GMAT Tip of the Week

Divide and Conquer

(This is one of a series of GMAT tips that we offer on our blog.)

Rome wasn’t built in a day (which, when you think about it, isn’t a particularly worthwhile statement to make. Kids spend longer than that building treehouses and snowforts, yet people say that one of the greatest empires of all time wasn’t built in a day like they’re making an insightful statement. Such is the case with cliches…). Anything worth accomplishing takes multiple steps, and often times looking at the entire process is daunting enough to not want to begin, while looking at each individual step is just as overwhelming (“one down, thousands to go”).

On the GMAT, students have a tendency to wear down by seeing the process of completing sequences of 37 and 41 multiple choice questions in rapid succession, while others will monitor their pace-per-question on an ongoing basis, adding additional stress (and time-consuming pacing calculations) to an already exhausting process. With the quantitative section, for example, staring down a series of 37 questions in 75 minutes seems unmanageable, but trying to hold yourself to 2 minutes/question by breaking it down individually is a hard path to follow.

How can you best manage this process to keep yourself on pace, and to give yourself mental milestones to stay fresh? Look to one of the primary skills that the GMAT will feature: divisibility.

The 37 questions on the quantitative section break down quite nicely in to six sections of six, with a one-question “bonus” at the end*. It’s also a nice number for divisibility of time – with 75 minutes to complete the entire section, you can somewhat easily gauge your progress:

After question 6: 12:30 minutes
After 12: 25
After 18: 37:30
After 24: 50
After 30: 62:30
End of exam: 75

This schedule should be easy enough to remember if you want to jot down quick reminders to yourself, and helps you to break the test down in to either sixths or thirds so that you have built-in milestones to help you gauge your progress and feel a sense of accomplishment.

*NOTE: The creators of the GMAT confirm that there is a steep penalty for failing to answer a question – estimated at 5 percentile points for simply leaving one question unanswered. You must at least levy an answer to each question, but for pacing purposes, you may want to consider that having just enough time to guess on question 37 is at least acceptable, and having enough time to thoroughly complete it is ideal.

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GMAT Mythbuster #2

As businessman extraordinaire Michael Scott said of Wikipedia, “anyone, anywhere can say whatever they want about any topic, so you know you’re getting the best possible information.” Such is life in the Internet age, in which the line between truth and fiction can often become blurred as rumors spread quickly and authoritatively at the speed of broadband.

As you prepare for the GMAT, you will likely be faced with a number of fallacies that seem to be conventional wisdom. Some are interesting topics for debate, others are incorrect but not woefully irresponsible, and others may significantly detract from your score.

This post is the second in a series that will debunk some of the more common myths that surround the GMAT. The truth is out there…

Myth: The first ten questions are more important than the remaining questions on either section.

Fact: All questions count the same toward your section score.

I’m not going out on much a limb here, admittedly – the Graduate Management Admissions Council takes care to debunk this myth in its book, the Official Guide for GMAT Review. However, this incorrect axiom may be the piece of GMAT mythology that has pervaded the conventional wisdom of test-takers the most, as the adaptive scoring nature of the GMAT has the power to confuse and intimidate many who take the test. Again, no less an authority than the creators of the GMAT themselves will explicitly state that each question counts for the same weight toward your score. So, knowing that, how can you use this to your advantage?

1) DO NOT plan to spend an undue amount of time on the initial questions (some believers of this fallacy advocate spending an additional 50% per question in the first ten, which could put you at a significant advantage later in the exam). Similarly, DO NOT invest an undue amount of emotional stress on those questions. If you cannot answer one, or answer one incorrectly, you’ll be able to bounce back on the next question; if you spend six minutes answering one correctly (or worse, six minutes and still make an error that causes you to miss the question), you won’t soon make that time up.

2) DO take an extra few seconds to double-check your answer to ensure that you haven’t made a silly mistake on an early question. At this point in the test, you can’t likely sacrifice extra minutes, but you can certainly invest extra seconds to ensure that you begin on the right track. Early in the test, you won’t know for certain whether you’ll have time left over at the end, but, if you do, you’d want to have used it to check your work carefully. If you need to guess on the last question or two because you used the time early in the test to double-check your work, that’s probably for the best (you’ll know it was time well spent if you catch even one error while checking your work). However, if you need to guess on several questions at the end, you’ve mismanaged your time. Essentially, the first ten questions aren’t worth enough each to blow off multiple questions at the end, but they’re worth enough collectively that you should invest some extra seconds to avoid mistakes, as you may still have that time remaining later in the exam, and a few extra minutes left over can only be used on that last question.

3) DO NOT simply take the above suggestion and run with it. Rather, DO take multiple practice tests before the actual GMAT so that you know within a reasonable estimate where you’ll stand on test day. If you routinely have several minutes left over on a section in your practice tests, by all means invest some extra time in an early question that requires that investment of time. If you find yourself regularly pressed for time, you’ll want to adapt accordingly.