# Think Inside the Box on Tricky GMAT Questions

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.

The advantage of the matrix box is that it highlights the innate relationships that must be true, but that are not always easy to keep track of. For instance, if a box contains 100 paperclips, some of which are metallic and some of which are plastic, then if we find 40 paperclips made of metal, there must necessarily be 60 that are made of plastic. The binary nature of the information guarantees that all the elements will fall into one of the predetermined categories, so knowing about one gives you information about the other.

The matrix box allows you to catalogue information before it becomes overwhelming. Anyone who’s studied the GMAT for any length of time (five minutes is usually enough) knows that the exam is designed to be tricky. As such, questions always give you enough information to solve the problem, but rarely give you the information in a convenient manner. Setting up a proper matrix box essentially sets you up to solve the problem automatically, as long as you know what to do with the data provided.

Let’s look at an example and what clues us into the fact that we should use a matrix box.

Of 200 students taking the GMAT, all of them have college degrees, 120 have been out of college for at least 3 years, 70 have business degrees, and 60 have been out of college for less than 3 years and do not have business degrees. How many of them have been out of college for at least 3 years and have business degrees.

A) 40
B) 50
C) 60
D) 70
E) 80

The principle determinant on whether we should use Venn diagrams or matrix boxes is whether the data has any overlap. In this example, it’s very hard to believe that a student could both have a business degree and not have a business degree, so it looks like the information can’t overlap and a matrix box approach should be used. Before we set up the matrix box, it’s important to know that the axes are arbitrary and you could put the data on either axis and end up with essentially the same box. We can thus proceed with whichever method we prefer. The box may look like what we have below:

 Business Degree No Business Degree Total At least 3 years Less than 3 years Total

Without filling out any information, it’s important to note that the “Total” column and row will be the most important parts. They allow us to determine missing information using simple subtraction. If we have the total figures, as little as one piece of information in the inside squares would be enough to solve every missing square (like the world’s simplest Sudoku). Let’s populate the total numbers provided in the question:

 Business Degree No Business Degree Total At least 3 years 120 Less than 3 years Total 70 200

With these three pieces of information, we can fill out the remaining “Total” squares by simply subtracting the given totals.

 Business Degree No Business Degree Total At least 3 years 120 Less than 3 years 80 Total 70 130 200

Now all we would need to reach the correct answer is one piece of information: any of the remaining four squares. Luckily the question stem will always provide at least one of these, as the problem is unsolvable otherwise. Problems may be tricky and convoluted on the GMAT, but they will never be impossible. Looking back at the question, there are 60 students who have been out of college for less than 3 years and do not have business degrees. Plugging in this value we get:

 Business Degree No Business Degree Total At least 3 years 120 Less than 3 years 60 80 Total 70 130 200

Using a little bit of basic math we can turn this into:

 Business Degree No Business Degree Total At least 3 years 70 120 Less than 3 years 20 60 80 Total 70 130 200

And finally the completed:

 Business Degree No Business Degree Total At least 3 years 50 70 120 Less than 3 years 20 60 80 Total 70 130 200

The question was asking for how many students have been out of college for at least 3 years and have business degrees, but using this method we could solve any potential question (Other than “What is the meaning of life”?). Since the number of students with business degrees who have been out of college three years or more is 50, the correct answer will be answer choice B.

In matrix box problems, setting up the question is more than half the battle. Correctly setting up the parameters will ensure that the rest of the problem gets solved almost automatically, and all you have to do is avoid silly arithmetic mistakes or getting ahead of yourself too quickly. Remember that if the information doesn’t overlap, it will likely make for a good matrix box problem. On these types of questions, don’t be afraid to think inside the box.

Plan on taking the GMAT soon? We have GMAT prep courses starting all the time. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

Ron Awad is a GMAT instructor for Veritas Prep based in Montreal, bringing you weekly advice for success on your exam.  After graduating from McGill and receiving his MBA from Concordia, Ron started teaching GMAT prep and his Veritas Prep students have given him rave reviews ever since.

# Should I Cancel My GMAT Score? (Hint: Probably Not)

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.

Needless to say, many people opted to cancel their scores out of fear that a disappointing result would reflect badly on them and hinder their chances of being accepted into the school of their choice. The overall takeaway of my article was that most people felt that they did badly on the GMAT, and therefore tended to cancel their scores more often than they should have.

Lo and behold, in the summer of 2014 the GMAC (the FIFA of the GMAT) decided to change this policy and allow students to see their scores before deciding whether or not to cancel them. This decision was met with jubilation and applause (by me) from most prospective students, as this situation was entirely preferable to the previous circumstances. However, some students still are unclear when they should cancel their scores and when they shouldn’t. As such, I figured this would be a golden opportunity to revisit this topic and discuss cancelling your scores under the new world order.

First, let’s begin with the bad news. If you cancel your score, you are not refunded your 250\$ fee for taking the exam. Nor can you retake the exam the next day; the same 31 day waiting period applies. Perhaps most jarringly, your record will still indicate that a score was cancelled, meaning that there will still be some record of the GMAT having been taken, just no accompanying score. Finally, if you do decide to cancel your score, you can subsequently change your mind and ask for the score to be reinstated, although this will incur an additional cost of 100\$, and must be done within 60 days of the test date.

Let’s begin with some valid reasons why someone would consider cancelling their scores. Firstly, if you sleep very badly the night before or something goes very wrong in your personal life (worse than Menudo breaking up), you may be incapable of concentrating properly and your score will consequently suffer. In these situations, when you know you can do significantly better, it may be a good idea to cancel your score. Another instance would be if you took the exam and got some score, perhaps a 600, and then retook it and scored 450, a considerably worse result. Since the goal is to try and show improvement from one GMAT to the next, a marked decline could send the wrong message to the schools of your choice. This is another instance where cancelling your score may be a legitimate option.

If we explore some of the situations where it may be less advisable to cancel your score, we can start with a good rule of thumb: If it’s your first GMAT, you should (practically) never cancel your score. Why? Because if you cancel your score, you remove your baseline GMAT score. The best case scenario may be to take the exam once, ace it, and never look back (or possibly go back to teach it years later), but the reality is most people end up taking this exam more than once. The current average number of times someone takes the GMAT is about 2.7, meaning that many people take the exam two or three times before getting the score they want. If you’re aiming for a 650, and only get a 550 on the first try, then subsequent scores will demonstrate perseverance and determination, two skills sought after in business professionals. Cancelling your first score will only raise questions as to how badly it went (210?) and why you elected to remove the only thing on an otherwise blank canvas.

Sometimes, you score a 600 the first time, decide you want a 650, and retake the exam and only get a 610 or 620. This shows some improvement, but many people become depressed that it doesn’t show enough improvement, especially if they studied for several months to achieve this moderate increase. Again, cancelling this updated score will only raise questions as to how badly the test went, and a small improvement is still an improvement. Most GMAT schools take the best GMAT score as their reference, so even a 10 point progress from 600 to 610 could be enough to make a difference in your application. The same principle applies if your score went down slightly, say to 580. While a slight decline isn’t cause for a celebration, it’s a minor hiccup that demonstrates that you can consistently stay within the same range. Also, cancelling a slight drop opens the possibility that you did very badly on this second attempt and opted to cancel the score, artificially exaggerating how poorly the test actually went.

Sometimes, the idea of cancelling your score will come up before you’re even done with the test. Halfway through the verbal section, when you’re wallowing in the fact that you guessed the last three questions, your brain may take solace in the idea of cancelling the exam score. Sometimes you’ll contemplate it during a difficult stretch in the quantitative section (sometimes even on question 1!). The fact that you can now see your score before deciding whether to cancel it is a huge benefit in your choice as it removes the guesswork from the equation. No matter how badly you think you’re doing, at least you can see the score, make a decision, and even potentially reverse that decision within a couple of months.

When it comes to cancelling scores on the GMAT, the rule of thumb is that you shouldn’t cancel your score unless some “force majeure” or act of God came into the equation. The rule change allows us more flexibility in our decision making process, but the same factors must still be considered. If this is the first time you take the exam, your score is higher than any of your previous scores or if you just feel like you’re stinking up the exam (figuratively, not literally), you probably shouldn’t cancel your score. If your score truly is abysmal, then you can take a page from Pacific Rim and say “We are cancelling the apocalypse!” and be confident in your decision. The GMAT is designed to be tricky, but at least all the guesswork about cancelling your score has been removed for 2014 and beyond.

Plan on taking the GMAT soon? We have GMAT prep courses starting all the time. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

Ron Awad is a GMAT instructor for Veritas Prep based in Montreal, bringing you weekly advice for success on your exam.  After graduating from McGill and receiving his MBA from Concordia, Ron started teaching GMAT prep and his Veritas Prep students have given him rave reviews ever since.

# How Can I Improve My Focus on the GMAT?

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.

Luckily, there are simple ways to improve your focus, and these techniques will not only allow you to focus as you study for longer periods of time, but will also have other benefits throughout your life. I have been doing a lot of research into brain science and the GMAT recently, and one thing that comes up in even book or article that I read is meditation/mindfulness. The latest scientific research supports the conclusion that the number one way to increase your ability to focus is to begin a simple meditation and mindfulness practice.

# Meditating is much easier than you think!

When I mention “meditation” people think that I am talking about sitting in an uncomfortable position and meditating for hours at a time. They assume that it has something to do with adopting a particular religion or belief. Nothing could be further from the truth. Meditation and mindfulness basically mean being present wherever you are and not letting your mind wander. In other words, focusing!

In the last several years I have read many books and articles on topics like the ability to focus and how to be more productive and happy – The crazy thing is that every author researching these topics has mentioned meditation and mindfulness. You cannot be focused, you cannot be productive, and it turns out that you cannot even be happy if you do not learn to pay attention to where you are and what you are doing.

How to practice mindfulness? The best-seller author Tich Naht Han talks about brushing your teeth as a chance to focus on the ritual of brushing. Washing the dishes is a chance for you to be present and focus on the dishes – rather than basically ignoring the washing or brushing as your mind races everywhere (this is what we normally do)!

Mindfulness really just means that you are paying attention to where you are and what you are doing (yes, it does sound a little like Yoda from Star Wars). So if you are walking your dog that is what you are focused on, not the things at work you failed to complete today. And if you are at work then give your full attention there and do not worry about the fact that you need to walk the dog later!

“Meditation” simply means that you are taking mindfulness to another level. You are focusing on one thing and noticing when your mind wanders. It is a simple as that. You can meditate on the sunset and really notice the colors as they change. You can meditate on a song and really hear the notes. And as mentioned above you can meditate on your toothbrush or your dish scrubber, too.

One of the most common meditations is to sit quietly in a comfortable chair (or walk slowly if you prefer a walking meditation) and focus on your breathing. Simply say “IN” as you breathe in and “OUT” as you exhale. Do not try to prevent yourself from thinking about other things. Just notice when your mind does wander and bring it back to the breath again. So you are sitting in a chair and softly saying “IN” and “OUT” and suddenly a thought comes into your mind “I should be studying for the GMAT!” Just notice the thought and bring your focus back to the breathing. Then a thought pops up “I am wasting my time sitting here” again just acknowledge it and bring your attention back the breathing. Do this for just 5 minutes and believe it or not you will probably have better focus throughout the rest of the day.

In her ground-breaking work “The Willpower Instinct” Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D. writes of a student who had LOTS of trouble focusing. He was concerned that meditation would be impossible for him – this is because he thought that meditation required an empty mind for long periods of time. His meditation was really bad! He was constantly having thoughts pop up and had to keep bringing himself back to the breathing. He felt like he was “failing” at meditation!

Yet this student found that just 5 minutes of what anyone would consider very bad meditation had great results for him. The rest of the day he was much more focused. You can try five minutes of meditating each day right? Maybe first thing in the morning?

The scientific research shows the impacts that small amounts of meditation actually have on the brain. From “The Willpower Instinct” (page 25)

• Just 3 total hours of meditation (so 5 minutes a day for 6 weeks) led to scientifically significant improvements in attention and self-control!
• Just 8 weeks of daily meditation led to increased self-awareness and increased gray matter in the areas of the brain that control your ability to focus.
• Just 11 hours total of meditation led to changes in the brain that were visible on brain scans.
• Meditation actually increases blood-flow to the areas of the brain that help us to focus and to have self-control!

And one more thing – your happiness depends on your ability to focus on what you are doing! A recent study by Harvard psychologists found that a wandering mind was correlated with unhappiness. In fact, the actual activity that a person was doing had less impact on their level of happiness than did their focus (or lack of focus) on the current activity. Lack of focus seems to lead to lack of contentment. (Source Harvard Gazette)

So you can actually be very content studying the GMAT, if you can just cultivate your ability to focus on it!

Plan on taking the GMAT soon?  We have GMAT prep courses starting all the time. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

David Newland has been teaching for Veritas Prep since 2006, and he won the Veritas Prep Instructor of the Year award in 2008. Students’ friends often call in asking when he will be teaching next because he really is a Veritas Prep and a GMAT rock star! Read more of his articles here.

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.

Why would this be? (Rhetorical question) The passage may discuss many different facets, but each question is typically about one specific thing. As such, you don’t need to know everything; you only need to know about the information being asked in the problem. Better than that, the questions on Reading Comprehension passages can be categorized into four broad categories. This means that you can prepare for any question that could be posed, even if you haven’t read a word of the passage yet (like book reports in high school).

Today I’d like to delve deeper into one of the question types: Function questions. Function questions, like an inquisitive toddler, seek only to ask “why”. Why would the author say this? Why would this issue be mentioned? Why would the author use that specific word? The question is more interested in asking you “why” than in asking you “what”. In these instances, we must determine why something was mentioned, be it a word or a sentence, and what function it served in the passage.

The first strategy on these questions is always to read the surrounding sentences. The context often provides the framework for the passage or word in question, and helps explain it in a larger sense. The most important words will be contained in the sentence before or after what you’re being asked to evaluate, but the entire paragraph may be relevant to the issue. We expand our search in concentric circles from the epicenter and evaluate the entire context in order to ensure we capture the essence of what’s being asked.

Let’s look at an example of a function question and how to approach this type of Reading Comprehension question. As on the exam, we will begin with a passage and then the question:

Nearly all the workers of the Lowell textile mills of Massachusetts were unmarried daughters from farm families. Some of the workers were as young as ten. Since many people in the 1820s were disturbed by the idea of working females, the company provided well-kept dormitories and boarding-houses. The meals were decent and church attendance was mandatory. Compared to other factories of the time, the Lowell mills were clean and safe, and there was even a journal, The Lowell Offering, which contained poems and other material written by the workers, and which became known beyond New England. Ironically, it was at the Lowell Mills that dissatisfaction with working conditions brought about the first organization of working women.

The mills were highly mechanized, and were in fact considered a model of efficiency by others in the textile industry. The work was difficult, however, and the high level of standardization made it tedious. When wages were cut, the workers organized the Factory Girls Association. 15,000 women decided to “turn out”, or walk off the job. The Offering, meant as a pleasant creative outlet, gave the women a voice that could be heard by sympathetic people elsewhere in the country, and even in Europe. However, the ability of the women to demand changes was severely circumscribed by an inability to go for long without wages with which to support themselves and help support their families. The same limitation hampered the effectiveness of the Lowell Female Labor Reform Association (LFLRA), organized in 1844.

No specific reform can be directly attributed to the Lowell workers, but their legacy is unquestionable. The LFLRA’s founder, Sarah Bagley, became a national figure, testifying before the Massachusetts House of Representatives. When the New England Labor Reform League was formed, three of the eight board members were women. Other mill workers took note of the Lowell strikes, and were successful in getting better pay, shorter hours, and safer working conditions. Even some existing child labor laws can be traced back to efforts first set in motion by the Lowell Mill Women.

So after a lot of text (340 words), we can finally look at a function question. However, a rudimentary understanding of the passage would be helpful, so let’s can sum up some of the main elements of this text before proceeding. The passage is concerned with worker rights in 1820s at the Lowell Textile Mills, and at one point, these workers went on strike for better conditions. In the end the women who worked there couldn’t do much for themselves but their efforts led to many other workers acquiring better rights, and their legacy is unquestionable (also they may have founded LMFAO). Now that we understand the broad strokes of the passage, let’s look at the question:

The author uses the word “ironically” in the 1st paragraph to indicate that
(A) None of the people who ran the Lowell Mills expected that the workers would organize to express dissatisfaction with working conditions.
(B) The women who worked at the Lowell Mills did not realize how fortunate they were to work at such a place.
(C) It could be considered surprising that an early effort to demand better working conditions began in an environment that was especially designed to promote worker satisfaction.
(D) The people who created the working environment for the women at the Lowell Mills did not really understand what it was they needed.
(E) It was unusual for women workers of the time to organize, regardless of their work environment.

This question is asking about a specific word in the first paragraph, so we can already get a sense that correctly answering this question will hinge entirely on what we retain from the first paragraph. This would be an ideal opportunity to go back and reread the first paragraph (go ahead, I can wait). Apart from discussing how young the women were, the paragraph spends a lot of time going over the conditions of the workers. Specifically, the conditions seemed designed to assuage any fears about the workers’ condition. After several lines about how great the conditions were, and then states that “ironically, it was here that dissatisfaction with the conditions brought about a strike”

There’s a definite disconnect between extolling the features of the slave labor textile mills, and the fact that people actually revolted. The connection is that it’s ironic that a strike would begin here, of all places, as everything was designed to promote worker satisfaction. That’s our prediction, and one of the answer choices should more or less match that prediction. Looking at them one by one we can determine which answer is correct:

(A) None of the people who ran the Lowell Mills expected that the workers would organize to express dissatisfaction with working conditions.

This is close but it’s not about the organizer’s expectations, it’s about the fact that these conditions were likely better than everywhere else. Also the use of the word “none” is strong language and should raise eyebrows. What if one person expected it but nine didn’t? Would it still be valid? It wouldn’t be, which means this choice is incorrect.

(B) The women who worked at the Lowell Mills did not realize how fortunate they were to work at such a place.

How fortunate they were to be working long hours for low wages? Granted other jobs may not have been any better, but the author’s tone here is not this aggressive or patronizing. We cannot defend this choice.

(C) It could be considered surprising that an early effort to demand better working conditions began in an environment that was especially designed to promote worker satisfaction.

Bingo, this perfectly matches our prediction and will be our correct answer. We will evaluate the two others for completeness’ sake, though.

(D) The people who created the working environment for the women at the Lowell Mills did not really understand what it was they needed.

This may or may not be true, but it wouldn’t be ironic. (We could solve this issue with some sensitivity training!) This choice is incorrect.

(E) It was unusual for women workers of the time to organize, regardless of their work environment.

This is true, but again, it is not ironic. The irony is that the conditions were comparatively good, not that it was women organizing together. This choice is incorrect.

It’s important to remember that for many Reading Comprehension questions, having a full 360° understanding of the passage is not required to get the correct response. In this instance, it only took the information contained in the first paragraph to determine that the correct answer was C. Often, simply understanding a single paragraph or sentence can unlock the answer and allow you to move to the next question.

For function questions, the immediate context needs to be evaluated and then the function of the word (or paragraph) becomes apparent. I will delve into the other question types in subsequent blog posts, but for now hopefully you can practice putting the “fun” in function questions.

Plan on taking the GMAT soon? We have GMAT prep courses starting all the time. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

Ron Awad is a GMAT instructor for Veritas Prep based in Montreal, bringing you weekly advice for success on your exam.  After graduating from McGill and receiving his MBA from Concordia, Ron started teaching GMAT prep and his Veritas Prep students have given him rave reviews ever since.

# 4 Things You Control on GMAT Test Day

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.

Your anxiety is probably a result of being “at war with the present moment.” In other words, your anxiety is because you want the GMAT to already be over with the result already known. But you know that this cannot happen. You must take the test before you can get the score. This desire to skip over the actual exam and wanting to be done with the exam and know the score, this is the source of the anxiety.

If you had told yourself that you will enjoy the experience then there would be no anxiety. If you have tickets to a movie that you have been waiting to see you do not have anxiety but anticipation. You are not wanting to done with the movie, you are excited for it to begin. However, if you have major surgery scheduled, then you can understandably wish that it was already over and recovery started.

However, the GMAT is not like undergoing surgery. The only pain involved is the pain that we put on ourselves. Nothing bad is going to happen to you in that room. You are not in danger of physical harm or pain. The anxiety is based on the worry that you might not get the score that you want.

But here is the question…does it help to worry about it?

Anxiety ALWAYS comes from being focused on the result rather than the process. This is why the fans of sports teams are so much more anxious than the players! The players are focused on the process, they get to play the game and enjoy the game and influence the outcome. The fans are usually only happy if the team wins and as spectators they cannot even participate, so they are focused on the end result and that creates extreme anxiety.

It is never good in life to be focused more on the result than the process.

Here is what I would hope that you and others can say, “I will do my best on the exam and I will enjoy the challenge. I am looking forward to proving what I can do. I have no control over the result but I have 100% control over my effort, so I will focus on giving my best effort and the score will take care of itself.”

This may sound unrealistic but people do this every day in all areas: artists, athletes, writers, chefs, entrepreneurs, and others. And here is the secret – those who are focused on the process and taking care of the parts they can control are the happiest, least stressed, and yes, most successful.

So on test day YOU take care of

1) Being focused on the question in front of you at that time

2) Not getting distracted by the timer and questions about your score

3) Giving your best effort and really be there in each moment

4) Enjoying yourself!

and the COMPUTER will take care of the score. That part is not up to you.

Can you do that? If so you can have a much more enjoyable experience and the side effect will be a higher score in the end.

Plan on taking the GMAT soon?  We have GMAT prep courses starting all the time. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

David Newland has been teaching for Veritas Prep since 2006, and he won the Veritas Prep Instructor of the Year award in 2008. Students’ friends often call in asking when he will be teaching next because he really is a Veritas Prep and a GMAT rock star! Read more of his articles here.

# Understanding 1337 GMAT Logic

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.

For those unfamiliar with 1337, it is known as “leet” or “leetspeak” wherein English alphabet letters are replaced by the number that resembles them the most. It uses 1 for L, 3 for E and 7 for T, allowing the number 1337 to stand in for leet, cacographic shorthand for “elite”. (Think of it as pig Latin for the 21st Century). In essence, some people have devised a sublanguage of English that is hard to read for the average person, but very easy to understand for anyone versed in the language’s rules. The same logic can be applied on GMAT questions.

