isn’t the same thing as “highest score”. If you’ve been watching the Olympics, you might bring in that knowledge that degree of difficulty plays a factor, as often does the difficulty toward the latter half of the long program. But even if you didn’t have that outside knowledge – which you won’t have on most GMAT CR questions – you should see that the premise and conclusion are not synchronized. They don’t talk about the same thing, even though it’s close. And *that* is the blueprint for most Strengthen/Weaken CR questions – when the premise and conclusion aren’t quite synchronized, when they leave a little room in between them because they’re not talking about the exact same thing, that’s where you know you can be critical. That’s where the deductions lie.

In this question, that leaves D open as a correct answer. Since “Number of mistakes” is part of – but not necessarily all of – the scoring of a pair’s routine, choice D exploits that little lack of synchronization. More important is the lesson – just as the television announcers are quick to point out unsynchronized twizzles, you should train yourself to notice those little lacks of synchronization between premise and conclusion. Often this can happen when:

- the premise is a subset of the conclusion (like “number of mistakes” and “overall score”, or “arrests” and “crimes committed”)
- the premise and conclusion are very similar but not quite the same thing (like “revenue” and “profit”)
- the premise or conclusion adds a limiting word that makes it narrower than the other (for example, if the conclusion is about “manufacturing costs” but the premise is only about “overall cost”)

Remember, the question type “Critical Reasoning” has “critical” right there in the name – like figure skating announcers, then, you need to be critical as the job demands it. So steal a page from their book – if the premise and conclusion aren’t synchronized, you have to acknowledge that flaw.

*By Brian Galvin*

Get downhill quickly.

On GMAT Sentence Correction problems, that should be your goal, too. Olympians will get downhill quickly by focusing all their momentum and vision to the bottom of the mountain, and on Sentence Correction you’ll want to focus most of your attention “downhill” on the answer choices.

What does that mean?

While the “top of the mountain” – the original sentence itself – is certainly important, keeping your eyes downhill toward the answer choices is the best way to notice the decisions that the GMAT is asking you to make. Paying attention to differences in the answer choices will help you to determine which portions of the prompt are most important.

For example, consider these fragments of answer choices:

(A) …..have been

(B) …..has been

(C) …..had been

(D) …..have been

(E) …..has been

If you’re reading a 40-word sentence, it’s helpful to know beforehand that the two most important things here are:

has been vs. have been – Subject/Verb Agreement. Make sure you find the subject of the verb!

had been vs. has/have been – Verb Tense / Logical Timeline. Make sure that you assess the timeline of events with an eye for “is this event still happening” (if so, eliminate “had been”) or “is this event over (if so, the answer is C)

Or consider this example:

(A) which….

(B) and which….

(C) which…..

(D) and which…

(E) which….

Here there’s one primary decision you need to make – is there a previous “which” phrase in the non-underlined portion that you need to link to the answer choice with “and which”, or not?

The answer choices in Sentence Correction problems quite often give away at least one of the primary decisions that you’ll need to make, so if you glance at the answer choices for an obvious decision you can save quite a bit of time and energy by hunting specifically for the word or phrase that controls that decision and not by reading the original sentence hoping to stumble on it.

In short, keep your eyes downhill when attempting Sentence Correction problems, looking at the answer choices for obvious differences like:

- Verb differences
- Pronoun differences
- Singular/plural noun differences
- The presence vs. absence or difference between connector words (like “and”, “or”, “but”, etc.)
- Notable differences between the first and last words of each answer choice

When you see obvious differences, go back to the prompt with that decision point in mind. Looking downhill is the most efficient way to win the race, whether you’re Julia Mancuso in the Olympic downhill or a GMAT student on an SC question. Go to the answer choices; go for the gold.

*By Brian Galvin*

How many times will Peyton Manning yell “Omaha” during the game?

The current estimate from Las Vegas sportsbooks is 27.5.

While we all poke fun at Peyton’s repetitive cadence and while Peyton himself cashes in on endorsement deals from all the biggest firms in Nebraska, let us not forget that there are two major GMAT lessons you can learn from Peyton’s “Omaha” calls at the line:

**1) Do the same thing every time.**

Peyton Manning says Omaha a lot. He’s incredibly deliberate and repetitive in everything he does. And it’s taken him to the summit of his industry. GMAT test takers would be wise to heed his example – note that Peyton deals with time pressure (the play clock, the 2-minute drill) all the time but his deliberation makes him comfortable. And by doing the same thing over and over again his routine is incredibly effective at getting him through the first few seconds of any important play.

