GMAT Tip of the Week: Keep Your GMAT Score Safe from the Bowling Green Massacre

The hashtag of the day is #bowlinggreenmassacre, inspired by an event that never happened. Whether intentionally or accidentally (we’ll let you and your news agency of choice decide which), White House staffer Kellyanne Conway referenced the “event” in an interview, inspiring an array of memes and references along the way.

Whatever Ms. Conway’s intentions (or lack thereof; again we’ll let you decide) with the quote, she is certainly guilty of inadvertently doing one thing: she didn’t likely intend to help you avoid a disaster on the GMAT, but if you’re paying attention she did.

Your GMAT test day does not have to be a Bowling Green Massacre!

Here’s the thing about the Bowling Green Massacre: it never happened. But by now, it’s lodged deeply enough in the psyche of millions of Americans that, to them, it did. And the same thing happens to GMAT test-takers all the time. They think they’ve seen something on the test that isn’t there, and then they act on something that never happened in the first place. And then, sadly, their GMAT hopes and dreams suffer the same fate as those poor souls at Bowling Green (#thoughtsandprayers).

Here’s how it works:

The Quant Section’s Bowling Green Massacre
On the Quant section, particularly with Data Sufficiency, your mind will quickly leap to conclusions or jump to use a rule that seems relevant. Consider the example:

What is the perimeter of isosceles triangle LMN?

(1) Side LM = 4
(2) Side LN = 4√2

A. Statement (1) ALONE is sufficient, but statement (2) alone is insufficient
B. Statement (2) ALONE is sufficient, but statement (1) alone is insufficient
C. BOTH statements TOGETHER are sufficient, but NEITHER statement ALONE is sufficient
D. EACH statement ALONE is sufficient
E. Statements (1) and (2) TOGETHER are NOT sufficient

When people see that square root of 2, their minds quickly drift back to all those flash cards they studied – flash cards that include the side ratio for an isosceles right triangle: x, x, x√2. And so they then leap to use that rule, inferring that if one side is 4 and the other is 4√2, the other side must also be 4 to fit the ratio and they can then calculate the perimeter. With both statements together, they figure, they can derive that perimeter and select choice C.

But think about where that side ratio comes from: an isosceles right triangle. You’re told in the given information that this triangle is, indeed, isosceles. But you’re never told that it’s a right triangle. Much like the Bowling Green Massacre, “right” never happened. But the mere suggestion of it – the appearance of the √2 term that is directly associated with an isosceles, right triangle – baits approximately half of all test-takers to choose C here instead of the correct E (explanation: “isosceles” means only that two sides match, so the third side could be either 4, matching side LM, or 4√2, matching side LN).

Your mind does this to you often on Data Sufficiency problems: you’ll limit the realm of possible numbers to integers, when that wasn’t defined, or to positive numbers, when that wasn’t defined either. You’ll see symptoms of a rule or concept (like √2 leads to the isosceles right triangle side ratio) and assume that the entire rule is in play. The GMAT preys on your mind’s propensity for creating its own story when in reality, only part of that story really exists.

The Verbal Section’s Bowling Green Massacre
This same phenomenon appears on the Verbal section, too – most notably in Critical Reasoning. Much like what many allege that Kellyanne Conway did, your mind wants to ascribe particular significance to events or declarations, and it will often exaggerate on you. Consider the example:

About two million years ago, lava dammed up a river in western Asia and caused a small lake to form. The lake existed for about half a million years. Bones of an early human ancestor were recently found in the ancient lake-bottom sediments that lie on top of the layer of lava. Therefore, ancestors of modern humans lived in Western Asia between two million and one-and-a-half million years ago.

Which one of the following is an assumption required by the argument?

A. There were not other lakes in the immediate area before the lava dammed up the river.
B. The lake contained fish that the human ancestors could have used for food.
C. The lava that lay under the lake-bottom sediments did not contain any human fossil remains.
D. The lake was deep enough that a person could drown in it.
E. The bones were already in the sediments by the time the lake disappeared.

The key to most Critical Reasoning problems is finding the conclusion and knowing EXACTLY what the conclusion says – nothing more and nothing less. Here the conclusion is the last sentence, that “ancestors of modern humans lived” in this region at this time. When people answer this problem incorrectly, however, it’s almost always for the same reason. They read the conclusion as “the FIRST/EARLIEST ancestors of modern humans lived…” And in doing so, they choose choice C, which protects against humans having come before the ones related to the bones we have.

“First/earliest” is a classic Bowling Green Massacre – it’s a much more noteworthy event (“scientists have discovered human ancestors” is pretty tame, but “scientists have discovered the FIRST human ancestors” is a big deal) that your brain wants to see. But it’s not actually there! It’s just that, in day to day life, you’d rarely ever read about a run-of-the-mill archaeological discovery; it would only pop up in your social media stream if it were particularly noteworthy, so your mind may very well assume that that notoriety is present even when it’s not.

In order to succeed on the GMAT, you need to become aware of those leaps that your mind likes to take. We’re all susceptible to:

  • Assuming that variables represent integers, and that they represent positive numbers
  • Seeing the symptoms of a rule and then jumping to apply it
  • Applying our own extra superlatives or limits to conclusions

So when you make these mistakes, commit them to memory – they’re not one-off, silly mistakes. Our minds are vulnerable to Bowling Green Massacres, so on test day #staywoke so that your score isn’t among those that are, sadly, massacred.

