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.

(E)    Statements 1 and 2 are not sufficient to answer the question asked and additional data is needed to answer the statements.

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.

(E)    Statements 1 and 2 are not sufficient to answer the question asked and additional data is needed to answer the statements.

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.

(E)    Statements 1 and 2 are not sufficient to answer the question asked and additional data is needed to answer the statements.

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
would be rated about 20/500, or legally blind as an adult.

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.

How the GMAT Can Help You in Your Everyday Life

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?

Millhouse’s dad: “Yes, but we already paid you the 4$”

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

GMAT Tip of the WeekData 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.

Step two: Forget everything you learned about statement 1 since you’ve already made your decision about it. Statement 2 is clearly insufficient on its own, so the answer must be A*.

(*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.

Use This Valuable Method to Determine Scope in Reading Comprehension on the GMAT

On test day, you will see 78 different questions designed to test how you think, how you approach a given problem, and how well you manage your time in a stressful environment. Most of these questions are unknown to you. You’ve probably spent tens of hours poring over hundreds of GMAT problems and trying to dissect questions from every possible vantage point. However, there is one question you are guaranteed to see on test day, and the question is deceptively simple. At one point, in the verbal section, you will simply be asked: “What is the primary purpose of this passage”

Reading comprehension is a category of questions on the GMAT designed to test whether you can read a long (and often pointless, bloated and sleep-inducing) passage and understand the major points covered. This exercise is designed to emulate the various reports and papers you’re likely to read throughout school and work for the next 40 years or so (or until we’re replaced by robots). The passage is presented, and then a series of 3 to 6 questions about the passage will be asked. Ideally, you understood the passage well enough to answer the questions about what you just read. If you grasp the major point the author was trying to get at, you’re likely to get the questions right.

Not every passage you read will ask you about the primary purpose of the passage (say that three times fast!) Sometimes the questions will ask about the author’s tone, the scope of the subject or the organization of the text. However, every passage can potentially ask you about the primary purpose, and at least one will ask you on test day. To avoid losing easy points on this type of relatively straight forward question, it’s important to ascertain which elements are important, and which details are superfluous.

A very good method to ensure you’re following along with the passage is to summarize each paragraph in 3-5 words after you finish reading it. This summary might not have all the details included in the paragraph, but it will succinctly recap the important element(s) of what you have just finished reading. Ideally, you don’t even have to spend time writing these words down, just forming them in your mind’s eye is enough to keep them in your memory for a few minutes. Of course, if you prefer to write this down, or if you want to expand to 6 or 7 words, that’s perfectly acceptable as well. It is important to be mindful of the time constraint, though.

Let’s look at a GMAT passage and answer a question using the organization of the passage (note: this is the same passage I used throughout 2013 for scope, tone and organization.)

Young Enterprise Services (YES) is a federal program created to encourage entrepreneurship in 14-18 year olds who have already shown a clear aptitude for starting business ventures. The program, started in 2002, has provided loans, grants, and counseling – in the form of workshops and individual meetings with established entrepreneurs – to over 7,500 young people. The future of YES, however, is now in jeopardy. A number of damaging criticisms have been leveled at the program, and members of the Congressional agency that provides the funding have suggested that YES may be scaled down or even dismantled entirely.

One complaint is that the funds that YES distributes have disproportionally gone to young people from economically disadvantaged families, despite the program’s stated goal of being blind to any criteria besides merit. Though no one has claimed that any of the recipients of YES funds have been undeserving, several families have brought lawsuits claiming that their requests for funding were rejected because of the families’ relatively high levels of income. The resulting publicity was an embarrassment to the YES administrators, one of whom resigned.

Another challenge has been the admittedly difficult task of ensuring that a young person, not his or her family, is truly the driving force behind the venture. The rules state that the business plan must be created by the youth, and that any profits in excess of $1,000 be placed in an escrow account that can only be used for education, investment in the venture, and little else, for a period that is determined by the age of the recipient. Despite this, several grants had to be returned after it was discovered that parents – or in one case, a neighbor – were misusing YES funds to promote their own business ideas. To make matters worse, the story of the returned monies was at first denied by a YES spokesperson who then had to retract the denial, leading to more bad press.

In truth, YES has had some real success stories. A 14-year old girl in Texas used the knowledge and funding she received through the program to connect with a distributor who now carries her line of custom-designed cell phone covers. Two brothers in Alaska have developed an online travel advisory service for young people vacationing with their families. Both of these ventures are profitable, and both companies have gained a striking amount of brand recognition in a very short time. However, YES has been pitifully lax in trumpeting these encouraging stories. Local press notwithstanding, these and other successes have received little media coverage. This is a shame, but one that can be remedied. The administrators of YES should heed the advice given in one of the program’s own publications: “No business venture, whatever its appeal, will succeed for long without an active approach to public relations.”

The primary purpose of the passage is to _______

(A)   detail the approach that should be taken in remedying YES’s public relations problems

(B)   defend YES from the various criticisms that have been leveled against it

(C)   suggest a way to improve the program

(D)   detail several criticisms and problems of the YES program

(E)    make the case that YES, despite some difficulties, has been quite successful for some people who have taken part in the program

If you summarized each paragraph as you read through them, your summary should look something like:

1st paragraph: YES program

2nd paragraph: Problem w/ program

3rd paragraph: Another problem w/ program

4th paragraph: Successes & next steps

With a summary like this, which is all of 13 words, you follow the main point of the story and you’re less likely to get sidetracked by tempting answer choices. Let’s look through the choices and see if any of them encapsulate the main purpose of this passage.

Answer choice A indicates that the goal is to detail the approach in remedying the program’s problems. This answer choice initially makes a lot of sense, as the passage is all about the problems and how to solve them. However, the use of the word “detail” should be sufficient to recognize that this is not what the passage is really doing. The author gives their overarching suggesting of using more PR, but does not detail anything at any point. The choice of words precludes this answer from being considered further.

Answer choice B is about defending YES from criticisms, which is not even something that happens in the text. The author makes no effort to defend the program from the justified criticisms, and merely suggests a course of action moving forward. Answer choice B is thus incorrect.

Answer choice C concisely indicates that the author is suggesting a way to improve the program. This is essentially correct since the author lists a couple of issues with the program, and then outlines a very general way to improve things going forward. We should check the other answer choices, but this choice appears correct and is general enough that it will be hard to eliminate.

Answer choice D stops short at mentioning only the problems and criticisms of the program. This would be correct if the fourth paragraph did not exist, but as it is this choice is summing up the first three paragraphs and ignoring the author’s conclusion. This choice is incorrect as well.

Answer choice E stresses the successes of a few people while acknowledging the managerial incompetence at YES, so it is also a tempting answer choice. However the author mentions one or two success stories mostly for anecdotal reasons, and not to promote the status quo. The program must still be overhauled, despite a couple of feel-good stories. Again this answer choice does not adequately represent the primary purpose of the passage.

As answer choice C is the correct selection here, it is important to note that the answer does not need to recap the entire passage. Such an exercise would be inherently difficult in only a few words, but more so, it is unnecessary. Summarizing something does not necessarily require reiterating every detail, but rather understanding the underlying reason for the writing of the passage. The purpose of this article is to demonstrate that concept (Inception style), and help you save time and maximize your GMAT score 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.

What The Big Bang Theory Can Teach You about the GMAT Super Power You Didn’t Know You Had

In this series we return to classic movies (and TV shows!) to learn fundamental strategies for GMAT Success.

My friends from the television show The Big Bang Theory are fond of super heroes. Okay Sheldon and Leonard are not really my friends (unfortunately) but they are certainly fond of super heroes. They love Superman and Batman and the entire Justice League.

What they fail to understand is that they are super heroes themselves…with super powers that translate extremely well to the GMAT. Their biggest super power? Making equations of course!!!

You are a Super Hero, too.

You don’t think that making equations is a super power…did you not hear that music while Sheldon and (Raj) Koothrappali were working on that equation? That was super hero music for sure!

While making equations may not be as cool as flying; on the GMAT the ability to see an equation where others may not is indeed a super power.  A super power that you may already possess.

All that you need to do in order to create an equation is to set two things equal. Moreover, if any two things are equal to a third then they can be set equal to each other and you have another equation!

This is something that is easiest to illustrate in Geometry. In fact, this is the essence of geometry. If you know that the area of a triangle is Base * Height / 2, and you also know that the area of the triangle is 30, then you drop the thing that they have in common (in this case the area) and create the equation from the other two pieces: Base * Height / 2 = 30, or Base * Height = 60.

You are so used to having this super power at your disposal that you probably do not even think about it when you are using it. The previous example probably did not even impress you. You are like Super Man: when he is rescuing a jumbo jet full of passengers he never seems to stop and think, “Oh, wow! I am actually flying.” He is so focused on using his powers that he never stops to think how awesome they really are.

Use your Super Power!

Try this example from the Veritas Prep Word Problems book. Use your Super Power and create an equation. (If you are having trouble making the equation just remember to find two things that are each equal to a third thing. Drop the thing they have in common and set the other two parts equal to each other).

“Machines A and B always operate independently at their respective constant rates. When working alone machine A can fill the production lot in 5 hours, and machine B can fill the production lot in X hours. Together they can fill the production lot in 2 hours. What is the value of X?

A)     3  1/3

B)      3

C)      2  1/2

D)     2  1/3

E)      1  1/2”

What are the two things that you can set equal to each other? Let’s start with what you know. You know that the rate of A is 1 / 5 (of the job per hour). The rate of B is 1 / X (of the job per hour) and the rate of the two together (the rate of A + B) = 1 / 2 (of the job per hour).

Do you see it now? You know that the rate of A + B is 1 / 2. You can also add the individual rates of A and B, so that (the rate of A) + (rate of B) = 1 / 5 + 1/ X. You now have two different values that is each equal to the rate of A + B. Now you can set them equal to each other. So that “1 / 5 + 1 / X = 1 / 2” (the rate of A) + (the rate of B) = the rate of (A + B).

Now you have an equation that you can solve and the rest is Algebra. Find a common denominator for 5 and 2 so that the equation becomes “2 / 10 + 1  / X = 5 / 10.” 1 / X must equal 3 / 10. That means 3X = 10 and X =  3  1/3.  The correct answer is A.

You and I might not be quite up to the status of theoretical physicists Sheldon and Koothrappali, but we do have something in common with them. We have the Power to create equations, meaning that we are super heroes, 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!

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.

Follow This Strategy to Save Time on the GMAT

There are certain numbers that will show up on every GMAT. Some of these numbers you need to be able to manipulate, and some others will just lie there like the rocks of Stonehenge: static and immovable. Numbers like ? and ?2, which can be converted into decimals but generally simply encumber the equation.

However, other numbers will show up and need to be inserted into an equation. Some of these numbers will show up on essentially every GMAT exam: numbers like 2, 10 and 100. Each of these numbers will show up in various questions and need to be multiplied, divided or factored out. Nevertheless, a number that will show up frequently is one that is oft overlooked: 60.

The number 60 is inescapable in everyday life. After all, there are 60 seconds in a minute and 60 minutes in an hour. Have you ever wondered why there aren’t 100 seconds in a minute? The answer is that 60 is divisible by almost every important small number you can think of: 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 10, 12, 15, 20 and 30 (hey, you forgot 60!). 100 is divisible by most of these numbers, but not by 3 or any of its  multiples. This is the primary reason we restart the count after 59 instead of 99.  Even the most die-hard imperial system user could see the value of adopting metric time (Remember this moment: 80 after 2:00 on April 43rd).

However, since we’re unlikely to change timing conventions (no matter how many signatures we get on Facebook), we’ll have to make do with calculating things using the number 60. Specifically, the GMAT likes using conversion problems to demonstrate mathematical proficiency. If you’re going at a certain speed per hour, how far will you go in 80 minutes? These questions can get increasingly difficult when translating times from minutes to hours, and the key is often multiplying or dividing by 60.

Let’s look at an example to underscore the importance of this number:

A space shuttle orbits the earth at about 8 kilometers per second. This speed is equal to how many kilometers per hour?