Many terms that you’ll encounter on the GMAT are commonplace in math milieus, but most GMAT students don’t spend much time in such environments. Almost all students have also learned many of the terms long ago, like quotient and decimal, but have since forgotten their definitions because they don’t use them in everyday situations. Other concepts, like Data Sufficiency, only really exist on the GMAT and are not used in the same manner in the real world. This melange of issues can sometimes make it feel like the exam is speaking a language you don’t.

The ideal situation would be to avoid encountering any new or exotic word on test day, which hopefully means you’ve seen all of them during your test preparation. Moreover, simply understanding what each individual word means isn’t enough either, the entire meaning of the sentence must be clear in order to get the correct answer. As always, practice makes perfect, so let’s look at a sample GMAT problem and put the pieces together:

If R and S are positive integers, can the fraction R/S be expressed as a decimal with only a finite number of nonzero digits?

(1)    S is a factor of 100

(2)    R is a factor of 100

(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 but neither statement is sufficient alone.

(D)   Each statement alone is sufficient to answer the question.

For many students, a question worded in this way is dreadful. The question is asking about two positive integers, R and S, and what happens if we divide one by the other. Could the resulting fraction be expressed as a decimal, and if so, would that decimal have a finite number of nonzero digits?

Let’s tackle these issues one at a time. If we divide R by S, could the fraction be written as a decimal? Yes, say the fraction were 2/3, this could be rewritten as 0.666… However this decimal would go on forever with 6’s, as opposed to the fraction 2/4 which would be rewritten as 0.500 and would stop there. The second part of this question is asking us to make this distinction: does the number continue on forever or does it have a finite number of digits after which it is completed. A number like 2/3 continues with an infinite number of 6’s, whereas 2/4 culminates in a finite number of nonzero digits.

Once you understand exactly what the question is asking for, it becomes much simpler to answer it. We can answer “no” if we find a decimal that goes on to infinity (and beyond). We can answer “yes” if the decimal ends at a specific point. We can determine a few simple examples in our heads (1/3, ½, ¾, etc) and then look at statement 1.

Statement 1 tells us that integer S (the denominator) is a factor of 100. A factor means that I can divide 100 by an integer and get another integer, so 1, 2, 4, 5, 10, 20, 25, 50 and 100 are all factors of 100. It wouldn’t take too long to test that every one of these nine numbers, as the denominator, will end in a finite point. Logically, this is because the prime factorization of 100 is 2^2 * 5^2, and therefore all the factors of 100 will be some multiples of 2’s and 5’s, both of which are finite decimals (0.5 and 0.2, respectively). Try as you might, any numerator over 2 will end in x.0 or x.5, and any numerator over 5 will end in x.0, x.2, x.4, x.6 or x.8 (next five series of X-box consoles?). Since it is impossible to get an infinite decimal with these denominators, statement 1 will be sufficient to say the decimal will definitely end.

Statement 2 tells us that integer R (the numerator) is a factor of 100. This means that R can be the same 9 options we had for statement 1 (1, 2, 4, 5, 10, 20, 25, 50 and 100), but it doesn’t provide the same amount of help as defining the denominator does. If the numerator is 1, then the denominator can be 2 (finite) or 3 (not finite) and I’d have completely different answers. For the same reason that the numerator didn’t matter in statement 1, it doesn’t matter in statement 2, either.

If statement 1 gives us a definitive answer and statement 2 can go either way, then the correct answer to this question must be answer choice A. However getting the right answer is dependent on first understanding the question being asked. Just as with any language, maximum exposure will lead to maximum comprehension and retention, even if sometimes the terms seem peculiar. Remember that if you speak the GMAT’s language on test day, you’re more likely to get a 1337 score.

Plan on taking the GMAT soon? We have GMAT prep courses starting all the time. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

Ron Awad is a GMAT instructor for Veritas Prep based in Montreal, bringing you weekly advice for success on your exam.  After graduating from McGill and receiving his MBA from Concordia, Ron started teaching GMAT prep and his Veritas Prep students have given him rave reviews ever since.

# 1 Important Rule for GMAT Sentence Correction

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.

The one “rule” I’d like to discuss in particular today is the notion that a sentence must always be in the same tense from beginning to end. This parameter is helpful and applicable in most situations, but it is in no way a restriction that can never be circumvented. In the absence of other incentives, it makes sense as a de facto plan, but it doesn’t have to be followed blindly. It’s like taking the subway to work and getting off at the station closest to your work. By default, you should get off at that station, but that doesn’t mean you can’t detour to a different station to pick up your boss’ favorite breakfast once in a while.

In a typical sentence, randomly shifting tenses doesn’t make any sense. Consider a sentence like “Ron watches Frozen on repeat and liked it when Elsa sings” (#Frozen). This sentence doesn’t make sense because it jumps from the present tense of watching the movie to the past tense for liking and then back to the presence for the singing. This sentence would have to be “Ron watches Frozen on repeat and likes it when Elsa sings” or “Ron watched Frozen on repeat and liked it when Elsa sang”. Either alternative provides a cohesive sentence that illustrates Ron’s adulation for animated movies.

However not all sentences are tied to the default structure of always maintaining the same verb tense. The meaning of the sentence will dictate the verb tense, so meaning must always be considered when considering possible answer choices in sentence correction. A sentence could read: “Ron beams with pride when he recalls how Frozen won best animated song at the Oscars”. The sentence discusses Ron’s present pride when thinking back to an event that happened in the past, so the fact that the third verb is in the past makes sense with the meaning of the sentence. The pride actively comes whenever he recalls the one specific moment in the past (performed memorably by Adele Dazeem).

Let’s look at an example of how varying verb tenses shouldn’t slow us down on an actual GMAT problem:

Attempts to standardize healthcare, an important issue to both state and national officials, has not eliminated the difference in the quality of care existing between upper and lower income families.

(A) Has not eliminated the difference in the quality of care existing
(B) Has not been making a difference eliminating the quality of care that exists
(C) Has not made an elimination in the quality of care that exists
(D) Have not eliminated the difference in the quality of care that exists
(E) Have not been making a difference eliminating the quality of care existing

This sentence has more issues than simply verb tense, as we can quickly identify a 3-2 split between has and have in the first word. Simply being able to determine which of these elements is correct will eliminate at least two choices, so it’s the first decision point we should tackle.

The modifier “…an important issue…” can be ignored for the purposes of identifying the subject in this sentence. Thus the sentence essentially reads “Attempts to standardize healthcare has not eliminated…” which highlights the fact that “Attempts” is the subject, and thus the verb should be plural instead of singular. This means that answer choices A, B and C can all be eliminated. The correct answer must be either choice D or choice E.

Looking at answer choice D: “Attempts to standardize healthcare… have not eliminated the difference in the quality of care that exists…”we may notice the verb tense discrepancy I mentioned earlier. The sentence describes issues in the past, but then mentions their ramifications in the present. This is acceptable because the meaning of the sentence is preserved. Attempts to make changes in the past have not yet had the desired effect in the present. Many students eliminate answer choice D because of the verb tense issue, but this is not a valid reason as the sentence structure is logical. Let’s look at answer choice E and see if we can eliminate it and leave D as the last answer standing (coming to NBC this fall).

Answer choice E: “Attempts to standardize healthcare… have not been making a difference eliminating the quality of care existing” is perhaps more tempting because the verb is a participle (existing). However the meaning of this sentence changes from the original meaning, as the attempts now do not make a difference in eliminating the quality of care. This is much worse than the original intent, and can be eliminated because of the meaning alteration alone. Answer choice E is incorrect, and thus the answer must be answer choice D.

When choosing between two (or more) answer choices, it’s important to always consider the meaning of the sentence. If the meaning of the sentence is logical, then the grammar may have been purposely chosen to make you doubt the answer choice. Remember that sentences do not always need to have the same verb tense, and that the logic of the sentence will play a big role in determining whether an answer choice is acceptable. If you keep these elements in mind, you’ll start finding sentence correction much less tense.

Plan on taking the GMAT soon? We have GMAT prep courses starting all the time. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

Ron Awad is a GMAT instructor for Veritas Prep based in Montreal, bringing you weekly advice for success on your exam.  After graduating from McGill and receiving his MBA from Concordia, Ron started teaching GMAT prep and his Veritas Prep students have given him rave reviews ever since.

# How to Interpret Unfamiliar Symbols on GMAT Quant Questions

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.

If you think about mathematics, simple operations like +, -, x and ÷ all have unmistakable meanings because we’ve all been indoctrinated since elementary school to understand what they represent. If you think back to the first time you ever encountered an addition symbol, you were probably a baffled child wondering what this fantastic symbol represented. Now that you’ve undoubtedly done thousands, if not millions of additions in your life, the symbol is mundane. The GMAT gives you that rare opportunity to relive a moment of wonder and discovery by providing you with math questions that pertain to new symbols.

A typical GMAT question will involve some kind of arbitrary symbol and a definition as to what that symbol means for the next 2 minutes or so. Typical symbols used include Greek letters, regular shapes or playing card suits (no word yet on Egyptian hieroglyphics). The symbol is being used as a “house rule”, a definition that is good for the duration of one question. This strategy, however, plays into the GMAT’s overall tactic to discombobulate you and wear you down with tedium. The exam is figuratively asking you to jump through hoops for no other purpose than to jump through said hoops (alleged actual hoop jumping section scheduled for 2015).

Let’s look at a typical symbol question and how we can avoid unnecessarily taxing our brains on these types of questions:

If the operation € is defined for all x and y by the equation x € y = 2*x*y, then 3 € (4 € 5) =

(A) 80
(B) 120
(C) 160
(D) 240
(E) 360

The exam is using the € symbol to stand in for another ad hoc equation, but the fact that your brain has to process this extra information is enough to throw some students out of their comfort zone. Added to this, the question does not ask for a single execution of this operation, but rather the resolution of a nested € equation. These foreign symbols may seem daunting, but remember there’s nothing here that wouldn’t be trivial without the bloated wording.

Let’s break this question down into its component parts. The symbol € is being defined for x and y as 2*x*y, which basically means take the two numbers together and multiply them. Once you’ve finished that, double the result, and you’re done. So if I ask for 5 € 10, I’d take 5*10, which is 50, and then double it. The answer would be 100. It’s relatively simple once you translate the equation into something meaningful, so we’re set up to execute a € equation on any two variables.

Of course the equation doesn’t give us only two variables, it gives us three. It’s logical to assume that the order of operation will matter here (hint: it actually doesn’t in this case), so we should start with the nested arguments before expanding outwardly. Within the bracket is 4 € 5, which would mean we multiply 4 by 5 and then double it, yielding a total of 20 * 2, or 40. The equation now reads 3 € 40, which means we again multiply together and then double, leaving a total of 120 * 2, or 240. Answer choice D is 240, so we have reached the correct answer.

Why did I mention that the order doesn’t matter? Because this specific example uses only multiplication, which is a commutative equation, or in other words: a x b = b x a. This isn’t always the case (think division), so it’s a good habit to always execute operations in the correct order. You may remember the mnemonic PEMDAS, which reminds you that the order of operations is {Parentheses, Exponents, Multiplication, Division, Addition, Subtraction}. In this instance the results would have been the same but that’s one more trap the GMAT test makers have at their disposal.

Another potential solution involves eliminating answer choices that cannot possibly work. If we look at the arguments provided, we have 3, 4 and 5, all of which need to be multiplied together. That product yields 60, which means that the correct answer choice must be a multiple of 60. Answer choices A and C can both be eliminated based on knowing that much. Perhaps from there you can recognize that this number needs to be doubled twice, leading you once again to answer choice D. However, this type of question is not particularly easy to backsolve unless you understand what is going on with the symbols.

In conclusion, people usually fail to correctly answer these questions because they get caught up in the abstract notation. The GMAT is a test about how you think, and the goal of many questions is simply to see if you can successfully navigate unfamiliar terminology. The same question, without the layering mechanism of the € sign would be significantly easier. Similarly, adding in another argument, such as squaring the parentheses, would appear to make this question significantly higher. In both cases, the questions should be solved in the same way, understanding the result of the symbol and methodically applying it to each argument. With some preparation, you can use your ease with these questions as a sign that you’re going to do well on test day.

Plan on taking the GMAT soon? We have GMAT prep courses starting all the time. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

Ron Awad is a GMAT instructor for Veritas Prep based in Montreal, bringing you weekly advice for success on your exam.  After graduating from McGill and receiving his MBA from Concordia, Ron started teaching GMAT prep and his Veritas Prep students have given him rave reviews ever since.

# Deciding Between the 2 Remaining Answer Choices on the GMAT

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.

Students routinely report that they end up in this exact situation multiple times on test day, particularly on Critical Reasoning questions in the verbal section. Sometimes, you can predict the correct answer before perusing the answer choices, and avoid this dilemma. However, inference questions frequently ask for the best implication of the sentence, and many correct possibilities could exist. This leads to considering two answer choices as accurate, when in fact only one of them is correct.

As a simple example, a question could indicate that Ron is taller than Tom, and then ask for inferences based on this conclusion. Valid inferences that can be drawn from this situation include “Tom is shorter than Ron”, “Ron and Tom are not the same height”, and even (my personal favorite) “Ron is taller than Tom”. Indeed the exact same idea could be inferred from the conclusion because it must logically be true. More generally, multiple conclusions can all be inferred from the same statement, from the mundane to the insightful.

The one element that must always be considered is that any statement that can be inferred must be true in all situations. Oftentimes when you’re stuck selecting between two choices, one must actually be true whereas the other simply seems to be true. Our brains are trained to complete incomplete data, such as filling in missing letters in words and assuming relevant context (this is a perfet exmple). The GMAT test takers know this about human nature, so we must be careful not to fall into their clever traps and consider fringe corner situations when selecting between two tempting choices.

Let’s look at an example and see how the test makers exploit subtle differences in the answer choices:

SwiftCo recently remodeled its offices to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which requires that certain businesses make their properties accessible to those with disabilities. Contractors built ramps where stairs had been, increased the number of handicapped parking spaces in the parking lot, lowered door knobs and cabinet handles, and installed adaptive computer equipment.

Which of the following is the most likely inference based on the statements above?

(A)   SwiftCo is now in compliance with ADA requirements.

(B)   SwiftCo has at least one employee or customer who uses a wheelchair.

(C)   Prior to the renovation, some doors and cabinets may have been out of reach for some employees.

(D)   The costs of renovation were less than what SwiftCo would have been liable for had it been sued for ADA violations.

The situation (not the abs guy from Jersey Shore) above describes a recent remodel to the SwiftCo offices in order for them to comply with ADA regulations. The changes are described in some detail, from ramps to parking spots to door knobs. The question then asks us about which statement below is the most likely inference, which really means which of these must be true whereas the other four don’t have to be. Let’s do an initial pass to eliminate obvious filler.

Answer choice A “SwiftCo is now in compliance with ADA requirements“ seems perfect. The changes were made due to ADA standards, so A seems like a great choice. Let’s keep going.

Answer choice B “SwiftCo has at least one employee or customer who uses a wheelchair” makes some semblance of sense, because otherwise why install the ramps? However this clearly doesn’t have to be true, SwiftCo can simply be acting proactively in order to comply with standards. Answer choice B does not have to be true, and can thus be rapidly eliminated.

Answer choice C “Prior to the renovation, some doors and cabinets may have been out of reach for some employees” seems like another great choice. After all, why remodel if everything was already handy. This could easily be correct as well. Let’s keep going.

Answer choice D “The costs of renovation were less than what SwiftCo would have been liable for had it been used for ADA violations” makes a completely unsupported claim. (As Harvey Specter would say: “Objection. Conjecture”.) We can quickly eliminate this unconfirmed option as it does not have to be true.

Answer choice E “Businesses without adaptive computer equipment are in violation of the ADA” makes a similar claim to answer choice D, but at least has a little bit more logic behind it. If the company is installing adaptive equipment, it might be in order to comply with ADA regulations; however it might also be another proactive practice put in place by management of their own volition. Answer choice E doesn’t have to be true, and thus can be eliminated.

And thus we’re left with two answer choices that both seem reasonable. And yet there can be only one (so says Connor MacLeod). How do we select between answers A and C? Quite simply, we must look at every possible scenario and see if each option must still hold. This can be an arduous process, but sometimes the evaluation of discarded answer choices helps to guide our approach.

In evaluating answer choice E, the issue of whether or not these changes were exactly aligned with ADA requirements came up. It’s entirely possible that adaptive computer equipment is not required by ADA guidelines; however it’s also possible that it is required. We simply don’t have enough information to make that decision with the information given. That same logic, taken in a broader context, hints that the changes made may or may not align SwiftCo with ADA regulations. Therefore, although answer choice A could be true, it does not necessarily have to be. Perhaps ADA regulations call for other changes that weren’t effectuated for whatever reason (budget, space, zombies).

Comparing with answer choice C, some doors and cabinets may have been out of reach for some employees. The phrase does not even give 100% certainty that the handles were out of reach, it merely states that it was a possibility. If the handles were lowered, it’s likely because some people couldn’t reach them, but it could also have been a practical improvement. No matter the situation, answer choice C must therefore be true.

Often when pitting two choices against each other, students report that they couldn’t find any differences and essentially flipped a coin. (Always pick Heads!) There will always be a difference between two answer choices, and the trick is to determine in which situations the two options actually differ. One will always work, whereas the other one will have one or two corner cases in which it doesn’t hold. If you master the art of correctly separating the last two options, your coin flip becomes a much more attractive proposition. Heads I win. Tails the GMAT loses.

Plan on taking the GMAT soon? We have GMAT prep courses starting all the time. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

Ron Awad is a GMAT instructor for Veritas Prep based in Montreal, bringing you weekly advice for success on your exam.  After graduating from McGill and receiving his MBA from Concordia, Ron started teaching GMAT prep and his Veritas Prep students have given him rave reviews ever since.

# How to Correctly Solve Vague GMAT Questions

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.

What do I mean by vague? I do not mean that two possible answers could both be the correct answer to the query. Such divergence would be unfair in a multiple choice exam where only one answer can be defensible. What happens on the exam is that a question is asked, but deciphering what that actually means is a task unto itself.

Let’s look at a simple example. If a question asks: “X is twice as big as Y. Y is 5. What is X?”, then it would be considered painfully simple. Y is known to be 5, X is double that, so the answer is 10 (don’t forget to carry the 1). If the exact same question were phrased as “John has two pineapples for every pineapple that Mary has. Mary counted the number of pineapples she had, and the number was the smallest prime factor of 35. How many pineapples does John have?” This question essentially asks for the same result, but the wording is so convoluted that many people get lost in it and don’t reach the correct answer.

While you likely won’t get a question like the above example (unless you’re scoring in the low 200s), every convoluted question can be broken down to a similar simple problem. The simplification won’t always be easy, but the tricks utilized on the GMAT to make questions long-winded repeat over and over again. Hopefully, if you’ve seen a few of them during your preparation, you’re more likely to know how to translate the GMATese™ (Patent Pending) and get the right answer on test day.

Let’s look at a typical vague question on the GMAT:

A group of candidates for two analyst positions consists of six people. If one-third of the candidates are disqualified and three new candidates are recruited to replace them, the number of ways in which the two job offers can be allocated will:

(A)   Drop by 40%

(B)   Remain unchanged

(C)   Increase by 20%

(D)   Increase by 40%

(E)    Increase by 60%

After reading such a question, you may still not be sure what to do, but you can start piecing together the issue at hand. There are six people interviewing for two jobs, but then some will drop out and others will join, and the overall impact must be gauged. The answer choices seem to offer various increases and decreases, so the answer must be in terms of the adjustment of job offer possibilities. This makes the question seem like a combinatorics or probability question.

Looking at the information provided, we have six applicants for two positions, and then one-third of them are disqualified. This leaves us with four finalists for the two jobs (like musical chairs), but before a decision is rendered, three more applicants join. There are now seven candidates for the two jobs, yielding a net change of one new contender. From 6 to 7 people, the change would be 1/6 of the old total, or 16.7%. This is closest to answer choice C, but there is no direct match among the answer choices. Since the GMAT doesn’t provide horseshoe answer choices (unless approximation is specified), this is our first hint that we may need to dig deeper in our approach.

The questions specifically asks about “the number of ways in which the two job offers can be allocated”, which should hopefully make you realize that the question is ultimately about permutations. In the initial setup, two positions are available for six candidates, meaning we can calculate the number of possible outcomes.

The only decision we have to make is about the order mattering, and since it’s not indicated anywhere that the jobs are identical, it’s reasonable to assume we can differentiate between job 1 and job 2. Let’s say that the first job is a senior position and the second is a junior position, how many ways can we fill these openings? Anyone can take the first position, so that gives us 6 possibilities, and then anyone of the remaining choices can fill the second position, yielding another 5 possibilities. Since any of these can be combined, we get 6*5 or 30 choices. Using the permutation formula of N!/(N-K)! yields 6! /4! which is still 6*5 or 30, confirming our answer.

If there were 30 possibilities at first, the addition of a new candidate will undoubtedly increase the number of possibilities, so we can consider answer choices A and B eliminated. After the increase, we can essentially make the same calculations for 7 candidates and 2 jobs, giving us 7*6 or 42 choices. We used to have 30 choices and now we have 42, so that works out to 12 new choices out of the original 30, equivalent to a 40% increase.  Answer choice D is a 40% increase, and thus exactly the correct answer.

Some of you may be asking about the assumption I made about order mattering a few paragraphs back. “Ron, Ron”, you ask, “what happens if we assume that the order doesn’t matter?” Let’s run the calculations to see. If the order doesn’t matter and we’re dealing with a combination, then we have 6 candidates for 2 positions, we will get N! / K! (N-K)! which is 6! / 2! * 4! Simplifying to 6*5 / 2 gives us 15 options instead of the previous 30. Really, these are the same options but now we divide by two because the order no longer matters (i.e. AB and BA are equivalent). The updated scenario will have 7! / 2! * 5!, which becomes 42 / 2 or 21. This is exactly half the previous number again. The delta from 15 to 21 is 6, again 40% of the initial sum of 15. Since we’re dealing with percentages, both combinations and permutations will be completely equivalent. (Ain’t math grand?)

Regardless of minor assumptions made while solving this problem, the solution will always be the same. Indeed, the hardest part of solving the problem is often determining what is being asked. Remember that there can only be one answer to the problem, and that the answer choices can help steer you in the right direction. If you know what you’re looking for, the questions on the GMAT may be somewhat vague, but your goal will be crystal clear.

