GMAT Tip of the Week: Don’t Be the April Fool with Trap Answers!

GMAT Tip of the WeekToday, people across the world are viewing news stories and emails with a skeptical eye, on guard to ensure that they don’t get April fooled. Your company just released a press release about a new initiative that would dramatically change your workload? Don’t react just yet…it could be an April Fool’s joke.

But in case your goal is to leave that job for the greener pastures of business school, anyway, keep that April Fool’s Day spirit with you throughout your GMAT preparation. Read skeptically and beware of the way too tempting, way too easy answer.

First let’s talk about how the GMAT “fools” you. At Veritas Prep we’ve spent years teaching people to “Think Like the Testmaker,” and the only pushback we’ve ever gotten while talking with the testmakers themselves has been, “Hey! We’re not deliberately trying to fool people.”

So what are they trying to do? They’re trying to reward critical thinkers, and by doing so, there need to be traps there for those not thinking as critically. And that’s an important way to look at trap answers – the trap isn’t set in a “gotcha” fashion to be cruel, but rather to reward the test-taker who sees the too-good-to-be-true answer as an invitation to dig a little deeper and think a little more critically. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, and one examinee’s trap answer is another examinee’s opportunity to showcase the reasoning skills that business schools crave.

With that in mind, consider an example, and try not to get April fooled:

What is the greatest prime factor of 12!11! + 11!10! ?

(A) 2
(B) 7
(C) 11
(D) 19
(E) 23

If you’re like many – more than half of respondents in the Veritas Prep Question Bank – you went straight for the April Fool’s answer. And what’s even more worrisome is that most of those test-takers who choose trap answer C don’t spend very long on this problem. They see that 11 appears in both additive terms, see it in the answer choice, and pick it quickly. But that’s exactly how the GMAT fools you – the trap answers are there for those who don’t dig deeper and think critically. If 11 were such an obvious answer, why are 19 and 23 (numbers greater than any value listed in the expanded versions of those factorials 12*11*10*9…) even choices? Who are they fooling with those?

If you get an answer quickly it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re wrong, but it should at least raise the question, “Am I going for the fool’s answer here?”. And that should encourage you to put some work in. Here, the operative verb even appears in the question stem – you have to factor the addition into multiplication, since factors are all about multiplication/division and not addition/subtraction. When you factor out the common 11!:

11!(12! + 10!)

Then factor out the common 10! (12! is 12*11*10*9*8… so it can be expressed as 12*11*10!):

11!10!(12*11 + 1)

You end up with 11!*10!(133). And that’s where you can check 19 and 23 and see if they’re factors of that giant multiplication problem. And since 133 = 19*7, 19 is the largest prime factor and D is, in fact, the correct answer.

So what’s the lesson? When an answer comes a little too quickly to you or seems a little too obvious, take some time to make sure you’re not going for the trap answer.

Consider this – there are only four real reasons that you’ll see an easy problem in the middle of the GMAT:

1) It’s easy. The test is adaptive and you’re not doing very well so they’re lobbing you softballs. But don’t fear! This is only one of four reasons so it’s probably not this!

2) Statistically it’s fairly difficult, but it’s just easy to you because it’s something you studied well for, or for which you had a great junior high teacher. You’re just that good.

3) It’s not easy – you’re just falling for the trap answer.

4) It’s easy but it’s experimental. The GMAT has several problems in each section called “pretest items” that do not count towards your final score. These appear for research purposes (they’re checking to ensure that it’s a valid, bias-free problem and to gauge its difficulty), and they appear at random, so even a 780 scorer will likely see a handful of below-average difficulty problems.

Look back at that list and consider which are the most important. If it’s #1, you’re in trouble and probably cancelling your score or retaking the test anyway. And for #4 it doesn’t matter – that item doesn’t count. So really, the distinction that ultimately matters for your business school future is whether a problem like the example above fits #2 or #3.

If you find an answer a lot more quickly than you think you should, use some of that extra time to make sure you haven’t fallen for the trap. Engage those critical thinking skills that the GMAT is, after all, testing, and make sure that you’re not being duped while your competition is being rewarded. Avoid being the April Fool, and in a not-too-distant September you’ll be starting classes at a great school.

Getting ready to take the GMAT? We have free online GMAT seminars running all the time. And as always, be sure to follow us on Facebook, YouTubeGoogle+ and Twitter!

By Brian Galvin.