(A)   480

(B)   2,880

(C)   4,800

(D)   28,800

(E)    48,000

This is the type of question that can bait you into time-consuming calculations, whereas a shrewd test taker can gain valuable time by recognizing that this question is simply asking you to calculate a certain number by 60, and then multiplying it by 60 again (let’s do the time warp!). Even if a question asks you to change one unit into another, you can always do it step by step or all in one shot. There are many ways to solve this, but let’s begin with the detailed process so we make sure we don’t make any mistakes.

If the space shuttle orbits the earth at 8 kilometers per second  (you can replace this word by miles if you’re more comfortable), then how many kilometers will it cover in one minute? We can simply multiply 8 by 60 to get 480 kilometers/minute. This is the number in answer choice A, but it is not the correct answer as we’ve only covered a single minute, or about 1.67% of the hour. (There’s still a lot of spinning to go!). If we take the 480 km/minute and multiply it by 60 minutes, we will get to the number of kilometers /hour. 480 x 60 is not obvious, but you ignore the 0’s so it boils down to 48 x 6. Doing this longhand, we can get to 288, and then add back in the two zeros for a total of 28,800. This is answer choice D and the correct answer to this question.

If you followed that strategy, you would get the right answer, but you would miss many opportunities for shortcuts. One of the most glaring shortcuts is to forgo the two-step process and simply multiply the initial speed of 8 km/second by 3,600. This is 60 x 60, and represents the number of seconds in an hour. Since 60 is a number that shows up so frequently on the GMAT, it’s worth knowing that the square of 60 is 3,600 as you may be asked to convert from hour to second and vice versa. Multiplying 8 by 3,600 will also get you to 28,800 in one operation instead of two.

Furthermore, it is possible to solve this question using zero calculations, using the power of order of magnitude. Very simply, if you recognize that there are 3,600 seconds in an hour, and you’re going a little less than 10 kilometers per second, then your answer should be a little under 36,000 kilometers/hour. Since answer choice E is bigger than this, and answer choice C is about five times too small, the answer must be answer choice D. This strategy may be difficult to use if the answer choices are close together, however it is undoubtedly the fastest way to get the correct answer when the answer choices are spread out as they are in this question.

There are also multiple other ways to get the right answer here. One hybrid solution that is pretty intuitive is to multiply 8 kilometers/second by 60 to get 480 kilometers/minute, as we did in the very first step. From there you know you need to multiply 480 by 60 to get the speed per hour, but your trap options are 480 x 10 and 480 x 100, both of which are clearly incorrect at a cursory glance. By order of magnitude, you can again determine that the correct choice must be D.

As will all questions on the GMAT, there are multiple ways to get the right answer, but some question types show up over and over again on the test. If you’re prepared for the common types of problems and can solve them using a variety of solutions such as unit digit, order of magnitude and shortcut math, you’ll see your test score go from 0 to 60 (or 760) 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.

The Most Efficient Way to Study Least Common Multiples on the GMAT

I recently had a student write in to ask me, “Can you explain to me the reasoning behind the Least Common Multiple? I understand that you take the prime factors from each number but I have no idea why. I think if I understood why I would be better at this technique.”

Let me see if I can make this concept more approachable for you. Think about calculating the Least Common Multiple as if you were a builder getting ready to build a house. The problem is you do not know which house you are going to build. So when you show up on the job site you need to have all of the materials for each of the possible houses. The “houses” are the numbers and the “materials” that you need are the prime factors.

Try this example (let’s use three numbers to make it more challenging):

What is the Least Common Multiple of 9, 20, and 42?

First you need to get the prime factors of each of the numbers. The prime factors of 9 are 3 * 3 the prime factors of 20 are 2 * 2 * 5 and the prime factors of 42 are 2 * 3 * 7.

Next you need to take each prime factor at the highest power. This is because you need to have all of the materials (prime factors) necessary to build any of the three houses (numbers). So your materials list is 2 * 2 * 3 * 3 * 5 * 7 or in other words 22 * 32 * 5 * 7. If you have these prime factors you can build any of the three numbers. For example, if you are asked to build the 20 you have the necessary 2*2*5.

Now you are also a very efficient builder so you do not want to bring more materials than you need. So you have to show up at the job site with the exactly the smallest load of materials with which you can build any of the houses. So that means that you do not want any extra prime factors. That is why the least common multiple on our example is 2 * 2 * 3 * 3 * 5 * 7. There is not a second 5 or another 7 because this is not needed.

You will not be asked to build more than one of the houses at any time. So even though if you list out the prime factors you will see three 2s (there are two of them in the 20 and one in the 42) and three 3s (two in the 9 and one in the 42) you do not need to bring all of these materials. You only need two 3s because you will only need to build the 9 or the 42 and not both. You only need two 2s because you will be asked to build the 20 or the 42 but not both.

I hope this helps to explain why you take each prime factor at its highest power. Understanding the reasoning behind the Least Common Multiple can help you to “build” a higher 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!

 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.

How Hard is the Verbal Section of the GMAT?

Two weeks ago I wrote an article about whether the GMAT was hard. It is a question I get asked regularly from many different students with many different interpretations of what “hard” actually means. On test day, you may get a question that seems impossible to solve, and yet most other students get it right. This means that the question wouldn’t be considered difficult by the GMAT (say a 500 level question), but for you it seemed exceptionally difficult. The notion of difficulty is thus subjective, and while many would argue that the GMAT is hard, I have a much simpler explanation I have been postulating for the past couple of years:

The GMAT is not hard, the GMAT is tricky.

Last time, I examined how the GMAT attempts to trick students by using subtle word meaning and blatant misdirection from a predominantly mathematical point of view. Today, I’d like to elaborate on how these same elements apply to the verbal section as well.

A brief recap for those who haven’t read the previous article: The difference between hard and tricky is primarily that the GMAT will not test any material that wasn’t covered in a standard high school curriculum. Obviously, having a degree in English literature will give you an edge on many types of verbal questions, but a post-secondary education in the language is not necessary to solve any problem. The reason for this is to put students on as even a footing as possible. The downside of this is that the material cannot be advanced, by its very nature its high school level material.

The GMAT therefore has to offer difficult questions based on material that’s not inherently too difficult. What are some easy ways to make simple material more challenging? The first one is the timing aspect, so you only have a limited amount of time to answer the questions, but moreover you feel the pressure of time running out on you constantly. If you had unlimited time to answer the questions, most people would score significantly higher on the GMAT, so managing your time is paramount to getting a top score.

This is the same reason as to why there’s no spell check on the AWA. With a spell check, it’s a lot harder to differentiate between someone who has a mastery of the English language and someone who can just rely on the red underline in Word (or my bane: the green underline). It also forces you to have to come up with synonyms or alternatives if you’re unsure of the ideal phrasing (or trying to paraphrase the word “question” again).

To highlight these elements, let’s look at simple question that underscores the trickiness of the GMAT:

Even today, lions can be seen ruling the African plains, hunting almost any animal that crosses its path and intimidating all but the most intrepid hunters.

(A) lions can be seen ruling the African plains

(B) lions are able to be seen ruling the African plains

(C) lions rule the African plains

(D) the lion rules the African plains

(E) the lion species rules the African plains

This sentence correction question asks us to choose among several answers that all sound pretty similar. In fact, the first three answer choices are very similar, just with varying degrees of superfluous text added to each. The other two answers also seem very similar, but play around with the number of the subject. There seems to be a split along the number of the subject, but other than that, the choices seem distressingly similar.

At first glance, many students concentrate on the first part of the sentence and essentially ignore everything after the underlined portion. After all, if it were important, wouldn’t it be underlined? This tends to lead to a differentiation among the first three answer choices, all of which essentially say the same thing. In this case, most students would gravitate towards answer choice C as it is the most succinct version of the text. However the slight meaning difference between answers A and C leads many students to debate the merits of each answer choice. Often this can lead to indecision between the choices and an educated guess just to move on to the next question.

However, if you’ve gone down this path here (or on another similar question), you’ve fallen into a classic GMAT trap. You’ve just spent time deciding between two answer choices that are both incorrect! This process can be very frustrating on practice tests, but you’ll never know whether this situation arose on the actual GMAT because you’ll never know what the correct answer was (the NSA would know, though). What happened in this situation? The GMAT misled you into contrasting two answer choices with virtually identical meanings.

The difference between the first three answer choices and the last two hinges on the number of the subject. If the subject is plural, we need lions; if it’s singular, we need lion or lion species (this is singular even though it doesn’t sound like it!). The key to making this decision lies in the pronoun “its” located at the end of the line. Since the pronoun is singular, the subject must also be singular in order to avoid making an antecedent agreement error. Neither answer choice A nor C can be correct, so it must be either D or E. The correct answer will be D as it is the only one that has a logical meaning. If the subject were the lion species, it would be nonsensical to imagine crossing paths with a species. Answer D is also more succinct, which adds to its appeal (like driving a nice car).

The decisions asked of you on the GMAT do not tend to be hard, but they also do not tend to be straight forward. A lot of questions will try to mislead you or trick you into focusing on the wrong thing. Spending a minute choosing between two incorrect answer choices seems absurd, and yet it happens time and time again on this exam. The rules of grammar being tested on this exam, much like the mathematical rules being tested in the quant section, are not the hardest rules imaginable. However, they are specifically chosen to tricky and deceptive.

Going back to the industrial strength lock analogy I used two weeks ago, the same lessons can be applied in both verbal and quant. If you know the combination to the safe, you will get the correct answer quickly. If you’re attempting a brute force approach with every possible combination, you will certainly run out of time. However if you know which options to eliminate and which options to keep, you’ll do well on the test. As Kenny Rogers put it: You got to know when to hold ‘em and know when to fold ‘em.

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 at the Movies: What Austin Powers Can Teach You about Similar Triangles

In this series we return to classic movies to learn fundamental strategies for GMAT Success.

In the Austin Powers movies the character known as “Dr. Evil” creates an exact version of himself, only smaller, that he calls “Mini-me.” The two characters have identical proportions even though one evil villain is 8 times the size of the other. The hero, Austin Powers, quickly recognizes the similarity, despite the difference in size. This is something that you will need to be able to do on the GMAT!

If you are not familiar with “Dr. Evil” and “Mini-me, watch the following clip:

This is what similar triangles are all about! Not the evil villain stuff, but the “same proportions, different size.” When you have proven that you have similar triangles you know that any ratio of a side of one triangle to the corresponding side of the other triangle will hold true for each of the sides and even for the height of those triangles.

As you can see from the diagram below all three angles are equal. The ratio of the lengths of the triangle will remain constant. So if A:a = 2:1 then B:b and C:c and even H:h will stay at that same ratio of 2:1

Recognizing Similar Triangles

Often the biggest difficulty that people have with these similar triangle problems is simply recognizing that they are, in fact, “similar.”

Most similar triangles on the GMAT are not like the diagram above. They are actually overlapping triangles that have one angle in common. Be on the lookout for that “shared angle.” That is usually the first clue that you have similar triangles!

In addition to the shared angle look for one of these other two clues that similar triangles are present:

1)      Parallel lines: If the triangle has a shared angle AND parallel lines then you have a similar triangle. For the diagram below you would be told that DE is parallel to AC. This creates similar triangles BDE and ABC.

2)      Right angles: If the triangles each have a right angle AND a shared angle then you have a similar triangle. In the diagram below you see that angle “D” is shared and that angles DCE and ABC are right angles. This means that you have similar triangles ABD and CDE.

Don’t wait for the GMAT to make similar triangles as obvious as Dr. Evil and Mini-Me. Watch out for shared angles, parallel lines, and right angles. And remember that easily recognizing similar triangles is “groovy baby, yeah!”

If you 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.

GMAT at the Movies: Diagnosis and Surgery of GMAT Problems with Doc Hollywood

In this series we return to classic movies to learn fundamental strategies for GMAT Success.

There are two facets to each quantitative problem – (1) deciding what to do and (2) then actually doing the math. I refer to these respectively as the “diagnosis” and “surgery.”

A Good Diagnosis Avoids Unnecessary Surgery

On the GMAT “diagnosis” means to read the problem, do a quick triage of what is asked and what information is given, and come up with a plan of action. “Surgery” is how I refer to the careful completion of the actual math. I use the word “surgery” in order to emphasize the fact that the math must be done with focus and with care and is not something to take for granted.