Plan on taking the GMAT soon? We have GMAT prep courses starting all the time. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

Ron Awad is a GMAT instructor for Veritas Prep based in Montreal, bringing you weekly advice for success on your exam.  After graduating from McGill and receiving his MBA from Concordia, Ron started teaching GMAT prep and his Veritas Prep students have given him rave reviews ever since.

# How Well Would Mark Twain Do on the GMAT?

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.

The GMAT was first administered in 1953, and roughly 250,000 students take this exam on a yearly basis. Every year, I see students studying for the exam, hoping that a good grade gets them accepted to the business school of their choice. However, I believe one person who would have fared well on the test died about 40 years before the first exam was even introduced. I’m referring to noted American author Mark Twain.

Mark Twain is often referred to as the father of American literature, but his off colour remarks made him something of a celebrity in the 19th Century. He was known for quotes that could be construed as inconsiderate, but often were just humorous observations on everyday minutiae (like a historical Seinfeld). As a renowned author, he undoubtedly could have excelled at the verbal section of the GMAT by noticing little details that others could overlook.

As this blog is nothing if not introspective, let’s look at a sentence correction problem about Mark Twain, and solve it in the way Twain likely would (Inception).

A letter by Mark Twain, written in the same year as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn were published, reveals that Twain provided financial assistance to one of the first Black students at Yale Law School.

(A)   A letter by Mark Twain, written in the same year as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn were published,

(B)   A letter by Mark Twain, written in the same year of publication as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,

(C)   A letter by Mark Twain, written in the same year that The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was published,

(D)   Mark Twain wrote a letter in the same year as he published The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn that

(E)    Mark Twain wrote a letter in the same year of publication as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn that

An astute observer such as Mark Twain would first notice that there is a clear 3-2 split between answer choices that begin with “A letter by Mark Twain” and “Mark Twain wrote a letter…” It is possible that either turn of phrase could be correct, but it is more likely that we can eliminate one selection entirely because it does not flow properly with the rest of the sentence.

The original sentence (answer choice A) postulates that a letter by Mark Twain reveals that he provided financial assistance to an aspiring young law student many years ago. This phrase makes logical sense and does not have to be automatically discarded. The other options begin with “Mark Twain wrote a letter that reveals that Twain provided financial assistance…” Even without the redundancy of “that reveals that”, the timeline of this sentence does not work properly. If Mark Twain wrote a letter in the past, then the letter would have “revealed” the information, and would have needed to have been conjugated in the past. An author like Twain would eliminate answers D and E as the timeline construction does not make sense.

With only three options remaining, Twain would examine the differences between answer choices A, B and C more closely. The only real difference between answer choices A and C is the verb agreement of the publication of the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Answer choice proposes that the verb be plural, while answer choice C contains the singular conjugation of the verb. While “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” sounds plural, it is actually the title of a single book and therefore must be treated as a singular noun. Answer choice A can thus be eliminated because of the agreement error.

Having narrowed the quest down to only two choices, Twain would likely contrast the two choices again and note the construction of answer choice B is faulty.  If we follow the logic: “A letter by Mark Twain, written in the same year of publication as Huck Finn…” doesn’t make any sense. Grammatically, the letter is supposed to have been written in the same year that the novel was published, yet the grammar indicates that both the letter and novel were published in the same year. This change in meaning eliminates answer choice B, and leaves only answer choice C as the correct option.

Eliminating incorrect answer choices is the name of the game in Sentence Correction, and a shrewd reader can easily differentiate between turns of phrase that are acceptable and garbled prose that doesn’t mean anything. Remember that only one answer choice can be correct, so you must eliminate incorrect answer choices by any means you have available to you. It’s fine to think of yourself as a 19th Century author and begin to decimate the given answer choices. Just because most people don’t think of themselves as Cosplayers during the GMAT (they just can’t pull off the elaborate costumes), that doesn’t mean you can’t use your imagination to your advantage. To quote Twain: “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect”.

Plan on taking the GMAT soon? We have GMAT prep courses starting all the time. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

Ron Awad is a GMAT instructor for Veritas Prep based in Montreal, bringing you weekly advice for success on your exam.  After graduating from McGill and receiving his MBA from Concordia, Ron started teaching GMAT prep and his Veritas Prep students have given him rave reviews ever since.

# How to Free Yourself from Calculator Math

There are few things more alluring than shortcuts. Oftentimes we’re aware of how much work, effort or time is required to accomplish a task, but we naturally gravitate towards something that can accomplish that task faster. From buying readymade rice to taking elevators to go up two floors, we’re drawn to things that make our lives even a modicum simpler (including dictionaries). This is why so many people are disappointed when they first learn that the calculator is not allowed on the GMAT.

From the time we’re in elementary school, we’re encouraged to use our calculators to solve even the most mundane equations. If John is buying six dozen eggs, how many total eggs is John buying? Many people instinctively reach for their calculators, even if they can do the simple multiplication in their heads. Calculators provide safety and accuracy. The little machine says that the answer is 72; I won’t even bother double checking the result manually because I know the machine won’t make a mistake. This is even more prevalent as the math involved gets harder (a dozen dozen eggs?). Indeed the lure of the calculator is very strong.

Why does the GMAT not allow for calculators on the exam? Quite simply, the exam is trying to test how you think, not how quickly you can type on a calculator. This allows for questions to include relatively simple math that you must solve manually, or for rather difficult math that you must understand in order to reach a conclusion. Both types of questions show up on the exam, but the answer choices always provide some sort of hint as to what to do, since the correct answer must be among the five choices given.

Let’s look at two simple interest rate questions to highlight the methods we can free ourselves of our calculator addiction:

Marc deposited \$8,000 to open a new savings account that earned five percent annual interest, compounded semi-annually. If there were no other transactions in the account, what the amount of money in Marc’s account one year after the account was opened?

(A)   8,200

(B)   8,205

(C)   8,400

(D)   8,405

(E)    8,500

Many students (especially those in finance) immediately recognize this as a compound interest problem, which can be solved effortlessly with a financial calculator. You only have to plug in the term, the interest rate, the principal and the rate of compounding, and the calculator will spit out the correct output in a matter of seconds. However, the underlying concept is what the GMAT is really testing. The authors of this question want to ensure you comprehend how to make the calculations, so the question is asking about only one year.

In this case, we can easily calculate the amount without a calculator. We have 8,000\$ making 5% annually, which translates to 400\$ in one year. Thus, if the interest were compounded annually, the answer would be 8,400\$. If we don’t notice that the interest is compounded more frequently than that (or we don’t understand what that entails), then we might pick answer choice C and move on. However, that would be incorrect because the question indicates that the interest is compounded twice a year.

If the interest is compounded twice a year, that means that after 6 months you make 2.5% of the 8,000\$, or half of the 400\$ we’d previously calculated. If you’re trying to calculate 2.5%, it’s easiest to take 10% and then divide it by four. Multiplying by fractions can be tedious without a calculator, but GMAT questions are set up in such a way that the answers are almost always integers. You just have to determine the best way of getting to that integer without getting bogged down in tedious math.

Whichever method you used, you should have 8,200\$ after 6 months. After another 6 months, you need to calculate another 2.5% on 8,200\$. The simplest way to do this is to recognize that the 8,000\$ will still yield 200\$, and only the extra 200\$ must be adjusted for. Since we need ¼ of 10%, that’s ¼ of 20\$ or exactly 5\$. The interest accrued in the second semester will be 205\$ instead of simply \$200 (#winning), making the total for the year 405\$. The correct selection is thus answer choice D.

However, we don’t even need to get this precise on most GMAT questions. Look at the answer choices again. Once we’ve determined that we need slightly more than 400\$ in interest because of the compounding, the only answer choice that makes any sense is D. Oftentimes the simple fact that the answer must be slightly higher or lower than a known benchmark eliminates all answer choices except for one. The complete calculations can be accomplished, but a rough estimate will work in 99% of cases.

Let’s look at a similar question where the estimation is our best approach:

Michelle deposited a certain sum of money in a savings account on July 1st, 2012. She earns an 8% annual interest compounded semi-annually. The sum of money in the account on January 1st, 2015 will be approximately what percent of the initial deposit?

(A)   117%

(B)   120%

(C)   121%

(D)   135%

(E)    140%

In this case estimation is the best approach because the answer choices are far apart. If Michelle is earning 8% per year compounded semi-annually, then every six months she’s making about 4%, which over 30 months is 20%. Answer choice B is thus close but ultimately too low for the compounding interest. It must be ever so slightly higher than that, which leads us inexorably to answer choice C. We need a little more than 120%, but there’s no way we can get to 135%. The answer must be C, and we don’t really need to do any verification to know that this is the correct answer (you can do the math and get to 121.67% if you’d like).

While the calculator is an ever-present tool in the real world, the GMAT remains a test designed to test how you think. The shortcuts and instruments you use in everyday life should only serve to accelerate your calculations, not replace the thought processes that allow you make calculations. Remember that if everything you do can be replaced by a calculator (or spreadsheet or abacus), then sooner or later you might be too.

Plan on taking the GMAT soon? We have GMAT prep courses starting all the time. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

Ron Awad is a GMAT instructor for Veritas Prep based in Montreal, bringing you weekly advice for success on your exam.  After graduating from McGill and receiving his MBA from Concordia, Ron started teaching GMAT prep and his Veritas Prep students have given him rave reviews ever since.

# Common Errors to Avoid on Sentence Correction GMAT Questions

There are many famous expressions in the English language. Many of them are clever turns of phrase that refer to commonplace ideas and concepts in everyday life. You obviously don’t need to memorize these for the GMAT (A house divided against itself is not an integer), however some expressions can be easily applied to various GMAT problems. One common expression is that you’re comparing apples and oranges. This expression typically means that you are attempting to compare two elements that are not analogous and therefore incomparable. This idiom can be particularly apt in sentence correction problems.

When looking over Sentence Correction questions, there are common errors that appear over and over as potential gaffes that must be avoided in the correct answer. One such error is that of the false comparison, where the author erroneously compares one thing to another of a different type. Consider the frequently misused example of “The Yankees’ record is more impressive than the Mets.” Without adding a possessive determiner (Mets‘) at the end of the sentence, we are comparing the Yankees’ record with the actual Mets team. This is clearly an illogical comparison, yet one that often goes unnoticed.

Some questions will contain more than a simple comparison issue, and the other rules of English grammar we know must also be followed, but comparison issues tend to disproportionally mess students up. These errors frequently occur in daily life without anyone batting an eyelash (well, except for those studying for the GMAT), so they’re often difficult to spot.

Let’s look at an example that highlights this issue:

Unlike the terms served by Grover Cleveland, separated by four years, all former two-term U.S. Presidents have served consecutive terms.

(A)   Unlike the terms served by Grover Cleveland, separated by four years

(B)   Besides the terms of Grover Cleveland that were separated by four years

(C)   Except for Grover Cleveland, whose terms were separated by four years

(D)   Aside from the terms of Grover Cleveland that were separated by four years

(E)    Other than the separated terms of Grover Cleveland, of four years

Many amateur historians will stop to consider the accuracy of the subject matter (feel free to check “the Google”), but more astute GMAT students will quickly recognize that the original sentence contains a comparison trigger word. The word “unlike” typically signals that we’ll be comparing two or more elements; however these elements may or may not be congruent. If they are not comparable, we’ll be dealing with a glaring comparison error. This may not be the only error we have to sort through, but it’s undeniably a good place to begin our analysis.

The sentence begins by comparing the terms of the 22nd (and 24th) U.S. president to the other 11 presidents who have served two presidential terms. This connection should immediately seem incorrect, as presidential terms and people are not interchangeable. The underlined portion will thus need to be changed as the second half of the comparison is not underlined and therefore must remain untouched. Answer choice A can be eliminated because of this comparison mistake.

Looking through the other choices, answer choice B changes a couple of words in the answer choice, but still starts by comparing terms to humans. It can therefore be eliminated. Answer choice C changes the wording to begin with “Except for Grover Cleveland, whose terms…”, which changes the comparison to one person versus other people. This comparison is logical and acceptable, and the rest of the sentence seems fine as well. We can eliminate answer choices A and B so far, but not answer choice C. Let’s look at the two remaining choices before we look for another error.

Answer choice D again tries to compare terms to a person, which can easily be eliminated. Answer choice E makes the same mistake, and this sentence makes more mistakes as we read through all of it, however one strike is all you get on the GMAT. Only answer choice C correctly compares the 24th (and 22nd) U.S. president to the other presidents. Answer choices A, B, D and E are all eliminated because of the same comparison error, and choice C must be the correct answer.

Sentence Correction on the GMAT is full of questions like this, where one issue will get you to the correct answer, but if you don’t see it, you’ll spend time dissecting slight meaning differences between synonyms. If you don’t recognize the comparison error, you might think that this question is asking you to choose between “Aside” and “Unlike” in a sentence, which is a fool’s errand. Recognizing the common errors that pop up on the GMAT helps both your success rate and your pace, helping build confidence. Best of all, it ensures you’re comparing apples with apples.

Plan on taking the GMAT soon? We have GMAT prep courses starting all the time. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

Ron Awad is a GMAT instructor for Veritas Prep based in Montreal, bringing you weekly advice for success on your exam.  After graduating from McGill and receiving his MBA from Concordia, Ron started teaching GMAT prep and his Veritas Prep students have given him rave reviews ever since.

# Laughter is the Best Medicine When You’re Agonizing Over the GMAT

Steven Wright is a comedian known for his deadpan delivery, and, it turns out, has a lot to say – in his dry, paraprosdokian way – about the logic of the GMAT.  Never ones to let insight go to waste, we can (somewhat, perhaps) better understand the GMAT with his Wit and Wisdom:

Suddenly the chances of scoring in a top percentile don’t seem so bad.

If it comes to this … at least we won’t panic.

I knew 10 easy questions in a row seemed too good to be true…

So that’s where they’re hiding it.

What can we infer here?  Not all, but at least Some.

And, the GMAT is a better choice than the LSAT, perhaps. Better take plenty of practice tests.

And, thanks to GMAC’s new score-cancellation policy…. You mean I can now cancel my score after seeing it?

Those who struggle with the GMAT often fall into two camps – those who take it too seriously and those who don’t take it seriously enough – each a kind of evil.  If this sounds like you, take another tip from Mr. Wright: “if you must choose between two evils, pick the one you’ve never tried before.”

So remember these bits of wit, as unconventional as they seem, when studying for your GMAT.  Though they sound like cynical one-liners and wry observations, ironically they speak to a set of truths.  Truths that can work in your favor come game day.  Not that you should take them too seriously.

Planning to take the GMAT soon? We have online GMAT prep courses starting all the time! And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter to better learn how to Think Like the Testmaker!

Joseph Dise has been teaching GMAT preparation for Veritas Prep for the last 6 years in Paris, New Brunswick, and New York City.

# How to Understand Your GMAT Practice Test Results and Score Higher Next Time

Panic starts to creep in.

“How could this have happened? I was doing so well!”, you think. “What do I do now?”

A bad practice test can happen to anyone. In isolation, it’s certainly not the end of the world, but you should use the result to diagnose what went wrong and how to fix it moving forward. There are several potential causes worth considering. Let’s look at a few:

1. Mental/Physical

In many respects, the GMAT is as much a psychological exam as a content exam. Your mental state going into the test can set you up for success or failure.

Were you fatigued or stressed before the exam started? If so, your ability to pick up on subtle clues and notice testmaker tricks and traps was likely not at its usual level. Even if you felt fine to start the test, you may have “hit the wall” midway through the test. Many students have performed normally through the first part of the test, only to run out of gas towards the end of the quant section or in the verbal section.

If this is you, consider how you can improve your pre-test condition. Are you sleeping and eating well?  Are work and other responsibilities taking a toll? Obviously, quitting your job to study for the GMAT is not a winning proposition, but recognize that there may be situations in which taking a practice test is counterproductive. If you don’t feel great when you’re about to start the test, push it back by a day or two.

2. Technical

GMAT writers are masterful at asking the same question in multiple ways. You may know how to handle a question when asked one way, but when the test asks you to solve in a different way, you’re not as comfortable.

Thanks to the adaptive nature of the exam, you can see a practice test where specific question types (such as exponents or weighted average) are asked in a way that fits what you’re good at, and you do well on them. Conversely, you may see the same concepts asked in a way that exploits your conceptual weaknesses, and you struggle more than expected.

If this is you, consider what gave you trouble. If you notice that your understanding of triangles or ratios isn’t as thorough as you thought, you now know what to address to improve going forward.  Having a strong grasp of multiple approaches will make you more prepared to handle a question type, regardless of how it is set up.

3. Tactical

Even if your conceptual knowledge is strong, it’s still possible to run into issues with test strategy. Allow stubbornness to creep in on a few early questions, and your pacing may be off for the rest of the section. If you get away from your standard approach for a specific question type (such as Data Sufficiency or Sentence Correction), you may open yourself up to errors you wouldn’t make on homework questions.

If this is you, review your overall approach to the exam. How are you keeping track of pacing? If this is a consistent struggle, find a way to make sure you stay on track. Can you get better at letting go of questions that got away from you? Work on recognizing when to make a guess and move on to save time for questions you can get right. Are you finding ways to answer questions more easily or quickly?  When you review practice problems, look for clues in the question and answers that could’ve led to a more efficient solution.

A bad result is a perfect opportunity for self reflection. You have time to come up with a plan of attack, and with this new information you can tailor your approach to the areas that need improvement. After all, it’s much better to have your weaknesses exposed by a practice test than the real thing!

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 Bill Robinson

A common mantra heard when studying for the GMAT is that you have to be fast when answering questions. This is absolutely true, as the exam is testing not only your reasoning skills but also your time management skills. This does not, however, necessarily mean that you must solve every question quickly. Indeed, there may be times where you feel fairly confident in the answer choice you’ve selected, but you don’t feel 100% certain (maybe a strong 60%). In these situations, it’s perfectly acceptable to double check your answer manually.

Needless to say, having a sound understanding of the theory and logic of a question is ideal. Completely understanding the possibilities, rules and potential traps of a certain topic regularly leads you to select the correct answer choice. However, it is almost inevitable that a topic, notion or concept will come up that you don’t fully comprehend (or comprehend at all). In that case, it’s often best to try and determine a logical answer and double check it with some manual verification.

Obviously, if an answer asks you to sum all the integers from 1 to 150, you hopefully have a better strategy than simple brute force. Solving such a question without a calculator in less than 2 minutes is a fool’s errand. If you begin adding 1 to 2 to 3 to 4, you know you’re in trouble (unless you’re 5½ years old). Nonetheless, many questions can be solved via brute force within the given time constraints, if only with the help of a little bit of logic to narrow down the answer choices.

Let’s look at a Data Sufficiency problem that highlights these issues:

If P and Q represent the hundreds and tens digits, respectively, in the four-digit number x=8PQ2, is x divisible by 8?
(1) P = 4
(2) Q = 0

(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 but neither statement is sufficient alone.
(D) Each statement alone is sufficient to answer the question.

This is a fairly straight forward divisibility question asking about whether a certain number is divisible by 8. However, there is one caveat: two of the digits can change. This question allows for different tens and hundreds digits, and this oscillation allows for no fewer than 100 distinct options to consider for divisibility. A brute force approach would take far too long, so we need to undertake a logical approach to a divisibility rule that is often overlooked because it is uncommon (as opposed to mythic rare).

To be divisible by 8, the rule you might know is that the last 3 digits must be divisible by 8. This essentially truncates anything bigger than the hundreds, and is due to the fact that 1,000 is divisible by 8, so any multiple of 1,000 can be ignored as it is necessarily also divisible by 8. Knowing this, we can ignore the “8” at the beginning of the number and concentrate on the 3-digit PQ2. Determining the divisibility of the last 3 digits isn’t too hard if those numbers are static. If they vary, though, the answer may be harder to pinpoint.

Let’s start with statement 1: P=4. If this is true, then we’ve turned the abstract question into the more straight forward determination of whether 4Q2 is divisible by 8, which really is just asking if {402, 412, 422, …, 492} are all divisible by 8. This is small enough that we can brute force it, especially if we recognize that 400 is divisible by 8 (the quotient would be exactly 50). 402 is then logically not divisible by 8, since it is only 2 away from a known multiple of 8. 412 is similarly not divisible by 8, and neither is 422. However, 432 is divisible by 8 (yielding a quotient of 54). This means that we have at least one value that is divisible by 8 (432) and at least one value that is not (402). Statement 1 will thus be insufficient.

Logically, this inconsistency should make sense. We are taking an even number and adding 10 to it. While 10 is not divisible by 8, multiples of 10 will be divisible by 8, and we’ll eventually cycle through a few numbers that are perfectly divisible by 8. Even if we can’t easily see this logic on test day, a strategic brute force will confirm these suspicions. There are only 10 numbers to check in the worst case, and we can stop whenever we can confidently say whether the statement is sufficient or not. This leaves only answer choices B, C and E possible.

Let us now look at statement 2: Q = 0. This ultimately means we must check the divisibility of P02, which is {102, 202, 302, …, 902}. This is not necessarily trivial, but if we check for 102, we know that 80 is divisible by 8, thus so is 88, 96 and 104. Since 102 falls in the gap between two multiples, it is not a multiple of 8. Next we can check 202, and if you recognize that 200 is a multiple of 8 (8×25), you’ll know fairly quickly that 202 is not a multiple. You can check the remaining eight choices quickly if you use your logic and start from numbers you know to be divisible by 8 (400, 600, 800). Even using this painstaking method, you can determine that all ten choices are not divisible by 8 within a minute. If none of the choices work, then we can confidently assert that this statement is sufficient to get a consistent answer of no on this question. Answer choice B is correct.

There are more logical tenets that help guide you on these types of questions, but they’re not necessarily well known. For example, any number that is divisible by 8 must also be divisible by 4, meaning that dividing by 4 can be used as an easy filter (like coloring inside the lines). Any number that ends in 02 will not be divisible by 4, no matter what the hundreds digit is. Therefore, this statement will always produce an answer of no. Even if you utilized this property and were leaning towards answer choice B, it doesn’t hurt to double check your answers manually. Often, double checking your answers can lead to double digit improvements on your GMAT score.

Plan on taking the GMAT soon? We have GMAT prep courses starting all the time. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

Ron Awad is a GMAT instructor for Veritas Prep based in Montreal, bringing you weekly advice for success on your exam.  After graduating from McGill and receiving his MBA from Concordia, Ron started teaching GMAT prep and his Veritas Prep students have given him rave reviews ever since.

