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.
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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.
The most common complaint I hear from students about Reading Comprehension is that the text is mind-numbingly boring. This is due to two common factors. First, the texts are frequently mind-numbingly boring! Second, even if they’re somewhat interesting, the fact that you’ve been staring at a computer screen for about three straight hours (not counting the two eight-minute breaks) means you’re likely not completely focused on the task at hand. In fact, many a student has confided in me that by this part of the test they were already dreaming of lunch at McDonalds (okay this may have just been my personal experience).
One of the most common misconceptions on the GMAT is that you have to solve every question in about 2 minutes. This of course stems from the fact that you have 75 minutes to answer 37 quantitative questions (or ~2.03 minutes per question) and 75 minutes to answer 41 verbal questions (or ~1.83 minutes per question). Both figures can be approximated to roughly two minutes per question on average; however, this does not mean that every question will take you 2 minutes to solve.
On the GMAT, there is often a fine line between a statement possibly being true and a statement always being true. Inference questions ask about which statement must be true, and often provide many statements that each seem to be correct. However, must be true is a high standard to achieve, and many statements fall short of this benchmark despite being perfectly reasonable assumptions on their own.
In Data Sufficiency, the GMAT is asking you to determine how much information is required to make a decision. If the information provided leads you a definite yes, then you have sufficient data to take decisive action. Similarly, if there is enough information to lead to a definite no, then you can also take decisive action. The only time trouble arises is when the information could lead to a yes or to a no; this situation leaves you in a position where you may have to guess (I’ll take Door #1, Bob).
When evaluating critical reasoning questions, you often notice multiple answer choices that all seem plausible. The GMAT testmakers are experts at creating answer choices that are plausible and could potentially be correct, given slightly different circumstances. When evaluating strengthen or weaken questions, it is best to predict an answer from the stimulus before looking at the answer choices. That way you won’t be swayed by logical but out of scope questions (plus it’s a surprise!)
One of the most important concepts on the GMAT quant section is the notion of factors. Because there is no calculator on the exam, the multiplications and divisions tend to heed integer numbers. Dividing 100 by 2 might be trivial, but dividing 1100 by 22 might hinge on your recognition of the common factor of 11 to avoid tedious and time-consuming calculations.
In many ways, critical reasoning questions best exemplify what the GMAT is all about. The exam is primarily an exercise in applying logic to various different situations. In the quant section, you must either find the correct answer or determine whether you have sufficient information to make a decision. On the verbal section, you must find the answer choice that logically completes the information given in the question stem. Even on the AWA and the IR, logic is again paramount to knowing how to proceed and getting a good score.
Percentages represent one of the most underestimated question types on the GMAT quant section. Absolute numbers are helpful to give concrete information (I spent 70$ on the latest Grand Theft Auto game), but percentages give a better indication of relative amounts of time (I spend 68% of my free time playing GTA V). Based on the first, you may find that I overpaid for the video game, but based on the second statistic, I probably got a very good return on my investment.
Critical Reasoning questions on the GMAT are primarily about strengthening or weakening the author’s conclusion. The stimulus of the question will describe some event or issue and then purport some conclusion, often one that is strikingly unsupported by the evidence.
Your job is usually to determine which answer choice would either enhance or undermine the professed conclusion. Sometimes, the question asks you to infer something that must be true from the text. The answer choices for these inference questions tend to have very high standards to meet because they must be true at all times (and not just when the moon is in Aquarius).
When looking at geometry problems on the GMAT, it’s important to take all graphs with a grain of salt (low fat, though). The graphs used on the GMAT are simply there to help visualize the problem at hand. No concerted effort is made for the graphs to be accurate or exact, and the graph should be evaluated based on what you know to be true, not on what you see or what the graph seems to imply. This all means that trusting your eyes on the GMAT is like trusting a car mechanic: you may have an honest mechanic or you may be getting taken for a ride!
Some concepts on the GMAT are absolute, while others can be a little nebulous. For example, the fact that there are 37 quantitative questions and 41 verbal questions is uncontestable. However, not all issues are as cut and dry.
I’ve read a strategy guide that recommended spending extra time on the first 10 questions because they’re worth more. I’ve read other guides saying that all the questions are weighed equally. Of course none of these books are the Official Guide, but even when I put it down, you know I’ll be back. When studying for a known test like the GMAT, it’s important to know what to look for and what to avoid (and also to be literate).
When looking at questions on the GMAT, it’s very easy to fall into the mentality that there is only one correct answer. If I’m searching for some number xyz multiplied by another number abc, I don’t necessarily know the answer, but I know there’s only one value that will correctly satisfy the equation. The entire concept of multiple choice is predicated on having only one correct answer (also on knowing the alphabet), so it seems counter-intuitive that two values could both be the correct answer.
In critical reasoning, several factors can give away a potential incorrect answer choice. If the question is asking you to strengthen or weaken the author’s argument, the correct choice must always provide new information that either reinforces the author’s main point or calls into question its validity. However, certain answer choices give the illusion of talking about the subject without really saying anything conclusive about it (what one of my former professors colorfully called hand waving).