One aspect of the quantitative section is that “a good diagnosis avoids unnecessary surgery.” In this scene from the movie Doc Hollywood, the main character, played by Michael J. Fox, is about to send a kid in for open heart surgery when the wise old physician steps in and gives him a can of carbonated soda instead. Talk about avoiding unnecessary surgery!

(Note: This clip contains some coarse language).

 

What this clip illustrates is the value of making sure of your diagnosis before you launch into anything too extreme. Doc Hollywood is prescribing heart surgery and the cure turns out to be a soda. When applying this principle to the GMAT you will want to go ahead and complete any simple math such as addition or easy multiplication. If the “surgery” (or math) is going to take less than 20 or 30 seconds then it is certainly worth doing and you should not really waste your time looking for an easier way. It is when the math is complicated and has lots of potential for error (like major surgery) that you want to be sure of your diagnosis.

Put It into Practice

Apply this knowledge to the following problem from the Veritas Prep Statistics and Combinatorics book:

A company assigns product codes consisting of all the letters in the alphabet. How many product codes are possible if the company uses at most three letters in its codes, and all letters can be repeated in any one code?

(A)   15,600

(B)   16,226

(C)   17,576

(D)   18,278

(E)    28,572

Do you have the answer? Before you run off and start taking 26 to the power of 3, you will want to think about ways to avoid all of that unnecessary surgery.

The question says, “at most three letters” in a code and “all letters can be repeated in any one code.” The first statement means that you have multiple problems within one question and the latter statement means that this is not a permutation or combination, but it is an example of “independent selection.”

Basically, since any number can be repeated you could have a one letter code with 26 possibilities, or a two-letter code with 26 * 26 possibilities, or a three letter code with 26 * 26 * 26 possibilities. Since the questions says “at most 3 letters” one, two, and three letter codes are all valid options. You do not need to choose one, but should include all three in your answer. Calculate the number of possibilities for each option and then add them together: so 26 + 262 + 263.

Unless there is an easier way. This is a good time to look at the answer choices. You are generally looking for either answers that are spread very far apart or answers that have distinctive unit’s digits. These are often the best ways to avoid doing messy math in this situation. If the answers have large gaps you should estimate. In this case estimating is not that simple, so you should go with the unit’s digit. You will find that any power of 6 results in a unit’s digit of 6. Therefore, 26 has a unit’s digit of 6 as does 262 and 263. Therefore the unit’s digit of the answer is 8 (6 + 6 + 6 is 18 for a unit’s digit of 8). The correct answer is D.

Think Like a Doctor

Doc Hollywood is an absolutely classic movie from the 1990s, and it illustrates a classic truth about the Quantitative section. If you are about to do some very complicated math, you might want to step back and make sure of your diagnosis. After all, as you are in the process of multiplying three digit numbers together, you do not want some older, wiser GMAT test-taker to give you that look of disdain and say “Nice job, Hollywood.”

If you 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 Importance of Timing on the GMAT

One of the main goals of the GMAT is to determine whether or not you can analyze a situation in front of you and determine the information needed to solve the question. In this way, the GMAT is testing the same skills required to solve a business case. The numbers in front of you are not important, but your method of solving the question is. Crunching numbers and measuring hypotenuses are not useful skills in business; you’ll have a calculator (or an abacus) to do that. Understanding how to approach and solve problems is the true skill being tested.

To that point, many students are far too eager to rely on shortcuts, gimmicks and memorization. Understanding what is being asked is the key to getting the right answer much more frequently than hastily getting to some solution. Of course, getting to work quickly and mindlessly crunching all the numbers as quickly as possible will sometimes work, but it also misses the entire point of the exam. If getting the right answer to a rote multiplication was the only criterion, then you’d be allowed to pull out your smart phone and plug in the numbers. The GMAT is attempting to delve deeper into your brain process than that.

That being said (or written), the GMAT is also interested in speed, which is why there is a time limit to each section. Solving the answer correctly in 15 minutes is no more useful than spending one minute to get the wrong answer because you went too fast. There must be a balance between direction and speed (like a vector) Thus, our best tactic is to quickly identify what is being asked and get to work on a strategy to solve the right answer fairly quickly (hopefully in less than two minutes!)

As an apt example, let’s look at a question that a lot of people miss because they don’t analyze the situation before turning into (extremely slow) human calculators:

Shawn is planning a bus trip across town that involves three buses. Bus 1 travels between Shawn’s house and downtown, and it leaves every half-hour starting at 7:20 AM. Shawn will need to be on bus 1 for 1.2 hours. Bus 2 travels between downtown and uptown every half-hour starting at 7:10 AM. Shawn will need to be on bus 2 for 2/3 hour. Lastly, bus 3 travels between uptown and Shawn’s destination every hour starting at 9 AM. Assuming all buses stay on schedule, what is the least amount of time Shawn must spend waiting for buses?

(A)   12 minutes

(B)   18 minutes

(C)   48 minutes

(D)   1 hour, 12 minutes

(E)    1 hour, 20 minutes

The first thing that comes to mind is that we can just plug in the numbers and find the time it takes to wait for the buses (or that Shawn should just get a car). We can figure out the timing from 7:20 AM and take it down the line from there. Let’s do that for completion’s sake, but it doesn’t mean that this is the best course of action by any means.

If Shawn gets on the first bus at 7:20, then he’ll spend 1.2 hours (or 1 hour and 12 minutes) on the bus before getting off at 8:32. It’s important to note that fractions of hours are converted into decimal by dividing by 60, not 100. The second bus comes every half hour starting at 7:10, so Shawn will assuredly miss the first three and only get on the bus that comes at 8:40. He’s waited for 8 minutes up until this point. Bus 2 will take 40 minutes to reach its destination, dropping Shawn off at 9:20 AM. From there, bus 3 will be around every hour, so he’ll have to wait until 10 AM, an additional wait of 40 minutes. Thus, if Shawn gets on the first bus and all buses stick to their schedules, he’ll wait 48 minutes.

This is the answer a calculator would get, and as long as no analysis is done, it is a reasonable answer. However, we’ve all experienced situations like this in our daily lives. If the bus is coming for a specific time, your goal is usually to minimize the wait time and arrive at the bus stop slightly before the bus is due. This will minimize your wait time. If the bus will be at the stop at 10 AM, there isn’t much point in being there at 9:01 waiting (although you may break your record at Angry Birds) when you can be there at 9:55 instead.

Doing some analysis of this situation, the first bus comes every 30 minutes, meaning the bus always shows up twenty minutes past the hour or ten minutes to the hour. Within each hour, there are two choices you can make: the first bus or the second bus. After that, the choice returns with only the hour hand increasing by one. We thus need to figure out what will happen if we hop on the 7:50 bus instead of the 7:20 bus.

Recalculating, we’re on the first bus for 1.2 hours, meaning we get on at 7:50 AM and get off at 9:02. The second bus still comes every half hour starting at 7:40, so we can jump on the 9:10 bus after waiting 8 minutes, just like in the first example. This bus takes us 40 minutes, and therefore drops us off at 9:50. We’re 10 minutes early for the last bus, which is still scheduled at 10 AM, bringing the total amount of time waiting to 18 minutes.  Taking bus 1 at 7:50 instead of 7:20 gets us to the destination at the same time but reduces the wait time by 30 minutes, and is therefore preferable.

Time on bus 1

7:20

7:50

8:20

8:50

9:20

9:50

Time off bus 1

8:32

9:02

9:32

10:02

10:32

11:02

Wait time

8 mins

8 mins

8 mins

8 mins

8 mins

8 mins

Time on bus 2

8:40

9:10

9:40

10:10

10:40

11:10

Time off bus 2

9:20

9:50

10:20

10:50

11:20

11:50

Wait time

40 mins

10 mins

40 mins

10 mins

40 mins

10 mins

Time on bus 3

10:00

10:00

11:00

11:00

12:00

12:00

Total Wait Time:

48 mins

18 mins

48 mins

18 mins

48 mins

18 mins

The table above highlights the repetitive nature of problems like these. Every bus that comes at twenty past the hour will lead to a 48 minute total wait time, while every bus that comes at ten to the hour will lead to an 18 minute total wait time, regardless of the hour. (again assuming that the buses always run on time)

On GMAT problems, it’s important to take a few seconds to understand what is being asked in the problem. Rushing headlong into a solution will work on many questions, but on tricky questions, a strong analysis of the situation is required to make the most effective decision. Despite the many tricks and gimmicks touted to solve GMAT problems more efficiently, the underlying goal of this test is to gauge your ability to analyze situations and apply logic. Being able to optimize a given scenario is important not only when in business, but also when in line for a bus.

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.

What to Avoid and What to Focus on in GMAT Reading Comprehension

In this series we return to classic movies to learn fundamental strategies for GMAT Success.

“A man and a woman meet aboard a luxury ocean liner. She already has a fiancé, but still the two fall in love. The ship sinks and the woman lives, but the man dies.”

So, one of the longest and yet most successful movies in history can be summed up in just three short sentences. Thirty-four words to tell the tale of the 1997 Oscar winner for “Best Picture.” At 3 hours and 14 minutes it was not the longest “best picture” in history; 1939’s “Gone with Wind” was nearly 4 hours.

Notice that in my summary above, I do not mention any names, any dates, or any numbers. Basically, I do not mention any of the specifics that people often focus on when reading a passage on the GMAT. This is because the details are easy to look up as you answer questions on reading comprehension. It is the executive summary that you need to be looking for as you read the passage.

What to NOT Focus On…

Put the movie aside for a moment and imagine that the script for Titanic was a reading comprehension passage. What would be the easy things to notice and to quickly locate if you needed to? Firstly, anything capitalized. Proper names simply jump out at you. You would quickly find the name of the ship, the girl’s name “Rose,” and the boy’s name “Jack.” The fiancé’s name is the very fanciful “Caledon Hockley,” or “Cal” for short, I wonder if you remember that one?

The second thing that is easy to look up is any sort of number or date. The ship sailed on April 10, 1912 and struck an iceberg on April 15. The crew and passengers numbered 2224, of which more than 1500 died. The survivors were only in the water for 2 hours before the RMA Carpathia arrived to pick up 705 survivors. Unfortunately, the water temperature was only 28 degrees and maximum survival time was only 30 minutes. In fact only 13 people were pulled into the lifeboats despite the fact that the lifeboats could have held 500 more people. Do you see how easy it is to look back for these numbers? Don’t try to memorize them!

The third thing to not get caught up in is scientific terms and unfamiliar vocabulary. Now, the Titanic story does not involve lots of scientific terms, but even if it did you would not focus on those. They are not important to the executive summary and they are easy to spot. It is easy to spot capitalization, numbers, and “big words.” These are things that are best left for you to go back to find if a specific question asks about them.

What You Should Focus On…

So what should you focus on when reading? What should make up your executive summary? If it is a scientific passage you have to make sure that you understand the theory. You need to be able to state the theory in simple terms. If there are two different ideas or authors make sure that you understand the differences and the similarities. In every case make sure that you can state the “plot” of the passage in a few words – as I did for the Titanic above.

Part of the Veritas Prep STOP technique is stopping at the end of each paragraph to make sure that you know what the main idea of that paragraph is. At the end of the entire passage you can run through the full STOP: S (scope) T (tone) O (organization) and P (purpose)

The Movie…

And here is what you have been waiting for. Admit it, you know this scene and you love it!

If you 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

Is the GMAT Hard?

As a GMAT instructor, I get asked a lot of questions about the exam. Most of these questions are about what can be done to prepare for the exam and what to concentrate on, but one of the simplest questions I get asked all the time is simply: “Is the GMAT hard?” Sadly, the answer is not very clean cut for a given prospective student, but I’ve spent enough time thinking about this test that I now have a definite answer that I think captures the heart of what is being tested. My answer is simply this:

The GMAT is not hard, the GMAT is tricky.

