In the first two parts of this article we learned that multitasking causes a host of problems that can be particularly detrimental to GMAT scores. Research shows that multitasking makes it very difficult for a person to focus, damages the short-term memory, makes it hard to sort the relevant from the irrelevant, and slows down the transition from one task or way of thinking to another.
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The GMAT is an exam that students generally study for over a few months, but it can be argued that students have been preparing for it their entire lives. From mastering addition in elementary school to understanding geometric properties and reading Shakespeare sonnets, your whole life has arguably been a prelude to your success on the GMAT. You might not need everything you’ve ever learnt on this one exam, but you will already have been exposed to everything you need to be successful.
If you read part 1 of this article you know that multitasking can result in attention difficulties and problems with productivity. You may not think that all of this talk about decreased productivity and being distracted would apply to the GMAT; after all there is no chance to update your Facebook status and “tweet” during the test right? So this must have no impact. However, when it does come time to concentrate on just one thing – for example, the GMAT – researchers have found that multitaskers have more trouble tuning out distractions than people who focus on one task at a time.
Sequence questions come up fairly regularly on the GMAT quantitative section. One of the biggest problems students report on these questions is that they can’t determine what the terms in sequence should actually be. As such, the first important thing to determine is the value of the first few elements of the sequence. Without this information, the question seems much more abstract and difficult to follow.
Do you “multitask”? Probably you do. A survey showed that “the top 25 percent of Stanford students use four or more media at one time whenever they’re using any media. So when they’re writing a paper, they’re also Facebooking, listening to music, texting, Twittering, et cetera. And that’s something that just couldn’t happen in previous generations even if we wanted it to.”
Properly identifying incorrect modifier constructions, which are common errors in Sentence Correction, is a key component in achieving a high score on the GMAT. Knowing that modifier errors are among the most common errors seen on the GMAT, the astute student carefully studies the rules of correctly using modifiers. These grammatical constructions, among the most difficult to spot at a glance, confuse students and frustrate test takers who haven’t adequately prepared for the exam.
Certain skills help make the math portion of the GMAT much easier. For example, being at ease with multiplication and factoring can help you on all kinds of questions that aren’t even about multiples or factors. In fact, questions about one and only one topic are few and far between. A GMAT question will never ask you what 8 x 7 is explicitly, but it could easily ask you the area of a triangle with a base of 16 and a height of 7. (Recall that the formula for the area of a triangle is ½ Base x Height).
One of the Critical Reasoning questions that students struggle with the most is the Roles of Boldface questions. This may be because they’re scarce (like diamonds), and therefore you aren’t likely to practice them as much as other question types. Or it may be because they ask you to differentiate among multiple definitions that all start to sound the same after a while. Is the first a position or is it an opinion, and is there any difference between those two? (Hint: there isn’t).
On data sufficiency problems, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the abstract possibilities presented by the question. Since you don’t actually have to calculate an exact solution, frequently you are faced with problems that would be too tedious to solve without a calculator. However, just because you don’t have to actually solve them, doesn’t mean it isn’t comforting to do so when faced with abstract problems (just add a little concrete).
It has been said that everything is relative. Without getting too deep into the theory put forth by my friend Al(bert Einstein), your relative position and situation shapes your perception of things. A very common example of this is when students ask me “what difficulty level is this question?” I may find a question difficult and proclaim it’s a 700 level question. Another question seems more straightforward so I deem it a 500 level question. Granted, I have some credibility vis-a-vis GMAT difficulty level, but my opinion will be tainted by my relative strengths. I tend to consider arithmetic problems as simple and geometry problems as difficult primarily because of my personal preferences and abilities.
When preparing for the GMAT, you may notice that studying for one subject makes you better in other disciplines as well. For example, practicing your algebra tends to make you better at algebra, arithmetic tends to make you faster at picking numbers and the entire quant section helps you significantly in integrated reasoning. This is due to the fact that many subjects overlap and have common elements. More formally, you can say that the GMAT is an exam with a lot of synergy.
In the first part of this article we discussed recent research indicating that exercise is the only way to create new brain cells, protect existing brain cells, and form new neural networks. If that list is not enough, aerobic exercise is also an important component of healthy emotions and possibly even control of test anxiety.
The most common complaint I hear from students about Reading Comprehension is that the text is mind-numbingly boring. This is due to two common factors. First, the texts are frequently mind-numbingly boring! Second, even if they’re somewhat interesting, the fact that you’ve been staring at a computer screen for about three straight hours (not counting the two eight-minute breaks) means you’re likely not completely focused on the task at hand. In fact, many a student has confided in me that by this part of the test they were already dreaming of lunch at McDonalds (okay this may have just been my personal experience).