Of all the topics on the GMAT quant section, few get students as confused as the concept of combinatorics. The concept of going to the store and picking up one of four possible gifts for a niece is pretty straightforward (she generally likes Barbies© or My Little Pony© toys), but picking up two toys out of four for your twin nieces and then deciding which one gets which often deteriorates into an exercise of brute force combinatorics.
A quote often attributed to (2nd US President) John Adams states that “facts are stubborn things”. In everyday life, we are often confronted with various personal opinions or subjective viewpoints on everything from politics (more horses and bayonets or less?) to fashion (can you believe what Miley Cyrus wore last week) to love (you complete me). However everyone understands that personal opinions are, well, personal. They vary from one individual to another and two people can have completely different beliefs on the exact same issue.
When studying for the GMAT, some questions will undoubtedly bring back fond memories of high school math classes, cramming for exams and wondering if that classmate you had a crush on even knew you existed (note: this may also remind you of Dawson’s Creek). Algebra and Geometry concepts evoke these feelings of nostalgia, because unless you’re an engineer or an architect (perhaps Art Vandelay?), you probably haven’t thought about the concepts in a decade or two.
On the GMAT quantitative section, you have just over 2 minutes on average to answer each question in front of you. Sometimes, those two minutes go by in a flash and you feel like the question should take at least 4 minutes in order to even make a reasonable guess. Other times, you think you can solve the question in a matter of seconds, and wonder why anyone would take a full 2 minutes on a question that you can eyeball without putting pen to paper (or marker to dry erase board). Because the 2 minute benchmark is an average, not a maximum, figuring out how much time to spend on each question is a crucial part of doing well on this test.
When reading through Reading Comprehension texts, there are a few important concepts to keep in mind in order to be able to swiftly answer the upcoming questions. Every passage will have explicit information regarding the subject matter at hand, but some information will come from the author’s attitude and writing style. One of the most important things to do while reading a Reading Comprehension passage (other than staying awake) is determine the author’s tone.
Just as all roads lead to Rome (well, all roads in Europe anyways), there are many ways to solve math questions on the GMAT. Any question can conceivably be solved in a variety of ways, but they must always be logical. No method is inherently superior to any other, so often it’s a question of which method will solve this particular problem in the most efficient way possible.
Many GMAT students have likened themselves to Sherlock Holmes at one point or another while studying for this test. It is a natural comparison: you are a detective looking for clues in order to reach a conclusion that must be true. Unfortunately there’s no Dr. Watson to help guide your efforts, but you can inspire yourself from the super sleuth in your quest to solve the nefarious puzzles of Professor G. MoriArTy.
As a GMAT instructor, I frequently find myself perusing the GMAT Official Guide, dare I say, “for fun”. The OG is a terrific indication of the types of questions you can expect to see on the GMAT, and the solution is usually a great method to get to the right answer. However, sometimes I find myself surprised at the official answer because I would solve the question in a completely different way and get to the answer in significantly less time than the OG method.
Many concepts covered on the GMAT come up in every day conversation. One of the common mistakes frequently tested on the GMAT that people make mistakes with in colloquial speech is that lack of agreement between a subject and verb when the verb is placed before the subject (There’s a lot of reasons this happens…) People make this mistake regularly and no one really seems to notice it, but the GMAT thoroughly tests this type of mistake, so you likely will have had sufficient exposure to this scenario by test day.
When answering data sufficiency questions on the GMAT, the key is to successfully determine when you have sufficient information to make a decision with 100% certainty. I often equate data sufficiency with determining whether the competition is stealing from you. If you’re sure they are not, then everything is fine and you are competing in a fair and balanced environment. Similarly, if you have definitive proof that they are hijacking your million dollar idea (possibly for pet rocks or the duck commander), then you can pursue legal action to remedy the situation.
There is a lot of value in keeping things simple. Simplicity is a beautiful thing, especially when combined with functionality. Think of the designs Apple comes up with (or at least did when Steve Jobs ran the show): products were simple, sleek, stylish, and routinely worked flawlessly. The appeal and popularity of these machines is steeped in how effortlessly they perform their functions, combining reliable functionality and timeless elegance.
Two words that often get confused in the English language are effective and efficient. Many people use these words as if they are synonyms, when, in fact, they are two distinct notions that only sound like homonyms. In fact, the words effective and efficient complement each other perfectly. How does this affect the GMAT? While both words are usually used as compliments, their effect on the exam is very noticeable (see what I did there?)
In Critical Reasoning, it is often possible to foresee the correct answer without even glancing at the answer choices. Whenever a question asks you to strengthen or weaken an argument, the correct answer will usually be the one that fixes the inconsistency between the conclusion and the premise of the passage. Inference questions can be extremely open ended, but strengthen/weaken (can I abbreviate this to streaken?) questions are generally about the most glaring issue with a sentence. The GMAT uses this type of trick a lot, so the errors may be subtle and they may be crafty, but they are always present in any strengthen/weaken CR question.