What is the difference between hard and tricky, exactly? (Good question! I’m glad you asked). The material covered on the GMAT is all high school level stuff, from algebra to geometry to using proper grammar. No university-level exposure is assumed or required to score highly on the GMAT. The reason for this is to put students on as even a footing as possible. If student A had spent the last four years studying differential equations while student B was working on a degree in biology, student A would do much better on a differential equations test by virtue of their exposure to the subject. By choosing high school level topics, the playing field is as fair as possible for everyone.

However, there is a downside to choosing material from high school: the material is not that difficult. One of my key pieces of advice on the GMAT is to (re-)learn the multiplication table, which you’re exposed to for the first time in the fourth grade at about age 10. Sadly, a lifetime of dependency on calculators and cash registers has ensured that most people don’t usually execute these types of calculations in their everyday lives, and therefore forget the simple concepts they learned many years before (Use or lose it).

The GMAT therefore has to offer difficult questions based on material that’s not inherently too difficult. What are some easy ways to make simple material more difficult? The first one is the timing aspect, so you have a limited amount of time to answer the questions, but moreover you feel the pressure of time running out on you constantly. If you had unlimited time to answer the questions, most people would score significantly higher on the GMAT, so managing your time is paramount to getting a top score.

Another way to make easy material more difficult is to remove the crutches most people use to avoid having to actually solve the question. That’s why there are no calculators in the quant section of the GMAT, although every conceivable situation in business school will have a calculator within your reach. This opens up a lot of space to make questions more difficult by just dramatically upping the math. Solving 33 + 32 + 31 can easily be done by just replacing the abstract algebra with the actual numbers. Solving 39 + 38 + 37 without a calculator is a decidedly more difficult task. The math is as complicated, but the size of the numbers makes the problem significantly harder to solve.

This is the same reason as to why there’s no spell check on the AWA. With a spell check, it’s a lot harder to differentiate between someone who has a mastery of the English language and someone who can just rely on the red underline (or my bane: the green underline). On the IR, a calculator is provided because the goal there is to interpret the data in a speedy way, so the omission of the spell check or the calculator is entirely by design. It also forces you to have to be cleverer in your approach. This is what the GMAT is looking for: an approach less dependent on brute force and more focused on understanding the situation presented.

To highlight these elements, let’s look at a very simple question that is nonetheless difficult to solve without a calculator:

What is the square root of 239,121?

(A) 476

(B) 489

(C) 497

(D) 511

(E) 524

The square root of 239,121 represents the number that, squared, will give you 239,121. With a calculator this problem is plug-and-play, and at most it will take 45 seconds to try all five combinations and see which answer is correct. Without a calculator to do all the heavy lifting, we have to get a little smarter.

The brute force approach will still work. Simply multiply 476 by 476 and find the product. If it is not 239,121, we rinse and repeat for all five numbers. This technique does work, but it will take a significant amount of time as it ignores the hints the exam is giving you to solve the question quickly.

A great concept to utilize here is the idea of the unit digit. If I multiply any two numbers, the unit digit will simply be the product of the unit digits of the two numbers. This is because there is no carry over from other positions possible. Hence, here we need a number that gives a unit digit of 1 when we multiply it by itself. Going through each option, we can eliminate A (6×6), C (7×7) and E (4×4). This should make a lot of intuitive sense because any even number multiplied by itself will give you another even number, so answers A and E were never in the running. Answer choice C could have worked, but 7×7 must yield a unit digit of 9, so it cannot possibly work.

Only two answer choices remain: 489 and 511. Unfortunately, they both give unit digits of 1, so we need a different strategy to determine which answer is correct. This is where the concept of order of magnitude can save us the trouble of actually having to calculate the numbers. It’s worth noting that at this point multiplying one of the numbers will either give the correct answer or the incorrect answer. Either option solves the question, and is a legitimate way of getting the correct answer. However, knowing that 5 x 5 gives 25 means that 500 x 500 must give 25 followed by four 0’s, or 250,000. Since our number is a little below that, we know the answer must be smaller than 500, but not by very much. Answer choice D is thus too big to be the correct answer, and answer choice B must be correct.

There are many questions like this one that can be solved without having to do any math whatsoever, simply by knowing how to apply mathematical properties. This is what makes the GMAT tricky. The questions will not ask for very difficult math to be executed, but figuring out the correct way to get the correct answer is never a question of blindly attacking the problem with a brute force approach. This is why there is a timing component on the GMAT: To avoid reliance on brute forcing the answer (also to allow multiple tests to be scheduled in the same day). Focusing your study approach on the how, rather than the what, will help you maximize your score.

An apropos comparison is to think of the GMAT as an industrial strength lock. If you try to force your way in, the resistance will be significant. However if you know the combination to the lock, it will open easily. The key (pun intended) is to ascertain how to approach each question and work on the skillful approach instead of the forceful approach. Best of all, inside the safe is a ticket to the business school of your choice. Your job is to find the best way inside the safe. The lock mechanism is designed to keep you out, but like a password that is just “password”, it only appears difficult until you crack the safe.

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.

3 Ways to Increase Your GMAT Score to a 760

Everyone who takes the GMAT wants to get a good score. The exact definition of “good” varies from student to student and from college recruiter to college recruiter. However no one can argue that scoring in the top 1% of all applicants can be considered anything less than a good score. Getting into your local university’s business program may not require a terrific score, but it can’t hurt to have one.

When I took the GMAT for the first time, I scored a 760. This was significant for me, not only because it was 50 points better than my last practice test, but because it was a score in the 99th percentile. Without this 99th percentile score, I would not work for Veritas Prep and likely would be trying to teach Shakespeare to inner city youths on the mean streets of Montreal! I did not set out to score so highly on the GMAT, but many of the things I’d done in my life led me to be able to do very well on this exam. I’d like to outline three basic things I’d done that you can use as strategies to boost your score into the stratosphere.

1.  Multiplication Tables

First and foremost, know your multiplication tables. This is math that’s taught to children in elementary school, so although it may seem irrelevant, it is not difficult to learn. Knowing all the products up to 12×12 should take no more than a couple of hours. It’s not necessary to memorize them, but review them and understand how to get to any particular answer quickly (for example 8×9 is 8×10-8 if that’s easier to see).

The advantage of this is not only in saving valuable time when math is required, but also in not losing your train of thought. Questions often ask you to do two or three things before getting to the final answer. If you start doing some tedious math calculations in the middle of solving a question, you’re much more likely to get sidetracked and forget what you were looking for. This wastes more time and sometimes causes you to answer the wrong question. Avoid all of these distractions by already knowing the math that is likely to come up multiple times during the quant section.

It is also worth knowing the perfect squares past 12×12, as numbers like 152 and 162 come up a lot on the GMAT. You can leverage your knowledge of perfect squares to solve questions that seem extremely difficult on the surface. For example, a question may ask you 212-192, expecting you to identify the difference of squares and reduce the math to the more manageable (21+19) * (21-19), which is 80. However, knowing that 212 is 441 and 192 is 361, you can get the answer without even considering the algebraic identity.

2.  Reading is Fundamental

For many people, reading is a passion. It opens our eyes, exposes us to new ideas and interesting theories, but it also exposes us to language and grammar. Regular reading will help improve your score in Reading Comprehension as you will be more skillful at retaining information from passages and understanding the core message. You may not have time to join a book club while studying for the GMAT, but the skills being tested on the exam are similar to those honed as a regular contributor in a book club (just don’t watch the movie instead). Read a passage, or even an entire book, and paraphrase it in your own words. If you can’t, you may not have understood the passage very well.

Furthermore, exposure to good writing will also improve your Sentence Correction skills. Reading well-written sentences will spotlight proper grammar and help you avoid some of the recurring errors on the GMAT. Conveniently, two of the best written periodicals are the Economist and The Wall Street Journal, both excellent publications for aspiring business students. Even reading your local paper is better than nothing, but these two magazines are excellent sources of good grammar and effective sentences. You may even learn some interesting tidbits while studying for the GMAT.

3.  Approximating

Many of my students with mathematical backgrounds feel the need to solve questions with a very high degree of precision. If I were to divide 638 by 402, the quotient would be exactly 1.587. This degree of meticulousness is required in many fields (engineering comes up most often), but on the GMAT, problems often require you to get to the correct answer quickly. One strategy that will help you in a lot of situations is the ability to approximate values. Looking at the two numbers above, it’s about 640 being divided by 400. This can then be thought of as 64 divided by 40, which should give about 1.6. You even know that it has to be a little less because you approximated the dividend upward and the divisor downward. (dog)

Numbers can be approximated in many different ways. For example, a question can ask you about the square root of 500. Doing a little math using the rules of algebra, we can simplify this to:

However, we can do better if we know the value of ?5. Since 22 is 4, and 32 is 9; we can easily surmise that this value will be approximately 2.2. Multiplying this value by 10 will give us approximately 22 as an answer. Similarly, if we knew that 202 is 400 and 252 is 625, we can figure that ?500 is about 22.5 on its own. The approximation method you use can make a difference of a couple of percentage points on the final answer, but the approximation of the answer will still be enough to easily eliminate most if not all of the answer choices provided.

Approximations help in all types of quant questions, even geometry.  ?2 is about 1.4, which helps us on any right angle isosceles triangle. Similarly, you can use 1.7 to approximate ?3. This is helpful as it will be the height of any equilateral triangle. The value ? often comes up, which is about 3.14 (you can use 3 in a lot of situations). If the perimeter of a circle is 4?, you can figure that this has to be about 12.5, and even knowing that it’s about 12 or 13 will usually be enough to solve the problem. There are many questions on the GMAT where knowing an exact formula will get you the right answer, but approximating the values will get you a very close estimate of the number without having to spend much time on calculations.

760 and Beyond

In conclusion, many things will help you get a higher score on the GMAT, but to truly achieve a very high score, you must be at ease with the elements tested on the exam. I was lucky, the exam played directly into my strengths, and I’d spent a lifetime honing the types of skills that would allow me to get a high score. You can circumvent a lot of that preparation time by focusing on the skills that can get you a 99th percentile result.

Reading a lot of well written publications will help you tremendously in the verbal section, particularly in Reading Comprehension as well as Sentence Correction (to say nothing of the AWA). In math, the emphasis should be on being comfortable with numbers and mental math. This is polished by knowing the multiplication tables forwards and backwards, as well as being able to approximate most values of square roots, constants and fractions. Approximating values quickly is so useful on the GMAT I even coined an acronym from my name for it: Rapid Offhand Numbers. If you can quickly RON numbers on the GMAT, you’re in good shape to get your score to 760.

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 Practical Suggestions to Avoid Multitasking and Raise Your GMAT Score

In the first two parts of this article we learned that multitasking causes a host of problems that can be particularly detrimental to GMAT scores. Research shows that multitasking makes it very difficult for a person to focus, damages the short-term memory, makes it hard to sort the relevant from the irrelevant, and slows down the transition from one task or way of thinking to another.

Once you have admitted that you are a multitasker then you are ready to address the problem. It may seem a bit overwhelming to just change the way that you approach your job and your life, so here are some practical suggestions.

1)  Distraction-Free Zone

All of your GMAT studying needs to be as distraction free as possible. After all this is the area where you are trying to bring the most focus. Turn off every device that you can when you are studying. Force yourself to do without the stimuli that you are used to. Really work hard on the problems in front of you and do not allow yourself the relief of changing the task.

The GMAT is over 3.5 hours long. You may not be able to go distraction free for 3 hours right from the start. Why not start with 1 hour blocks? After each hour you can check your devices. Try to increase the time until you reach 2.5 hours with a 10 minute break in the middle. This will build your ability to focus without boredom or distraction.

2)  The 20- Minute Rule

I am borrowing this one from Stanford’s Dr. Nass (and of course it is similar to the Pomodoro technique which requires you to stay on task for 25 minutes at a time). Dr. Nass applies this to email but I apply it more universally. If you are going to do something – do it for at least 20 minutes straight.

There is something about focusing on a task for at least 20 minutes that prevents the problems associated with multitasking. 20 minutes seems to be long enough to actually bring some focus and to get some real work done. If you are checking email – do THAT and ONLY that for 20 minutes. If you are going to use Facebook or Twitter – try to do it all at once (20 minutes should be a whole day’s worth of tweeting). I know that is tough and you might just need to use social media less frequently. The point is to stop channel surfing with your brain.