You should do the same. In a word problem, you should always read actively, assign variables, and check for anything unique in the answer choices, all in the first 30 seconds of seeing the problem. In a Critical Reasoning problem, you should read the question stem first, identify your goal, and usually check the conclusion, all within the first 30 seconds. When exponents are present you should look for relationships between the bases (and try to get them all the same) and look for opportunities to factor addition/subtraction into multiplication, all in the first 30 seconds. Good GMAT test-takers are boring – they have a system for each type of problem and their first 30 seconds are typically somewhat scripted. They don’t see “unique snowflakes” in each question, but instead they see standardized components and go to work on them.

Peyton yells “Omaha”, never “Des Moines” or “Topeka”. Learn from the man. Form good habits and stick to them. Be predictable, be boring, be successful.

**2) But be flexible.**

The reason Peyton yells “Omaha” is to allow for flexible play calls at the line of scrimmage. Reportedly, the Broncos go to the line with two different play calls in mind, and “Omaha” signals that they’re going to the B play. In football, like on the GMAT, you have to be flexible. Sometimes the defense surprises you and you need to go a different direction.

This comes up often on the GMAT – you start to set up the algebra but realize that your second step gets messier than what you started with. You have to call an Omaha and go back to testing answer choices. You identify clearly that statement 1 is sufficient but then statement 2 points out that you haven’t even considered the possibility of a non-integer. You have to call an Omaha and reassess statement 1. You’ve eliminated answers A, B, and C but D and E are awful, too. You need to call an Omaha and reconsider which decision points you’re using to dictate your choices. Maybe that clumsy-looking sentence structure is valid, after all.

You can’t yell out “Omaha” in the test center without repercussions, but you can heed the advice from what “Omaha” stands for. On the GMAT you’ll find that most questions are best answered with a regimented-to-the-point-of-boredom approach, but that sometimes you have to be ready to adapt. Omaha covers all of that. So as you watch the Super Bowl this Sunday, pay attention to Peyton Manning, a master of both rigidity and flexibility. The road to New York City, Palo Alto, and Cambridge goes right through Omaha.

*By Brian Galvin*

-Richard Sherman is one of the best in the world at his profession

-Richard Sherman went to Stanford

-Richard Sherman is going to New York to compete at the highest level anyone in his profession can reach

So whatever words you’d use to describe Sherman’s interview – confident, cocky, arrogant, calculated – you’ll want to bring some of that into the GMAT with you, because in the world of the GMAT you’ll face a lot of sorry questions like Crabtree and if you strategically use Sherman’s bravado you know what result you’re going to get (and it’s a good one).

Here’s why – the GMAT is, really, a lot like Michael Crabtree. Crabtree is a very good wide receiver – he’s big, fast, etc. – just like the GMAT is a very difficult test (it’s clever, labor-intensive, etc.). But both Crabtree and the GMAT are predictable, and if you know what they’re going to do you can approach them with the same level of confidence. And like a defensive back can approach Crabtree, there are two ways that you can approach the GMAT and its traps:

1) Woe is me. When you see a Data Sufficiency question like:

The product of consecutive integers a and b is 156. What is the value of b?

(1) b is prime

(2) b > a

You might fall for the trap answer, D. You’ll break down 156 into 13 times 12 (and realize that you can’t break 13 down any further so there’s no other way to recombine the prime factors to find consecutive integers with a prime), and note that b has to be 13 and a has to be 12. So choice A is, indeed, sufficient. And then when you get to statement 2 you’ll think – yeah, freebie. 13 is bigger than 12, so it has to be 13. But wait – why can’t it be -12 while a is -13? You’ve fallen into the trap – you assumed negative! Woe is you…why do you keep falling for these traps?!

2) The GMAT is mediocre. And when you test a great test-taker like me with a mediocre question like that, that’s the result you’re going to get.

If you go Richard Sherman on a question like this, you’re angry at it. They’re not going to beat you with a mediocre and commonplace trap like “bet you forgot it could be negative”. You’re above that…they may beat you with a crazy challenge that’s way over your head, but they’re not going to beat you with a sorry trap like “could be negative” or “doesn’t have to be an integer”. Now, like Richard Sherman you have to prepare – Sherman KNEW that when Crabtree took off for the corner of the end zone it was going to be a corner fade / jump ball, and you should KNOW that when the GMAT includes an inequality in Data Sufficiency there’s a big change that negative/positive comes into play. So you do have to prepare like a champion to be a champion.