The GMAT is an exam steeped in logic, deduction and understanding. In order to succeed on the exam, you should be able to look at any given question objectively and determine what it is asking, and where the traps may lie. Now, this is akin to asking you to navigate a labyrinth while avoiding the Minotaur: just because you know the rules, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you will be successful. Taking the labyrinth as a metaphor, how can you rise to the challenge put forth in front of you?
Summer blockbuster season is upon us, and one of the joys of the movies is to go see an ambitious motion picture on the big screen and get immersed in a world of make-believe for a few hours (this kind of sounds like taking the GMAT, doesn’t it?). If you’re going by yourself or with another person, you can usually agree on a movie pretty quickly and be on your way. However, if you’ve ever tried to go see a movie with like six friends, it often becomes a case of Process of Elimination.
I like to compare the GMAT to everyday things that hopefully resonate with people. To that end, I often like to use the analogy of routes to work to compare the different methods one can use to get the answer to a question. Invariably, there are multiple ways to get to the right answer on a math question, just as there are multiple ways to get to work. Some are just more direct than others. If I work on the island of Manhattan and live on the island of Manhattan, I can detour through The Bronx to get to work, but I’ll probably waste a lot of time. However, that doesn’t mean that I won’t get there, so it is an acceptable route for work. Of course, most of us are usually looking for the quickest way to get to work (for some reason my boss gets testy when I show up 3 hours late).
In writing a weekly column for Veritas Prep, I try to cover topics and subjects that will help you avoid common pitfalls on the GMAT. The exam uses certain common traps and therefore it is better to review them routinely in order to be prepared to deal with such adversity on test day. Every type of question on the exam can have pitfalls and I’d like to cover the major ones in every question type. Today, we’ll take a look at Reading Comprehension.
In the quant section of the GMAT, there are a fair number of formulae to know in order to answer the ensemble of questions that may be asked of you. Most of them are covered in any basic test prep material, but a formula is always just a short hand version of a much longer manual process.
There is an anecdote about a primary school teacher who wanted to keep a misbehaved child busy for a period, so she asked him to sum up all the numbers from 1 to 100. To her dismay, the child answered the question in a matter of seconds, and the answer was correct. The child explained to his teacher that, instead of simply adding 1+2+3…, you could create a pairwise addition that would always yield the same number. If you added 1 to 100, you would get 101. If you added 2 to 99, you would still get 101. If you added 3 to 98, you’d still get 101, and so on. Thus the addition of 100 different numbers could be turned into a multiplication of two simple numbers: 101 x 50. The student in question was mathematical prodigy Carl Friedrich Gauss.
Critical reasoning questions on the GMAT tend to follow the same structure over and over again. This means that they can be answered the same way over and over again (like the movie Groundhog Day, but with words!). The first step is to determine which type of question you’re dealing with, which is why identifying the category is the first step towards successfully answering the question. The four major categories can be remembered with the mnemonic SWIM:
A common complaint I hear from students is: “I’m not good at algebra”. Full disclosure, algebra isn’t my favorite topic either. Although algebra is a powerful tool for solving many questions on the GMAT, it is rarely the only means available to solve a given math problem.
Preparing to take the GMAT exam is a journey that requires patience, dedication and the ability to maintain focus over a long period. Taking the exam is the culmination of a long journey that may have lasted months if not years. The approaching test day has caused a few sleepless nights for many as that circled date on the calendar loomed ever closer. This entire experience might remind you of another similar rite of passage that many of us have gone through: The prom. (Unsubstantiated rumor: new American Pie movie will revolve around taking the GMAT)
One of the reasons calculators aren’t allowed on the GMAT is to ensure that people are really thinking about the numbers they are using to solve problems. Being at ease with mental math is a skill that has been slowly eroded since the advent and subsequent ubiquity of the calculator in the education process (sadly my frequent calls to bring back the abacus have gone unheeded). Too often, people mindlessly type in numbers, and don’t even notice if they hit the wrong number or a button gets pressed twice. Of course 5*6=45, the machine told me so! (Dependence on machines also eventually leads to Skynet) However, being good at mental math can be helped along if you already have a good idea which numbers you might expect to see on test day.
On the GMAT, an exam about reasoning and logic, there are few things more frustrating than long sentences punctuated by a host of modifiers, particularly prepositional phrases, participial phrases and appositive phrases, to say nothing of relative clauses. Sentence correction questions are about making sure there are no mistakes in a given sentence, and the more commas and modifiers a sentence has, the more difficult it is to ascertain whether or not it is structured correctly (hint: ~80% of the time, it’s not).
I spend a disproportionate amount of time thinking about the GMAT. It’s a very interesting exam that can be thought of from multiple angles. Most people see it as an obstacle to be surmounted in an effort to get into the business school of their choice. Some people see it as an unfortunate barrier to their future plans. Personally, I like to think of it as an opportunity to test your reasoning skills against an unseen test maker (who you can think of as the Wizard Oz from the namesake movie). Your goal is to stay one step ahead of the test and predict the traps that will be laid out for you as you answer questions.
The topics on the GMAT quantitative section are chosen because most test takers have some experience solving questions on these topics in high school. Subjects like algebra and geometry have given high school students white hairs and craned necks for generations (what? I was stretching, not copying off of her exam, honest!).