3)  Sports and Hobbies 

There are times when we naturally practice focus and concentration. A tutoring student of mine plays golf frequently. A round of golf is even longer than the GMAT exam and can require just as much concentration. Especially if smart phones are turned off and only emergency interruptions allowed. Other sports and hobbies require the same focus and are great opportunities to practice NOT multitasking. Gardening, reading, jigsaw puzzles, even just sitting quietly at the beach can help break the cycle of constant stimulation.

4)  Do One Thing at a Time 

This last piece of advice may seem the most obvious given the research quoted above, but it may also be the hardest thing to do. As much as you are able to do so, structure your life and your work so that you are usually doing just one thing at a time. Remember, you might just become 40% more efficient!

All of the above advice comes down to one thing: if you allow yourself to become distracted most of the time in your daily life, you will not be able to suddenly focus when practicing for or actually taking the GMAT. Use the GMAT as an excuse to change your life for the better! Stop multitasking now!

If you 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

Forget Your Prior Knowledge When Solving GMAT Critical Reading Questions

The GMAT is an exam that students generally study for over a few months, but it can be argued that students have been preparing for it their entire lives. From mastering addition in elementary school to understanding geometric properties and reading Shakespeare sonnets, your whole life has arguably been a prelude to your success on the GMAT. You might not need everything you’ve ever learnt on this one exam, but you will already have been exposed to everything you need to be successful.

However, there are times when all the information you’ve spent a lifetime accumulating can hinder you on the GMAT. For example, everyone has been influenced to some degree by their upbringing, their experiences and their personal biases. This is unavoidable, but knowing that many GMAT questions will try to exploit this gap can help you prepare for it. Remember that outside knowledge can only hinder you on the test as everyone has to be able to solve the question with only the information in front of them. Anything less would constitute an unfair advantage of one test taker over another (and be uncivilized).

The GMAT is based on logical facts mentioned in the question, not reader bias or preconceived notions formed long before you ever set foot in the test center. However it’s important to understand how our brain takes information and compares it to what we expect to see.

Let’s look at a Critical Reasoning question and try to identify the answer choices that are completed with subconscious information from our own preconceptions:

From 1994 to 2001, violent crime in New York City steadily decreased by over 50% from a rate of 1,861 violent crimes per 100,000 people in 1994 down to 851 violent crimes per 100,000 people in 2001. Criminologists have partially attributed this drop to proactive policing tactics such as “broken window policing”, wherein city officials immediately fixed small acts of vandalism and, as a result, lowered other types of criminal behavior. During this same period, the rate of violent crime in the United States steadily decreased by 28% (down to 500 violent crimes per 100,000 people).

Which of the following conclusions is best supported by the information above?

(A)   The decrease in the total crime rate in the United States caused the decrease in New York City’s crime rate.

(B)   New York City spends more per capita on law enforcement than does the rest of the United States.

(C)   If the rest of the United States were to adopt law enforcement tactics similar to those of New York City, national violent crime rates would continue to fall.

(D)   Between 1994 and 2001, the violent crime rate in New York City was consistently higher than the national average.

(E)    The violent crime rate in New York City will soon be below the national average.

The first tactic used by the GMAT to bring to mind students’ beliefs is using topics that evoke strong opinions. Many people have strong opinions on crime, based primarily on their first hand experiences. If your sister’s house got broken into last year, you might have very strong opinions on crime that you didn’t have two years ago. When you see topics that evoke strong emotions, the GMAT may be trying to blind side you (so remember to stand your ground).

This question is specifically asking about which answer choice is supported by the text, which means that it’s an inference question. The important thing to remember about inference questions is that the answer must always be true. However, the downside is that we can’t easily predict the correct answer because many different choices could all conceivably be correct. We’ll have to approach these one by one and determine whether they always have to be true.

Answer choice A states that the decrease in the total crime rate in the United States caused the decrease in New York City’s crime rate. This is a classic causality trap. If the crime rate went down in one place and another place at the same time, is there necessarily causation? Did one cause the other? Were they both caused by some third element? We simply cannot tell with the information provided. Answer choice A is incorrect.

Answer choice B postulates that New York City spends more on law enforcement per capita than the rest of the US. This may very well be true, and our brains probably start thinking that this is a likely scenario given that New York is the biggest city in the US, but there is no discussion of this in the text. This is one scenario that your brain might start filling in the blanks for you, but don’t be fooled. Inference questions must always be true, and at best this is “likely” (like a Justin Bieber scandal). Answer choice B is not supported by the information above.

Answer choice C hypothesizes about what would happen if the rest of the country adopted the New York City strategy. This is conjecture in its purest form. We don’t know what would happen if the rest of the country followed NYC’s example. (Where’s Miss Cleo when we need her?) The tempting aspect of this answer is that it seems to give a larger context to the passage as a strategy to reduce crime across the country. No such blanket policy was advocated, but our brains sometimes try and make the leap in logic on their own. This answer is incorrect, even if on some level we want it to be relevant.

Answer choice D offers that the violent crime rate in New York City was consistently higher than the national average during the timeframe being examined. This plays into our preconceived notion about answer choice B (spending more money per capita) in that New York is a relatively dangerous place. The difference is, in this case, the claim is absolutely backed up by the numbers in the passage. New York City is at 851 incidents per 100,000 people in 2001 whereas the national average is 500 for the same number of people. Clearly New York City was above the average in 2001. Furthermore, since 1994, New York City has decreased by over 50% whereas the national average only dropped by 28%. If NYC dropped by a bigger percentage and still ended up higher than the average, I must have been even higher above the average back in the mid 1990s. Answer choice D must therefore be correct based on actual numbers in the text.

Answer choice E again theorizes about what might happen in the future if various things happen (but only if Pisces is in Aquarius). There is no backing for this answer choice in the text, and this hypothetical must also be discarded.

The nature of inference questions helps isolate the faulty premises being used on many answer choices designed to confuse and trap test takers. However it’s important to be on the lookout for answers that have purposeful gaps designed to get test takers to fill in with their own opinions. You have spent a lifetime preparing for this test, and your accumulated knowledge from years of experience will help you maximize your score. Just make sure your knowledge doesn’t override what’s written on the page in front of you.

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 Multitasking Can Hurt Your GMAT Score: Part II

If you read part 1 of this article you know that multitasking can result in attention difficulties and problems with productivity. You may not think that all of this talk about decreased productivity and being distracted would apply to the GMAT; after all there is no chance to update your Facebook status and “tweet” during the test right?  So this must have no impact. However, when it does come time to concentrate on just one thing – for example, the GMAT – researchers have found that multitaskers have more trouble tuning out distractions than people who focus on one task at a time.

Research shows that multitasking makes it very difficult for a person to focus, damages the short-term memory, makes it hard to sort the relevant from the irrelevant, and can slow down the transition from one task or way of thinking to another.

I have found that GMAT students who are multitaskers get bored very easily while studying or taking practice tests! Multitasking is all about being distracted and that can become addicting. I have actually found that confirmed multitaskers find the relative silence of the test room disturbing, they find the requirement to focus on just one thing until it is completed oppressing, and they are often, in a word, bored. Let’s face it; sentence correction and coordinate geometry are not the most exciting things in the world, especially not to a brain addicted to constant stimulation.

For years, I have been interested in the problems caused of multitasking, but it was a story on National Public Radio’s “Science Friday [Talk of the Nation]” that inspired me to write this article. It seems that science has become even more emphatic about the subject over the past few years. Dr. Clifford Nass, Professor of Communication at Stanford said this,

“The research is almost unanimous, which is very rare in social science, and it says that people who chronically multitask show an enormous range of deficits. They’re basically terrible at all sorts of cognitive tasks, including multitasking.”

Multitaskers are bad at everything – including multitasking! Imagine that. It is as if playing tennis made you less physically fit and, indeed, a worse tennis player.

Even emotions are impacted…

There is another impact of multitasking that surprised me, a change in emotions. Doctor Nass said, “We can look at use of the front part of the brain called the prefrontal cortex. We can look at even things like emotion management. There’s evidence that high multitaskers have difficulty with managing their emotion. So this really spans everything we do, because after all, thinking is about everything we do.” 

That is a pretty big deal. If multitaskers do have trouble controlling their emotions then this might mean more anxiety on test day, more fear, and more frustration at not being able to focus.

The professor went on to say,

“So we have scales that allow us to divide up people into people who multitask all the time and people who rarely do, and the differences are remarkable. People who multitask all the time can’t filter out irrelevancy. They can’t manage a working memory. They’re chronically distracted.

They initiate much larger parts of their brain that are irrelevant to the task at hand. And even – they’re even terrible at multitasking. When we ask them to multitask, they’re actually worse at it. So they’re pretty much mental wrecks.

Wow! Mental Wrecks! And he is describing many of the working professionals in the United States and hundreds of millions of people worldwide. It seems that you can gain an advantage over your competition (on the GMAT and in life) by simply learning to focus on one thing at a time.

In Part 3 of this article you will find practical solutions to help you stop multitasking and build your ability to focus.

If you 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

How to Breakdown Data Sufficiency Sequence Questions on the GMAT

Sequence questions come up fairly regularly on the GMAT quantitative section. One of the biggest problems students report on these questions is that they can’t determine what the terms in sequence should actually be. As such, the first important thing to determine is the value of the first few elements of the sequence. Without this information, the question seems much more abstract and difficult to follow.

What’s important to note is that any sequence is predicated on specific rules. To take a famous example, the Fibonacci sequence is defined as a1 = 1 and a2 = 1, and then for all subsequent terms: an = an-1 + an-2. Breaking through the math, the third term will be the sum of the first and second. The fourth term will be the sum of the second and third, etc. Turning the general an formula into a1 = 1, a2 = 1, a3 = 2, a4 = 3, a5 = 5, a6 = 8, a7 = 13… makes it a lot easier to grasp what is happening in this sequence.

Of course, simply determining the first few elements of a sequence is never sufficient to solve the problem. It is, however, a necessary step towards understanding how to answer the question. Knowing what the sequence looks like is important, because knowing is half the battle (G.I. Joe). There are still potentially other pitfalls that must be avoided, but having the rules of the sequence clearly understood helps avoid some of the clever pitfalls the test makers use to make questions more difficult.

Let’s look at a data sufficiency sequence question that highlights these issues:

The infinite sequence a1, a2, … an, … is such that a1 = x, a2 = y, a3 = z, a4 = 3 and an = an-4 for n > 4. What is the sum of the first 98 terms of the sequence?

(1)    x = 5

(2)    y + z = 2

(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.

(E)    Statements 1 and 2 are not sufficient to answer the question asked and additional data is needed to answer the statements.

Before even looking at the two statements, let’s try and understand what the sequence is telling us about itself. It’s an infinite sequence where the first three terms are the variables x, y and z, and the fourth term is 3. After the fourth term, the numbers simply repeat in the same pattern. So the sequence looks like x, y, z, 3, x, y, z, 3, x, y, z, 3 etc. This helps us figure out what the question is actually asking, which in this case is a sum involving 3 separate variables (x, y and z) and only two statements. (looks like E at this preliminary stage!)

Statement 1 gives us a precise value of x. So basically I now need to know the sum of 5 + 3 + y + z. I still don’t have any value for y or z, so I can’t find an actual value for this sum. Statement 1 will be insufficient because I still have two unknowns.

Statement 2 on its own gives us values of y and z, but only as a sum. Without a value of x, this is still insufficient as the sum of the first four numbers will be x + 2 + 3. Statement 2 will be insufficient, so the answer will be either C or E.

Combining the statements, I have values for x and y + z, and thus if the question is asking x + y + z + 3, I know this must end up being 5 + 2 + 3 = 10. I know with 100% certainty that the sum of the first four terms will be exactly 10. The one caveat to be aware of is that we don’t have values for y and z, only for y + z. So y and z could be 0.5 and 1.5 or they could both be 1 (or -100 and +102) and we’d never know the difference.

This issue may be important to answer the question, as we are being asked for a sum of a number of elements. If they wanted to know the sum of the first element, statement 1 lets us know that it must be 5. If they wanted to know the sum of the first three elements, both statements together confirm that it must be 7. However, if the question was about the sum of the first two elements, then the answer could be 6 or 5.1 or even -95. We cannot determine the sum of the first two numbers with precision. And since this pattern repeats every 4 numbers, we cannot determine the sum of the first six elements, or the first ten elements, etc.