One of the most common misconceptions on the GMAT is that you have to solve every question in about 2 minutes. This of course stems from the fact that you have 75 minutes to answer 37 quantitative questions (or ~2.03 minutes per question) and 75 minutes to answer 41 verbal questions (or ~1.83 minutes per question). Both figures can be approximated to roughly two minutes per question on average; however, this does not mean that every question will take you 2 minutes to solve.
You may not know it yet, but there are simple things that you can do right now, that will help you to not only score higher on the GMAT but also succeed in business school and beyond. Getting exercise should be the first change on your list!
The New York Times has written extensively recently on the connection between exercise and brain health. It turns out that iPads, video games, smart phones, computers, even crossword puzzles…do not make lasting changes in your brain structure; only exercise does. So if you want to be better at answering the questions on “Jeopardy!” you should turn off the TV and go for a brisk walk.
On the GMAT, there is often a fine line between a statement possibly being true and a statement always being true. Inference questions ask about which statement must be true, and often provide many statements that each seem to be correct. However, must be true is a high standard to achieve, and many statements fall short of this benchmark despite being perfectly reasonable assumptions on their own.
In Data Sufficiency, the GMAT is asking you to determine how much information is required to make a decision. If the information provided leads you a definite yes, then you have sufficient data to take decisive action. Similarly, if there is enough information to lead to a definite no, then you can also take decisive action. The only time trouble arises is when the information could lead to a yes or to a no; this situation leaves you in a position where you may have to guess (I’ll take Door #1, Bob).
The holiday season is upon us in much of the world, and in the U.S. there is a special holiday this year called “Thanksgivikkah!” This is a combination of the words “Thanksgiving” and “Hanukkah” (The first full day of Hanukkah happens to be on November 28th this year – the same day as Thanksgiving in the U.S. This has never happened before and will not happen again in any of our lifetimes).
When evaluating critical reasoning questions, you often notice multiple answer choices that all seem plausible. The GMAT testmakers are experts at creating answer choices that are plausible and could potentially be correct, given slightly different circumstances. When evaluating strengthen or weaken questions, it is best to predict an answer from the stimulus before looking at the answer choices. That way you won’t be swayed by logical but out of scope questions (plus it’s a surprise!)
The GMAT is not merely a test for graduate school. Several very valuable qualities of the mind, useful in the course of human life, are to be acquired or strengthened by it, so as to become habits, ready on all occasions. Let’s examine a few of these qualities:
1. Decisiveness, which looks at the information and question, and considers the best course of action; for it occurs to the test taker, ‘how can I break this down into something I can figure out quickly? What is the situation and question really getting at? Can I ballpark or use the answer choices to narrow it down? How much time is worth spending to get this?’
Last week, we introduced the idea of “mirroring” in data sufficiency, and this week we’ll continue on that subject and look at different types of mirrors. “Mirroring” is my way of speaking about a technique called “manipulate algebraically” where the test taker attempts to manipulate either the statement or the question itself (or both) in order to get those statements to match each other exactly.
One of the most important concepts on the GMAT quant section is the notion of factors. Because there is no calculator on the exam, the multiplications and divisions tend to heed integer numbers. Dividing 100 by 2 might be trivial, but dividing 1100 by 22 might hinge on your recognition of the common factor of 11 to avoid tedious and time-consuming calculations.
In the Veritas Prep Data Sufficiency book, we have a section called the “Data Sufficiency Toolkit.” This toolkit contains a technique called “Manipulate Algebraically.” This technique involves “manipulating” either the statement or the question stem (or both) so that they exactly match each other.
In many ways, critical reasoning questions best exemplify what the GMAT is all about. The exam is primarily an exercise in applying logic to various different situations. In the quant section, you must either find the correct answer or determine whether you have sufficient information to make a decision. On the verbal section, you must find the answer choice that logically completes the information given in the question stem. Even on the AWA and the IR, logic is again paramount to knowing how to proceed and getting a good score.
Critical Reasoning is more than just one of the three verbal sections on the GMAT. It’s a way of thinking that applies to every GMAT subject area. In fact, it’s more still. It’s a skill that has wide application outside the GMAT.
The classic example of a lack of critical reasoning is the groupthink that led to the mortgage crisis, which eventually caused the global financial crisis. Very few people questioned the assumption that house prices would continue to rise. As long as prices rose, homeowners would be able to refinance their mortgages when, for example, low introductory interest rates increased or when balloon payments came due. And the system would keep chugging along. But it didn’t…
Percentages represent one of the most underestimated question types on the GMAT quant section. Absolute numbers are helpful to give concrete information (I spent 70$ on the latest Grand Theft Auto game), but percentages give a better indication of relative amounts of time (I spend 68% of my free time playing GTA V). Based on the first, you may find that I overpaid for the video game, but based on the second statistic, I probably got a very good return on my investment.