# How to Approach Mimic the Reasoning GMAT Questions

The GMAT is known to be a demanding exam. Most students recognize that a lot of preparation is required in order to get the best score possible. Most students undertaking the GMAT are also used to studying for tests and have worked out their own strategies and their own methods of preparation. Indeed, people overwhelmingly study the GMAT in an orderly and structured way. This is a positive thing, but it can have its drawbacks.

Usually, order is a positive thing that gives structure to what we’re doing. Today I’m studying reading comprehension, tomorrow I will study algebra. This method allows our brains to classify different concepts and keep them neatly separated in our minds. The alternative is to have things haphazardly stored in our memories and try to recall the information as it comes up. It’s the same principle as a library. If the books are stored by alphabetical order, then it’s easy to find the book you’re looking for (say Fifty Shades of Gray), whereas a pile of books scattered on the floor may or may not contain the book you want.

However, with this order comes some level of compartmentalization, which can be problematic on compound problems. For example, if a question deals with geometry, it may also contain some elements of algebra. Typically, when you see a triangle, your brain is busy scanning through the properties it recognizes (area, isosceles rules, etc), and doesn’t bother with perfect squares or exponent rules. More difficult questions require you to combine seemingly disparate concepts and utilize them on the same question. This becomes difficult because it breaks the order we’ve neatly established and requires us to sometimes jumble information.

This phenomenon is not limited to math problems. Indeed, it shows up very frequently on “Mimic the Reasoning” questions, in which we’re asked to construct a similar argument to the one in the question stem. The problem is the logic is almost never in the same order in the answer choices as in the question stem. Let’s review one and see how we can approach these questions:

Some political observers believe that the only reason members of the state’s largest union supported Senator Hughes in his recent re-election campaign was that the union’s leaders must have been assured by Hughes that, if elected, he would stay out of their coming negotiations with the union’s national leadership, whose members have been financial backers of several close associates of Hughes. More likely, the union’s members believed that Hughes deserved to serve another term in office.

Which of the following best parallels the method of argument used by the author?

(A) The popularity of Deap, a powerful carpet cleaning system that can be used by the homeowner is, some industry observers say, due to an agreement made by a leading professional carpet cleaning company to supply Deap with the chemicals that are sold as accessories. This does not, however, fully explain the sudden popularity of the product in the last three months.

(B) After a rocky start, Shade, a new cosmetics line, is now selling briskly. The reason for the turnaround is almost certainly that Shade is now being marketed to women in their twenties, not just to teens. This has helped the product achieve a more sophisticated appeal, which has translated into greater sales in every age group.

(C) The Shakelight, a small flashlight that can be powered for several minutes by a shaking motion, has once again proven a popular gift item this holiday season. Other similar devices are available, but none has been as successful, and the reason is simple: the cost of The Shakelight has fluctuated so that it has always been at least one dollar less than that of any competitor. The manufacturers’ claim that they have a better product is nonsense.

(D) The continued success of the Daddo line of toys is due to the simple appeal that these toys have for kids between three years of age and six. Others disagree. One industry journal ascribed the brand’s popularity to a deal made with a major toy retailer guaranteeing that the retailer would carry the coming line of Daddo products exclusively for three months.

(E) As with last year, this year’s best selling foreign policy journal is World Opinion. It may be that the content in World Opinion is simply more exhaustive and better presented than that of similar publications, or it may be that the journal’s publishers have the substantial support of their parent company, which has been a good friend to bookstores and other outlets.

One of the uncontestable issues with a question like this is that it’s very long. A quick word count reveals that this question is over 400 words, but thankfully we’re skimming the answer choices looking for a match to the original argument. The passage states that there are two potential reasons for the re-election of a certain Senator, one that’s more conspiracy-oriented and one that’s more straight forward (we may want Occam’s Razor for this). We must now peruse the other answer choices looking for a similar pattern of reasoning.

Answer choice A only gives one explanation and then elaborates on how this may not actually be correct because it doesn’t explain everything. No alternative is given. The logic is not the same and therefore this choice can be eliminated.

Answer choice B similarly gives one explanation and then defends it as the only plausible choice. While this is a reasonable logic to follow, it does not mimic that of the passage.

Answer choice C is a little closer. The Shakelight is known to be a popular gift, and there is one reason given. Another possible reason is mentioned, but ignored out of hand because it is preposterous. This choice at least presents the illusion of two possibilities, even if one of them is never seriously considered. The logic is not the same as the original passage, but it is closer than the two previous choices.

Answer choice D is essentially the same logic as that of the passage. Two possible choices are given, and one is more likely than the other. Both choices are considered, even if one choice is given more credence. This is a good match to the original passage and answer choice D is the correct answer.

For completion’s sake, let’s also look at answer choice E. This logic is not that far from the original, but it is in the opposite direction from answer choice C. Two possibilities are given, but neither one is decreed to be more likely than the other. This logic is again similar to the original passage, but not exactly the same.

This question somewhat mirrors the goldilocks parable. Answer choice E postulates that either possibility could be good (too big), while answer choice C completely disregards the second option (too small). Only answer choice D (just right) correctly mirrors the logic in the original passage, albeit in a different order. It is important on the GMAT to be able to see the logic in the statements, even if it’s presented in a different order than you’re used to. The exam rewards those test takers who demonstrate mental agility and can correctly decode order from the chaos.

Plan on taking the GMAT soon? We have GMAT prep courses starting all the time. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

Ron Awad is a GMAT instructor for Veritas Prep based in Montreal, bringing you weekly advice for success on your exam.  After graduating from McGill and receiving his MBA from Concordia, Ron started teaching GMAT prep and his Veritas Prep students have given him rave reviews ever since.

# How to Do Math on the GMAT Without Actually Doing Math

On the GMAT quantitative section, the exam is testing your logic and analytical skills using mathematics as a medium. The topics used include geometry, algebra and arithmetic, all concepts that have been covered in high school curriculums around the world. However, the emphasis is really on the logic more than the math. In short, the question is simply asking you to solve a given problem by any means at your disposal. As such, many questions can be solved without doing any math whatsoever.

I often tell my students this quote: “The better you are at math, the less math you do.” This seems counter-intuitive at first. Lebron James is very good at basketball, and he plays a lot of basketball (when he’s not choosing cities to play in). It is reasonable to assume that proficiency in something makes you more likely to want to do it. However, on the GMAT, simply understanding what will happen is often enough to answer the question. The math can be used to confirm your thought, but it is not necessary and often will just slow you down.

A simple example would be to answer the question: “At a red light, there are 4 cars in 3 lanes. Is there at least one lane that has at least 2 cars?” The answer must be yes (by the pigeonhole principle, actually), because you have more cars than lanes. You don’t have to actually try the combinations to know the answer, but if you wanted to, you could imagine scenarios of the cars all in one lane, in two lanes, or in all three lanes. The math skills required to try every combination aren’t actually needed to solve a question like this, only an understanding of the permutation rules.

Despite many people swearing that the math on the GMAT is very hard, it’s often more a question of understanding than of math skills. Let’s look at an example that highlights this type of question:

Submarine A and Submarine B are equipped with sonar devices that can operate within a 3,000 yard range. Submarine A remains in place while Submarine B moves 2,400 yards south from Submarine A. Submarine B then changes course and moves due east, stopping at the maximum range of the sonar devices. In which of the following directions can Submarine B continue to move and still be within the sonar range of Submarine A?
I. North
II. South
III. West

A) I only
B) II only
C) I and II only
D) II and III only
E) I and III only

The submarines have a 3,000 yard sonar range in all directions, which essentially makes a circle around the ship. Submarine B moves a certain number of yards south and then a certain number of yards east. The question then asks which direction the sub could move in without losing contact.

This seems like a geometry question, and there are some numbers provided in this question. Let’s look through it quickly for the sake of completion, but you may have already noticed they won’t help in any meaningful way and are only there to bait you into tedious calculations. If submarine A has a circular range of 3,000 yards and submarine B moves south for 2,400 yards and then east, how far will it go east? The answer is actually a triangle inscribed within a circle, something like the figure below.

Given that submarine B ends up at the edge of the 3,000 yard range, the hypotenuse of the triangle is 3,000 yards, and the y-axis is 2,400 yards. The x-axis displacement is easy to calculate if you recognize this pattern as a glorified 3-4-5 triangle. Multiply those values by 600 and you get an 1,800-2,400-3,000 right triangle. Thus the sub moved east by exactly 1,800 yards. However, this information won’t really be helpful in answering the question as we’re being asked for directions, not distances.

The graph may help clarify the issue, but you can solve it without even using the graph either. Clearly the sub on the edge of the triangle can head back west and be within sonar range. Similarly, it can travel due north and stay within range as well. The only two directions that are not allowed are east and south. The answer must this be I and III together, which is answer choice E (also Kanye West’s daughter).

While proficiency in mathematics is helpful on the GMAT (and in life in general), it is often not a necessary skill in solving “math” questions on the exam. Remember that the main goal is to test your reasoning skills and determine whether you can correctly solve problems. Being a business student isn’t about being an expert at math, but rather using the information provided to swiftly reach the correct conclusion. Oftentimes, the better you are at math, the less math you’ll actually end up using.

Plan on taking the GMAT soon? We have GMAT prep courses starting all the time. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

Ron Awad is a GMAT instructor for Veritas Prep based in Montreal, bringing you weekly advice for success on your exam.  After graduating from McGill and receiving his MBA from Concordia, Ron started teaching GMAT prep and his Veritas Prep students have given him rave reviews ever since.

# How to Successfully Complete Your Thoughts on Critical Reasoning GMAT Questions

In today’s world of instant gratification and ubiquitous mobile phone usage, we are becoming used to things going fast. Multitasking has become the new norm, and it seems like no one takes the time to finish anything before jumping off to the next task. While this hectic pace may allow more tasks to be accomplished (although not necessarily well), it also makes it harder for any one task to be attentively completed. In short, it’s becoming harder to finish any one thought.

The GMAT is an exam that tests many different facets of understanding, and some questions are designed to test your ability to finish a thought. In Critical Reasoning, we are often asked to establish which answer choice is the correct answer to a given question. However, sometimes there is no actual question posed, but simply an unfinished thought that must be completed. The thought cannot end in multiple different ways, but rather, it must end in the only answer choice that is coherent with the rest of the passage. These questions combine elements of strengthen, weaken and inference questions and ask you to best complete the passage given.

These questions do tend to be harder than a typical Critical Reasoning question, and therefore may not show up that frequently on any one test. However, they are important to understand because they ______________

A) Build confidence

B) Underscore important concepts

C) Squirrel!!

The answer to my little trivia game was B, but you could make a case for any of the given answers. Let’s try it again with an actual GMAT question:

Environmentalists support a major phase-down of fossil fuels and substitution of favored ‘non-polluting’ energies to conserve depleting resources and protect the environment. Yet energy megatrends contradict those concerns. Fossil-fuel resources are becoming more abundant, not scarcer, and promise to continue expanding as technology improves, world markets liberalize, and investment capital expands. However, these facts do not mean a smaller role of the non-polluting sources of energy in the long run given that ______________

A) The costs of producing energy from non-polluting sources of energy have remained constant in the last five years.

B) The availability of fossil fuels does mean an increased use of the same.

C) The amount of confirmed deposits of fossil fuels is sufficient to serve the world energy needs at least over the next two centuries.

D) There is an increasing sense of acceptance across the world on the harmful effects of the use of fossil fuels on the environment.

E) Non-polluting sources of energy are less cost-effective than fossil fuels.

The correct answer must correctly finish the thought as if it were always supposed to be there. If there are any contradictions or illogical conclusions drawn, that answer choice must be incorrect. The thought began by discussing fossil fuels and how environmentalists are calling for decreasing their use. However, the worldwide trend is that their use is increasing (#FossilFuels). These facts must somehow combine to indicate that non-polluting sources of energy will still be prevalent in the future, and we must select the answer choice that supports that. Let’s examine them one by one.

Answer choice A “The costs of producing energy from non-polluting sources of energy have remained constant in the last five years” introduces cost into the equation. There was no mention of cost prior to this, so it seems illogical that cost will be a determining factor in this issue. We can safely eliminate A.

Answer choice B “The availability of fossil fuels does mean an increased use of the same” is actually a 180°. If this were true, then there would be ever more fossil fuel use, and the alternatives would be significantly reduced. Answer choice B may seem tempting, but it’s going the wrong way.

Answer choice C “The amount of confirmed deposits of fossil fuels is sufficient to serve the world energy needs at least over the next two centuries” brings up an arbitrary timeframe for the purposes of sounding grandiose. Two centuries seems like a long time, but it’s also unfounded and irrelevant to the process. What if the answer choice had been two decades instead? Or two millennia? Would that make it more or less likely to be true? The arbitrary timeframe does not have any bearing on this thought, so we must eliminate answer choice C.

Answer choice D “There is an increasing sense of acceptance across the world on the harmful effects of the use of fossil fuels on the environment” brings the argument back to the cause of the environmentalists. This harkens back to the first sentence of the passage, and logically concludes why the facts may indicate something, but the long term trend will eventually indicate something else. Answer choice D is correct.

Answer choice E “Non-polluting sources of energy are less cost-effective than fossil fuels“ can be particularly tempting, because it is actually true in real life. However, just like with answer choice A, the concept of cost is parachuted into the passage with no antecedent to build upon. This factoid may be largely true in 2014, but does that mean it will be true in 2015 or 2025? We cannot select answer choices that seem correct in real life but are unsupported in the text. Answer choice E can also be eliminated.

When it comes to finishing a thought, it is important to note that the conclusion is often the most interesting part. Even if you’re already contemplating the next element or task, ensure that you do a thorough job finishing up the previous job. No one likes to leave loose threads, and it completely undermines your conclusion when the last portion is unclear or unfinished. Above all, the most important thing is to always…

Plan on taking the GMAT soon? We have GMAT prep courses starting all the time. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

Ron Awad is a GMAT instructor for Veritas Prep based in Montreal, bringing you weekly advice for success on your exam.  After graduating from McGill and receiving his MBA from Concordia, Ron started teaching GMAT prep and his Veritas Prep students have given him rave reviews ever since.

# Find Out How Algebra Could Be Your Key to Success on the GMAT Quant Section

If you want to bring your “A Game” on the Quant section you need to be very comfortable with Algebra.

There is one mathematical discipline that dominates the Quant section of the GMAT: Algebra. The majority of the math questions that you will see on test day involve algebra.

Many questions involve pure algebra, such as expressions and equations involving variables, roots, and exponents. Another large group of questions is word problems, most of which are best addressed using algebraic equations. Geometry is another significant subject on the GMAT; and geometry is simply a delivery mechanism for algebra. Even things like ratios can often best be addressed by using equations with “x” as the multiplier.

It seems that the “A” in “A Game” really does stand for Algebra! It’s a good thing that there are topics, such as statistics, that involve real numbers instead of algebra. Yet even these questions can often best be solved using Algebra.

Here is a statistics question that can be addressed several ways. Try to solve this question using algebra.

“The average of the five numbers is 6.8. If one of the numbers is multiplied by 3, the average of the numbers increases to 9.2. Which of the five numbers is multiplied by 3?

(A)   1.5

(B)   3.0

(C)   3.9

(D)   4.0

(E)    6.0

You can do this problem in a few different ways, but perhaps the best way is Algebra!  No matter how you choose the address the question you will need to determine the magnitude of the increase. Since “sum (total) = average * # of terms” You can take the average of 6.8 times the five terms and get a beginning total of 34. The new total is 9.2 times 5 which equals 46. So the increase is 12.

In order to create an equation you need to ask yourself “what happened to cause that increase of 12?” The question stem tells you that one of the numbers was multiplied by 3. So when one of the numbers (we can call that number “x”) was multiplied by 3 the total increased by 12.

The equation formed from this information is simply “3x = x + 12.” The “3x” is because the number is multiplied by 3 and the “x + 12” is because you had the x to start with (there were five numbers right? and x was one of them) and you added 12 because of the increase to the sum.

So if “3x = x + 12” then x = 6. So the correct answer is E.

This question can be done based on knowledge of number properties and can even be done by working directly with the answer choices. However, neither of these methods is as reliable for most students as the algebra is. I have worked with the question for years and I can tell you that more people choose D than choose the correct answer. Yet very few of the people who get this wrong used algebra. Those who use algebra generally seem to get this question right.

Make sure that you are very comfortable with algebra, after all, bringing your “A Game” is essential to your success on the Quant section!

Plan on taking the GMAT soon?  We have GMAT prep courses starting all the time. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

David Newland has been teaching for Veritas Prep since 2006, and he won the Veritas Prep Instructor of the Year award in 2008. Students’ friends often call in asking when he will be teaching next because he really is a Veritas Prep and a GMAT rock star! Read more of his articles here.

# Distract Yourself During Your GMAT Studies with This Question

In life, it’s important to have a hobby or pastime that you find interesting. Sometimes, when the daily grind of work, school, family, social responsibilities, (updating Facebook) and preparing for the GMAT just seems like too much to handle, it’s good to take a step back. Diving into a hobby helps take your mind off things by pausing everything else and concentrating on something personal and somewhat intimate to you. One of my favorite diversions is watching movies and immersing myself in the fictional world created on screen. Surprisingly, this same distraction can be applicable to GMAT studying as well.

Within the confines of the GMAT, the expectations for students are well known. You will be faced with 37 math and 41 verbal questions, have to select from five multiple choice answers, and complete each section within 75 minutes. However, sometimes certain questions will set up arbitrary rules within this game. An obvious example is data sufficiency: a question type that always provides two statements and asks whether a certain question can be answered using these statements. Why are there not three statements? Or four statements? The official answer will be to standardize the questions and allow for easier preparation, but the truthful answer is something most parents have had to utter countless times: “Because I said so”.

The only reason these rules apply is because they were established by the GMAC to test logical thinking. However, other rules could have been set up and test takers would have had to adhere to them. In fact, any question can set up arbitrary rules and then require you to analyze the situation and provide insight. Within the game that is the GMAT, a sub-game is created with each new question, and some of these questions have very specific rules (GMAT Inception).

The difficulty with some of the arbitrary question-specific rules is that the situation is only applicable to the exact question, meaning that you don’t have long to acclimate to the circumstances. Usually, the question will provide rules that are indispensible to solving the query, so we must adhere to them or risk falling into a trap.

Let’s look at an example that highlights the sub-game nature of certain GMAT questions:

An exam consists of 8 true/false questions. Brian forgets to study, so he must guess blindly on each question. If any score above 70% is a passing grade, what is the probability that Brian passes?
(A) 1/16
(B) 37/256
(C) 5/32
(D) 219/256
(E) 15/16

As always, let’s begin by paraphrasing the question. A student is blindly guessing on a True/False question, and thus will likely get half the questions right by default. It is conceivable that he could get 0% or 100% as well, meaning this is likely a probability question of sorts. However it’s a probability question within a probability question. Once we have accepted the premise that this exam will take place, we can only analyze the possible results of the student taking this test (the irony of which is enormous).

Another excellent trick is to look at the answer choices for easily removable options. If Brian did not study a single line of text, then the expected value of his blind guesses is 50%. This means it is possible that he can pass this test if he gets lucky, but he is not expected to do well. As such, any probability above 50% can be eliminated. We will need to do the calculations to determine exactly which answer is correct, but we already know it cannot be D or E as they are both too high.

Picking among the next three choices, each with a different denominator and fairly close values would be tricky. Statistically speaking, this question is identical to a coin flip question, where True is Heads and False is Tails (or vice versa if you prefer). The chances of getting all 8 correct, just as 8 straight Heads, would be (½)^8 or 1/2^8 or 1/256. This would yield a result of 100% on the exam. Brian would undoubtedly be surprised by such a result, but it is possible for him to pass the test without getting every question right. Since there are 8 questions, each question is worth 1/8 of the final score or 12.5%. Thus Brian could miss 1 question and still manage an 87.5%. He could even squeak by with 2 errors, giving him a result of 75% on the test. Anything lower would put him below the failure threshold.

There are three ways to calculate the remaining options, so let’s look at a more likely scenario: the possibility of getting 7 correct answers on the test. This result could be achieved if Brian missed the first question and got the next 7 right, or missed the last question after getting the first 7 right, or any other such breakdown. Logically, you can deduce that there are 8 different spots where the error could be, and the remaining 7 spots are all correct. Thus if each combination of answers has a 1/28 possibility of occurring, we should end up with 8/28 or 23/28 (cancelling to) 20/25 or 1/32. We can also use the combination formula for selecting 7 elements out of 8 where the order doesn’t matter. The formula would be n!/k!(n-k)!, where n is the total (8) and k is the number of choices (7). This would yield 8!/1!*7!, which simplifies to 8. This means there are 8 possible choices to select 7 correct answers. The final step is to divide by the total number of possibilities, which still stands at 28. The last option is to determine the numerator with the repeating elements formula n!/t!f!, where t and f are the number of repeating True and False answers. The result will still be 8!/1!7!, so 8 possibilities out of the same 256 options.

Using the same strategies on 6 correct answers and 2 false answers, we can get 8!/2!6!, which is 8*7/2 or 28 possibilities. The denominator won’t change for any of these, so the probability of getting exactly 6 correct answers is 28/256 (a little less than 11%). While I’m on the subject, I’ll simply draw attention to the fact that picking two correct answers and six incorrect answers on a binary test such as this one will yield the same results as picking two incorrect answers and six correct answers. The nature of the exercise (and the formulas) makes it so symmetry is guaranteed. This may be helpful at some point on the GMAT or in life, so try to ensure you can shortcut some calculations in this manner.

Putting together our three results, the chances of passing this exam are 1/256 + 8/256 + 28/256. This sum gives exactly answer choice B: 37/256. Although it seems unlikely that going into an exam with absolutely no preparation could yield a 15% chance of passing, those are the rules stipulated on this question. The entire GMAT exam has fixed rules, so it’s important to know how to approach each question on the exam. Moreover, it’s also important to understand the adjunct rules on particular questions in order to correctly solve the problem. As Jigsaw would rhetorically ask in any Saw movie: “Would you like to play a game?”

Plan on taking the GMAT soon? We have GMAT prep courses starting all the time. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

Ron Awad is a GMAT instructor for Veritas Prep based in Montreal, bringing you weekly advice for success on your exam.  After graduating from McGill and receiving his MBA from Concordia, Ron started teaching GMAT prep and his Veritas Prep students have given him rave reviews ever since.

