Imagine that you were tasked with writing questions for the GMAT. You have to produce questions that have a clear answer but will trip up a certain percentage of test-takers. How do you do that reliably? The most straightforward way I can think of is to simply inundate the test-taker with information. What elicits the loudest groans during Reading Comprehension? Long, technical passages. What is the most unpleasant thing to see in a Data Sufficiency question? Lots of complex information in the question stem.
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One of the hardest things about Sentence Correction is that it tests so much more than just grammar. Many students erroneously conflate Sentence Correction problems with high school grammar problems, and this can lead to avoidable mistakes on test day. Indeed, the rules you learned in high school still apply, but you must be able to recognize them among various other potential problems. It’s fairly simple to spot an agreement error on a verb (there are one problem) or a misplaced comma (good, job bro), but sometimes you have to eliminate an answer choice because the sentence just doesn’t make sense.
Success on many Critical Reasoning questions really comes down to understanding whether one thing (“X”) causes another thing (“Y”) or not. For example, I moved to New York in 2007. Shortly thereafter, there was a huge drop in the New York stock market. Did I cause the crash (Y) simply by moving to New York (X)?
The other night, in class, I had a student come up to me and ask how I really approached Sentence Correction. We’d done our Sentence Correction lesson a few weeks before, so the implication was that there was a little more to it than the framework we’d covered. The mundane truth is that there isn’t. Not really.
One of the hardest things for people to get used to on the GMAT is that there is no calculator for the quantitative section. The reasoning behind this is simple: human beings will not be faster than machines at pure calculations. Human beings, however, will be better at logic, reasoning and deduction than a machine (at least until Skynet is developed).
In Stephen Pinker’s book, The Blank Slate, there’s an entertaining discussion illustrating the pitfalls of confusing correlation and causation. Pinker cites an old Russian folktale in which a Tsar discovers that, of his many provinces, the one that has the highest disease rate also has the most doctors. So he orders all the doctors killed. I’ll often make reference to this passage when I’m teaching Critical Reasoning because the absurdity of the argument is immediately apparent. Just because two variables are correlated, it doesn’t mean that one is necessarily causing the other.
One of the most common things you’re going to do on the GMAT is to infer things. Inferring things is something we inherently do on a daily basis as human beings. If your friend tells you they’re preparing for a big presentation, you generally automatically infer they’re presenting to an audience and are nervous about public speaking. However, on the GMAT, inferring carries a little more baggage than in your everyday life. What if your friend is in charge of logistics for the presentation, or running the slideshow behind the presenter? Perhaps they are being presented in the debutante ball definition of the term? (niche, I know). On the GMAT, inferences have a high threshold they must always attain: the inferences must be true.
“Trust, but Verify” is an important piece of advice for diplomatic relations. It seems a contradiction at first: if you trust, why do you need to verify? The answer is that some things are important enough to take the extra time and effort to check. Even the small chance that your trust is misplaced is reason to investigate the situation in enough detail to confirm that what you believe to be true is actually true.
One way in which the GMAT differs from most tests is that you only need to find the correct answer to the given question. There are absolutely no points for your development, your reasoning or indeed anything you decide to write down. This is completely contrary to much of what we learned in high school and university, where you could be rewarded for having the correct algorithm or approach even if you didn’t get the correct answer. On most math problems, if you got the wrong answer but demonstrated how you got there, you could at least get partial credit, especially if your approach was perfect but the execution lacked (like passing on the 1 yard line).
In pretty much every class I teach, at some point I’ll get the algebra vs. strategy question. Which is better? How do you know? I sympathize with the students’ confusion, as we’ll use the two approaches in different scenarios, but there doesn’t seem to be any magic formula to determine which is preferable. In many instances, both approaches will work fine, and the choice will mostly be a matter of taste and comfort for the test-taker.
Many people think that finishing the GMAT verbal section on time hinges on quickly solving Sentence Correction problems. This is because these questions tend to have the shortest stimuli of any question type. Even if you’re a speed reader (hopefully you never ordered Mega Reading by Kevin Trudeau), it will still take a minute or so to sift through a passage that’s a few hundred words long. Sentence Correction problems sometimes have stimuli that are two or three lines, and therefore are prime candidates for quick dispatching.
In my decade of teaching the GMAT, perhaps no single group has found the quant section on the test more exasperating than math nerds. Yep, math nerds. Engineers, financial analysts, Physics majors, etc.
This may seem somewhat paradoxical, but the quant section on the GMAT isn’t testing your math ability. The skills that allowed the quantitatively-inclined to ace their tests in high school and college not only have limited value on the GMAT, but actually undermine test-takers, prompting them to grind through calculations when the question is really about how to avoid those very calculations.
When preparing to take the GMAT, you often solve hundreds or even thousands of practice problems. As you solve more and more of them, you start to realize that almost every question is testing something specific. There’s a geometry question about right angle triangles that’s really all about Pythagoras’ theorem, and an algebra problem that is easy to solve if you expand the difference of squares. However, there are some questions that make you scratch your head and wonder: “What in the world?” Some questions make you think you missed a section of material that you need to review (are there triple integrals on the GMAT?), or at the very least that you don’t know the correct strategic approach. I will euphemistically call these “WTF” questions, which of course stands for “Want To Finish”.
