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.
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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!).
On the GMAT, the information provided to you will be factual, but it won’t necessarily be helpful. Once you have made peace with this unfortunate reality, the goal soon becomes to transform factual information into useful information in order to solve the question. This type of analysis is prevalent in the quantitative section of the exam, but also shows up in the verbal section. Statements provided will often contain implicit information that you must convert into explicit information. In essence, you need to get a handle on the assumptions being made.
On the GMAT, you will face a variety of questions that you can prepare for. Not to be an auctioneer, the section boasts arithmetic problems, factor problems, algebra problems, geometry problems, stats problems, probability problems, data sufficiency problems, work rate problems, ratio problems, even combinatorics problems. However on the quant section you can often run into an unfamiliar question type that can reasoned out with some basics of algebra and clear conceptual thinking. When faced with this type of outlandish question, you only have one basic directive: solve it.
When reading through diverse texts, it is not uncommon to see various portions highlighted in different forms. The use of italics has become ubiquitous with citing references or proper names, and the GMAT has no reserved denotation for Italics. Generally, text that is underlined needs to examined carefully, and the GMAT uses this method exclusively for sentence correction. However, nothing draws the eye like the use of boldface. The additional thickness of the characters makes every letter seem more important than the paler doppelgangers that share the page with them. (Beware: a letter with tiny goatee may be an evil twin of that letter. G is the most likely evil doppelganger)
Have you ever been on the exam and the question is asking you something that you know well but can’t remember the details at that crucial moment? This happens to all of us at one time or another, and sometimes it helps to have a catchphrase or keyword to help recall the concept in our mind. Since certain things are easier to remember than others, it helps to associate a difficult concept with something you’re less likely to forget, such as the lyrics to your favorite song.
The pope’s recent announcement that he would be leaving the papacy came as a surprise to millions of people around the world last month. After all, election as pope carries a lifetime mandate by definition, and no sitting pope has resigned in the past 600 years. This string of some 60 popes serving their full mandate has now been broken, and the news brings up the topic of abdicating in the scope of the GMAT exam.
During your preparation for the GMAT, you will learn myriad techniques, shortcuts, rules, exceptions and strategies. Unfortunately, even the best of us tend to draw a blank once or twice under test day pressure, so sometimes you may have to solve questions using deduction and strategic thinking more than with known mathematical identities and theorems. Consider the following question:
Over the holiday season, you may have taken the time to go see the Hobbit, the much-hyped precursor to the Lord of the Rings movies which breathed life into the seminal Tolkien books published over a half century ago. After watching and reflecting on the movie, there are many parallels between it and the GMAT exam that can be drawn. Most glaringly, the amount of time that must be dedicated to each, the unfamiliar visual experience, the importance of wordplay, and the known subject matter prior to even entering the theater. For the purposes of this analogy, the Pearson center will double as a movie theater, except with the no cell phone rule enforced quite vigorously.
Double negatives can often intimidate and confuse students on the GMAT. Let’s review some strategies to help you not dislike double negatives so much. Hopefully you don’t feel incapable of navigating these questions already, but if you do, here are some strategies to ensure that you don’t feel uneasy when faced with one on test day.