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.

Quarter Wit, Quarter Wisdom: Solving the Hourglass Puzzle

Quarter Wit, Quarter WisdomLet’s continue our puzzles discussion today with another puzzle type – time measurement using an hourglass. (Before you continue reading this article, check out our posts on how to solve pouring water puzzles and weighing and balancing puzzles)

First, understand what an hourglass is – it is a mechanical device used to measure the passage of time. It is comprised of two glass bulbs connected vertically by a narrow neck that allows a regulated trickle of sand from the upper bulb to fall into the lower one. The sand also takes a fixed amount of time to fall from the upper bulb to the lower bulb. Hourglasses may be reused indefinitely by inverting the bulbs once the upper bulb is empty.

This is what they look like:

Say a 10-minute hourglass will let us measure time in intervals of 10 minutes. This means all of the sand will flow from the upper bulb to the lower bulb in exactly 10 minutes. We can then flip the hourglass over – now sand will start flowing again for the next 10 minutes, and so on. We cannot measure, say, 12 minutes using just a 10-minute hourglass, but we can measure more time intervals when we have two hourglasses of different times. Let’s look at this practice problem to see how this can be done:

A teacher of mathematics used an unconventional method to measure a 15-minute time limit for a test. He used a 7-minute and an 11-minute hourglass. During the whole time, he turned the hourglasses only 3 times (turning both hourglasses at once counts as one flip). Explain how the teacher measured out 15 minutes.

Here, we have a 7-minute hourglass and an 11-minute hourglass. This means we can measure time in intervals of 7 minutes as well as in intervals of 11 minutes. But consider this: if both hourglasses start together, at the end of 7 minutes, we will have 4 minutes of sand leftover in the top bulb of the 11-minute hourglass. So we can also measure out 4 minutes of time.

Furthermore, if we flip the 7-minute hourglass over at this time and let it flow for that 4 minutes (until the sand runs out of the top bulb of the 11-minute hourglass), we will have 3 minutes’ worth of sand leftover in the 7-minute hourglass. Hence, we can measure a 3 minute time interval, too, and so on…

Now, let’s see how we can measure out 15 minutes of time using our 7-minute and 11-minute hourglasses.

First, start both hourglasses at the same time. After the top bulb of the 7-minute hourglass is empty, flip it over again. At this time, we have 4 minutes’ worth of sand still in the top bulb of the 11-minute hourglass. When the top bulb of the 11-minute hourglass is empty, the bottom bulb of 7-minute hourglass will have 4 minutes’ worth of sand in it. At this point, 11 minutes have passed

Now simply flip the 7-minute hourglass over again and wait until the sand runs to the bottom bulb, which will be in 4 minutes.

This is how we measure out 11 + 4 = 15 minutes of time using a 7-minute hourglass and an 11-minute hourglass.

Let’s look at another problem:

Having two hourglasses, a 7-minute one and a 4-minute one, how can you correctly time out 9 minutes?

Now we need to measure out 9 minutes using a 7-minute hourglass and a 4-minute hourglass. Like we did for the last problem, begin by starting both hourglasses at the same time. After 4 minutes pass, all of the sand in the 4-minute hourglass will be in the lower bulb. Now flip this 4-minute hourglass back over again. In the 7-minute hourglass, there will be 3 minutes’ worth of sand still in the upper bulb.

After 3 minutes, all of the sand from the 7-minute hourglass will be in the lower bulb and 1 minute’s worth of sand will be in the upper bulb of the 4-minute hourglass.

This is when we will start our 9-minute interval.

The 1 minute’s worth of sand will flow to the bottom bulb of the 4-minute hourglass. Then we just need to flip the 4-minute hourglass over and let all of the sand flow out (which will take 4 minutes), and then flip the hourglass over to let all of the sand flow out again (which will take another 4 minutes).

In all, we have measured out a 1 + 4 + 4 = 9-minute interval, which is what the problem has asked us to find.

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

Karishma, a Computer Engineer with a keen interest in alternative Mathematical approaches, has mentored students in the continents of Asia, Europe and North America. She teaches the GMAT for Veritas Prep and regularly participates in content development projects such as this blog!

Quarter Wit, Quarter Wisdom: Solving the Pouring Water Puzzle

Quarter Wit, Quarter WisdomSome time back, we came across a GMAT Data Sufficiency word problem question based on the “pouring water puzzle”. That made us think that it is probably a good idea to be comfortable with the various standard puzzle types. From this week on, we will look at some fundamental puzzles to acquaint ourselves with these mind benders in case we encounter them on test day.

Today, we will look at the popular “pouring water puzzle”. You may remember a similar puzzle from the movie Die Hard with a Vengeance, where Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson had to diffuse a bomb by placing a 4 gallon jug of water on a set of scales.

Here is the puzzle:

You have a 3- and a 5-liter water container – each container has no markings except for that which gives us its total volume. We also have a running tap. We must use the containers and the tap in such a way that we measure out exactly 4 liters of water. How can this be done?

Don’t worry that this question is not written in a traditional GMAT format! We need to worry only about the logic behind the puzzle – we can then answer any question about it that is given in any GMAT format.