As you are probably well aware, success on the quantitative section of the GMAT requires not only computational ability, but also test taking acumen. For example, the fact that you are capable of determining a particular quantity from the information given in a problem does not mean that it is necessarily in your best interest to do so. At this point, you may assume that what follows is a discussion of data sufficiency (DS) strategy.
Critical Reasoning questions on the GMAT are primarily about strengthening or weakening the author’s conclusion. The stimulus of the question will describe some event or issue and then purport some conclusion, often one that is strikingly unsupported by the evidence.
Your job is usually to determine which answer choice would either enhance or undermine the professed conclusion. Sometimes, the question asks you to infer something that must be true from the text. The answer choices for these inference questions tend to have very high standards to meet because they must be true at all times (and not just when the moon is in Aquarius).
When looking at geometry problems on the GMAT, it’s important to take all graphs with a grain of salt (low fat, though). The graphs used on the GMAT are simply there to help visualize the problem at hand. No concerted effort is made for the graphs to be accurate or exact, and the graph should be evaluated based on what you know to be true, not on what you see or what the graph seems to imply. This all means that trusting your eyes on the GMAT is like trusting a car mechanic: you may have an honest mechanic or you may be getting taken for a ride!
In Part I of Organizing Your Information, we talked about rate time distance problems. In this one, we’ll tackle the Grizzly Peak problem from the Veritas Prep Arithmetic homework. I can’t tell you how many questions have been asked about this one in office hours, or via email support.
It’s the first day of class, and students are volunteering what they think of the GMAT. The typical sentiment goes something like: “Tough!” “Tricky stuff, hard to get a grasp on the logic,” or “I like ___ but really have trouble with ___.” Some just have a knowing smile that says “yeah, it’s a clever exam, but I’ll be glad when it’s over.”
Some concepts on the GMAT are absolute, while others can be a little nebulous. For example, the fact that there are 37 quantitative questions and 41 verbal questions is uncontestable. However, not all issues are as cut and dry.
I’ve read a strategy guide that recommended spending extra time on the first 10 questions because they’re worth more. I’ve read other guides saying that all the questions are weighed equally. Of course none of these books are the Official Guide, but even when I put it down, you know I’ll be back. When studying for a known test like the GMAT, it’s important to know what to look for and what to avoid (and also to be literate).
I often have students who, in the first few weeks of the GMAT course, tell me they really can’t stand Data Sufficiency. They fall into a few different camps, but we’ll look at two primary ones.
First, we have our engineers and “number crunchers,” frustrated by Data Sufficiency because there’s no closure, so to speak, at the end. There’s truly something rewarding for a lot of us about grinding out a page of math and getting to an answer.
When looking at questions on the GMAT, it’s very easy to fall into the mentality that there is only one correct answer. If I’m searching for some number xyz multiplied by another number abc, I don’t necessarily know the answer, but I know there’s only one value that will correctly satisfy the equation. The entire concept of multiple choice is predicated on having only one correct answer (also on knowing the alphabet), so it seems counter-intuitive that two values could both be the correct answer.
So we all know the GMAT is a “hard” exam, but just how hard is it supposed to be? Less hard than climbing Mt. Everest? Well, it depends what type of climber you are. If you’re feeling overwhelmed about the GMAT and are hesitant about whether to even get started, let’s face a few home truths that will hopefully leave you feeling encouraged!
Did I just use “GMAT” and “fun” in the same sentence? While months of prepping for a standardized test may not sound like a weekend at Disneyworld, it doesn’t all have to be drudgery and disappointment. Here are some quick study ideas to make your GMAT sessions a little more entertaining.
In critical reasoning, several factors can give away a potential incorrect answer choice. If the question is asking you to strengthen or weaken the author’s argument, the correct choice must always provide new information that either reinforces the author’s main point or calls into question its validity. However, certain answer choices give the illusion of talking about the subject without really saying anything conclusive about it (what one of my former professors colorfully called hand waving).
While my personal preference is to use a Venn diagram when dealing with most Sets questions, there are some questions in which a double-matrix is necessary (and much more powerful than a wimpy Venn). This little guy will make even the scariest-looking Sets question into a simple set of rows and columns, and its ability to help us determine whether a statement is sufficient in DS is unmatched!