# 5 Errors to Look For in Sentence Correction Questions on the GMAT

I recently received the following question from a student. “I often get into trouble with ambiguous pronouns. If it is not clear what “they” or “it” refers to I eliminate the answer choice. I like to do this because it seems easy, but I keep getting burned using this technique. So my question is, if it is not clear what a pronoun refers to is that answer choice wrong?”

I replied to the student by discussing the Process Pyramid for Sentence Correction. Here is what the pyramid looks like.

Brevity

Clarity      Specificity

Logic                   Grammar

Logic and Grammar Come First

You can see that the bottom level – the foundation of sentence correction – is logic and grammar, (including proper comparisons and parallelism).  This is where your analysis should begin. If the answer choice has a flaw in grammar, such as subject-verb agreement or an error in logic, such as an illogical modifier then that answer choice should be eliminated.

This type of error is less subjective than something like an ambiguous modifier. That is why you should begin with logic and grammar, these errors are not a matter of judgment and the rules are easier to master. In particular students get a tremendous return on investment from mastering the rules of the common modifiers, including participial phrases, prepositions, appositives, and relative clauses.

Next Clarity and Specificity

The initial level of analysis should eliminate most answer choices based on flaws in grammar and logic. However, sometimes there will be more than one answer choice that has (or seems to have) no errors in grammar or logic. At this point you can move to clarity and specificity as a way to distinguish between answers. This is when it is appropriate to eliminate answer choices that have pronouns that are not clearly matched to antecedents.

The Official Guide for GMAT Review, 13th Edition (written by the people who make the GMAT exam) states that a correct answer should avoid being “awkward, wordy, redundant, imprecise, or unclear” and that an answer that is any of these things can be eliminated even if it is “free of grammatical errors.”  This group of secondary errors is referred to as problems with “rhetorical construction.”

The following answer choice is from question #44 of the sentence correction portion of the Official Guide 13th  Edition:

“The plot of the Bostonians centers on the active feminist, Olive Chancellor, and the rivalry with the charming and cynical cousin Basil Ransom, when they find themselves drawn to the same radiant young woman whose talent for public speaking has won her an ardent following.”

This answer choice is eliminated not for a grammatical flaw, but because it is lacks clarity and specificity. It is unclear in this particular answer choice that “Olive Chancellor is a party to the rivalry” with Basil Ransom.

Finally, Brevity

At the top of the Process Pyramid is Brevity. Most sentence correction questions do not require you to climb so high on the pyramid. It is only when two or more answers are logically and grammatically acceptable AND are each clear and specific that you need to bring brevity into the equation.  However, the Official Guide describes many answer choices as “unnecessarily wordy.” So if you do find that you have two or more answer choices that satisfy the first two levels of the process pyramid only then do you eliminate the one that is “wordy.”

Looking for an error such as an ambiguous pronoun is fine; just make sure that you do so at the proper time. Use the process pyramid to organize errors and address those errors in the proper order: Grammar and logic, clarity and specificity, and finally, brevity.

Plan on taking the GMAT soon?  We have GMAT prep courses starting all the time. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

David Newland has been teaching for Veritas Prep since 2006, and he won the Veritas Prep Instructor of the Year award in 2008. Students’ friends often call in asking when he will be teaching next because he really is a Veritas Prep and a GMAT rock star! Read more of his articles here.

One common complaint that people have when finishing the GMAT is that they are mentally exhausted. Indeed the exam is a marathon that tests your overall endurance, but also your time management skills. You have about two minutes per question in the math section, and slightly less than that on the verbal part.  Since timing is such an integral part of the exam, it’s important not to lose too much time on any specific question type on the exam. It’s perfectly natural to be more at ease with certain question types and thus process them faster than others, but you don’t want to have entire categories of questions you’re trying to avoid (or at least, not too many of them).

Last week, I discussed timing issues on a quantitative question, and many of the concepts covered are applicable to the verbal section as well. Maintaining a good pace and avoiding spending undue time on perplexing questions are fundamental elements of a good GMAT score. However, I wanted to delve further into a particular type of question that often causes timing issues on the exam. Particularly when exhausted near the end of the test, students often dread coming across protracted Reading Comprehension passages.

Reading Comprehension (or RC for friends and family) poses a unique challenge on the GMAT. Every quantitative question and every other type of verbal question is entirely self-contained. A question will ask you about something, and then the following problem will be a completely different question about a completely different topic. Reading Comprehension questions ask you three, four and even five questions about the same prompt, and the prompts can be dozens of lines. Indeed, the first question on Reading Comprehension expects you to read through the entire passage, creating an inherent timing concern. Surely you can’t be expected to read through the entire passage in 2 minutes? (You are expected to do so, and don’t call me Shirley.)

Indeed, you can read through the passage in about two minutes, but you’re unlikely to be able to both read the passage and answer the (first) question posed during that span. For RC questions, I often find the best strategy is to separate the passage from the questions. If you read the question first, you risk skewing the analysis of the passage towards the question you have in mind, so it’s best to read the passage first without reading the question on the opposite side of the screen. The goal of this initial reading is to be able to identify the main idea of each paragraph and the primary purpose of the passage as a whole. You can read the passage in about 2 minutes and then spend about 1.5 minutes on each question, yielding a total of 8 minutes for 4 questions, roughly what you’d expect to spend holistically.

Let’s try this approach on a GMAT Reading Comprehension passage. At the end of each paragraph, try to summarize the main idea in about 3-5 words. You can even write these words down if you want, but it should be sufficient to think about the ideas.

Biologists have advanced two theories to explain why schooling of fish occurs in so many fish species. Because schooling is particularly widespread among species of small fish, both theories assume that schooling offers the advantage of some protection from predators. Proponents of theory A dispute the assumption that a school of thousands of fish is highly visible. Experiments have shown that any fish can be seen, even in very clear water, only within a sphere of 200 meters in diameter. When fish are in a compact group, the spheres of visibility overlap. Thus the chance of a predator finding the school is only slightly greater than the chance of the predator finding a single fish swimming alone. Schooling is advantageous to the individual fish because a predator’s chance of finding any particular fish swimming in the school is much smaller than its chance of finding at least one of the same group of fish if the fish were dispersed throughout an area.

However, critics of theory A point out that some fish form schools even in areas where predators are abundant and thus little possibility of escaping detection exists. They argue that the school continues to be of value to its members even after detection. They advocate theory B, the “confusion effect,” which can be explained in two different ways. Sometimes, proponents argue, predators simply cannot decide which fish to attack. This indecision supposedly results from a predator’s preference for striking prey that is distinct from the rest of the school in appearance. In many schools the fish are almost identical in appearance, making it difficult for a predator to select one. The second explanation for the “confusion effect” has to do with the sensory confusion caused by a large number of prey moving around the predator. Even if the predator makes the decision to attack a particular fish, the movement of other prey in the school can be distracting. The predator’s difficulty can be compared to that of a tennis player trying to hit a tennis ball when two are approaching simultaneously.

According to one explanation of the “confusion effect,” a fish that swims in a school will have greater advantages for survival if it

(A)   tends to be visible for no more than 200 meters.

(B)   stays near either the front or the rear of a school.

(C)   is part of a small school rather than a large school.

(D)   is very similar in appearance to the other fish in the school.

(E)    is medium-sized.

This passage only has two main paragraphs, and really each one is mostly about a theory as to why fish form schools (theory C: to get business degrees). We can summarize the first paragraph as the evasion theory and the second paragraph as the confusion theory. Overall the passage is primarily concerned with differing theories as to why fish tend to regroup in many disparate situations.

Looking over the question, it is specifically concerned with the “confusion effect”, which was theory B in the second paragraph. We can now focus our attention on the second paragraph to answer the question about survival. Rereading the passage, nothing was mentioned about the front or back of a school, as well as the size of the school, which eliminates answer choices B and C. Answer choice E similarly makes decisions based on the size of the fish, which was only discussed in terms of small fish. We can fairly quickly eliminate this choice as being a medium sized fish was never even mentioned.

Only answer choices A and D remain. Answer choice A is mentioned in the general sense for all fish in schools, and so would be a dubious choice as a great advantage since it applies to all fish in a given school. This is equivalent to saying we should promote Bob because he breathes oxygen. Answer choice D offers a logical choice, which is almost verbatim in the middle of the second paragraph “In many schools the fish are almost identical in appearance, making it difficult for a predator to select one.” This answer lines up with the text and we’ve eliminated the other four choices, making D an easy selection (also possibly recalling memorable moments from Disney’s Finding Nemo).

The questions on Reading Comprehension tend to be somewhat less tricky than the other verbal sections (Sentence Correction and Critical Reasoning). This difference is somewhat due to the fact that reading through passages takes time and inherently contributes to the difficulty of the question. The trouble isn’t just finding the right answer, it’s reading through 300 words of drivel without falling asleep and then isolating the important aspect to answer the given question. Especially since the verbal section is the last section of this test, it’s important not to waste too much time and get mentally fatigued. A good timing strategy is crucial to getting the best possible result on your GMAT.

Plan on taking the GMAT soon? We have GMAT prep courses starting all the time. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

Ron Awad is a GMAT instructor for Veritas Prep based in Montreal, bringing you weekly advice for success on your exam.  After graduating from McGill and receiving his MBA from Concordia, Ron started teaching GMAT prep and his Veritas Prep students have given him rave reviews ever since.

# Timing is Everything on the GMAT: One Strategy to Help You Succeed

One common complaint I hear from GMAT students is: “I can get the right answer but it takes me too much time.” Many people preparing for the GMAT feel this way at one point or another during their preparation. While this complaint has some merit, it can usually be paraphrased as “I’m approaching the problem with little to no strategy.” Relying on brute force to get the right answer is rarely the best approach. The old adage states that a million monkeys writing on a million typewriters will eventually produce the greatest novel of all time (It was the best of times, it was the blurst of times…).

This problem speaks to the inherent time management skill required to succeed on the GMAT. Almost any question you will face on test day can be solved with a brute force approach. However, you won’t have a calculator and you will be under constant time pressure to complete each question fairly quickly, so simply running through every possible numerical combination seems like a fool’s errand. There may be a time when the brute force approach works, but it is like trying to break into someone’s e-mail by trying 00000001, 00000002, 00000003, etc until you find the correct password. You’d probably have more success with a logical approach (such as guessing birthdays or other important dates) than with trying every possible permutation until the lock opens.

Approaching the problem in a logical and methodical way should be your goal for both quant and verbal questions. The approach as such may vary a little, but pattern recognition and extrapolation are two skills that will come up over and over again. If you’ve ever asked a 5-year-old what 2 + 2 was, they generally answer 4. If you ask them what 1,002 + 1,002 was, you’d usually get a lot of blank stares and puzzled looks. (My attempts to explain that they are essentially the same question have led to more crying fits than I’d care to admit). The GMAT uses the same elements of misdirection to bait you into thinking this particular problem is one that you can’t solve.

Let’s look at a quant problem to get an idea of what we’re looking to do on these questions:

How many positive integers less than 250 are multiple of 4 but NOT multiples of 6?

(A) 20
(B) 31
(C) 42
(D) 53
(E) 64

This is the type of question that most people can get with unlimited time. You can simply go through every possible number from 1 to 249 and see if each number meets the criteria. Apart from going cross-eyed halfway through, you will also spend an atrocious amount of time on a question clearly designed to reward you for using logic. Let’s look at this question logically and see what we can determine.

Firstly, it only cares about positive integers, so we can disregard zero. This is helpful because a lot of questions hinge on whether or not zero is included, but that won’t matter in this instance. Furthermore, only integers matter, and we’re looking for multiples of 4 but not 6. Your initial pass on a question like this might look might concentrate on the multiples of 4 and you might write (part of) the following sequence down:

4, 8, 12, 16, 20, 24, 28, 32, 36, 40, 44, 48, 52, 56, 60, 64, 68, 72, 76, 80, 84, 88, 92, 96, 100…

After writing a couple of dozen numbers, you may try to figure out the pattern and extrapolate from there. Numbers divisible by 6 are to be eliminated, so you could rewrite this sequence:

4, 8, 16, 20, 28, 32, 40, 44, 52, 56, 64, 68, 76, 80, 88, 92, 100…

Even with this, we have a long sequence of numbers, some of which are crossed off, and less than halfway through the entire sequence. Perhaps approaching the question from a more strategic approach would yield dividends:

The number must be divisible by 4 but not by 6. Calculating the LCM gives us 12, which means that every 12th number will be divisible by both of these numbers. We want the integers to be divisible by four, but not by six, so 12 is out. Along the way, we stop by 4 and 8, both of which are divisible by four but not by six. So every 12 numbers, our count goes up by two, and we start the pattern again. 1-12 will give two numbers that work. 13-24 will give two more numbers that work. 25-36 gives two more, 37-48 gives two more and 49-60 gives two more as well. Thus, through 60 numbers, we have 10 elements that are divisible by 4 and not 6.

From here, it might be easier to go up in bounds of 60, so we know that 61-120 gives 10 more numbers. 121-180 and 181-240 as well. This brings us up to 240 with 40 numbers. A cursory glance at the answer choices should confirm that it must be 42, as all the other choices are very far away. The numbers 244 and 248 will come and complete the list that’s (naughty or nice) under 250. Answer choice C is correct here.

There are other ways to get the right answer, but the fastest ones all hinge on pattern recognition. Figuring out that every 12 numbers gives two more answers can take us from 1 to 240 in one shot (20 sequences x 2). Alternatively, once finding 4 elements at 24, you can probably easily envision multiplying the total by 10 and getting to 240 straight away (like warping over worlds in Super Mario Bros).

Timing is one of the key elements being tested on the GMAT, and one of the goals of the exam is to reward those who have good time management skills. Given 10 minutes, almost everyone would get the correct answer to this question, but the exam wants to determine who can get it right in a fraction of that time. On the GMAT, as in business, timing is everything.

Plan on taking the GMAT soon? We have GMAT prep courses starting all the time. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

Ron Awad is a GMAT instructor for Veritas Prep based in Montreal, bringing you weekly advice for success on your exam.  After graduating from McGill and receiving his MBA from Concordia, Ron started teaching GMAT prep and his Veritas Prep students have given him rave reviews ever since.

# Determining How Much Time to Spend on GMAT Quant Questions

On the GMAT, you will be asked to answer multiple questions in a relatively short period of time. One of the main difficulties test takers have with the GMAT is that they run out of time before finishing all the questions. For the quant section, there are 37 questions to solve in 75 minutes, which gives an average of just over two minutes per question. Since you don’t want to finish at the 74:59 mark (unless you’re MacGyver), you can figure two minutes per question as a good target. The good news is that most questions can easily be solved within a two minute timeframe. Unfortunately, many test takers spend three or four minutes on questions because they do not understand what they are trying to solve.

One important thing to remember is that you won’t have a calculator on the exam, so blindly executing mathematical equations will be an exercise in futility. If the numbers seem large, the first thing to do is to determine whether the large numbers are required or just there to intimidate you. The difference between 15^2 and 15^22 is staggering, and yet most GMAT questions could use these two numbers interchangeably (think unit digit or factors).

Once you determine whether the bloated numbers truly matter, you need to ascertain how much actual work is required. If the question is asking you for something fairly specific, then you might need to actually compute the math, but if it’s a general or approximate number, you can often eyeball it (like proofreading at Arthur Andersen). Even if you end up having to execute calculations, you can usually estimate the correct answer and then scan the answer choices. Even in data sufficiency, determining how precise the calculations need to be can save you a lot of time and aggravation.

Let’s take a look at a question that can be somewhat daunting because of the numbers involved, but is rather simple if we correctly determine what needs to be done:

If 1,500 is the multiple of 100 that is closest to X and 2,500 is the multiple of 100 closest to Y, then which multiple of 100 is closest to X + Y?

(1) X < 1,500

(2) Y < 2,500

(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 but neither statement is sufficient alone.

(D)   Each statement alone is sufficient to answer the question.

The first step here is to try and understand what the question is asking. It can be a little confusing so you might have to read it more than once to correctly paraphrase it. Essentially some number X exists and some number Y exists, and the question is asking us what X + Y would be. The only information we get about X is that 1,500 is the closest multiple of 100 to it, meaning that X essentially lies somewhere between 1,450 and 1,550. Any other number would lead to a different number being the closest multiple of 100 to it. Number Y is similar, but offset by 1,000. It must lie between 2,450 and 2,550. At this point we may note that the problem would be exactly the same with 100 and 200 instead of 1,500 and 2,500, so the magnitude of the numbers is simply meant to daunt the reader.

Without even looking at the two statements, let’s see what we can determine from this problem: Essentially if we add X and Y together, the smallest amount we could get is (1,450 + 2,450 =) 3,900.  The largest number we could get is (1,550 + 2,550 =) 4,100. The sum can be anywhere from 3,900 to 4,100, and therefore the closest multiple of 100 could be 3,900, 4,000 or 4,100, depending on the exact values of X and Y. This tells us that we have insufficient information through zero statements, which isn’t particularly surprising, but it also sets the limits on what we need to know. There aren’t dozens of options; we’ve already narrowed the field down to three possibilities.

(1)    X < 1,500

Looking at statement 1, we can narrow down the scope of value X. Instead of 1,450 ? X ? 1,550, we can now limit it to 1,450 ? X < 1,500. This reduces the maximum value of X + Y from 4,100 to under 4,050. This statement alone has eliminated 4,100 as an option for the closest multiple of 100, but it still leaves two possibilities: 3,900 and 4,000. Statement 1 is thus insufficient.

(2)    Y < 2,500

Looking at statement 2 on its own, we now have an upper bound for Y, but not for X. This will end up exactly as the first statement did, as we can now limit the value of Y as 2,450 ? Y < 2,500. This is fairly clearly the same situation as statement 1, and we shouldn’t spend much time on it because we’ll clearly have to combine these statements next to see if that’s sufficient.

(1)    X < 1,500

(2)    Y < 2,500

Combining the two statements, we can see that the value of X is: 1,450 ? X < 1,500 and the value of Y is 2,450 ? Y < 2,500. If we tried to solve for X + Y, the value could be anywhere between 3,900 and 4,000 (exclusively), so 3,900 ? X+Y < 4,000. This still leaves us in limbo between two possible values. To illustrate, let’s pick X to be 1,460 and Y to be 2,460. Both satisfy all the given conditions and give a sum of 3,920, which is closest to 3,900. If we then picked X to be 1,490 and Y to be 2,490, we’d get a sum of 3,980. The second situation clearly gives 4,000 as the closest multiple. If we can solve the equation using valid arguments and yield two separate answers, we have to pick answer choice E.

These types of questions can be daunting because of the big numbers and the ambiguous wording, but the underlying material on these questions will never be something that can’t be solved in a matter of minutes. The difficulty often lies in determining how much work we really need to do to solve the question at hand. The old adage is that you get A for effort, but that’s applicable when you tried earnestly and failed. On the GMAT, you want to put in as much effort as is needed, but the only A you want to get is for Awesome GMAT Score (admittedly an AGMATS acronym).

Plan on taking the GMAT soon? We have GMAT prep courses starting all the time. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

Ron Awad is a GMAT instructor for Veritas Prep based in Montreal, bringing you weekly advice for success on your exam.  After graduating from McGill and receiving his MBA from Concordia, Ron started teaching GMAT prep and his Veritas Prep students have given him rave reviews ever since.

# Connect the Sentence Correction Dots and Succeed on the GMAT

Studying for GMAT sentence correction questions can seem like a primer on grammatical rules. This is because any given phrase could have a pronoun issue, or a verb agreement issue, or even a logical meaning issue. Most GMAT preparation involves at least some amount of time on the specific issues that are frequently tested on the GMAT. There is, however, one important rule that must always be adhered to and that cannot be easily pigeonholed. This rule should cross your mind on every single sentence correction problem you may see, and is often overlooked when speeding through practice questions. Quite simply: the underlined portion of the phrase must work seamlessly with the rest of the sentence.

You may wonder why such a simple rule is often overlooked. The problem is often one of perspective. When evaluating five different choices, it is easy to concentrate on the differences among the options given and ignore the rest of the world (like watching Game of Thrones). Whichever choice you select must merge effortlessly with the rest of the sentence. If it doesn’t, the answer choice selected cannot possibly be the correct answer.

It’s surprisingly easy to overlook this aspect of sentence correction. However, there’s a simple strategy to combat this inertia: (i.e. There’s an app for that) we must ensure to pay special attention to the first and last words of the underlined portion. These are the connector words that link the sentence fragment back to the rest of the sentence. It’s possible that there is only one such word if the underlined portion is at the beginning or at the end. As long as the whole sentence isn’t underlined (which brings a whole different set of problems to the table), pay attention to the connector word(s) and any syntax that must be respected.

Let’s look at a typical Sentence Correction question to illustrate the point:

To Josephine Baker, Paris was her home long before it was fashionable to be an expatriate, and she remained in France during the Second World War as a performer and an intelligence agent for the Resistance

(A)   To Josephine Baker, Paris was her home long before it was fashionable to be an expatriate

(B)   For Josephine Baker, long before it was fashionable to be an expatriate, Paris was her home

(C)   Josephine Baker made Paris her home long before to be an expatriate was fashionable

(D)   Long before it was fashionable to be an expatriate, Josephine Baker made Paris her home

(E)    Long before it was fashionable being an expatriate, Paris was home to Josephine Baker

Since I’ve spent three paragraphs discussing the perils of ensuring that the underlined portion flows flawlessly with the rest of the sentence, let’s start the discussion there. The underlined portion ends with a comma, and then there’s immediately an “and she” that we cannot modify. This means the subject of the underlined portion must unequivocally be “Josephine Baker”, lest we not have a clear antecedent for the pronoun. Let’s look at the answer choices one by one and eliminate them if they do not make logical and grammatical sense until only one remains.

The original answer choice “To Josephine Baker, Paris was her home long before it was fashionable to be an expatriate“ doesn’t work because the sentence contains a modifier error. The sentence is also set up so that Paris seems to be the subject, making the “she” pronoun unclear (is this referring to Paris Hilton, perhaps?) This sentence is grammatically incorrect, and the transition into the rest of the sentence highlights this discrepancy.

Moving on, answer choice B “For Josephine Baker, long before it was fashionable to be an expatriate, Paris was her home” suffers from the same ambiguity. We can mentally strike out the modifier “long before it was fashionable to be an expatriate” as it adds nothing to the grammatical structure of the sentence. This leaves us with “For Josephine Baker,…, Paris was her home, and she…”. This time the pronoun should refer back to Paris, clearly incorrect. In the best case this sentence is hopelessly unclear, and in the worst case it’s inadequate and unnecessary (Some would argue that’s another Paris Hilton reference).