Let’s break down what we are given. We have only two containers – one of 3-liter and the other of 5-liter capacity. The containers have absolutely no markings on them other than those which give us the total volumes, i.e. the markings for 3 liters and 5 liters respectively. There is no other container. We also have a tap/faucet of running water, so basically, we have an unlimited supply of water. Environmentalists may not like my saying this, but this fact means we can throw out water when we need to and just refill again.

Now think about it:

STEP 1: Let’s fill up the 5-liter container with water from the tap. Now we are at (5, 0), with 5 being the liters of water in the 5-liter container, and 0 being the liters of water in the 3-liter container.

STEP 2: Now, there is nothing we can do with this water except transfer it to the 3-liter container (there is no other container and throwing out the water will bring us back to where we started). After we fill up the 3-liter container, we are left with 2 liters of water in the 5-liter container. This brings us to (2, 3).

STEP 3: We gain nothing from transferring the 3 liters of water back to 5-liter container, so let’s throw out the 3 liters that are in the 3-liter container. Because we just threw out the water from the 3-liter container, we will gain nothing by simply refilling it with 3 liters of water again. So now we are at (2, 0).

STEP 4: The next logical step is to transfer the 2 liters of water we have from the 5-liter container to the 3-liter container. This means the 3-liter container has space for 1 liter more until it reaches its maximum volume mark. This brings us to (0, 2).

STEP 5: Now fill up the 5-liter container with water from the tap and transfer 1 liter to the 3-liter container (which previously had 2 liters of water in it). This means we are left with 4 liters of water in the 5-liter container. Now we are at (4, 3).

This is how we are able to separate out exactly 4 liters of water without having any markings on the two containers. We hope you understand the logic behind solving this puzzle. Let’s take a look at another question to help us practice:

We are given three bowls of 7-, 4- and 3-liter capacity. Only the 7-liter bowl is full of water. Pouring the water the fewest number of times, separate out the 7 liters into 2, 2, and 3 liters (in the three bowls).

This question is a little different in that we are not given an unlimited supply of water. We have only 7 liters of water and we need to split it into 2, 2 and 3 liters. This means we can neither throw away any water, nor can we add any water. We just need to work with what we have.

We start off with (7, 0, 0) – with 7 being the liters of water in the 7-liter bowl, the first 0 being the liters of water in the 4-liter bowl, and the second 0 being the liters of water in the 3-liter bowl – and we need to go to (2, 2, 3). Let’s break this down:

STEP 1: The first step would obviously be to pour water from the 7-liter bowl into the 4-liter bowl. Now you will have 3 liters of water left in the 7-liter bowl. We are now at (3, 4, 0).

STEP 2: From the 4-liter bowl, we can now pour water into the 3-liter bowl. Now we have 1 liter in the 4-liter bowl, bringing us to (3, 1, 3).

STEP 3: Empty out the 3-liter bowl, which is full, into the 7-liter bowl for a total of 6 liters – no other transfer makes sense [if we transfer 1 liter of water to the 7-liter bowl, we will be back at the (4, 0, 3) split, which gives us nothing new]. This brings us to (6, 1, 0).

STEP 4: Shift the 1 liter of water from the 4-liter bowl to the 3-liter bowl. We are now at (6, 0, 1).

STEP 5: From the 7-liter bowl, we can now shift 4 liters of water into the 4-liter bowl. This leaves us with with 2 liters of water in the 7-liter bowl. Again, no other transfer makes sense – pouring 1 liter of water into some other bowl takes us back to a previous step. This gives us (2, 4, 1).

STEP 6: Finally, pour water from the 4-liter bowl into the 3-liter bowl to fill it up. 2 liters will be shifted, bringing us to (2, 2, 3). This is what we wanted.

We took a total of 6 steps to solve this problem. At each step, the point is to look for what helps us advance forward. If our next step takes us back to a place at which we have already been, then we shouldn’t take it.

Keeping these tips in mind, we should be able to solve most of these pouring water puzzles in the future!

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

Karishma, a Computer Engineer with a keen interest in alternative Mathematical approaches, has mentored students in the continents of Asia, Europe and North America. She teaches the GMAT for Veritas Prep and regularly participates in content development projects such as this blog!

GMAT Tip of the Week: Taking the Least Amount of Time to Solve “At Least” Probability Problems

GMAT Tip of the WeekIn its efforts to keep everyone from getting perfect 800s, the GMAT has two powerful tools to stop you from perfection. For one, it can bait you into wrong answers (with challenging content, tempting trap answers, or a combination thereof). And secondly, it can waste your time, making it look like you need to do a lot of work when there’s a much simpler way.

Fortunately, and contrary to popular belief, the GMAT isn’t “pure evil.” Wherever it provides opportunities for less-savvy examinees to waste their time, it also provides a shortcut for those who have put in the study time to learn it or who have the patience to look for the elevator, so to speak, before slogging up the stairs. And one classic example of that comes with the “at least one” type of probability question.

To illustrate, let’s consider an example:

In a bowl of marbles, 8 are yellow, 6 are blue, and 4 are black. If Michelle picks 2 marbles out of the bowl at random and at the same time, what is the probability that at least one of the marbles will be yellow?