But there’s also a huge question of attitude. When the GMAT traps you, don’t get sad, get mad. Take it upon yourself to not let them beat you with a trap they’ve beaten you with before. Some people fall into a trap and get nervous that they’ll fall into it again. The Stanford-bound like Richard Sherman make it a point to never make that same mistake again, and they see that as a fun challenge. “Oh no GMAT – not today…I know your game and you’d better step it up to beat me”

Remember, attitude and confidence count for a lot whether it’s the NFC championship or the GMAT, and how you approach common GMAT traps can have a lot to do with your performance. Don’t fear those mistakes you’ve made a couple times – realize that they’re so commonplace and predictable as to be mediocre.

L.O.B.

*By Brian Galvin*

Tonya Harding was poised to recapture that glory of 1991-92, having shaken off some personal issues to refocus on skating. And with two Americans guaranteed to make the Olympic team, it seemed overwhelmingly likely that Nancy and Tonya would represent the U.S. together and that Tonya would have her best-ever chance at an Olympic medal. And then it all came crumbling down because __Jeff Gillooly doesn’t understand Data Sufficiency.__

Here’s the question, and here are the facts. Will Tonya Harding make the Olympic team? The top two finishers make the team, and Tonya is as good as Nancy but maybe a little better or maybe a little worse, and both of them are better than the rest of the field. So if we assess this as a Data Sufficiency prompt, we’d have:

Is Tonya one of the two highest values in Set USA?

(1) Nancy __>__ Tonya > all other values in Set USA

Statement 1 here is sufficient – if we can prove that Tonya is at the very worst the second-best competitor, she’s guaranteed to make the team. But then along came Jeff Gillooly, not the sharpest tool in the shed, making one of the most common GMAT mistakes anyone can make.

Jeff Gillooly picked C.

Jeff Gillooly took a look at a Statement 2 that only existed in his own mind and went for it, hiring a goon to club Nancy Kerrigan in the knee and introduce this statement to the problem: “Set USA does not contain Nancy”. The problem then looked like:

Is Tonya one of the two highest values in Set USA?

(1) Nancy __>__ Tonya > all other values in Set USA

(2) Set USA does not contain Nancy

Jeff Gillooly looked at that problem and made the same mistake that so many GMAT test-takers make. He thought “If together Nancy and Tonya are the two highest values, and then if Nancy isn’t in the set, then Tonya is guaranteed to be one of the two highest values in the set (and therefore make the Olympic team and win me and my creepball moustache a free trip to Norway!).” So Jeff Gillooly picked C, forgetting that there are two clauses to that answer choice:

(C) Both statements TOGETHER are sufficient, but NEITHER statement ALONE is sufficient.

Read past the comma, Gillooly. Tonya Harding was sufficient ALONE. With Nancy Kerrigan out of the picture, Tonya won the US Nationals meaning that even had Nancy been absolutely amazing on the ice in that competition Tonya at worst would have gotten second and gone to the Olympics. In GMAT-speak, even though we all love having two pieces of information, if we only need one of them we’re punished for using both. If one statement alone is sufficient, you can’t pick C. Don’t be a Gillooly!

Since not many (if any) actual GMAT problems will be about Tonya Harding, let’s see this same concept in action with a real GMAT problem:

Is 0 < x < 1?

(1) x^2 < x

(2) x > 0

As you unpack statement 1, you’ll probably recognize that a fraction like 1/2 satisfies that inequality. If you square 1/2 you get 1/4, a number less than the original. So most people will look at statement 1 and say “x has to be a fraction, so that’s probably sufficient”. But then statement 2 hits a lot of people’s minds like a club to the knee – “Oh, but I need to know that it’s positive, too! I’ll pick C.”

Go back, though – if you try a negative fraction like -1/2, when you square it it becomes positive, and x^2 is greater than x. Statement 2 already tells us that x is positive – statement 1 is sufficient ALONE. All statement 2 really does is reinforce something that was already sufficient alone. Statement 2 is the Gillooly trap. Before you pick C, you’d better make sure that neither statement is sufficient ALONE. And like in the Nancy/Tonya situation, a statement (or skater) is often sufficient ALONE only through some hard work – beware the “easy way out” statement that makes C seem “obvious” when you could have taken a few extra steps (a little extra algebra, some extra work on your triple salchow) to make a statement sufficient ALONE.

There are plenty of lessons that a GMAT test-taker can take from the Nancy/Tonya saga – cheaters always get caught, make sure your shoelaces are tied before you enter the test center – but one reigns supreme above them:

Don’t use both statements if one alone will do the trick. Don’t be a Gillooly.

*By Brian Galvin*