This question in particular is asking for the sum of the first 98 elements, so we must determine whether this is one of the sums that separates y and z. If it does, then we don’t know the exact sum. If it doesn’t, then we have sufficient data to determine the exact sum. The pattern repeats every 4 numbers, so every multiple of 4 will add 10 to the sum. We can use multiples of 4 to quickly determine that the first 40 or the first 80 are easy to calculate. After that, you can just add bounds in 4 to go from 80 to 84 to 88 to 92 to 96. Adding two more numbers would mean adding x and y again, which is the one spot we wanted to avoid. The answer to this question is thus E as we cannot determine the value of y with any certainty whatsoever. Answer choice E is correct in this case.

Had this question been the sum of the first 97 elements, we could have calculated it with certainty (10 x 24 + 5 or 245). Had this question been the sum of the first 99 elements, we could have also calculated it with certainty (10 x 24 + 7 or 247). The sum of this sequence is unclear if the remainder of the division by four is two (same concept as modulo, which isn’t explicitly tested on the GMAT but is nonetheless good to know). On sequence questions, determining the first few elements helps concretize the concept and make the numbers easier to understand. Once you do that, you’ll see your accuracy rate climb as a direct consequence (i.e. con-sequence!).

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 Multitasking Can Hurt Your GMAT Score

Do you “multitask”?  Probably you do.  A survey showed that “the top 25 percent of Stanford students use four or more media at one time whenever they’re using any media. So when they’re writing a paper, they’re also Facebooking, listening to music, texting, Twittering, et cetera. And that’s something that just couldn’t happen in previous generations even if we wanted it to.”

What is the definition of multitasking?

Multitasking is originally a word associated with computers. The earliest computers could only do one thing at a time so it was revolutionary when computers began to be able to process two or more jobs concurrently. Now your computer can run many programs at (or seemingly at) the same time.

In relation to humans, multitasking means to perform two or more tasks simultaneously. This may not, in fact, be possible at all. A website on multitasking from the University of Queensland (Australia) had this to say:

“Many scientists believe the ability to multi-task is a myth… Unlike computers, which can perform tasks at lightning speed, the human brain needs to switch between tasks, depending on which area of the brain is being used. Multi-tasking often involves goal switching and re-evaluating, which experts say takes time. What appears to be human multi-tasking is more akin to channel surfing between television stations.”

“Channel surfing” does not sound nearly as good as “multitasking” but it may be nearer to the truth! The type of multitasking that people try to accomplish in the modern world is called “foreground multitasking.” This is where you try to do two or more things at the forefront of your mind. This is the multitasking that may not even be possible. For example, concentrating on typing an email and really listening to a person who is talking to you is very difficult. One task or the other is likely to suffer, so we end up actually switching back and forth since this is the only way a person can cope with these situations. We “channel surf” between one task and the other.

If you think of “multitasking” as really a process of rapidly switching back and forth between tasks you can see why it would be inefficient. Think about a triathlon. Even world-class athletes with modern equipment lose some time switching between swimming and running and biking. In those events they complete the entire swim and then transition to the bike and then to the run. I cannot imagine that the race would be more efficient if, every few minutes, the athletes switched back and forth between events. Too much time is lost in the transition.

As expected, research shows that multitasking is indeed less efficient. A recent article called “The Cognitive Costs of Multitasking” indicated that multitaskers were found to be 40% LESS productive at work. All of that switching back and forth takes energy. You have to reload the information every time you switch back and forth and this can be very inefficient.

But that’s not me.

Now I can hear you saying it, “This is not me. I can focus when I need to. Even though I multitask I can switch into ‘GMAT-mode’” Right? Wrong!

Dr. Clifford Nass, Professor of Communication at Stanford has been at the forefront of research into multitasking. Dr. Nass found that “the most striking thing about multitaskers is that they do not know they even have a problem. They say “look, when I really have to concentrate, I turn off everything and I am laser-focused. And unfortunately, they’ve developed habits of mind that make it impossible for them to be laser-focused. They’re suckers for irrelevancy. They just can’t keep on task.”

It seems the first step is to admit that you have a problem.

Part 2 of this article discusses multi-tasking as it specifically relates to the GMAT.

If you 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

Dangling Modifiers on the GMAT

Properly identifying incorrect modifier constructions, which are common errors in Sentence Correction, is a key component in achieving a high score on the GMAT. Knowing that modifier errors are among the most common errors seen on the GMAT, the astute student carefully studies the rules of correctly using modifiers. These grammatical constructions, among the most difficult to spot at a glance, confuse students and frustrate test takers who haven’t adequately prepared for the exam.

Modifiers on the GMAT can take many forms, but the most common ones are used correctly above. (Did you notice the plethora of modifiers in the above paragraph?) Multiple kinds of modifier errors, in which an element modifying a part of the sentence is used incorrectly, show up regularly in Sentence Correction. However, the type I want to highlight is one of the GMAT’s favorite tricks: the dangling modifier (cue the song “My Favorite Mistake”).

Consider the following sentence in a vacuum: “Alarmed by the recent decline of the stock market, many retirement investments have been switched from stocks to more conservative options, such as money market funds.” Logically, I understand what is being said here. The stock market is in decline and investments are being transferred to less risky alternatives. However, the sentence begins with the modifier “Alarmed by xyz,” which means that whatever follows the comma must be alarmed. In this case, the subject of the sentence would be retirement investments, but can investments be alarmed? (Even if they’re Blackberry stock, it’s unlikely).

Since investments cannot be alarmed, the subject must be changed to a term that can be alarmed. In other words, the subject of the modifier needs to be someone who is capable of actually being alarmed. Someone like an investor, a hedge fund manager or even just a nonspecific person. We can rewrite this phrase as “Alarmed by the recent decline of the stock market, many investors have switched their retirement investments from stocks to more conservative options, such as money market funds.” This minor change shrewdly fixes the dangling modifier issue present in the previous version and creates a perfectly correct (or cromulant) sentence.

These types of errors show up all over Sentence Correction problems. Let’s look at an example of a dangling modifier:

Knowing that the area was prone to earthquakes, all the buildings were reinforced with additional steel and concrete.

(A)   Knowing that the area was prone to earthquakes,

(B)   Having known that the area was prone to earthquakes,

(C)   Since the area was known to be prone to earthquakes,

(D)   Since they knew that the area was prone to earthquakes,

(E)    Being prone to earthquakes,

Since the entire participial phrase “Knowing that the area was prone to earthquakes,” must logically modify the noun after the comma, it becomes fairly clear that A cannot be the correct answer. After all, buildings may be sturdy and resistant to wind, but they cannot possibly know which areas are under tectonic plates (Skynet’s new plan may involve intelligent buildings?). The participial phrase is what’s underlined here, which means we need to replace it with something that refers to the buildings, or else rewrite it entirely. Either way, answer choice A makes a classic dangling modifier error.

Answer choice B “Having known that the area was prone to earthquakes” introduces the same error to the sentence. The buildings are not the ones that knew about the earthquakes, regardless of the tense of the verb. Answer choice B can be quickly eliminated.

Answer choice C mixes things up a little by stating “Since the area was known to be prone to earthquakes,”. This provides a plausible causal effect for the rest of the sentence without putting the onus solely on the buildings. This formulation is devoid of any modifier errors, and there are no other glaring errors, so it should be the correct answer. We should review the other two choices to ensure we can eliminate them for valid reasons, but C should be the answer once the dust settles (pun intended)

Answer choice D “Since they knew that the area was prone to earthquakes,” removes the dangling modifier error, but simultaneously creates a new pronoun error. Who is being referred to with the pronoun “they”? It could be the buildings, or it could be someone else entirely, perhaps even a team of civil engineers (or perhaps the Seattle Seahawks). The ambiguity will eliminate this answer choice from being the correct choice.

Answer choice E succinctly proposes “Being prone to earthquakes,” which now changes the meaning of the sentence to indicate that the buildings are prone to earthquakes. The area has been completely removed (like removing a dimension from a square). Answer choice E changes the meaning to an illogical construction and can therefore be promptly eliminated as well.

Answer choice C was indeed the correct choice on this question. Since language is somewhat subjective, it’s possible to have multiple constructions that are all grammatically correct. As such, if one answer choice does not have any errors, it will be the correct answer choice. Sentence correction is very much a process of elimination, and easily identifying dangling modifier errors will help you eliminate incorrect answer choices quickly.

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 Convert Fractions to Decimals on the GMAT

Certain skills help make the math portion of the GMAT much easier. For example, being at ease with multiplication and factoring can help you on all kinds of questions that aren’t even about multiples or factors. In fact, questions about one and only one topic are few and far between. A GMAT question will never ask you what 8 x 7 is explicitly, but it could easily ask you the area of a triangle with a base of 16 and a height of 7. (Recall that the formula for the area of a triangle is ½ Base x Height).

Similarly, a skill that comes up frequently on the GMAT is the ability to convert from fractions to decimals. If you see ½, you can easily convert this to 0.5. However, if the exam asks you 2/7, 8/9 or 3/8, could you convert these numbers into decimal and then use them to solve an overarching question? Not everyone is comfortable with these kinds of calculations, and yet understanding fractions is one of the biggest parts of the GMAT. (And yes, that pun was intended)

As a quick reminder, knowing the conversion for all single-digit fractions will help you save time on these questions, even if the question often asks for more than just a simple exchange from fraction to decimal. From one half to one fifth, these should be easy, so there are only a few fractions that are somewhat unfamiliar. As a quick review:

1/2: 0.500
1/3: 0.333
1/4: 0.250
1/5: 0.200
1/6: 0.167 (half of 1/3)
1/7: 0.143 (just need to know this one)
1/8: 0.125 (half of 1/4)
1/9: 0.111 (ninths always have the same number repeating periodic)

Now of course, questions often ask about a fraction other than 1/x, but if you know the base case, you can simply multiply to get to 2 or 3 or any other number. Again, you will never see a GMAT question that asks you “What is the decimal value of 1/7” (even if you’re scoring a 200). However you can definitely see a question like:

If x is the median of the set {9/2, 11/3, 28/9, 21/5, x}, x could be

(A) 16/5
(B) 17/5
(C) 4
(D) 30/7
(E) 31/7

This question would fall into the category of statistics, as it is primarily asking about the median of a set. However, if you know that the median is just the middle term of an ordered set, then the real difficulty of this question is putting the elements in ascending (or even descending) order. The fastest way to do this is probably to convert all the numbers into decimals and ranking them in that method.

This is probably easiest if we separate the integers from the fractions, which can be done in two parts.

9/2 = 8/2 + 1/2 = 4 1/2 = 4.5
11/3 = 9/3 + 2/3 = 3 2/3 = 3.67
28/9 = 27/9 + 1/9 = 3 1/9 = 3.11
21/5 = 20/5 + 1/5 = 4 1/5 = 4.2

The four numbers in order are thus really 3.11, 3.67, 4.2 and 4.5. The median (x) could be anywhere from 3.67 to 4.2. A cursory glance at the answer choices confirms that it must be 4. We can take the extra step of eliminating the other four choices by converting them using the same method:

(A) 16/5 = 15/5 + 1/5 = 3 1/5 = 3.2
(B) 17/5 = 15/5 + 2/5 = 3 2/5 = 3.4
(C) 4 = 4 = 4 = 4
(D) 30/7 = 28/7 + 2/7 = 4 2/7 = 4.29
(E) 31/7 = 28/7 + 3/7= 4 3/7 = 4.43

It’s worth mentioning that the GMAT characteristic of always having the answer choices in order will be maintained here, even if the order isn’t obvious due to different denominators.

Alternatively, if you’re a big fan of fractions, you can solve this question using only fractions. The downside is that the math becomes much more unwieldy. If I want to put halves, ninths and fifths on a common denominator, I need to put all these fractions on ninetieths.