(A) 5/17
(B) 12/17
(C) 25/81
(D) 56/81
(E) 4/9

Here, you can first streamline the process along the lines of one of those “There are two types of people in the world: those who _______ and those who don’t _______” memes. Your goal is to determine whether you get a yellow marble, so you don’t care as much about “blue” and “black”…those can be grouped into “not yellow,” thereby giving you only two groups: 8 yellow marbles and 10 not-yellow marbles. Fewer groups means less ugly math!

But even so, trying to calculate the probability of every sequence that gives you one or two yellow marbles is labor intensive. You could accomplish that “not yellow” goal several ways:

First marble: Yellow; Second: Not Yellow
First: Not Yellow; Second: Yellow
First: Yellow; Second: Yellow

That’s three different math problems each involving fractions and requiring attention to detail. There ought to be an easier way…and there is. When a probability problem asks you for the probability of “at least one,” consider the only situation in which you WOULDN’T get at least one: if you got none. That’s a single calculation, and helpful because if the probability of drawing two marbles is 100% (that’s what the problem says you’re doing), then 100% minus the probability of the unfavorable outcome (no yellow) has to equal the probability of the favorable outcome. So if you determine “the probability of no yellow” and subtract from 1, you’re finished. That means that your problem should actually look like:

PROBABILITY OF NO YELLOW, FIRST DRAW: 10 non-yellow / 18 total
PROBABILITY OF NO YELLOW, SECOND DRAW: 9 remaining non-yellow / 17 remaining total

10/18 * 9/17 reduces to 10/2 * 1/17 = 5/17. Now here’s the only tricky part of using this technique: 5/17 is the probability of what you DON’T want, so you need to subtract that from 1 to get the probability you do want. So the answer then is 12/17, or B.

More important than this problem is the lesson: when you see an “at least one” probability problem, recognize that the probability of “at least one” equals 100% minus the probability of “none.” Since “none” is always a single calculation, you’ll always be able to save time with this technique. Had the question asked about three marbles, the number of favorable sequences for “at least one yellow” would be:

Yellow Yellow Yellow
Yellow Not-Yellow Not-Yellow
Yellow Not-Yellow Yellow
Yellow Yellow Not-Yellow
Not-Yellow Yellow Yellow

(And note here – this list is not yet exhaustive, so under time pressure you may very well forget one sequence entirely and then still get the problem wrong even if you’ve done the math right.)

Whereas the probability of No Yellow is much more straightforward: Not-Yellow, Not-Yellow, Not-Yellow would be 10/18 * 9/17 * 8/16 (and look how nicely that last fraction slots in, reducing quickly to 1/2). What would otherwise be a terrifying slog, the “long way” becomes quite quick the shorter way.

So, remember, when you see “at least one” probability on the GMAT, employ the “100% minus probability of none” strategy and you’ll save valuable time on at least one Quant problem on test day.

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.

Investing in Success: The Best In-Person or Online GMAT Tutors Can Make a Difference

ProfessorMaking sure that you’re ready to take the GMAT requires study, time, and effort. Earning a high score on the GMAT can help to impress admissions officials at preferred business schools. One way to make the studying process easier is to work with a private GMAT tutor. A tutor can help you prep for the test in a variety of ways. Naturally, you want to find the tutor who can be the most help to you. Discover some of the qualities to look for when there’s a GMAT tutor needed to complete your study plan.

Knowledge of All Aspects of the GMAT
The best private GMAT tutor has more than just general advice regarding the GMAT. The person has thorough knowledge of the exam and its contents. There are several parts to the GMAT, including the Verbal, Quantitative, Integrated Reasoning, and Analytical Writing sections. A qualified tutor will have plenty of tips to share that can help you to navigate all of the sections on the GMAT.
Plus, an experienced tutor will be able to evaluate the results of your practice GMAT to determine where you need to focus most of your study efforts. This puts the element of efficiency into your test prep.

The GMAT instructors at Veritas Prep achieved scores on the exam that placed them in the 99th percentile, so if you work with a Veritas Prep tutor, you know you’re studying with someone who has practical experience with the exam. Our tutors are experts at describing the subtle points of the GMAT to their students.

Access to Quality Study Resources
If you want to thoroughly prepare for the GMAT, you must use quality study materials. At Veritas Prep, we have a GMAT curriculum that guides you through each section of the test. Your instructor will show you the types of questions on the test and reveal proven strategies you can use to answer them correctly. Of course, our curriculum teaches you the facts you need to know for the test. But just as importantly, we show you how to apply those facts to the questions on the exam. We do this in an effort to help you think like a business executive as you complete the GMAT. Private tutoring services from Veritas Prep give you the tools you need to perform your best on the exam.

Selecting Your Method of Learning
The best GMAT tutors can offer you several options when it comes to preparing for the exam. Perhaps you work full-time as a business professional. You want to prepare for the GMAT but don’t have the time to attend traditional courses. In that case, you should search for an online GMAT tutor. As a result, you can prep for the GMAT without disrupting your busy work schedule. At Veritas Prep, we provide you with the option of online tutoring as well as in-person classes. We recognize that flexibility is important when it comes to preparing for the GMAT, and we want you to get the instruction you need to earn a high score on this important test.