For anyone who has ever underperformed their goals on the GMAT, the first question they’ve asked is usually “where did it all go wrong?”. And for those who have asked that question since October 1, 2013, or will ask it soon, there may be an answer waiting for you.
The GMAT Enhanced Score Report is here.
When it comes to Critical Reasoning on the GMAT, one question that continues to frustrate people is the assumption question. Quite simply, the question is asking you which answer choice is required to support the conclusion that has been drawn in the passage. To successfully navigate these questions, you should use the Assumption Negation Technique, which requires a negation of the answer choice to determine whether or not it was actually required. More than that, though, the correct answer choice must be within the scope of the question. An answer choice that goes too far will not be the correct answer to the question.
This is a problem that I have seen many times before. It leaves students bewildered because all of the signs that would lead them to expect a lower score are absent. They did not run out of time, they did not have to guess at lots of questions, and they did not feel overwhelmed. Even I have suffered from this a bit, my lowest Quant score came on the exam where I felt most comfortable – and my highest score on Quant came on the exam that felt the worst.
One of the most uncomfortable aspects of the GMAT is that you are not allowed to use a calculator for the quantitative section. This is uncomfortable because, throughout your everyday life, you are never more than about 5 feet from a calculator (yes, even in Death Valley). Almost everyone has a cell phone, a laptop, a desktop or a GMAT guru nearby to compute difficult calculations for them. Even high school students are generally allowed their calculators on test day. However, the lack of a calculator allows the GMAT to test your reasoning skills and time management skills much more easily than if you had access to electronic help.
As a GMAT aficionado, I often find GMAT themes in everyday things. This is what happened last week when I was listening to the radio and Ariana Grande’s “Problem” started playing. I’d heard the song before, and despite its catchy melody, there is a glaring grammatical error in the chorus. This may not be that surprising: songs in general are dubious sources of grammar to begin with, and R&B songs often take additional liberties with their lyrics (Timbaland’s “The Way I Are” jumps to mind). However this error is the kind a lot of people make in their daily speech, so I figured I’d use it as an opportunity to improve our grammatical skills beyond what we hear on the radio.
The GMAT is an exam that evaluates how you think. The test is designed to measure your reasoning skills and gauge how successful you will be in business school. This means that the test is not simply trying to ascertain how much you already know. This is similar to the mantra of “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime”. If you happen to already know that 144 is 12^2, then any question that asks about this specific number becomes much easier. However, if the exam starts asking about 13^2 or 14^2, and you only know 12^2, then you must find some method to take your knowledge and apply it to new and unscripted problems.
Studying for the GMAT can take over your life. I’m sure many of you are nodding your heads as you read this. If you’re not, you probably haven’t gotten there yet. I sincerely hope that you never do, but it is an almost unavoidable part of studying for this test. Eventually, you start correcting artists in songs (I got one less problem without you… more like one fewer problem) and wondering if your table number is a prime number (how about table 51… oops that’s divisible by 3). The first time you catch yourself using a GMAT specific term, you know you’re really deep in studying for this exam.
On the verbal section of the GMAT, students invariably spend more time on Reading Comprehension questions than on either Sentence Correction or Critical Reasoning problems. In fact, I’ve seen score reports where people spent more time on Reading Comprehension than on the other two question types combined! Students spend a lot of time on these passages because they are consistently packed with pointless information, run-on sentences and dense technical jargon. Attempting to untangle these passages can lead to a lot of frustration for test takers (Fortunately, there’s an app for that).
One topic that always makes me think on the GMAT is geometry. It’s not that geometry is particularly hard, or even particularly easy, but rather that it’s particularly irrelevant! Having done an MBA in the past few years, I can virtually guarantee you that you will never have to calculate the area of a rhombus or the volume of a cone during your graduate studies. It’s possible that you have to calculate various geometric shapes in your career after graduating (say you run an ice cream shop!), but during your education the entire discipline seems somewhat superfluous.
The holiday season is upon us in North America, as many families unite for Thanksgiving, some decadent shopping, and the imminent Christmas season. While Thanksgiving and Christmas are independently two of the biggest holidays of the year, the fact that they always come together and are so habitually linked makes me think of the GMAT (yes a lot of things make me think of the GMAT, it’s what I do). Just as the thought of Christmas makes a lot of people think of Black Friday deals and line ups at their local stores, some elements on the GMAT are as inextricably linked together.
When going through the quantitative section of the GMAT, you will often be confronted by numbers that are, shall we say, unwieldy (some people refer to them as “insane”). It is common on the exam to see numbers like 11!, 15^8, or even 230,050,672. Regardless of the form of the number, the common mistake that many novice test takers make is the same: They try to actually solve the number.