You could rewrite the set

{9/2, 11/3, 28/9, 21/5, x}
as
{405/90, 330/90, 280/90, 378/90, x}

It is now easy to put these numbers in order: {280/90, 330/90, x, 378/90, 405/90}. The number x must now be between 330/90 and 378/90. The number 4 converts to 360/90, so you can see it fairly easily. However this process is more difficult and time-consuming than simply converting the numbers into decimals, but it will still work. Without a calculator, multiplying 21 by 18 may prove to be more hassle than it’s worth.

When it comes to fractions, generally being at ease with them and converting easily to and from decimals will help you get the correct answer on many different types of GMAT questions. Just because a question is asking about medians or areas or probability doesn’t mean that you won’t need to use your knowledge of fractions to solve the question. To paraphrase the seminal 80s cartoon G.I. Joe: Knowing is ½ the battle.

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 Spot Subtle Differences in GMAT Critical Reasoning Questions

One of the Critical Reasoning questions that students struggle with the most is the Roles of Boldface questions. This may be because they’re scarce (like diamonds), and therefore you aren’t likely to practice them as much as other question types. Or it may be because they ask you to differentiate among multiple definitions that all start to sound the same after a while. Is the first a position or is it an opinion, and is there any difference between those two? (Hint: there isn’t).

Roles of Boldface questions always ask about the roles of two different parts of the same passage. The two passages are separated by some amount of text, none of which is asked of you but all of which is nonetheless important. The five answer choices always present you with a description of the first part of the text, then a semi-colon, then the other part of the text. Much like sentence correction, your best friend on these questions is the process of elimination. You can eliminate answer choices that are incorrect on the first portion or the second portion until there is only one answer left.

To do this, you should logically and methodically eliminate answer choices once you see that they cannot possibly match up with the meaning of the passage. In a way, you’re like Lieutenant Commander Data on the starship Enterprise trying to understand human culture. Since you’re a robot, you can use deduction and logic to get to the right answer, but little else. Examining the choices one by one will isolate the correct answer given the specific premise (somehow I think Data would do quite well on the GMAT).

Let’s go through a fairly robust example and see how we can quickly eliminate erroneous choices:

Historian: In the Drindian Empire, censuses were conducted annually to determine the population of each village. Village census records for the last half of the 1600’s are remarkably complete. This very completeness makes one point stand out; in five different years, villages overwhelmingly reported significant population declines. Tellingly, each of those five years immediately followed an increase in a certain Drindian tax. This tax, which was assessed on villages, was computed by the central government using the annual census figures. Obviously, whenever the tax went up, villages had an especially powerful economic incentive to minimize the number of people they recorded; and concealing the size of a village’s population from government census takers would have been easy. Therefore, it is reasonable to think that the reported declines did not happen. In the historian’s argument, the two portions in boldface play which of the following roles?

(A)   The first supplies a context for the historian’s argument; the second acknowledges a consideration that has been used to argue against the position the historian seeks to establish.

(B)   The first presents evidence to support the position that the historian seeks to establish; the second acknowledges a consideration that has been used to argue against that position.

(C)   The first provides a context for certain evidence that supports the position that the historian seeks to establish; the second is that position.

(D)   The first is a position for which the historian argues; the second is an assumption that serves as the basis of that argument.

(E)    The first is an assumption that the historian explicitly makes in arguing for a certain position; the second acknowledges a consideration that calls that assumption into question.

The passage calls into question the truthfulness (And yes even the truthiness) of censuses taken over 300 years ago. The first portion seems to indicate the fact that the author wishes to contest, and the second part is some kind of opinion. The difference between the first part (fact) and the second part (opinion) should help us eliminate the incorrect choices. Let’s look at them one at a time:

A)     The first supplies a context for the historian’s argument; the second acknowledges a consideration that has been used to argue against the position the historian seeks to establish.

The first part is correct, but the second part is dead wrong. The author is not seeking to acknowledge a consideration that weighs against him; rather, he is in support of the second part. This is out.

B)      The first presents evidence to support the position that the historian seeks to establish; the second acknowledges a consideration that has been used to argue against that position.

This is the same principle as answer choice A. First part is fine, second part is a near-verbatim transcript of the second part of answer choice A. This one is out as well.

C)      The first provides a context for certain evidence that supports the position that the historian seeks to establish; the second is that position.

Bingo. This is correct on both portions. The first part is the context of the historian’s position, and the second part is exactly that opinion. We should check the other choices but this will be the correct answer.

D)     The first is a position for which the historian argues; the second is an assumption that serves as the basis of that argument.

The first part is not a position that anyone is arguing for or against. It’s simply a statement of fact. This answer can thus be eliminated.

E)      The first is an assumption that the historian explicitly makes in arguing for a certain position; the second acknowledges a consideration that calls that assumption into question.

The part is not an assumption either, so this answer choice can be eliminated in the same way as answer choice D.

The roles of boldface questions require you to keep a keen eye out for subtle differences in wording. However, they always tend to follow the same basic patterns, including two answer choices being incorrect about the first part and two being incorrect about the second part. Once you have understood the meaning of the passage, you have a much better chance of quickly eliminating the incorrect answer choices and selecting the correct answer. You may not go where no one has gone before, but at the very least you’ll boldly go directly to the correct answer.

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 Make Abstract Data Sufficiency Questions More Concrete

On data sufficiency problems, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the abstract possibilities presented by the question. Since you don’t actually have to calculate an exact solution, frequently you are faced with problems that would be too tedious to solve without a calculator. However, just because you don’t have to actually solve them, doesn’t mean it isn’t comforting to do so when faced with abstract problems (just add a little concrete).

As a simple example, consider a question that tells you that Y is the product of the first four prime numbers. You don’t actually need to calculate that it’s 2 x 3 x 5 x 7 = 210, but it’s quick enough that you aren’t handicapped by executing the math either. Then, instead of thinking of the abstract number Y, you can always just replace it with 210. Sometimes, something as innocuous as this can help make abstract problems much more palpable.

Let’s look at an actual GMAT Data Sufficiency problem that highlights this issue:

A collection of 36 cards consists of 4 sets of 9 cards each. The 9 cards in each set are numbered 1 through 9. If one card has been removed from the collection, what is the number on that card?

(1) The units digit of the sum of the numbers on the remaining 35 cards is 6.
(2) The sum of the numbers on the remaining 35 cards is 176.

(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.

(E)  Statements 1 and 2 are not sufficient to answer the question asked and additional data is needed to answer the statements.

In this question, we are tasked with determining whether we can accurately predict the card that has been removed from an arbitrary set based on what’s left. (Statistically, it’s the ace of clubs!) Without doing any math, your inkling might be that it’s solvable, because removing one specific value from a larger specific value should leave yet another specific value. However, this is the type of problem where you’re likely to start second guessing yourself and you might oscillate from D to E to C. To avoid this type of indecision, let’s just calculate the actual values of the variables!

If there are 4 sets of 9 cards each, with each card being numbered from 1 to 9, then we can easily calculate the sum of each set. The brute force approach of adding 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 5 + 6 + 7 + 8 + 9 = 45 will work, but is slow and error-prone. A better solution is to identify that these are consecutive integers, which means the mean will be equal to the median. Since the median is clearly 5, the mean must be 5 as well. Combining with the formula that total = mean x number of elements and we have a sum of 5 x 9 = 45. Since each set is identical, the sum of each set is 45, and the total sum of the four sets is 45 x 4 = 180.

So the mystery abstract sum the question set up is actually 180. It cannot be any other number, and as such we can stop referring to it as X (or Y or the other), and start referring to it as 180. Let’s now evaluate the statements one at a time:

Statement 1 says that the units digit of the sum of the numbers on the remaining 35 cards is 6. This means that the value of the subtracted card must be 4, as all cards have a single-digit value. No other card value would leave a units digit of 6 (smaller than 14) for the sum of the remaining numbers, so 4 must be the subtracted number. Statement 1 is sufficient on its own.

Statement 2 says that the sum of the numbers on the remaining 35 cards is 176. This is very similar to statement 1, and it even gives more detail! If the sum was 180, then you’d have to subtract 4 to get to 176. This again confirms that the missing card is a 4, nothing else will do. Statement 2 is equally sufficient.

Unsurprisingly, since statements 1 and 2 are so similar, they produce either an answer of D or E. In this instance, each statement alone provided enough information to get the correct answer. In data sufficiency, it’s important to know that you don’t have to calculate these sums to answer questions, but you certainly can if you want to make sure you have the GMAT’s number.

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.

 

Your 700 GMAT Score is Relative

It has been said that everything is relative. Without getting too deep into the theory put forth by my friend Al(bert Einstein), your relative position and situation shapes your perception of things. A very common example of this is when students ask me “what difficulty level is this question?” I may find a question difficult and proclaim it’s a 700 level question. Another question seems more straightforward so I deem it a 500 level question. Granted, I have some credibility vis-a-vis GMAT difficulty level, but my opinion will be tainted by my relative strengths. I tend to consider arithmetic problems as simple and geometry problems as difficult primarily because of my personal preferences and abilities.

Conversely, some elements can be considered universal. A universal element is one that won’t change, regardless of the observer’s bias. A simple example of this is 2 + 2 = 4. There really isn’t much variance in a question like this. A casual GMAT student might think this is trivial, but a 3 year old may struggle immensely with the concept as it is new to him or her. Neither of these observations changes the universal fact that 2 + 2 = 4 (or possibly 5, for extremely large values of 2).

This concept can come in handy in some fairly unexpected situations. For example: when evaluating errors in sentence correction on the GMAT. Let’s look at an example and employ the above strategy to quickly zero in on the correct answer:

While the nurses frantically searched for his parents to collect his vital information, the injured boy calmly explained to the doctor that his blood type was O positive.

(A)   the injured boy calmly explained to the doctor that his blood type was O positive

(B)   the injured boy had calmly explained to the doctor that his blood type was O positive

(C)   the boy was injured and explained that his blood type is O positive to the doctor

(D)   the boy, who was injured, calmly explained to the doctor that his blood type was O positive

(E)    the injured boy calmly explained to the doctor that his blood type is O positive

Now what does this question tell us (apart from borderline neglectful parenting)? The boy was injured at some point and then explained things to the doctor while the nurses tried to call the parents. The timeline makes perfect sense in this regard, and therefore we can look through the answer choices for any contradictions to this timeline. Answer choice C will be eliminated for this reason as it indicates that the boy was injured while the nurses tried to call his parents, creating a nonsensical timeline. Why would the nurses call the boy’s parents if he were fine? Clearly he would have to have been injured before any calls were made (even if they were collect calls).

This leaves us with four viable answer choices. Looking at them one by one, answer choice A seems reasonable, but answer choice D says exactly the same thing in almost the exact same way. It will therefore be hard to differentiate between these two choices. Answer choice B incorrectly messes with the timeline as well, so it can be eliminated. Answer choice E is exactly the same as the initial sentence with the verb tense updated to the present. This is a clear decision point as only one of the two answer choices can be correct. To determine which one is correct, we need to revisit the concept of universality.

Compare the following two sentences:

“In 2010, I moved to Montreal, which was an island”

and

“In 2010, I moved to Montreal, which is an island”

Since the move was several years ago, it makes sense that the verb “moved” is in the past. However, Montreal was an island in 2010, and is still an island in 2013 (although half the bridges are now falling down). Using the past here is only correct if something happened in the interim to change the status of Montreal. For example, had Montreal been destroyed, Krakatau style, then the first sentence would have been correct. Since Montreal is still here, nothing has changed since the move, and the present tense is correct.

Going back to the injured boy, since he is in the process of explaining his blood type to the doctor, he clearly isn’t deceased, which would have been the only justification for using the past tense. As such, the boy is fine and he is still O positive, a universal truth that will not spontaneously change. Answer choice E is correct because Answer choices A and D both erroneously use the past tense.

When evaluating universal truths, it is important to keep in mind that unchangeable elements will always remain in the present. When dealing with transitory elements, the timeline must be consistent with a changing reality.  When dealing with something as intractable as blood types, you can be positive (which is my blood type!) that they will never change.

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 the Synergy of the GMAT to Your Advantage on Test Day

When preparing for the GMAT, you may notice that studying for one subject makes you better in other disciplines as well. For example, practicing your algebra tends to make you better at algebra, arithmetic tends to make you faster at picking numbers and the entire quant section helps you significantly in integrated reasoning. This is due to the fact that many subjects overlap and have common elements. More formally, you can say that the GMAT is an exam with a lot of synergy.