An Encouraging Instructor
Naturally, when you take advantage of GMAT private tutoring services, you will learn information you need to know for the test. But a tutor should also take the time to encourage you as you progress in your studies. It’s likely that you’ll face some stumbling blocks as you prepare for the different sections of the GMAT. A good instructor must be ready with encouraging words when you’re trying to master difficult skills.

Encouraging words from a tutor can give you the push you need to conquer especially puzzling questions on the test. The understanding tutors at Veritas Prep have been through preparation for the GMAT as well as the actual test, so we understand the tremendous effort it takes to master all of its sections.

If you want to partner with the best GMAT tutor as you prep for the test, we have you covered at Veritas Prep! When you sign up to study for the GMAT with Veritas Prep, you are investing in your own success. Give us a call or write us an email today to let us know when you want to start gearing up for excellence on the GMAT!

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

GMAT Writing Tips: Analytical Writing for the GMAT

writing essayYou probably know that the GMAT gauges your skills in reading and math. But did you know that there is also a section called the Analytical Writing Assessment? GMAT creators want to see how well you can analyze an argument, so in this section, you are given an argument and expected to critique it. Is it a valid argument, or is it full of flaws? Discover a few GMAT writing tips that can help you to create a critique that earns you a high score on this portion of the test.

Take a Few Minutes to Plan Your Essay
When it comes to the GMAT writing section, you may think this first tip is a no-brainer. Unfortunately, some students become nervous or anxious about this part of the exam and forget to plan out their essay before diving into the task. This can result in a poorly organized essay or one that is missing important points.

Take the time to carefully read the directions and the argument. Then, create a rough outline of what points you want to include in the essay as well as where you want to include them. If you lose your train of thought while you’re writing, simply look at your outline to regain your focus.

Determine the Flaws in the Argument
Your essay’s plan should include the flaws in the author’s argument. Faulty comparisons and mistaken assumptions as well as vague words are all things to point out when critiquing the argument. Writing a quick note about each flaw you find can be helpful when it comes time to elaborate on them in your essay. Plus, making note of them helps you to remember to include all of them in the final piece.

Use Specific Examples in Your Essay
The use of specific examples is a key element for Analytical Writing. GMAT graders will be looking for specific examples as they score your essay. It’s not enough to state that a piece of the given argument is inaccurate – you have to use the information within the argument to prove your point. Also, using specific examples helps you to demonstrate that you understand the argument.

Read and Evaluate High-Scoring Analytical Essays
When preparing for the GMAT Analytical Writing section, it’s a good idea to read and evaluate essays that received high scores. This can help you see what needs to be adjusted in your own writing to create an essay that earns a high score. In fact, you can break each essay down and highlight the individual elements that earned it a high score.

Study the Scoring System for the GMAT Analytical Writing Section
Studying the scoring rubric for the analytical essay is very helpful in your quest to craft a high-scoring piece. After writing a practice essay, you can compare its contents to the criteria on the rubric. If your essay is missing an element, you can go back and do a rewrite. This sort of practice takes a bit of time, but will prove beneficial on test day.

Study with a GMAT Tutor
A professional tutor can assist you in preparing for the section on Analytical Writing. GMAT tutors at Veritas Prep have taken the exam and earned a score in the 99th percentile. This means that when you prep for the Analytical Writing section with one of our tutors, you’re learning from a teacher with practical experience! Your tutor can help you boost your writing skills by reviewing the outline of your practice essay and giving you tips on how to improve it. Also, your tutor can provide strategies for what you can do to make your analytical essay more convincing.

We have a variety of tutoring options for those who want help preparing for the analytical essay section on the GMAT. At Veritas Prep, we know that you have a busy schedule, and we want to make it convenient to prep for this test. We also offer resources such as the opportunity for you to take a free GMAT test. This is an excellent way to find out how your skills measure up on each section of the exam. Call or contact us online today and let us give you a hand with your essay-writing skills!

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

The Patterns to Solve GMAT Questions with Reversed-Digit Numbers – Part II

SAT/ACTIn an earlier post, I wrote about the GMAT’s tendency to ask questions regarding the number properties of two two-digit numbers whose tens and units digits have been reversed.

The biggest takeaways from that post were:

  1. Anytime we add two two-digit numbers whose tens and units digits have been reversed, we will get a multiple of 11.
  2. Anytime we take the difference of two two-digit numbers whose tens and units digits have been reversed, we will get a multiple of 9.

For the hardest GMAT questions, we’re typically mixing and matching different types of number properties and strategies, so it can be instructive to see how the above axioms might be incorporated into such problems.

Take this challenging Data Sufficiency question, for instance:

When the digits of two-digit, positive integer M are reversed, the result is the two-digit, positive integer N. If M > N, what is the value of M?

(1) The integer (M –N) has 12 unique factors.

(2) The integer (M –N) is a multiple of 9.

The average test-taker looks at Statement 1, sees that it will be very difficult to simply pick numbers that satisfy this condition, and concludes that this can’t possibly be enough information. Well, the average test-taker also scores in the mid-500’s, so that’s not how we want to think.