The following interview comes from Top GMAT Prep Courses. Top GMAT Prep Courses recently had the opportunity to conduct a Q&A session with Chris Kane, one of Veritas Prep’s most seasoned GMAT instructors, to inquire about the GMAT and get his take on 10 great questions that many MBA candidates would like to ask with regards to GMAT prep courses and useful tips on how to be successful at achieving their desired GMAT score.
In life, you are often given binary choices. This is true even if the word binary isn’t something you recognize right away. Binary comes from the Latin “bini”, which means two together, and is used to regroup decisions in which you have exactly two choices. On forms, you might see categories such as “smoker” or “non-smoker”, and you are prompted to answer exactly one of the options. At a restaurant, you might get asked “Soup or salad?” (super salad??), and you are expected to make a decision as to which appetizer you want. Very frequently, these two choices cover the entirety of your options. There is no third option to select.
If you’ve ever built a puzzle, you probably know that you can’t expect to start at a certain point and build the entire puzzle without moving around. You may find two or three pieces that fit together nicely, but then you find three pieces that fit together nicely somewhere else, and then work to connect these disparate sections.
When dealing with questions that ask us to compartmentalize information, there are two major sorting methods that we can use on the GMAT. The first, and perhaps more familiar concept, is the Venn diagram. This categorization is very useful for situations where information overlaps, as it allows a visual representation of multiple categories at once. However, if the information provided has no possible overlap, such as indicating whether something is made of gold or silver, or if they’re male or female (Bruce Jenner notwithstanding), the preferred method of organization is the matrix box.
Last year, I wrote an article for this blog discussing the pros and cons (and pros and cons and pros) of cancelling your GMAT score. At the time, you had to sit through an entire 3+ hour exam, go through every question asked and then be offered the possibility of cancelling your score without ever knowing what your grade would have been.
A student recently asked, “How do I learn to focus long enough to make my study sessions worthwhile? While studying for the GMAT I can only study for about an hour at a time.”
My response is, “This is a clearly a problem, not just for study sessions but also for the GMAT itself which requires 4 straight hours of focus.
The most common question type that people tend to waste time on is Reading Comprehension. More than any other question type on the GMAT, students report reading and rereading the same sections of a passage, only to find themselves at the bottom of the page having retained no information. There are many reasons for this, from fatigue to mental inertia to daydreaming about the end of this test. However, it’s fairly common to have not internalized all the information in the passage, and still be able to answer the question asked.
I recently had the chance to answer a question about overcoming Test Anxiety on the GMAT. The test-taker wanted to know how to avoid being so anxious on test day and how to stop obsessively thinking about the score before and even during the exam itself.
I wrote, “Your job on test day is to focus on the question in front of you. Not to guess at what your score might be or continually estimate how much time you have left per question.
One of the most difficult tasks on the GMAT is to properly interpret what the question is really asking. The GMAT is loaded with dense terminology, accurate but irrelevant prose and confusing technical jargon (and that’s just the instruction page!) The verbiage is dense on purpose, with the deciphering of the information part of the skills being tested. And since this task only gets more challenging as you get more tired throughout the exam, it’s important to recognize the vocabulary used on the GMAT. To borrow from geek culture, you need to understand the GMAT 1337 speak.
Some sentence structures seemingly stupefy scholarly students. One of the main reasons the GMAT chooses to test logic through sentence correction is that the rules of grammar are much more flexible than most students realize. We (hopefully) remember some of the basic rules of sentences. Sentences should have a subject and a predicate, but you can often shorten sentences in specific contexts. Like this. The rules we’ve learned in high school are relevant, but (to paraphrase Pirates of the Caribbean) they’re more like guidelines.
Succeeding on the GMAT requires a great many things. Firstly, you must be able to decipher and solve complex logic puzzles in mere minutes. Secondly, you must be able to maintain focus for many consecutive hours. (And thirdly, you must pay to take the exam). The exam can be particularly tricky because the questions asked are rarely straight forward. Indeed, all of these elements are often linked (except potentially the payment) on questions that ask you to decode functions specific to the question at hand.
There is one feeling that hampers momentum and takes all the wind out of your sails on the GMAT. That feeling is the thrill of quickly eliminating three incorrect answer choices on a question, followed by complete uncertainty between the last two choices. This paralysis is very frustrating, because your progress is halted in dramatic fashion, and you’re left with two options that both seem to make perfect sense as the correct answer.
Questions on the GMAT can be described in many different ways. I’ve heard them described as everything from juvenile to vexing, simple to impossible. One term that appears very infrequently as a characteristic of the questions on the GMAT is the word “clear”. Indeed, some questions are so convoluted that they appear to be written in Latin (or Aramaic if you happen to already speak Latin). This is not a coincidence or an accident; many GMAT questions are specifically designed to be vague.
I’ve often contemplated who would excel at the GMAT. After all, the exam is about logic, analytical skills, problem-solving abilities and time management. Surely to shine on the exam a test taker should be smart, methodical, insightful and perceptive (and blindingly handsome). Clearly, some people have done quite well on this exam, but others never got the chance because they never actually took the test. While some have been intimidated by the nature of the test, others simply were born too early to have even heard of this exam.