Answer choice C “Josephine Baker made Paris her home long before to be an expatriate was fashionable” actually works fairly well with the rest of the sentence. However it’s often the first answer choice to be eliminated because of the phrasing “long before to be an expatriate”, which is clearly wrong. The underlined portion must gel with the rest of the sentence, but that is not the only criterion that matters.

Answer choice D “Long before it was fashionable to be an expatriate, Josephine Baker made Paris her home”, seems to work. It puts the modifier at the beginning of the sentence and clearly identifies Josephine Baker as the subject. The rest of the sentence flows naturally from this sentence. D should be the correct answer, but we should still eliminate E for completion’s sake.

Answer choice E “Long before it was fashionable being an expatriate, Paris was home to Josephine Baker” recreates the same problem that’s pervaded this sentence since answer choice A. This sentence clearly has Paris as a subject, and everything after the comma naturally refers to Paris. Answer choice E is incorrect, cementing our decision that answer D is correct (Final answer, Regis).

On sentence correction problems, it’s very easy to get so enthralled by the underlined text that you ignore the rest of the sentence. While the underlined portion is the most important part, focusing exclusively on those words makes you lose perspective and gives you a fishbowl mentality (Orange Is the New Black style). The words that aren’t underlined may be indispensable to selecting the correct answer, especially the connector words that link the underlined text back to the rest of the sentence. To see the big picture, sometimes you have to make sure to connect the dots.

Plan on taking the GMAT soon? We have GMAT prep courses starting all the time. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

Ron Awad is a GMAT instructor for Veritas Prep based in Montreal, bringing you weekly advice for success on your exam.  After graduating from McGill and receiving his MBA from Concordia, Ron started teaching GMAT prep and his Veritas Prep students have given him rave reviews ever since.

# Predicting the USA’s World Cup Chances Tomorrow Using Integrated Reasoning

By this time tomorrow, the results will be in: will the United States have survived the Group of Death with Germany, Portugal, and Ghana? Or will Portugal’s late equalizer from Sunday have yanked the dream of Elimination play from the Yankees? A lot is riding on the concurrent USA vs. Germany and Portugal vs. Ghana matches tomorrow as all four teams have the potential to advance to the knockout stage of this year’s World Cup.

So much is at stake, actually, that some of the greatest minds in the world have dedicated time to breaking down all the possibilities; Nate Silver’s website gives the US a slightly better than 75% chance of moving through, with those possibilities including:

-An outright win against Germany
-A draw with Germany (around which a popular conspiracy theory is growing, given that a draw puts both teams through)
-A close loss to Germany with a Portugal win (but not blowout) over Ghana
-A close loss to Germany with more overall goals scored in the tournament than a victorious Ghana

Given all the situations – all requiring math, encompassing all the permutations available and including probabilities…all GMAT-relevant terms – some of these great minds have put together helpful infographics that can shed light on the scenarios…and help you study for the GMAT’s Integrated Reasoning / Graphics Interpretation section. How? Consider this infographic (click to enlarge):

This graphic has a lot of similarities to some you may see on the Integrated Reasoning section of the GMAT. It’s a “unique graphic” – not a standard pie chart, bar graph, line graph, etc. – so it includes that “use reasoning and logic to figure out what’s happening” style of thinking that you’ll almost certainly find on at least one Graphics Interpretation problem. And like many GI problems on the GMAT – even those classic bar graphs, etc. – this one has a potentially-misleading scale or display if you’re not reading carefully and thinking critically. Most notably:

If Nate Silver is right (as he usually is) and the US is better than a 3-1 favorite to advance, why is there so much red on this graph?!

And here’s where critical thinking comes into play:

1) What’s more likely – that both Germany and Ghana win 4-0, or that they each win 1-0? Soccer history tells us that 4-0 wins are quite rare, but 1-0 wins are fairly common. The blue Germany 1-0 / Ghana 1-0 box, though, is the same size as the red 4-0/4-0 box, making the scale here a little misleading. This graph does not incorporate probability into its cell size, so it treats all outcomes as equally likely, therefore skewing the red-vs-blue dynamic. On Integrated Reasoning, you may well have to consider a chart’s scale and determine whether it can accurately be extrapolated into something like probability!

2) This graph only expands “__________ side wins” into scores for three teams: Germany, Ghana, and Portugal. Why doesn’t it do so for the USA, or include the goals scored in a US-Germany tie? Likely because this graph is designed for an American audience, and the American side’s “what if?” scenarios are the same for *all* wins – if the US wins, it finishes #1 in the group and moves on – and for draws, in which the US would finish second. It’s only if the US loses that any other situations matter – by how much did the US lose? what was the score of the other match? – so in order to save space and draw attention to the meaningful “what ifs” this graph treats all US > Germany scenarios with one column. Which works for the purpose of this graph, but leads to another really misleading takeaway if all you’re looking at is blue vs. red – the blue columns for the US are wildly consolidated (and it’s all noted correctly so it’s not “wrong”), so you have to read carefully and think critically in order to understand what the graph truly displays.

Note that this is in no way a “misleading graphic” – it’s a well-constructed infographic to talk about all the possibilities that could happen and change US fortunes tomorrow. It’s just that the maker of the graphic chose to display the valid information in a certain way, one that may mislead the eye if the user is not being careful and thinking critically. That’s also very true of GMAT Integrated Reasoning – the graphics you see will be valid and meaningful, but you’ll need to read them carefully and think logically to avoid making assumptions or drawing flawed conclusions. And as this graphic shows, sometimes your mind’s initial reaction needs to be checked by some critical thinking.

So when you see Graphics Interpretation problems on the GMAT Integrated Reasoning section, be careful. What may seem obvious or too-good-to-be-true (like, it hurts to say, a 2-1 lead into the 95th minute) may require that little extra attention to detail to gain the result that you’re looking for, the one that gets you through to the next stage where you want to be.

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

# Avoiding Traps in GMAT Quant Questions

A common mantra at Veritas Prep is that the GMAT is a test of how you think, not of what you know. This shouldn’t be interpreted to mean that you can go into the exam without knowing anything and expect to get a good score. Rather, it means that how you apply concepts is crucial in this exam. You need to have a strong base, like the foundation of a house, but the difficulty is in using the information you have to solve the problem in front of you.

As can be expected, different quantitative questions will pertain to different mathematical notions. However some more advanced questions will begin to blur the lines (#BlurredLines) between multiple concepts. A question can ask you to solve an equation using variables from a given shape, incorporating geometry, algebra and even arithmetic concepts in one fell swoop. It’s important to note that all these seemingly disparate topics you’re studying while preparing for the GMAT can be combined into one question. These questions tend to be more difficult, but mostly because they require more steps, and therefore more opportunities to make mistakes.

The mathematical concepts don’t have to be any harder on these questions; the simple fact of merging them into a Frankenstein’s monster question can make the problem harder than the sum of its parts. (The question wants you to use your BRAINS). Add to this the time pressure of having to solve such questions in roughly two minutes, and you can imagine how longer questions combining various elements can frustrate even the most experienced student.

Let’s review a question and examine the various pitfalls we can fall into:

If you select two cards from a pile of cards numbered 1 to 10, what is the probability that the sum of the numbers is less than the average of the pile?

(A) 1/100
(B) 2/45
(C) 2/25
(D) 4/45
(E) 1/10

The first hurdle here is interpreting the question. To paraphrase, if I were to choose two random cards, would their sum be less than a certain other number. This is essentially a probability question, as evidenced by the answer choices as fractions. However there are a couple of elements to keep in mind. The first task is to determine the average of the pile.

Given 10 numbers, we could simply sum them up and divide by 10, but it’s probably much faster to recognize that the mean of an evenly spaced set is equal to the median of the set. A set with 10 numbers has a median that’s the average of the 5th and 6th elements (Not the Bruce Willis movie). Conveniently, the 5th element is 5 and the 6th element is 6, yielding an average of 5.5. Since we’re dealing with integers, we must now determine the number of possibilities that give a sum of 5 or less.

The options are limited enough that we can just reason out the choices. A good strategy is just to assume that the first card is a 1, and figure out what numbers work for the second number. If we pick 1, the next smallest card is 2. Thus the possibility (1,2) works. Similarly, we can see that (1,3) and (1,4) will work. (1,5) is too big, so we can stop there as any other option would only be bigger than this benchmark. It’s worth noting that the question is set up so that there’s no repetition, thus the option (1,1) cannot be considered. If the first card picked is a 1, there are three options that will keep the average below 5.5 (like a Russian judge at the Winter Olympics).

Next, supposing that the first card were a 2, there would be the separate option of (2,1). Since the order matters, (2,1) is not the same as the aforementioned (1,2). This is another valid choice. (2,2) is eliminated because of duplication, leaving us only with (2,3) that will also work if the first card is a 2. Since (2,4) is too big, we don’t need to examine any further. That’s two more options to add to our running tally.

Continuing, if the first card were a 3, then (3,1) and (3,2) would work. (3,3) is above the average, and it is a duplicate, so it can be eliminated for either reason. That gives us two more options for our running tally. The final option is to start with a 4, giving (4,1). Anything bigger is above the average. Similarly, anything starting with 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 or 10 will be above the average. Only eight options work out of all the possibilities.

The question is almost over, but there is one final trap we need to avoid before locking in our answer. The stimulus purported 10 different cards to select. If we were to compile all the possibilities, a natural total to think of would be 100 (10×10). However, since there is no replacement, we’re first selecting from 10 choices, and then from 9 choices. Exactly as a permutation of two selections out of 10, this gives us a total of 90 possible choices. If there are eight options that satisfy the conditions out of 90 choices, then the correct answer must be 8/90, which simplifies to 4/45. Answer choice D.

Examining the answer choices, we can see some of the more obvious traps. Compiling eight options out of 100 choices would give us the erroneous 2/25 fraction in answer choice C. Overlooking the lack of replacement would give us 10 total choices (the same eight plus (1,1) and (2,2) out of 100 possibilities, or answer choice E. The exam is designed to ask tricky questions, which means that the answer choices will often be answers you can get if you make a single calculation error or unfounded assumption. Be vigilant until the end of the question, as you don’t want to spend a full two minutes on a complicated question just to falter at the finish line. Questions can have many aspects to consider and many steps to execute, but by continuously thinking in a logical manner, you can solve any GMAT question. Remember that even the longest journey begins with a single step.

Plan on taking the GMAT soon? We have GMAT prep courses starting all the time. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

Ron Awad is a GMAT instructor for Veritas Prep based in Montreal, bringing you weekly advice for success on your exam.  After graduating from McGill and receiving his MBA from Concordia, Ron started teaching GMAT prep and his Veritas Prep students have given him rave reviews ever since.

# How Would You Solve This Data Sufficiency GMAT Question?

The question format least familiar to most prospective GMAT students is unquestionably Data Sufficiency. As a test exclusive (it has a no trade clause) question type, it is unlikely that you have come across such a question without having at least glanced at a GMAT prep book. However the format is completely logical. The question is asking when do you have sufficient data to answer a question, be it “always yes”, “always no” or “specific value x”. The enemy is uncertainty; any definitive answer will suffice to answer the question and move on to the next hurdle.

As anyone who’s actively studying for the GMAT knows, you must determine whether you have sufficient data with each statement separately, and then possibly combine them if you still have not determined sufficiency. This leads most assiduous students to spend most of their time determining the relationship between the statements and the question stem. If the question were true (which it always must be), would that guarantee one specific answer? Would such a definitive answer be guaranteed if I used the other statement instead? What if I used both statements?

Allow me to pose one more rhetorical question: what happens when the exam throws a spanner in the works? The exam is designed to zigzag to avoid always asking questions in the same way. Sometimes these winding paths lead to counter-intuitive questions, which can confound unprepared test takers. One such tactic is to provide too much information (#TMI) so that test takers get perplexed as to what they’re supposed to solve.

Let’s look at an example that isn’t particularly difficult, but can cause students to feel stress and spend undue time on a question they inherently know how to solve:

If the average (arithmetic mean) of the five numbers x, 7, 2, 16 and 11 is equal to the median of the five numbers, what is the value of x?

(1)  7 < x < 11

(2) x is the median of the five numbers

(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 but neither statement is sufficient alone.

(D)   Each statement alone is sufficient to answer the question.

Looking at the question, we are being asked to solve for x. One specific value is needed here, as a range of values would be useless. Ignoring the statements, a lot of information is provided in the question stem. The average of the five numbers is also the median of the same numbers, so it behooves us to put them in order to give loose boundaries on x. The question specifically doesn’t put them in order for us to not necessarily see the limits as easily. In order, the set would be {x, 2, 7, 11, 16}.

Once we have an ordered set, we can easily solve for x. The first hint is that the mean and the median are the same, which we know to be true for sets that are equally spaced. That isn’t very helpful here as the spacing is not even between the four elements we already have, much less when we introduce x, but it’s a natural place for our thinking to initially go. The next step might be to use the logic that x is also the mean of the set, which can be solved algebraically or logically within a couple of steps.

Using algebra, we know that the sum of the five terms is equal to the average times the number of terms. We can then set up the equation: (x+2+7+11+16)/5=x

Which can then be mathematically combined: (36+x)/5=x

Multiplying both sides by 5 to eliminate the denominator: (36+x)=5*x

Moving x to the same side: 36=4*x

Thus: 9=x

We can also get the answer using logic, especially since the GMAT usually gives integers in this situation, so you only have a couple of values of x to plug in to find that it must be 9.

At this point, after a four step algebraic problem or a couple of educated guesses, we have done everything necessary to correctly answer this problem. (Gasp!) We have, in fact, solved the value of x without using either statement! I know the answer must be 9 from the information given uniquely in the question stem (is that answer choice F?) After solving the question, let’s look at the two statements and see which of the five answer choices we should select.

Statement 1 tells us that x is between 7 and 11. This was given in the question stem because the x was the median. In other words, statement 1 doesn’t give any new information, so it seems that it’s somewhat superfluous (TMI?). However, the question format specifically asks: “If statement 1 were true, could we solve for x”? And the answer is that, yes, absolutely we can solve that x is 9 if statement 1 were true. The fact that we can solve it without statement 1 doesn’t invalidate that we can solve it with statement 1. Specifically, statement 1 alone is sufficient to answer the question, which narrows the possible correct answers to A and D.

Statement 2 tells us that x is the median of the five numbers, which is the same information as statement 1. Statement 2 thus implies statement 1, and whatever the answer to statement 1, the same will hold for statement 2. The answer on such questions can thus only be D or E, since both statements give redundant information. Since statement 1 was true, statement 2 must also be true. Thus, each statement alone is sufficient, which is a verbatim transcript of answer choice D.

In actuality, you can solve this question without using either statement, but that option is not valid in Data Sufficiency. It’s not so much do I need the statement, but rather if the statement were true, would that guarantee the uniqueness of the answer. Since either statement alone guarantees one definitive answer, the answer must be D. On test day, you don’t want to waste undue time or second guess yourself if the question pattern isn’t exactly what you expect. Understand the rules of the game and approach each question logically. Those two tenets should be sufficient to get the right answer, even if you feel that the question has given you TMI.

Plan on taking the GMAT soon? We have GMAT prep courses starting all the time. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

Ron Awad is a GMAT instructor for Veritas Prep based in Montreal, bringing you weekly advice for success on your exam.  After graduating from McGill and receiving his MBA from Concordia, Ron started teaching GMAT prep and his Veritas Prep students have given him rave reviews ever since.

# How to Solve Simple Math Equations on the GMAT

Many students who take the GMAT come from backgrounds that stressed mathematics. A significant percentage of GMAT test takers come from engineering backgrounds or other fields that require strong analytical skills. However, these students often find that the GMAT quantitative section is challenging for them. This is because the GMAT tests math in a way that is unfamiliar to these students, taking them out of their comfort zones and requiring them to solve questions in new and unfamiliar ways (most glaringly, without a calculator).

Students who were never very fond of math in high school (and even kindergarten) often struggle with the math on the GMAT, but this is somewhat expected. If you never liked a topic, you probably never spent hours thinking about it or doing exercises in your leisure time (think of people who dislike cardio). However, many students who traditionally excel at math struggle just as much as the students who never cared for the subject. This frustration can be even more pronounced when it’s about a topic you’ve traditionally excelled at over your life.

Delving into the topic a little, the GMAT does not allow you to have a calculator with you during the exam because the calculator is a crutch that will end up doing the work for you. Naturally, in every conceivable real world situation, you will have a calculator with you, but finding ways to get the correct answer is an important aspect of business. When a decision needs to be made in a split second, you cannot always reach for your calculator. Worse than that, a calculator is clearly faster and more accurate than you, but we cannot (yet) be replaced by computers because computers cannot think as humans do (#Skynet). If the goal of the GMAT was to ensure that all students could perform complex mathematical calculations, you’d have a TI graphing calculator attached to your arm. The goal of the exam is to make you think, and nothing mitigates independent thinking like a calculator.

So how does the exam test math if it won’t give you complex math? Basically by giving you simple math and expecting you to solve it quickly. Simple math does not necessarily mean small numbers. In fact, large, unwieldy numbers are a great way to validate that you understand the underlying concept rather than utilize a brute force approach to solve the problem.

Let’s look at a very simple math question that helps to underline the kind of math problems you should be able to execute quickly:

What is 1,800 / 2.25?
(A) 400
(B) 500
(C) 650
(D) 800
(E) 850

On the actual GMAT, you might only see this question if you’re scoring in the bottom quintile of the test. However, you can easily have a calculation such as this to execute as part of a larger problem. Either way, getting the correct answer on a question such as this should ideally take you 30 seconds or less.

There are many ways to get the correct answer here, and the method chosen has a lot to do with personal preference. As someone who is comfortable with mental math, I would immediately attempt to approximate this equation. If it were simply 1,800 / 2, the answer would be 900. Since 2.25 is bigger than 2, the answer must be a little smaller. This narrows the choice down to likely either D or E. Rounding 2.25 to 3 would yield a division with a quotient of 3, further cementing the elimination of answer choices A and B. However between 800 and 850, the choice is pretty close, so we might need a more precise approach.

One common strategy is to convert the decimal into a fraction. Using algebraic rules, this might simplify our math quite a bit. 1,800 / 2.25 is the same as 1,800 / (9/4). This equation might seem equally daunting, but remember that division is the same thing as multiplication, and dividing by 9/4 is the same as multiplying by 4/9 (this property holds for all numerators and denominators). If I turned this into 1,800 * 4/9, I can think of it as two separate steps: (1,800 * 4) / 9, or (1,800 / 9) * 4 (commutative property). The second is clearly much easier to process, and you end up with 200 * 4, or 800. The answer must thus be D and can be seen fairly cleanly using fractions.

You can also get the answer by using reverse-engineering. Simply put, an equation of 2.25 * x = 1,800 would yield the same x, so you can think of this equation as backwards. If x were 1, the product would be 2.25, which is clearly not the right answer. How can I get closer to the actual product? Well if I set x to be 4, then the product would be 9. From 9, I might be able to see that I could set x to be 40 and then 400, giving 90 and 900 respectively. Once I’m at 900, I simply double x (from 400 to 800) and get the correct answer. This strategy can be helpful for those who dislike division and prefer to work with multiplication.

Overall, it doesn’t matter which strategy you use (in fact you may use an entirely different approach and still get the correct answer. There is no “correct” strategy on the GMAT, only the Machiavellian notion that you must get the correct answer, by algebra, deduction, induction, strategic guessing or even dumb luck. Being able to solve math questions in roughly as long as it would take to solve if you had a calculator will help you realize why the tool is not allowed on the exam. In the best case, you can turn math on its ear and appreciate the nuanced way the GMAT tests your understanding of these fundamental concepts.

Plan on taking the GMAT soon? We have GMAT prep courses starting all the time. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

Ron Awad is a GMAT instructor for Veritas Prep based in Montreal, bringing you weekly advice for success on your exam.  After graduating from McGill and receiving his MBA from Concordia, Ron started teaching GMAT prep and his Veritas Prep students have given him rave reviews ever since.

# Why You Should Do the Math on Data Sufficiency GMAT Questions

On GMAT Data Sufficiency questions, it’s important to note that you don’t have to do any calculations to get the right answer. In theory, it’s entirely possible to simply look at a problem and determine that the answer must be D (whilst eating your grey poupon). The question format simply asks you to confirm whether you have enough information to make a decision, not what that decision is or what any specific value is.

The downside of Data Sufficiency questions is that, by not necessarily going through the calculations, it’s very possible to misinterpret the question or reach a premature conclusion without considering every option. While there is no formal requirement of actually calculating anything, I do recommend trying to cement your answer by plugging in a few numbers to confirm your theory. In the worst case, your hunch is validated and you feel confident. In the best case, you recognize a simple mistake or assumption you took for granted and you avoid a glaringly incorrect choice (like Decca records passing on The Beatles in 1962).

Another common trap students fall into on data sufficiency is misunderstanding the information given. If the question is asking you for x, and you think it’s asking you for y, your chances of getting the right answer are reduced to lucky guesses and finger slips of the mouse (much like Australia’s chance of winning the 2014 World Cup). Avoiding doing the math also makes it harder to see if you go down the wrong path. In some instances, it’s worth writing down some numbers just to see what happens. Sometimes just seeing what doesn’t work will lead you down the path of the correct answer.

Let’s highlight this principle with a Data Sufficiency question that a lot of people can narrow down to two choices, but then pick incorrectly:

A certain car rental agency rented 25 vehicles yesterday, each of which was either a compact car or a luxury car. How many compact cars did the agency rent yesterday?

(1) The daily rental rate for a luxury car was \$15 higher than the rate for a compact car.

(2) The total rental rates for luxury cars was \$105 higher than the total rental rates for compact cars yesterday

(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 but neither statement is sufficient alone.

(D)   Each statement alone is sufficient to answer the question.

Looking at what’s provided in the question stem, there are two types of cars being rented. The total number of cars rented is 25, and every car is either compact or luxury. We only have to determine how many compact cars were rented, so something as small as the number of luxury cars rented would solve our problem very quickly. Looking at the statements, we only have information about prices. The daily rate for the compact car is 15\$ less than the luxury vehicle. That’s great (and a little unrealistic), but it doesn’t help us answer the question about the number of vehicles. Statement 2 also talks about money, this time talking about the total revenue instead of a per-car basis. This doesn’t help either, so answer choices A, B and D are all out.