First, let’s concede that Statement 1 is a challenging one to evaluate and look at Statement 2 first. Notice that Statement 2 tells us something we already know – as we saw above, anytime you have two two-digit numbers whose tens and units digits are reversed, the difference will be a multiple of 9. If Statement 2 is useless, we can immediately prune our decision tree of possible correct answers. Either Statement 1 alone is sufficient, or the statements together are not sufficient, as Statement 2 will contribute nothing. So right off the bat, the only possible correct answers are A and E.

If we had to guess, and we recognize that the average test-taker would likely conclude that Statement 1 couldn’t be sufficient, we’d want to go in the opposite direction – this question is significantly more difficult (and interesting) if it turns out that Statement 1 gives us considerably more information than it initially seems.

In order to evaluate Statement 1, it’s helpful to understand the following shortcut for how to determine the total number of factors for a given number. Say, for example, that we wished to determine how many factors 1000 has. We could, if we were sufficiently masochistic, simply list them out (1 and 1000, 2 and 500, etc.). But you can see that this process would be very difficult and time-consuming.

Alternatively, we could do the following. First, take the prime factorization of 1000. 1000 = 10^3, so the prime factorization is 2^3 * 5^3. Next, we take the exponent of each prime base and add one to it. Last, we multiply the results. (3+1)*(3+1) = 16, so 1000 has 16 total factors. More abstractly, if your number is x^a * y^b, where x and y are prime numbers, you can find the total number of factors by multiplying (a+1)(b+1).

Now let’s apply this process to Statement 1. Imagine that the difference of M and N comes out to some two-digit number that can be expressed as x^a * y^b. If we have a total of 12 factors, then we know that (a+1)(b+1) = 12. So, for example, it would work if a = 3 and b = 2, as a + 1 = 4 and b + 1 = 3, and 4*3 =12. But it would also work if, say, a = 5 and b = 1, as a + 1 = 6 and b + 1 = 2, and 6*2 = 12. So, let’s list out some numbers that have 12 factors:

  1. 2^3 * 3^2 (3+1)(2+1) = 12
  2. 2^5 * 3^1 (5+1)(1+1) = 12
  3. 2^2 * 3^3 (2+1)(3+1) = 12

Now remember that M – N, by definition, is a multiple of 9, which will have at least 3^2 in its prime factorization. So the second option is no longer a candidate, as its prime factorization contains only one 3. Also recall that we’re talking about the difference of two two-digit numbers. 2^2 * 3^3 is 4*27 or 108. But the difference between two positive two-digit numbers can’t possibly be a three-digit number! So the third option is also out.

The only possibility is the first option. If we know that the difference of the two numbers is 2^3 * 3^2, or 8*9 = 72, then only 91 and 19 will work. So Statement 1 alone is sufficient to answer this question, and the answer is A.

Algebraically, if M = 10x + y, then N = 10y + x.

M – N = (10x + y) – (10y + x) = 9x – 9y = 9(x – y).

If 9(x – y) = 72, then x – y = 8. If the difference between the tens and units digits is 8, the numbers must be 91 and 19.

Takeaway: the hardest GMAT questions will require a balance of strategy and knowledge. In this case, we want to remember the following:

  • Anytime we take the difference of two two-digit numbers whose tens and units digits have been reversed, we will get a multiple of 9.
  • If one statement is easier to evaluate than the other, tackle the easier one first. If it’s the case that one statement gives you absolutely nothing, and the other is complex, there is a general tendency for the complex statement alone to be sufficient.
  • For the number x^a * y^b, where x and y are prime numbers, you can find the total number of factors by multiplying (a+1)(b+1).

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 written by him here.

GMAT Hacks, Tricks, and Tips to Make Studying and Preparing for the GMAT Simpler

GoalsThe GMAT measures four general types of knowledge: Verbal, Quantitative, Integrated Reasoning, and Analytical Writing. The entire test takes about three hours and 30 minutes to complete.

Preparing for this important exam may seem like a daunting task, but you can simplify the process with the help of some GMAT tips and tricks.

Use Mnemonics to Learn Vocabulary Words
Making a GMAT cheat sheet complete with mnemonics simplifies the process of learning vocabulary words for the Verbal section. Word pictures can help you to retain the words you’re learning. For instance, suppose you’re trying to learn the word “extricate.” “Extricate” means to free something or someone from a constraint or problem. You may pair the word with a mental picture of a group of people being freed from a stuck elevator by a technician. Creating mnemonics that relate to your life, family, or job can make them all the more memorable.

Look for Vocabulary Words in Context
Studying a GMAT cheat sheet full of words and mnemonics shouldn’t be the end of your vocabulary studies. It’s just as important to be able to recognize those words in context. If you’ve signed up to take the GMAT, there’s a good chance that you already read several business publications, so keep an eye out for the words used within those resources. Reading financial newspapers, magazines, and online articles that contain GMAT vocabulary words helps you become more familiar with them. After a while, you’ll know what the words mean without having to think about them.

Learn the Test Instructions Before Test Day
When you read the instructions for each section before test day arrives, you’ll know what to expect on the actual day. This can make you feel more relaxed about tackling each section. Also, you won’t have to use your test time reading instructions because you will already know what you’re doing.