GMAT Tip of the Week: Your GMAT New Year’s Resolution

GMAT Tip of the WeekHappy New Year! If you’re reading this on January 1, 2016, chances are you’ve made your New Year’s resolution to succeed on the GMAT and apply to business school. (Why else read a GMAT-themed blog on a holiday?) And if so, you’re in luck: anecdotally speaking, students who study for and take the GMAT in the first half of the year, well before any major admissions deadlines, tend to have an easier time grasping material and taking the test. They have the benefit of an open mind, the time to invest in the process, and the lack of pressure that comes from needing a massive score ASAP.

This all relates to how you should approach your New Year’s resolution to study for the GMAT. Take advantage of that luxury of time and lessened-pressure, and study the right way – patiently and thoroughly.

What does that mean? Let’s equate the GMAT to MBA admissions New Year’s resolution to the most common New Year’s resolution of all: weight loss.

Someone with a GMAT score in the 300s or 400s is not unlike someone with a weight in the 300s or 400s (in pounds). There are easy points to gain just like there are easy pounds to drop. For weight loss, that means sweating away water weight and/or crash-dieting and starving one’s self as long as one can. As boxers, wrestlers, and mixed-martial artists know quite well, it’s not that hard to drop even 10 pounds in a day or two…but those aren’t long-lasting pounds to drop.

The GMAT equivalent is sheer memorization score gain. Particularly if your starting point is way below average (which is around 540 these days), you can probably memorize your way to a 40-60 point gain by cramming as many rules and formulas as you can. And unlike weight loss, you won’t “give those points” back. But here’s what’s a lot more like weight loss: if you don’t change your eating/study habits, you’re not going to get near where you want to go with a crash diet or cram session. And ultimately those cram sessions can prove to be counterproductive over the long run.

The GMAT is a test not of surface knowledge, but of deep understanding and of application. And the the problem with a memorization-based approach is that it doesn’t include much understanding or application. So while there are plenty of questions in the below-average bucket that will ask you pretty directly about a rule or relationship, the problems that you’ll see as you attempt to get to above average and beyond will hinge more on your ability to deeply understand a concept or to apply a concept to a situation where you might not see that it even applies.

So be leery of the study plan that nets you 40-50 points in a few weeks (unless of course that 40 takes you from 660 to 700) but then holds you steady at that level because you’re only remembering and not *knowing* or *understanding*. When you’re studying in January for a test that you don’t need to take until the summer or fall, you have the luxury of starting patiently and building to a much higher score.

Your job this next month isn’t to memorize every rule under the sun; it’s to make sure you fundamentally understand the building blocks of arithmetic, algebra, logic, and grammar as it relates to meaning. Your score might not jump as high in January, but it’ll be higher when decision day comes later this fall.

Getting ready to take the GMAT? We have free online GMAT seminars running all the time. And, be sure to follow us on Facebook, YouTube, Google+ and Twitter!

By Brian Galvin.

How to Make Rate Questions Easy on the GMAT

Integrated Reasoning StrategiesI recently wrote about the reciprocal relationship between rate and time in “rate” questions. Occasionally, students will ask why it’s important to understand this particular rule, given that it’s possible to solve most questions without employing it.

There are two reasons: the first is that knowledge of this relationship can convert incredibly laborious arithmetic into a very straightforward calculation. And the second is that this same logic can be applied to other types of questions. The goal, when preparing for the GMAT, isn’t to internalize hundreds of strategies; it’s to absorb a handful that will prove helpful on a variety of questions.

The other night, I had a tutoring student present me with the following question:

It takes Carlos 9 minutes to drive from home to work at an average rate of 22 miles per hour.  How many minutes will it take Carlos to cycle from home to work along the same route at an average rate of 6 miles per hour?

(A) 26

(B) 33

(C) 36

(D) 44

(E) 48

This question doesn’t seem that hard, conceptually speaking, but here is how my student attempted to do it: first, he saw that the time to complete the trip was given in minutes and the rate of the trip was given in hours so he did a simple unit conversion, and determined that it took Carlos (9/60) hours to complete his trip.

He then computed the distance of the trip using the following equation: (9/60) hours * 22 miles/hour = (198/60) miles. He then set up a second equation: 6miles/hour * T = (198/60) miles. At this point, he gave up, not wanting to wrestle with the hairy arithmetic. I don’t blame him.