This type of question visibly needs you to combine statements in order to get anywhere. There is a danger in combining statements without thinking, because there is often a relationship that’s just hard enough to detect linking the two statements that gets test-takers thinking they’re on the right track. In this question, the fact that 105\$ is 7 times the luxury car premium of 15\$ makes it feel like 7 more luxury cars were rented than compact cars. This type of connector is hard enough to see that people feel encouraged that they’ve stumbled upon something useful. Unfortunately, when you’re feeling clever is when you’re most vulnerable to fall into a GMAT trap (Something about pride going before a fall).

Let’s delve into these numbers a little. If 7 more luxury cars got rented than compact cars, and the numbers add up to 25, then that means the company rented 16 luxury cars and 9 compacts. If we stop here, we might think that the answer is C. However, applying arbitrary numbers might make us realize the error of our ways. Let’s say a compact car is 100\$ an hour (easy number to work with). This makes the luxury cars 115\$. We can quickly calculate that the compact cars will bring in exactly (9×100) 900\$. The luxury cars will bring in well over 1600\$. These two numbers don’t respect the 105\$ difference mentioned in statement 2. Why is that? Maybe I picked the wrong prices? Let’s go smaller: 20\$ compacts and 35\$ luxury cars. That’s 180\$ for the compacts and 525\$ for the luxury cars. We’re getting closer, but this still doesn’t work. What’s happening?

The number of cars we chose (16 luxury cars and 9 compacts) has a solution, but it’s not one that makes any real world sense. Solving for the two equations and two unknowns with our chosen number of cars:

L+C = 25
L(x+15) = C*x+105
Replacing L by 16 and C by 9
16(x+15) = 9*x+105
16x+240 = 9x+105
7x = -135
x = -19.286

That’s right, this solution works if we give people 19\$ to rent compact cars and only 4\$ to rent out luxury cars. Clearly this solution does not work in the real world because it does not mean what we expected. On test day, you don’t have to go through the actual math to solve for x, but being able to recognize that renting out 16 cars at a 15\$ premium will yield at least (16*15) = 240\$ more dollars for the luxury line than the compact line. The relationship of 7 additional cars only works if we rent a total of 7 cars, all luxury liners. Any other rental will throw off this delicate balance, highlighting that it was nothing but a mathematical mirage.

So what’s the answer to this question? As many of you probably figured out, it’s just going to be answer choice E. There are multiple values that will work (and even be positive) for the two constraints given. Many test takers can solve these questions without having to write a single digit down. However, if you’re ever unsure, write down a few numbers and see what they tell you. The reason some people dislike math is the same reason some people love math: it tells the truth. If your understanding of the question is shoddy, a couple of concrete numbers will tell you more than all the x’s and y’s in an alphabet soup (or a Jerry Springer show).

Plan on taking the GMAT soon? We have GMAT prep courses starting all the time. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

Ron Awad is a GMAT instructor for Veritas Prep based in Montreal, bringing you weekly advice for success on your exam.  After graduating from McGill and receiving his MBA from Concordia, Ron started teaching GMAT prep and his Veritas Prep students have given him rave reviews ever since.

# Use This Process When Solving Sentence Correction Questions on the GMAT

Sentence correction questions are among the least understood questions on the GMAT. Many native English speakers feel they can get by using their ears on sentence correction. However, the questions chosen on the GMAT generally have specific logical elements that must be evaluated in order to get to the right answer. Simply put, the grammar matters, but it’s more about the meaning than about the grammar.

The golden rule in sentence correction is that you should eliminate incorrect answer choices until you’re left with only one option. This process of elimination approach is helpful in an environment when there are many (or several) ways of expressing (or phrasing) the same ideas (or data). One easy way to eliminate an answer choice is if it creates an illogical meaning. The intent of the sentence must be clear, which means if a choice changes the original intent or produces something that just doesn’t make sense, it cannot be the correct answer.

By that same token, an answer choice that creates an unclear or uncertain meaning must also be an incorrect answer. If the correct answer must be clear and devoid of ambiguity, then any statement that is unclear or ambiguous cannot be the right choice. This distinction extends to all facets of the sentence, from nouns to verbs to pronouns and even to the syntax. If the syntax is ambiguous, or could mean two different things, then it’s not the correct answer.

Syntax errors are not the most common issues in sentence correction, but they do appear, and so it’s worth ensuring that the syntax works with the other key elements of the sentence. In honor of mother’s day last week, let’s examine a question that everyone deals with on day one:

As a baby emerges from the darkness of the womb with a rudimentary sense of vision, it would be rated about 20/500, or legally blind if it were an adult with such vision.

A) As a baby emerges from the darkness of the womb with a rudimentary sense of vision,
it would be rated about 20/500, or legally blind if it were an adult with such vision.

B) A baby emerges from the darkness of the womb with a rudimentary sense of vision that

C) As a baby emerges from the darkness of the womb, its rudimentary sense of vision would
be rated about 20/500; qualifying it to be legally blind if an adult.

D) A baby emerges from the darkness of the womb with a rudimentary sense of vision that
would be rated about 20/500; an adult with such vision would be deemed legally blind.

E) As a baby emerges from the darkness of the womb, its rudimentary sense of vision,
which would deemed legally blind for an adult, would be rated about 20/500.

The first thing we can note is that the entire sentence is underlined, so we don’t have to worry about connectors or how the underlined portion relates to the rest of the sentence. Apart from that, we can see that children probably don’t have very good vision (which is why I don’t support infant drivers), but all the sentences seem to say roughly the same thing. The most logical place to start would be to look for low hanging fruit (i.e. easy to spot errors) in the original sentence.

Looking at the sentence, it describes the baby’s momentous escape from the womb, and then discusses the dreadful eyesight all babies possess. After a comma, the sentence continues with the pronoun “it”. This pronoun could refer back to the baby, the vision, or potentially even the womb, as any singular noun in the sentence could potentially be the correct antecedent. The context kind of guides you into understanding that the vision must be what’s considered, because babies are not rated 20/500 (except on Toddlers & Tiaras). The presence of another “it” later on, ostensibly referring to the child this time, cements the notion that the pronouns are unclear and the answer cannot be A.

Looking through the other choices, answers C and E commit the same pronoun error, and can be eliminated for the same reason. It’s interesting to note that commas can be used to elaborate on the previous word (womb, vision) or the subject of the sentence (baby), and either would be grammatically acceptable. Therein lies the strength of the English language, its versatility and flexibility apparent (I’d give it a 9 on the parallel bars). However, this same strength is also a weakness to be exploited: on the GMAT, the sentence must be crystal clear or it is incorrect.

We can also eliminate option C because the semi-colon should link two sentences that could stand on their own, whereas the second portion is clearly dependent on the first section. Similarly answer choice E is missing a crucial “be” between the words “would” and “deemed”. We’ve already eliminated these choices, but it’s noteworthy that there are often multiple errors and it’s just a question of which one you notice first. No matter how you eliminate the answer choices, you should be left with two options: B and D.

Examining answer choice B: A baby emerges from the darkness of the womb with a rudimentary sense of vision that would be rated about 20/500, or legally blind as an adult. Until the comma, the sentence is a bit of a run-on, but it makes logical sense; everything after the comma changes the meaning of the sentence. The portion: “…rated about 20/500, or legally blind, …” would have been acceptable had the sentence ended with something about the baby. However the way the sentence is written does not convey the meaning that the baby’s eyesight is just dreadful. Instead it implies that the vision would be an adult, which is completely nonsensical. This answer choice cannot be correct.

By process of elimination, it must be answer choice D: As a baby emerges from the darkness of the womb, its rudimentary sense of vision, which would deemed legally blind for an adult, would be rated about 20/500. This sentence uses syntax correctly and avoids ambiguous pronoun usage. The pronoun which is used properly (it always refers to the term right before the comma), and the meaning is clear and unambiguous. Not only are the four other answer choices incorrect, this choice is grammatically flawless and aesthetically pleasing. On sentence correction, always make sure to eliminate answer choices that contain grammatical errors, and keep going until there is only one clear choice (vote Ron in 2016: The Clear Choice).

Plan on taking the GMAT soon? We have GMAT prep courses starting all the time. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

Ron Awad is a GMAT instructor for Veritas Prep based in Montreal, bringing you weekly advice for success on your exam.  After graduating from McGill and receiving his MBA from Concordia, Ron started teaching GMAT prep and his Veritas Prep students have given him rave reviews ever since.

# How to Keep a Proactive Approach when Solving Critical Reasoning Questions on the GMAT

Critical reasoning on the GMAT requires you to evaluate the author’s conclusion and select the answer choice that best answers the given question. While there are four broad categories of questions, the two most common types of questions are the ones that ask the student to either strengthen or weaken the conclusion provided. In actuality, strengthen and weaken questions are two sides of the same coin (possibly Two Face’s trick coin) and together account for roughly ¾ of the critical reasoning questions on the exam. With stats like these, it’s important to be comfortable with these questions!

First, we must identify the author’s conclusion. This usually is done by trying to understand the author’s main point. Likely, the main idea being pushed will be the conclusion. You can usually recognize a conclusion if it contains a call for action or begins with conclusion language. This conclusion language is usually a telltale word like “Thus” or “Therefore” (or my favorite: “In conclusion”). The conclusion is likely based on the premises or evidence in the passage, so continuously asking yourself “why?” will usually help identify the conclusion. If there is an answer to the question “why” in the text, you might have the conclusion in your sights.

Once you have identified the conclusion of the passage, the next important element to look for is the supporting evidence in the passage, particularly in terms of gaps that can be exploited. Very frequently the gap between the evidence and the conclusion will yield the crux of the question. If you think the Miami Heat will win the NBA championship because Miss Cleo told you, there might be a gap to exploit…

If you’ve properly identified the conclusion and the evidence, the inevitable gap in logic between the two will form the basis of your prediction of the answer. Predicting the answer is a key step in correctly solving strengthen/weaken questions, as the erroneous answer choices are specifically chosen to tempt you into considering them as potentially worthy candidates. If you go in with an open mind, you might end up picking something that sounds reasonable but is irrelevant to the situation at hand (think of late night TV shopping: Yes I do need a knife that cuts through a shoe).

Once you feel comfortable in this approach, let’s try and apply it to a real GMAT question:

The retail price of decaffeinated coffee is considerably higher than that of regular coffee. However, the process by which coffee beans are decaffeinated is fairly simple and not very costly. Therefore, the price difference cannot be accounted for by the greater cost of providing decaffeinated coffee to the consumer.

The argument relies on assuming which one of the following?

(A)   Processing regular coffee costs more than processing decaffeinated coffee

(B)   Price differences between products can generally be accounted for by such factors as supply and demand, not by differences in production costs

(C)   There is little competition among companies that process decaffeinated coffee.

(D)   Retail coffee-sellers do not expect that consumers are content to pay more for decaffeinated coffee than for regular coffee.

(E)    The beans used for producing decaffeinated coffee do not cost much more before processing than the beans used for producing regular coffee.

If we apply the strategy above, the conclusion is clearly the last sentence of the passage (Therefore kind of gave it away). The conclusion states that the price difference cannot come from the cost of providing decaffeinated coffee. What is the evidence provided? Only that the process of decaffeination is simple and cheap. What could be an alternative explanation for the price difference? Anything else! For example, if the material provided cost more money or the process can only be performed by Tibetan monks on the third Saturday of the month. Any given reason could be valid to increase the price (sort of like cartels).

Let’s look through the answers to see which of these could cause legitimate increases in cost:

A)     Processing regular coffee costs more than processing decaffeinated coffee.

This choice is actually out of scope. The answer choice purports that regular coffee is more expensive than decaf. If we negate it, it tells you that processing regular coffee costs LESS than processing decaf. But we already know processing decaf is inexpensive, so this answer choice doesn’t help anything. Whether it’s true or false, it doesn’t give any more insight into producing decaf coffee.

B)      Price differences between products can generally be accounted for by such factors as supply and demand, not by differences in production costs.

This is a very tempting answer because many people know it to be true. However, it is incorrect because it is tangential to the point we’re trying to prove. Were this not true, would it change anything to the cost of processing coffee beans? Not at all. This answer choice is true in the vast majority of situations; however it is irrelevant to the author’s conclusion and therefore cannot be the correct answer.

C)      There is little competition among companies that process decaffeinated coffee.

Similar to the choice above, but much less tempting. What does this have to do with anything? There’s competition. If anything, that should drive the costs down, not up. This answer choice is also irrelevant to the conclusion, and if it were relevant, it would be pointing in the wrong direction.

D)     Retail coffee-sellers do not expect that consumers are content to pay more for decaffeinated coffee than for regular coffee.

This is a 180°. The answer choice suggests that people do not want to pay more for decaf, so why would the decaf coffee be so much more expensive? If anything, it should be cheaper. This answer choice is also incorrect.

E)       The beans used for producing decaffeinated coffee do not cost much more before processing than the beans used for producing regular coffee.

This is the correct answer. My prediction was to ensure nothing else was driving up the price of coffee. If the beans were much more expensive, then the cost of providing decaffeinated coffee could be very high even though the process is inexpensive. In economic terms, the labor was cheap but the capital was expensive. This answer choice would strengthen the argument tremendously, and without it, the argument has a sizeable flaw that could be exploited.

On strengthen and weaken questions, it’s very easy to get confused as to what the question is actually asking you, especially after 3 hours of brain taxing concentration. Actively predicting what the answer choice should look like will help you avoid tempting trap answer choices. When fatigue starts to creep in during the verbal section, keeping a proactive approach to critical reasoning questions will help you select the correct answer and keep your concentration level high. This is especially important if the only coffee beans you’ll get on the GMAT will be in critical reasoning questions.

Plan on taking the GMAT soon? We have GMAT prep courses starting all the time. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

Ron Awad is a GMAT instructor for Veritas Prep based in Montreal, bringing you weekly advice for success on your exam.  After graduating from McGill and receiving his MBA from Concordia, Ron started teaching GMAT prep and his Veritas Prep students have given him rave reviews ever since.

# How to Quickly Solve Standard Deviation Questions on the GMAT

The quantitative section of the GMAT is designed to test your understanding and application of concepts you learned in high school. The exam focuses on core mathematical concepts such as algebra, geometry and statistics. However some concepts are more engrained in the high school curriculum than others. Everyone’s done addition, multiplication, subtraction and division, but sometimes figuring out factorials or square roots may be a little more unusual.

Perhaps no concept perplexes students on the GMAT more than the standard deviation. The standard deviation (often represented by ?) is measure of dispersion around the mean. It indicates how close the numbers in a set are to the set’s average. As a simple example, the sets {5, 10, 15} and {8, 10, 12} both have the same mean (10); however they do not have the same standard deviation.

Knowing how to calculate the standard deviation is not required on the GMAT, but knowing how it’s calculated gives you a tremendous edge in answering questions. It’s a four step process:

1)      Find the average (mean) of the set.

2)      Find the differences between each element of the set and that average.

3)      Square all the differences and take the average of the differences. This gives you the variance.

4)      Take the square root of the variance.

In this example, the average of the first set is clearly 10. The differences between the three elements are (-5, 0 and -5). Taking the square of these numbers, we get (25, 0 and 25). The average of these numbers is 50/3 or 16.67. The square root of this number will not be an integer, but it will be very close to 4. So we can assume roughly ~4 or ~4.1.

In contrast, the second set of numbers will have a much smaller standard deviation. The average is still 10, but the differences are now (-2, 0 and 2). Taking the square of these numbers, we get (4, 0 and 4). The average of these numbers is 8/3 or 2.67. The square root of 2.67 is roughly ~1.6 or ~1.7, but it’s very hard to pin down without a calculator or a lot of extra time.

This example should help highlight why the standard deviation is not explicitly calculated on an exam without a calculator: the chances of it being an integer are relatively low. However the concept it represents and the idea behind it are fair game on the test. One of the simple takeaways from the math behind the process is that, the farther the number is from the mean of the set, the more the standard deviation will increase. Specifically, the distance increases with the square of the difference, so 5 looks much farther out than 2.

This kind of concept can be tested on the exam, but if you know what you’re looking for, you can answer standard deviation questions very quickly. Let’s look at an example:

For the set {2, 2, 3, 3, 4, 4, 5, 5, x}, which of the following values of x will most increase the standard deviation?

(A)   1

(B)   2

(C)   3

(D)   4

(E)    5

If you recall the steps to calculating the standard deviation, what we really need to do first is to calculate the mean. (i.e. how mean are you?) You can add the eight elements together and divide by eight, but the fact that these elements follow a fairly obvious pattern helps us as well. The numbers each appear twice, and they are evenly spaced. This means that the average will be the same as the median, and the median is 3.5. Even if you take the long way, it shouldn’t take you more than 20 seconds to find that the mean of this set is 3.5

The next step is to take each element and find the difference from the mean, but this is what we need to do if the goal is to actually calculate the standard deviation. All we’re being tasked to do here is to determine which number will increase the standard deviation the most. In this regard, all we need to do is figure out which answer choice is furthest from the mean. That number will produce the biggest distance, which will then be squared and in turn produce the biggest difference in standard deviation. So although you can spend a lot of time calculating every last detail of this question, what it actually comes down to is “which of these numbers is furthest from 3.5”.

Asking about distance from a specific number is much more straightforward, and probably an elementary school level question. Yet, if you understand the concept, you can turn a GMAT question into something a 5th grader could answer (Are you smarter than a 5th grader?). The answer is thus obviously choice A, as 1 is as far from 3.5 as possible given only these five choices.

The important thing about the standard deviation is that you will never have to formally calculate it, but understanding the underlying concept will help you excel at the quantitative section of the GMAT. Most standard deviation questions hinge primarily on the distance from the mean, as everything else is just a rote division or addition. Much like taking five practice exams and getting wildly different scores, having a high variance is bad for knowing what to expect. Understanding the way standard deviations are tested on the GMAT will help you consistently get the questions right and reduce the variance of your results (hopefully with a very high mean).

Plan on taking the GMAT soon? We have GMAT prep courses starting all the time. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

Ron Awad is a GMAT instructor for Veritas Prep based in Montreal, bringing you weekly advice for success on your exam.  After graduating from McGill and receiving his MBA from Concordia, Ron started teaching GMAT prep and his Veritas Prep students have given him rave reviews ever since.

Many students feel that the GMAT is only necessary to get into business school, and otherwise serves no real purpose in their everyday lives. I, as a GMAT enthusiast (and overall math nerd), see a lot of real world applications in the concepts being tested on this exam. It’s actually somewhat surprising how often splitting the cheque at a restaurant or calculating investment returns requires me to delve into my GMAT knowledge. Such an instance just happened the other weekend, and it’s the kind of story I’d like to use to illustrate how pervasive GMAT knowledge is in daily life.

After celebrating Easter lunch, the family enjoyed dessert and spirited conversation (yelling) for a few hours. When it was time to leave, like many Mediterranean families, everyone felt the need to kiss everyone else goodbye (this is a great way to spread disease, by the way). While people were busy lining up to wish each other farewell, my GMAT brain took over. I asked myself: if there were 14 people gathered there, and everyone had to say goodbye to everyone else, how many embraces would that encompass in total?

The first idea that came to mind was 14! I quickly dismissed this idea, as this is an astronomical number. I know 10! Is about 3.5 million, so 14! Is well into the billions (87 billion and change, according to the calculator). If this were the case, we’d still be saying goodbye until 2015. However my brain instinctively went that direction for a reason. I thought about a little more.

Every person had to say goodbye to the 13 other people there. This means that I would have to say goodbye to the 13 other people. Similarly, every other person there would have to say goodbye to the 13 others as well. This leads to 14 x 13, and explains why I initially thought of factorials. However there is no need to keep multiplying by 12 and 11 and so on. 14 x 13 is essentially the answer, as every person there would get to say goodbye to everyone else. You can solve this little equation fairly quickly, especially if you know that 14 x 14 is 196 and then you drop 14 to 182.

However, 182 would not be the correct answer, because I am double counting all the goodbyes. For instance, I have counted saying goodbye to my mother, and I have also counted her saying goodbye to me. This is clearly the same event, so I should only count it once. This will be true of all the salutations, which means I must take my overall total of 182 and divide it by two. The actual answer should thus be 91.

I was confident that I had the correct answer, but surely there was a better way of solving this than going though the logic person-by-person (there is a better way, and don’t call me Shirley). In essence, this is a problem about combinatorics. I’m taking 14 individuals and making groups of 2s where the order doesn’t matter. This is a combination of 14 choose 2. Remembering that the formula for this kind of problem is n!/k!(n-k)!

Replacing the n by 14 and the k by 2, I’d get all the unordered pairings of people at my family gathering.

14!/2!(14-2)!

Which becomes

14!/2!(12!)!

Simplifying the 12! That’s common to both the numerator and denominator:

14*13/2!

Which ultimately yields 182/2 or just:

91

Now that we’ve solved my Easter farewell dilemma, let’s see if we can apply this same logic to actual GMAT problems:

If 10 people meet at a reunion and each person shakes hands exactly once with each of the other participants, what is the total number of handshakes?

(A)   10!

(B)   10 * 10

(C)   10 * 9

(D)   45

(E)    36

Given that this is the same principle as the issue above, we can even see where the trap answers come into play. Answer choice A is the tempting factorial option, but it’s important to note the order of magnitude of this choice. Answer choice B essentially lets you make everyone shake hands with everyone, including the nonsensical option of shaking hands with yourself (Hello Ron, nice to meet you Ron). Answer choice C removes the self-adulation, but still does not provide the correct answer because it double counts the handshakes.

Using logic, we can validate that answer choice D is correct because everyone shakes hands with the 9 others but the handshakes are double counted. Using the mathematical formula yields

n!/k!(n-k)!

Where n is 10 and k is 2:

10!/2!(10-2)!

Which then becomes

10!/2!(8)!

And then simplifies to

10*9/2!

Or just

45

We can also see that answer choice E would be correct if we decided that n should be 9 instead of 10 (possibly because we’re on a wicked bender). As is often the case, the GMAT test makers do not pick four arbitrary values for their other four answers, but rather choices you could realistically get to on this problem. Be wary not to fall into the traps laid out for you by combining your knowledge of the formula with your use of logic.

One takeaway I really like from this question is that this is the type of problem you can solve in 30 seconds or less (like a really fast pizza). If you understand what is going on here, it’s really just a question of taking n, multiplying it by n-1 and dividing by 2. This applies to any round-robin style tournament, which is the colloquial term for a tournament where everyone meets every other team.