Always Keep Some Study Materials Close By
When it comes to GMAT tips and strategies, the easiest ones can sometimes be the most effective. Even busy working professionals have free moments throughout the day. It’s a smart idea to use those moments for study and review. For instance, you can work on some practice math problems during a lunch or coffee break. If you have a dentist or doctor’s appointment, you can use virtual flashcards to quiz yourself on GMAT vocabulary words while you’re sitting in the waiting room. Taking a few minutes each day to review can add up to a lot of productive study time by the end of a week.

Set a Timer for Practice Tests
If you’re concerned about completing each section of the GMAT within the allotted number of minutes, one of our favorite GMAT hacks is to try setting a timer as you begin each section of a practice test. If the timer goes off before you’re finished with the section, you may be spending too much time on puzzling problems. Or perhaps you’re taking too much time to read the directions for each section rather than familiarizing yourself with them ahead of time.

Timing your practice tests helps you establish a rhythm that allows you to get through each section with a few minutes to spare for review. At Veritas Prep, we provide you with the opportunity to take a free exam. Taking this practice exam allows you to get a clear picture of what you’ll encounter on test day.

Get Into the Habit of Eliminating Wrong Answer Options
Another very effective GMAT strategy is to eliminate answer options that are clearly incorrect. With the exception of the analytical essay, this can be done on every portion of the test. Taking practice tests gives you the chance to establish this habit. By eliminating obviously incorrect answer options, you are making the most efficient use of your test time. Also, you are making the questions more manageable by giving yourself fewer answers to consider.

Here at Veritas Prep, our GMAT instructors follow a unique curriculum that shows you how to approach every problem on the test. We teach you how to strengthen your higher-order thinking skills so you’ll know how to use them to your advantage on the test. Contact our offices today to take advantage of our in-person prep courses or our private tutoring services. Learn GMAT hacks from professional instructors who’ve mastered the test!

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

How to Solve “Hidden” Factor Problems on the GMAT

Magnifying GlassOne of the interesting things to note about newer GMAC Quant questions is that, while many of these questions test our knowledge of multiples and factors, the phrasing of these questions is often more subtle than earlier versions you might have seen. For example, if I ask you to find the least common multiple of 6 and 9, I’m not being terribly artful about what topic I’m testing you on – the word “multiple” is in the question itself.

But if tell you that I have a certain number of cupcakes and, were I so inclined, I could distribute the same number of cupcakes to each of 6 students with none left over or to each of 9 students with none left over, it’s the same concept, but I’m not telegraphing the subject in the same conspicuous manner as the previous question.

This kind of recognition comes in handy for questions like this one:

All boxes in a certain warehouse were arranged in stacks of 12 boxes each, with no boxes left over. After 60 additional boxes arrived and no boxes were removed, all the boxes in the warehouse were arranged in stacks of 14 boxes each, with no boxes left over. How many boxes were in the warehouse before the 60 additional boxes arrived?

(1) There were fewer than 110 boxes in the warehouse before the 60 additional arrived.
(2) There were fewer than 120 boxes in the warehouse after the 60 additional arrived.

Initially, we have stacks of 12 boxes with no boxes left over, meaning we could have 12 boxes or 24 boxes or 36 boxes, etc. This is when you want to recognize that we’re dealing with a multiple/factor question. That first sentence tells you that the number of boxes is a multiple of 12. After 60 more boxes were added, the boxes were arranged in stacks of 14 with none left over – after this change, the number of boxes is a multiple of 14.

Because 60 is, itself, a multiple of 12, the new number must remain a multiple of 12, as well. [If we called the old number of boxes 12x, the new number would be 12x + 60. We could then factor out a 12 and call this number 12(x + 5.) This number is clearly a multiple of 12.] Therefore the new number, after 60 boxes are added, is a multiple of both 12 and 14. Now we can find the least common multiple of 12 and 14 to ensure that we don’t miss any possibilities.

The prime factorization of 12: 2^2 * 3

The prime factorization of 14: 2 * 7

The least common multiple of 12 and 14: 2^2 * 3 * 7 = 84.

We now know that, after 60 boxes were added, the total number of boxes was a multiple of 84. There could have been 84 boxes or 168 boxes, etc. And before the 60 boxes were added, there could have been 84-60 = 24 boxes or 168-60 = 108 boxes, etc.

A brief summary:

After 60 boxes were added: 84, 168, 252….

Before 60 boxes were added: 24, 108, 192….

That feels like a lot of work to do before even glancing at the statements, but now look at how much easier they are to evaluate!

Statement 1 tells us that there were fewer than 110 boxes before the 60 boxes were added, meaning there could have been 24 boxes to start (and 84 once 60 were added), or there could have been 108 boxes to start (and 168 once 60 were added). Because there are multiple potential solutions here, Statement 1 alone is not sufficient to answer the question.

Statement 2 tells us that there were fewer than 120 boxes after 60 boxes were added. This means there could have been 84 boxes – that’s the only possibility, as the next number, 168, already exceeds 120. So we know for a fact that there are 84 boxes after 60 were added, and 24 boxes before they were added. Statement 2 alone is sufficient, and the answer is B.

Takeaway: questions that look strange or funky are always testing concepts that have been tested in the past – otherwise, the exam wouldn’t be standardized. By making these connections, and recognizing that a verbal clue such as “none left over” really means that we’re talking about multiples and factors, we can recognize even the most abstract patterns on the toughest of GMAT questions.

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 written by him here.