Watch how much easier it is if we remember our reciprocal relationship between rate and time. We have two scenarios here. In Scenario 1, the time is 9 minutes and the rate is 22 mph. In Scenario 2, the rate is 6 mph, and we want the time, which we’ll call ‘T.” The ratio of the rates of the two scenarios is 22/6. Well, if the times have a reciprocal relationship, we know the ratio of the times must be 6/22. So we know that 9/T = 6/22.

Cross-multiply to get 6T = 9*22.

Divide both sides by 6 to get T = 9*22/6.

We can rewrite this as T = (9*22)/(3*2) = 3*11 = 33, so the answer is B.

The other point I want to stress here is that there isn’t anything magical about rate questions. In any equation that takes the form a*b = c, a and b will have a reciprocal relationship, provided that we hold c constant. Take “quantity * unit price = total cost”, for example. We can see intuitively that if we double the price, we’ll cut the quantity of items we can afford in half. Again, this relationship can be exploited to save time.

Take the following data sufficiency question:

Pat bought 5 lbs. of apples. How many pounds of pears could Pat have bought for the same amount of money? 

(1) One pound of pears costs $0.50 more than one pound of apples. 

(2) One pound of pears costs 1 1/2 times as much as one pound of apples. 

Statement 1 can be tested by picking numbers. Say apples cost $1/pound. The total cost of 5 pounds of apples would be $5.  If one pound of pears cost $.50 more than one pound of apples, then one pound of pears would cost $1.50. The number of pounds of pears that could be purchased for $5 would be 5/1.5 = 10/3. So that’s one possibility.

Now say apples cost $2/pound. The total cost of 5 pounds of apples would be $10. If one pound of pears cost $.50 more than one pound of apples, then one pound of pears would cost $2.50. The number of pounds of pears that could be purchased for $10 would be 10/2.5 = 4. Because we get different results, this Statement alone is not sufficient to answer the question.

Statement 2 tells us that one pound of pears costs 1 ½ times (or 3/2 times) as much as one pound of apples. Remember that reciprocal relationship! If the ratio of the price per pound for pears and the price per pound for apples is 3/2, then the ratio of their respective quantities must be 2/3. If we could buy five pounds of apples for a given cost, then we must be able to buy (2/3) * 5 = (10/3) pounds of pears for that same cost. Because we can find a single unique value, Statement 2 alone is sufficient to answer the question, and we know our answer must be B.

Takeaway: Remember that in “rate” questions, time and rate will have a reciprocal relationship, and that in “total cost” questions, quantity and unit price will have a reciprocal relationship. Now the time you save on these problem-types can be allocated to other questions, creating a virtuous cycle in which your time management, your accuracy, and your confidence all improve in turn.

*GMATPrep questions courtesy of the Graduate Management Admissions Council.

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

By David Goldstein, a Veritas Prep GMAT instructor based in Boston. You can find more articles by him here.

Success Story Part 3: "The Final Days, and (*eek*)… Results."

(This is the third in a series of blog posts in which Julie DeLoyd, a Veritas Prep GMAT alumna-turned-instructor, will tell the story of her experience through the MBA admissions process. Julie will begin her MBA program at Chicago Booth this fall. You can also read Part 1 and Part 2 to learn Julie’s whole story.)

I had invested 42 hours of summer evenings learning about the ins and outs of the GMAT, and the time finally came for me to do the work on my own. I booked my test date for 5 weeks after my class ended, giving me enough time to go on tour one last time before I really hunkered down.

My band toured the Midwest for about 10 days, driving on vegetable oil fuel and breaking a lot of strings along the way. While another girl was driving, I’d pull out my Veritas Prep books and work on a few problems each day. I wasn’t absorbing too much, honestly, but it was good to keep my GMAT brain active. When I dropped off the girls at the airport, it was time to really get down to business. I set up a study schedule for myself for the last 3 weeks.

21 days to go, with 4 practice tests completed, my schedule looked something like this:
Monday Morning: Sentence Correction
Monday Afternoon: Practice Test

Tuesday Morning:
Go over results of Practice Test
Tuesday Afternoon: Geometry

Wednesday Morning:
Reading Comp
Wednesday Afternoon: Practice test

Thursday Morning:
Go over results of Practice Test
Thursday Afternoon: Critical Reasoning

Friday Morning: Combinatorics and Probability
Friday Afternoon: Problem Solving

Saturday Morning: Practice Test
Saturday Afternoon: Go over results

Sunday: Eat good food, Ride my bike, Spend time with dogs and lovey

Yes, it was a little intense, but it wasn

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