As such, if you have a round-robin tournament of 16 teams, then you’ll just have 120 games to watch over (16 x 15 / 2). This might help to explain why the March Madness tournament is done as an elimination tournament, because otherwise the 64 teams would be playing well into the summer. Having certain question types that you understand ahead of time will help you succeed on the GMAT, and hopefully at your next gathering you’ll have good news to share with everyone before saying your goodbyes.

Plan on taking the GMAT soon? We have GMAT prep courses starting all the time. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

Ron Awad is a GMAT instructor for Veritas Prep based in Montreal, bringing you weekly advice for success on your exam.  After graduating from McGill and receiving his MBA from Concordia, Ron started teaching GMAT prep and his Veritas Prep students have given him rave reviews ever since.

# Don’t Judge a GMAT Sentence by the Way it Sounds

When answering sentence correction problems on the GMAT, it’s very common to use your ear as a barometer of how the answer choice sounds. Particularly for native English speakers, this is often the number one way they approach any given sentence. The problem with this strategy is that sentence correction is often much more about the meaning than about the grammar. By extension, the test makers of the GMAT know they can fool many students by simply making the correct answer choice unappealing to the students’ ears (Won’t get fooled again!).

Anything that makes a sentence sound more awkward than it should is fair game to try and get test takers to pick the wrong answers. Some strategies come back more often than others, and today I want to discuss these types of errors as it pertains to the timeline of a sentence. Students often have preconceived notions hammered in during high school that a sentence must always be in the same tense, no matter what. While this is a nifty rule of thumb, it doesn’t have to be the case in every sentence.

As an example, consider a student studying for the GMAT. The student could say “I have studied for the GMAT” or “I will study for the GMAT”. Both of these options make sense. What about “I will be ready for my GMAT next week because I have been studying for months”? This sentence is also fine, even though one verb tense is in the future and the other is in the present perfect continuous. As long as the phrase makes logical sense and what is being described in the past took place in the past, the sentence is valid.

The trick on the GMAT that gets students confused is that you have to pick one sentence out of the five answer choices. However, none of them might be exactly what you’re expecting. In other words, if given “carte blanche”, I could rewrite this sentence in a much clearer way than any of these five middling choices. That’s half the difficulty, though, because you have to pick the sentence from among the choices that contains no grammatical mistake, even though you don’t necessarily like everything in the answer choice.

Let me highlight this with a sentence correction question that regularly gives students fits:

A 1999 tax bill changed what many wealthy taxpayers and large corporations are allowed to deduct on their tax returns.

(A)   changed what many what many wealthy taxpayers and large corporations are allowed to deduct on their tax returns

(B)   changed wealthy taxpayers’ and large corporations’ amounts that they have been allowed to deduct on their tax returns

(C)   is changing wealthy taxpayers’ and large corporations’ amounts that they have been allowed to deduct on their tax returns

(D)   changed what many wealthy taxpayers and large corporations had been allowed to deduct on their tax returns

(E)    changes what many wealthy taxpayers and large corporations have been allowed to deduct on their tax returns

Going through the answer choices, it seems fairly clear that 1999 is in the past. Whether it’s 2014 or 2015 or whenever, you would not reference 1999 in the future (unless you’re Prince). As such, we can eliminate answer choices C and E because both use the present tense and make it sound like this bill is happening right now and not 15+ years ago.

Similarly, answer choice B changes the meaning of the sentence. The sentence is saying the bill will change what people are allowed to deduct, whereas answer choice B modifies the meaning to just the amount they are allowed to remove. There is a significant difference between deducting 500\$ for school expenses or 700\$ for school expenses versus deducting school expenses or capital gains expenses. There is a niche corner case where the two may have exactly the same meaning, but the original sentence has a much broader definition and thus can’t be pigeonholed into answer choice B.

This leaves the two most common answer choices: A and D. If you’re going by sound, you likely think that answer choice D is the correct answer. However, even though answer choice D sounds like what you’d expect to hear, it creates an illogical timeline. Let’s look at a sample timeline and determine when the changes were made:

_____________________________X______________________________________________X

1999 tax bill                                                                                    present

Answer choice D uses the past perfect continuous (had been allowed) which can only be used if the event described happened before another event in the past. Example: By the time I took the GMAT in 2007, I had been studying for over two months. You cannot have a tax code change in 1999 that affects the years prior to 1999. Otherwise everyone would have to resubmit their taxes for the past 6 years to reflect the change. Any tax code change can only come change future tax years.

Answer choice D meaning, with the period having been changed in red.

_____________________________X______________________________________________X

1999 tax bill                                                                                    present

Answer choice A meaning, with the period having been changed in red.

_____________________________X______________________________________________X

1999 tax bill                                                                                    present

Answer choice A, even though it uses the present tense (are) can be considered grammatically correct here as long as the law wasn’t repealed. Since there is no indication of the law having been changed, answer choice A is a valid (although awkward sounding) way of rewriting this sentence.

I would like to further illustrate this point using the Stampy example of the seminal Simpsons episode where Bart gets an elephant. In the episode (titled Bart gets an elephant), Homer realizes that he can make money off the elephant, and decides to charge people 1\$ to see the elephant and 2 \$ to ride the elephant. Upon realizing that he’s still losing money, he updates his prices to 100\$ and 500\$ respectively. Since this drives away all of his business, Homer visits the homes of his friends and tells them:

Homer: “Millhouse saw the elephant twice and rode him once, correct?

Homer: “That was under our old price structure. Under our new price structure, you owe me 700\$”

Millhouse’s dad: “Get out of my house”

Hopefully this little skit helped drive home the point I’m trying to make. You cannot retroactively change what people can deduct. You can only change things going forward. Answer choice A may not be the preferred way to rewrite this sentence (Example:  “changed what people would be allowed to deduct” would have been clearer), but there is no grammatical error contained within it. When it comes to sentence correction, make sure you understand the logic of the sentence and don’t depend on your ear as your only line of defense.

Plan on taking the GMAT soon? We have GMAT prep courses starting all the time. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

Ron Awad is a GMAT instructor for Veritas Prep based in Montreal, bringing you weekly advice for success on your exam.  After graduating from McGill and receiving his MBA from Concordia, Ron started teaching GMAT prep and his Veritas Prep students have given him rave reviews ever since.

# GMAT Tip of the Week: The Heart of Data Sufficiency

Data Sufficiency is a game as much as it’s a “problem.” Look at the statistics in the Veritas Prep Question Bank and you’ll see that most Data Sufficiency questions are created with a particular trap answer in mind and that at least 1-2 answer choices are rarely-if-ever chosen.

For example, look at these graphs:

In the first graph, the answer is E but the author desperately wants you to pick C. In the second, the answer is B but the author is baiting you hard into picking C. And in the third, the answer is C but the author is tempting you with E. In any of these cases, the strategy behind the question is as important – if not more important – than the math itself. Because it’s usually fairly easy for an average (or below) student to eliminate 1-2 answer choices on Data Sufficiency questions, the authors have to “get their odds back” through gamesmanship, by showing you a statement (or two) that look one way (sufficient or not) but that act counterintuitively. And to understand how to play this game well, it may be helpful to see Data Sufficiency through the lens of another popular game, the card game Hearts.

In Hearts, the goal of the game is to avoid getting “points”, and you get points when you end up with any hearts (one point each) or the Queen of Spades (13 points) after having taken a trick. And like with Data Sufficiency, there are really two ways to play: the way you’d play with a middle-schooler who’s learning the game, and the way you’d play with a group of adults who are each trying to win.

Playing Hearts with kids is like doing Data Sufficiency questions below the 550 level – you pretty much just play it straight. In Hearts, that means that when you don’t have any cards of the suit that was led, you try to get rid of your highest point-value cards immediately. If clubs are led and you don’t have clubs, you either get rid of the Queen of Spades if you have it, or you pick your highest heart and unload that. Your goal is to get rid of high cards and point cards quickly so that you end up with as few points as possible.

But if you’re playing with adults, you have to consider the possibility that someone may be trying to “Shoot the Moon” – getting *all* of the points cards in which case they get 0 points and every other player gets 26. What might seem like a counter-intuitive strategy to a 12-year old is often quite necessary when you suspect an opponent may be trying to shoot the moon: even though you may have a chance to get rid of your king-of-hearts, you might hold on to it because you want a high heart in case you need to “win” one of the last tricks to stop the opponent from getting all of the hearts. When you’re playing with adults (or attempting Data Sufficiency questions in the high 600s and into the 700s), you need to see the game with more nuance and develop an instinct for when to avoid the “obvious” play to save yourself from a more-catastrophic outcome.

This is especially true when you notice something suspicious from your opponent; if in one of the first few hands an opponent leads with, say, the jack of hearts, that’s a suspicious play. Why would she fairly-willingly open herself up to taking four points? Or if the first time a heart is played, an opponent swoops in with a high card of the suit that was led, but you know they probably have a lower card that would have let them avoid taking the heart, you again should be suspicious. In either of these cases, an astute player will make a mental note to hold back a high card or two just in case shooting-the-moon is in play. Playing hearts as an adult, you’re often playing the opponent as much as you’re playing the cards.

How does this apply to Data Sufficiency?

Consider this question:

Is a > bc?

(1) a/c > b

(2) c > 3

Playing “middle school hearts”, many test-takers will run through this progression:

Step one: If you multiply both sides by c, you get a > bc so this looks sufficient*. The answer, then, would be A or D.

(*we know the math here is slightly flawed; demonstration purposes only!)

But here’s how you’d play the game as an adult, or as a 700-level test-taker:

Step one: Same thing – if you multiply both sides by c you’ll get a > bc, so this one looks sufficient.

Step two: Wait a second – statement 2 is absolutely worthless. And statement one wasn’t *that* hard or interesting. Maybe the author of this question is “shooting the moon”…

Step three: Look at both statements together, reconsidering statement 1 by asking myself if statement 2 matters. If statement 2 is true and c is, say, 10, then a/10 > b would mean that a > 10b, so this still holds. But what if c is -10, and statement 2 is not true. a/(-10) > b would mean that when I multiply both sides by -10 I have to flip the sign, leaving a < -10b. This time it’s not true. Statement 2 *seems* worthless but in actuality it’s essential. Statement 1 is not sufficient alone; as it turns out I need statement 2.

What’s the difference between the two methodologies?

The 500-level, “middle school hearts” approach – NEVER consider the statements together unless they’re each insufficient alone – leaves you vulnerable to the author’s bait. On hard questions, authors love to shoot the moon…that’s their best chance of tricking savvy test-takers.

The 700-level, “playing hearts with grownups” approach seems counterintuitive, much like saving your king of hearts and knowingly accepting points in a hearts game would seem strange to a seventh-grader. But it’s important because it saves you from that bait. On a question like this, it’s easy to think that statement 1 is sufficient; abstract algebra is great at getting your mind away from numbers like negatives, zero, fractions… But statement 2’s worthlessness (ALONE) functions two ways: it’s a trap for the unsuspecting 500-level types, and it’s a reward for those who know how to play the game. That worthless statement 2 is akin to the author leading a high heart early in the game – the novice player sees it as a freebie; the expert considers “why did she do that?” and re-examines statement 1 by asking specifically “what if statement 2 weren’t true; would that change anything?”.

Remember, when you’re taking the GMAT you’re playing against other very-intelligent adults, and so the authors of these questions have a responsibility to “shoot the moon”. While the rules of the game dictate that you don’t want to consider the statements together until you’ve eliminated A, B, and D, there’s a caveat – if you have reason to believe that the author of the question is trying to trick you (which is very frequently the case on 600+ level questions), you have to consider what one statement might tell you about the other; you have to play the game.

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 to Master Sentence Correction on the GMAT

When preparing for the GMAT, there are many different types of questions that you must master. You know the verbal section will force you to answer questions about tedious passages, strengthen dubious arguments and correct unclear sentences. The ability to juggle these three elements will be paramount to your success as the question types are interspersed throughout the 75 minute verbal section. You cannot break down the exam into 25-minute sections each based on one broad topic and then move on. You don’t know what type of question is coming next, so you have to constantly be ready for any of the three major topics.

Similarly, when answering a Sentence Correction question, there are many types of errors that can appear in a single sentence. Some questions will be one-trick ponies (I’m looking at you, Bitcoins), in which you can just solve one issue and get the correct answer. However, most will have two or three types of errors that you need to avoid, and identifying these errors will often make the difference between knowing which answers cannot be correct and guessing based on how the sentence sounds.

When looking through the initial sentence, you might notice some errors right away, such as pronoun (she vs. they) or verb agreement (is vs. are) errors. However some errors are more subtle and you must look through the answer choices to confidently narrow down the options. Once you have a good handle on the types of errors occurring in the sentence, you can begin eliminating answer choices that do not dodge (or dodgecoin) the error.

Let’s look at a question that contains multiple issues, but they may not be obvious upon first glance:

An auteur whose movies define the genre, Jean-Luc Godard’s films are to the French New Wave what Sergio Leone’s The Good, The Bad and The Ugly is to the spaghetti western.

(A)   Jean-Luc Godard’s films are to the French New Wave what

(B)   Jean-Luc Godard’s films are to the French New Wave like

(C)   Jean-Luc Godard’s films are to the French New Wave just as

(D)   Jean-Luc Godard directed films that are to the French New Wave similar to

(E)    Jean-Luc Godard directed films that are to the French New Wave what

The sentence begins with a modifier that is not underlined, which means the subsequent underlined portion must necessarily be the subject of the modifier. If it is not, then the sentence will contain a modifier error from the get go and will not be the correct choice. A little further on, a comparison is made between films and other films. If the comparison were to be between two incongruent items (worse than apples and oranges, say apples and androids), the sentence would contain a comparison error. There may be other errors but these are the two most glaring issues to keep in mind.

Looking over the answer choices, we see a 3-2 split between the choices that keep the director’s films as the subject of the verb and the choices that change the subject to the director himself. From a comparison point of view, all the choices seem to keep the comparison between Godard’s films and Leone’s cult masterpiece.

The non-underlined first part of the passage is a modifier that is describing a specific person. The sentence even begins with “An auteur”, which is the French word for author. The subject of the sentence must therefore be a noun that can logically be described by the modifier at the beginning of the sentence. However, the restriction of the comparison also dictates that the sentence compare films with films. The only way to accommodate both limitations is to select either answer choice D or E, both of which keep Jean-Luc Godard as the subject of the phrase while supplying the proper film comparison at the end.

How do we go about differentiating between answer choices D and E (other than flipping a coin)? The difference is in the idiom that connects the underlined portion to the second part of the sentence. The first option indicates that the films are to a certain group similar to another movie to a different group. Apart from not being a correct idiom, it also doesn’t make logical sense. The second option indicates that the films are to a certain group what another film is to the different group. This is a perfectly acceptable idiom that conveys the meaning properly.

The only answer choice that avoids making a modifier error, a comparison error or a logical error is answer choice E. These errors may not have all been evident at first glance, but we can see why the four other answer choices contain some kind of error. Even though the comparison error ended up being largely irrelevant in this process of elimination, it is the type of error you always need to be aware of when correcting sentences. In fact, juggling many potential error types is a vital skill in solving these types of questions. While not always obvious, the correct answer will be the only option that doesn’t make at least one of the errors you’ve identified. Remember that, no matter how hard the GMAT may seem at times, it is easier (and safer) than juggling flaming chainsaws.

Plan on taking the GMAT soon? We have GMAT prep courses starting all the time. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

Ron Awad is a GMAT instructor for Veritas Prep based in Montreal, bringing you weekly advice for success on your exam.  After graduating from McGill and receiving his MBA from Concordia, Ron started teaching GMAT prep and his Veritas Prep students have given him rave reviews ever since.

# The Difference Between a 1-Minute Solution and a 4-Minute Solution on the GMAT

The GMAT is an exam that primarily tests your use of logic. One of the most consistent methods used to evaluate your use in logic is to take away your calculator and ask you “difficult” math questions. More specifically, questions that seem really difficult, but break down to simple concepts once you understand what is actually happening.

Of course, giving you all the time in the world to break through the confusion would be counterproductive, because then there’d be no way to differentiate between those who understand concepts and those who use brute force to simply try every possible combination of answer choices (think of MacGruber as someone who wastes a lot of time solving problems).

The questions on the quantitative section of the GMAT often appear very complicated and daunting, but can usually be solved quickly using a little logic. Of course, since the exam can potentially ask you hundreds of different questions, you can’t reasonably memorize every type of trick that can be thrown at you. You can, however, identify some recurring themes that appear frequently and understand why they are tricky. On test day, you still have to apply logic on a case by case basis, but some overarching themes are definitely more prevalent than others.

One such theme used frequently is that of turning a math problem into a story that you have to interpret. Today I want to talk about the compound interest problem. This type of problem is common in finance, but most financiers simply input the arguments into their calculators (or abaci) and spit out a solution. The compound interest situation presented is simply a layering mechanism designed to make the underlying exponent problem harder to see. Breaking through the prose of the question and seeing the fundamental problem for what it is can be the difference between a 1-minute solution and a 4-minute solution.

Let’s look at a compound interest problem that highlights the nature of these questions:

A bank offers an interest of 5% per annum compounded annually on all of its deposits. If 10,000\$ is deposited, what will be the ratio of the interest earned in the 4th year to the interest earned in the 5th year?

(A)   1:5

(B)   625 : 3125

(C)   100 : 105

(D)   1004 : 1005

(E)    725 : 3225

The first thing to note about this question is that it’s asking about a ratio, which means that the 10,000\$ sum will be irrelevant. If you’d put in 100\$ instead, or 359\$, the ratio would still be the same. The correct answer will therefore not be related to 10,000\$ in any way, but it’s also important to try and understand the question being asked before answering in order to avoid getting the right answer to the wrong question.

So what exactly is this question asking? What is the ratio of the interest earned in year 4 to the interest in year 5? This can lead us to some tedious calculations if we’re not careful. We start off with 100\$ (or 10,000\$, it doesn’t matter). At the end of the first year, we’ll have 5% more, so 105\$. I could calculate it for year 2 as well, taking 105\$ and multiplying by 1.05. This might take 20 seconds on paper, but will (hopefully) yield a result of 110.25\$ I could go through years 3, 4 and 5 to get the respective answers (115.76\$, 121.55\$ and 127.63\$), but that would take a while to calculate by hand.

Moreover, let’s say I have these 5 values; I am now tasked with finding the difference between year 4 and year 5. So now I need to calculate 127.63 / 121.55. Without a calculator… If you get to this point on the exam, you either spend more time trying to figure out the ratio, or you take an educated guess and move to the next question in frustration. Neither of these options is particularly good, so let’s backtrack to see where we veered off the path.

To calculate year one to year two, I took the initial arbitrary amount and multiplied it by 1.05. This is due to the interest compounding annually. The second year, I took the amount after year one and multiplied it by… 1.05 again! Eureka! Now, the pattern emerges. Every year, I take whatever the previous year was, and multiply it by 1.05. This means that, from year n to year n+1, the change will always just be 1.05, or a 5% increase.

Looking over the answers, answer choice C succinctly displays a 5% growth rate, taking whatever 100% of the previous year was and adding on 5%. This will be the correct answer for the growth rate from year one to two, as well as from year four to five. The question would have been much easier had the question been about years one and two, but the GMAT purposefully makes questions more difficult in order to differentiate between those who can identify the pattern and those who try to do each possibly calculation on paper.

On the GMAT, the correct answer can often be achieved by applying a brute force strategy. However, in business, you are rewarded for understanding the underlying concept and not wasting everyone’s time with meandering trial and error experiments. Understanding a concept such as this one about compound interest won’t single-handedly allow you to ace the exam. However, knowing that the exam is trying to appraise your ability to use logic to solve problems should incentivize you to look for the causal logic rather than to undertake tedious calculations.

Remember, there are computers, calculators and smart phones that complete routine computations in seconds. The GMAT is your opportunity to demonstrate not only that you can solve the question, but that you truly understand the question.

Plan on taking the GMAT soon? We have GMAT prep courses starting all the time. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

Ron Awad is a GMAT instructor for Veritas Prep based in Montreal, bringing you weekly advice for success on your exam.  After graduating from McGill and receiving his MBA from Concordia, Ron started teaching GMAT prep and his Veritas Prep students have given him rave reviews ever since.

# This is the Difference Between a 600 and a 700 GMAT Score

I recently responded to a student who said that he was “not convinced” by the official answer to an official critical reasoning question.  Here is my response:

“I am glad that you brought this up! This is an official question, and the answer choice is the official answer. I do not understand why you need to be “convinced.” You can trust the official answer to an official question!

In fact, when you saw that your answer was not the correct answer you started looking for ways that you could be right and the official answer wrong. This is not a particularly helpful mindset.

Let’s compare the verbal and the quantitative sections. What do you do when you see that the official answer to a Quant problem is 27 and you thought it was 42? Be honest. You know what you do, you say “27, huh, I must have made a mistake. How did I end up with 42, let me see what I did wrong here so that I do not do it again.”

Right?

You do NOT you say, “I bet it is really is 42 and I am going to think of reasons why it is 42 and not 27.” That would seem strange right? I mean a Quant problem only has one correct answer and if you get a different answer you made a mistake and need to figure out why you missed it right?

Okay well here is something that it takes students a long time to learn – A verbal question only has one correct answer as well. And if you got a different answer you need to say “what did I do wrong and how can I not make this mistake in the future.” Just as you would on a Quant problem.

I have had tutoring students who wanted to argue the answers on verbal questions, particularly CR and RC, but SC sometimes as well. Eventually I say something along the lines of “This is not the kind of test where you should be debating against the answer key. If you want to get a high GMAT score you need to focus on why you did not get the correct answer and how you can get it right next time.”

Now unofficial questions can often be improved. In fact, when I write original questions of my own I welcome it when students debate the merits of each question. I then edit it to make it better. Every edit makes it a question better. Yet even most unofficial questions are well written and really do have just one correct answer.

What I am saying is that your mind set should be “Why did I get this wrong?” “What can I do better next time?” Rather than “I am not convinced with this official answer to this official question.”

It may seem like a slight difference, but it is the difference between a 600 and a 700.

Plan on taking the GMAT soon?  We have GMAT prep courses starting all the time. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

David Newland has been teaching for Veritas Prep since 2006, and he won the Veritas Prep Instructor of the Year award in 2008. Students’ friends often call in asking when he will be teaching next because he really is a Veritas Prep and a GMAT rock star! Read more of his articles here.