Synergy is defined as “The interaction of two or more agents or forces so that their combined effect is greater than the sum of their individual effects”. The different elements on the exam clearly have some synergy together; however even within specific questions you can notice some elements of synergy that can help simplify the problem.

A good approach when you’re unsure how to attack a problem is to break it down into smaller parts that are easier to digest (like Homer Simpsons’ 6’ sandwich). Instead of trying to figure out everything at once, you break the problem down into more manageable parts and work through them one by one. While this strategy has its upsides, a glaring problem is that you need to recombine the disparate elements back into a cohesive whole. (If you’ve ever taken apart a computer you might know this is sometimes easier said than done). One simple alternative to this piecemeal strategy is to approach questions holistically and consider the entire problem at once.

Let’s examine a problem using both of these strategies:

There are two inlets and one outlet to a cistern. One of the inlets takes 3 hours to fill up the cistern and the other takes twice as much time to fill up the same cistern. If both of the inlets are turned on at 9:00 AM with the cistern completely empty, and at 10:30 AM, the outlet is turned on and it takes 1 more hour to fill the cistern completely, how much time does the outlet working alone take to empty the cistern when the cistern is full?

(A)   2 hours

(B)   2.5 hours

(C)   3 hours

(D)   3.5 hours

(E)    4 hours

Looking at this work-rate problem, we might have to read it two or three times to understand what is going on. There’s a pot of water with two tubes leading in and one leading out (two steps forward, one step back, as it were). The question stem provides a lot of information, so let’s evaluate what we know:

The first inlet takes 3 hours to fill the cistern. The rate is 1/3 of the job per hour.

The second takes twice as long, ergo 6 hours to fill the cistern. The rate is 1/6 of the job per hour.

Ignoring the outlet, what is the rate of both inlets working together? RA + RB = RAB. Mathematically, 1/3 + 1/6 = 6/18 + 3/18 = 9/18 or ½. This means that the two inlets alone complete half the job every hour, and therefore take 2 hours to fill the cistern completely.

Now we can tackle this problem piece-by-piece. If the inlets start at 9:00 AM and the conditions change at 10:30, they had 1.5 hours to fill the cistern. If the rate is ½ per hour and they go for 1.5 hours, then the cistern should be 1.5/2 or ¾ full.

At 10:30, the outlet is turned on and some quantity of water starts to leak out. The cistern is nonetheless full an hour later indicating the inflow of water still outpaces the outflow. The rate of the inlets is known to be ½, but if ¼ of the cistern is filled in 1 hour, then the three streams going simultaneously would take 4 hours to fill the entire cistern. From this, can we determine the rate of just the outlet, as the question is asking?

Algebraically, we can isolate the rate of the outlay:

Rate of Inlet 1 + Rate of Inlet 2 – Rate of Outlet = Rate of all three

1/3                    +   1/6                   –     x                     =     ¼

Putting all the terms on a common denominator (24):

8 / 24              +   4 /24                  –    x                      =     6/24

12 / 24 – x = 6 / 24

-x = -6/24

x = 6/24

x = ¼.

The outlay drains ¼ of the cistern per hour, and thus would take 4 hours to drain the entire reservoir. Answer choice E, mathematically proven and clear. However, can we approach this problem holistically and get the same answer faster (oh I hope the answer is yes!)?

If we go back to the two inlets having a combined rate of ½, that means they fill the entire cistern in 2 hours. Adding in the negative effect of the outlay, the rate of the three streams working simultaneously was found to be ¼, meaning the container would be filled in 4 hours. The difference between these two effects is the drain of the outlet. Without the outlet, it takes 2 hours, and with it, it takes twice as long. This means the outlet is draining half the water as it comes in, or, that it has half the rate of the two inlets. Since the two inlets have a rate of ½, the outlet has half of that, or ¼. Still answer choice E, but using the holistic concept instead of algebraic isolation.

Logically, this makes perfect sense and is absolutely correct. There is nothing wrong with using algebra on this question, but a holistic approach will lead to the same exact answer much faster if you understand what is happening conceptually. Breaking down a problem into more manageable pieces is a good strategy that has its place, but taking a holistic approach often helps clarify confusing questions. Just like studying for algebra, geometry and probability makes you better at math in general, using all the elements of a problem often gets you to exploit the inherent synergy of the test.

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 Physical Exercise Can Help Control Your GMAT Test Anxiety

In the first part of this article we discussed recent research indicating that exercise is the only way to create new brain cells, protect existing brain cells, and form new neural networks. If that list is not enough, aerobic exercise is also an important component of healthy emotions and possibly even control of test anxiety.

Emotional Control and Exercise

Numerous studies indicate that multitasking can cause people to have difficulty in controlling their emotions. Rapidly switching from one task to another makes emotional control difficult. Exercise works in the opposite direction. In particular exercise can help control anxiety.

The New York Times article, “How Exercise can Calm Anxiety,” indicates, “For some time, scientists studying exercise have been puzzled by physical activity’s two seemingly incompatible effects on the brain. On the one hand, exercise is known to prompt the creation of new and very excitable brain cells. At the same time, exercise can induce an overall pattern of calm in certain parts of the brain.”

What happens is that exercise helps to produce “nanny-neurons” which go around telling the excitable neurons not to overreact. Rats that had exercised consistently were better able to react at an appropriate level to stresses. In other words, rats that had a recent history of exercise were better able to react with an appropriate level of emotion and not turn a minor situation into a major source of stress. And the effect was not due to being tired from having just exercised, “Instead, the difference in stress response between the runners and the sedentary animals reflected fundamental remodeling of their brains.”

So exercise improves your memory, protects your brain cells, and helps you to control emotions. But is the change permanent?

Keep Exercising or Start Now!

It turns out that the brain benefits of exercising – including improved memory and emotional control – are not permanent. Like other physical changes, the positive impacts on the brain wear off if exercise is stopped. As reported in the article, “Do the Brain Benefits of Exercise Last?”, rats that had exercised frequently were able to maintain their mental and emotional advantages over the sedentary rats for a week or two without exercise. But after three weeks, “It was as if they had never run.”

The good news is that you can boost the creation of new brain cells and neural networks very quickly. After just a week of constant exercise, rats were beginning to show the positive effects! The challenge is that you have to keep it up. As the article states, “For the ongoing health of our minds, as well as for the plentiful other health benefits of exercise, it might be wise to stick to those New Year’s exercise resolutions.”

Study hard for the GMAT, but take time to exercise! Getting at least 30 minutes of cardio 3 – 4 times per week can do much more for your GMAT score than perhaps any other use of 2 hours of your time.

Author’s note: As you can see from both parts this article, I am a big fan of the New York Times, particularly the science, technical and travel writing. If you are seeking to improve your reading ability and English vocabulary you might want to get a digital subscription to the New York Times.

If you 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

How to Comprehend Reading Comprehension Passages on the GMAT

The most common complaint I hear from students about Reading Comprehension is that the text is mind-numbingly boring. This is due to two common factors. First, the texts are frequently mind-numbingly boring! Second, even if they’re somewhat interesting, the fact that you’ve been staring at a computer screen for about three straight hours (not counting the two eight-minute breaks) means you’re likely not completely focused on the task at hand. In fact, many a student has confided in me that by this part of the test they were already dreaming of lunch at McDonalds (okay this may have just been my personal experience).

So what are you supposed to do when you read a 300-word text, get to the end, and don’t recall a single thing about the text? You can reread it, but the same thing is likely to happen again, all while the time ticks silently away in the bottom right-hand corner of your screen. Luckily, there’s an app for that! (or at least a strategy you can employ). You can change your focus from what’s being written to how it’s being written. In other words, you’re reading for the organization of the text.

Reading for organization is a great way to get through a horrendous text that seems like it was commissioned as a cure for insomnia. If you focus on the signal words that indicate when transitions will be made, you can slog through a passage just looking for directions such as “moreover” or “however” that can signal that the text is continuing in one direction (#HarryStyles) or elaborating on the flip side of the argument. Particularly because many GMAT questions will require you to read through the passage again, having a rough roadmap of the passage will help save time.

Let’s look at a GMAT passage and answer a question using the organization of the passage (note: this is the same passage I used in May and August for scope and tone, respectively):

Young Enterprise Services (YES) is a federal program created to encourage entrepreneurship in 14-18 year olds who have already shown a clear aptitude for starting business ventures. The program, started in 2002, has provided loans, grants, and counseling – in the form of workshops and individual meetings with established entrepreneurs – to over 7,500 young people. The future of YES, however, is now in jeopardy. A number of damaging criticisms have been leveled at the program, and members of the Congressional agency that provides the funding have suggested that YES may be scaled down or even dismantled entirely.

One complaint is that the funds that YES distributes have disproportionally gone to young people from economically disadvantaged families, despite the program’s stated goal of being blind to any criteria besides merit. Though no one has claimed that any of the recipients of YES funds have been undeserving, several families have brought lawsuits claiming that their requests for funding were rejected because of the families’ relatively high levels of income. The resulting publicity was an embarrassment to the YES administrators, one of whom resigned.

Another challenge has been the admittedly difficult task of ensuring that a young person, not his or her family, is truly the driving force behind the venture. The rules state that the business plan must be created by the youth, and that any profits in excess of $1,000 be placed in an escrow account that can only be used for education, investment in the venture, and little else, for a period that is determined by the age of the recipient. Despite this, several grants had to be returned after it was discovered that parents – or in one case, a neighbor – were misusing YES funds to promote their own business ideas. To make matters worse, the story of the returned monies was at first denied by a YES spokesperson who then had to retract the denial, leading to more bad press.

In truth, YES has had some real success stories. A 14-year old girl in Texas used the knowledge and funding she received through the program to connect with a distributor who now carries her line of custom-designed cell phone covers. Two brothers in Alaska have developed an online travel advisory service for young people vacationing with their families. Both of these ventures are profitable, and both companies have gained a striking amount of brand recognition in a very short time. However, YES has been pitifully lax in trumpeting these encouraging stories. Local press notwithstanding, these and other successes have received little media coverage. This is a shame, but one that can be remedied. The administrators of YES should heed the advice given in one of the program’s own publications: “No business venture, whatever its appeal, will succeed for long without an active approach to public relations.”

All of the following are discussed in the passage except _______

(A)   The resignation of some YES administrators

(B)   Bad press resulting from financial improprieties

(C)   Lawsuits against YES

(D)   The YES program’s stated goals

(E)    Current levels of YES funding

This type of question can be difficult as it requires you to find four elements in the text, not just one. This is more a process of elimination than anything else in finding which aspect hasn’t been talked about. Let’s consult our handy road map of the passage:

If you remember what we outlined in previous blogs, the best strategy is to summarize each paragraph in a ~5 word blurb at the end of each paragraph. You don’t have to write these down but you can if your shorthand will help you. The first paragraph dealt with the concept of the YES program, the 2nd and 3rd elaborated on problems the program has had and the 4th is about some of the successes and how to play them up.

Knowing this, we can look for answer choice A in one of the middle paragraphs, and we can find it as the last line of paragraph two.

Answer choice B is also about mismanagement, and should be in the same paragraphs, and again it is the last line of a paragraph, but in this case of the third one.

Answer choice C is also about problems (they’re really not having a good run, eh!). Paragraph two again discusses how certain families have brought lawsuits against YES.

Answer choice D is actually about the program, so we should look for that in paragraph one. Indeed, we see that the very first line discusses the stated goals of the YES program.

Logically it must now be answer choice E, as we’ve found the other four. A cursory scan of the first paragraph quickly reveals that nothing about their current levels of funding was discussed. The only mention is that the program may be dismantled, but the current budget could be 200$ or 200,000$. This is the correct answer choice, and it’s made simple by having a good understanding of the organization of the text.

Reading for organization helps determine what the passage looks like and gives you a good structure to focus on when you simply can’t engage with a passage. Hopefully knowing where to look in the passage will help you answer questions faster and make fewer mistakes. After all, it’s never bad to be organized.

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.