GMAT Probability Practice: Questions and Answers

Roll the DiceThe Quantitative portion of the GMAT contains questions on a variety of math topics. One of those topics is probability. GMAT questions of this sort ask you to look for the likelihood that something will occur. Probability is not as familiar to many as Algebra, Geometry, and other topics on the test. This is why some test-takers hesitate when they see the word “probability” on a summary of the GMAT. However, this is just another topic that can be mastered with study and practice.

You may already know that there are certain formulas that can help solve GMAT probability questions, but there is more to these problems than teasing out the right answers. Take a look at some advice on how to tackle GMAT probability questions to calm your fears about the test:

Probability Formulas
As you work through GMAT probability practice questions, you will need to know a few formulas. One key formula to remember is that the probability equals the number of desired outcomes divided by the number of possible outcomes. Another formula deals with discrete events and probability – that formula is P(A and B) = P(A)*P(B). Figuring out the probability of an event not occurring is one minus the probability that the event will occur. Putting these formulas into practice is the most effective way to remember them.

Is it Enough to Know the Basic Formulas for Probability?
Some test-takers believe that once you know the formulas related to probability for GMAT questions, then you have the keys to success on this portion of the test. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. The creators of the GMAT are not just looking at your ability to plug numbers into formulas – you must understand what each question is asking and why you arrived at a particular answer. Successful business executives use reason and logic to arrive at the decisions they make. The creators of the GMAT want to see how good you are at using these same tools to solve problems.

The Value of Practice Exams
Taking a practice GMAT can help you determine your skill level when it comes to probability questions and problems on every other section of the test. Also, a practice exam gives you the chance to become accustomed to the amount of time you’ll have to finish the various sections of the test.

At Veritas Prep, we have one free GMAT practice test available to anyone who wants to get an idea of how prepared they are for the test. After you take the practice test, you will receive a score report and thorough performance analysis that lets you know how you fared on each section. Your performance analysis can prove to be one of the most valuable resources you have when starting to prepare for the GMAT. Follow-up practice tests can be just as valuable as the first one you take. These tests reveal your progress on probability problems and other skills on the GMAT. The results can guide you on how to adjust your study schedule to focus more time on the subjects that need it.

Getting the Right Kind of Instruction
When it comes to probability questions, GMAT creators have been known to set subtle traps for test-takers. In some cases, you may happen upon a question with an answer option that jumps out at you as the right choice. This could be a trap.

If you study for the GMAT with Veritas Prep, we can teach you how to spot and avoid those sorts of traps. Our talented instructors have not only taken the GMAT; they have mastered it. Each of our tutors received a score that placed them in the 99th percentile. Consequently, if you study with Veritas Prep, you’ll benefit from the experience and knowledge of tutors who have conquered the GMAT. When it comes to probability questions, GMAT tutors at Veritas Prep have you covered!

In addition to providing you with effective GMAT strategies, tips, and top-quality instruction, we also give you choices regarding the format of your courses. We have prep classes that are given online and in person – learn your lessons where you want, and when you want. You may want to go with our private tutoring option and get a GMAT study plan that is tailored to your needs. Contact Veritas Prep today and dive into your GMAT studies!

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

When to Pick Your Own Numbers on GMAT Quant Questions

SAT/ACTThe other day, while working with a tutoring student, I was enumerating the virtues of various test-taking strategies when the student sheepishly interrupted my eloquent paean to picking numbers. She’d read somewhere that these strategies were fine for easy to moderate questions, but that for the toughest questions, you just had to bear down and solve the problem formally. Clearly, she is not a regular reader of our fine blog.

As luck would have it, on her previous practice exam she’d received the following problem, which both illustrates the value of picking numbers and demonstrates why this approach works so well.

A total of 30 percent of the geese included in a certain migration study were male. If some of the geese migrated during the study and 20 percent of the migrating geese were male, what was the ratio of the migration rate for the male geese to the migration rate for the female geese? 

[Migration rate for geese of a certain sex = (number of geese of that sex migrating) / (total number of geese of that sex)] 

A) 1/4
B) 7/12
C) 2/3
D) 7/8
E) 8/7

This is a perfect opportunity to break out two of my favorite GMAT tools: picking numbers and making charts. So, let’s say there are 100 geese in our population. That means that if 30% are male, we’ll have 30 male geese and 70 females geese, giving us the following chart:

Male Female Total
Total 30 70 100

Now, let’s say 10 geese were migrating. That means that 90 were not migrating. Moreover, if 20 percent of the migrating geese were male, we know that we’ll have 2 migrating males and 8 migrating females, giving us the following:

Male Female Total
Migrating 2 8 10
Total 30 70 100

(Note that if we wanted to, we could fill out the rest of the chart, but there’s no reason to, especially when we’re trying to save as much time as possible.)

Our migration rate for the male geese is 2/30 or 1/15. Our migration rate for the female geese is 8/70 or 4/35. Ultimately, we want the ratio of the male migration rate (1/15) to the female migration rate (4/35), so we need to simplify (1/15)/(4/35), or (1*35)/(15*4) = 35/60 = 7/12. And we’re done – B is our answer.

My student was skeptical. How did we know that 10 geese were migrating? What if 20 geese were migrating? Or 50? Shouldn’t that change the result? This is the beauty of picking numbers – it doesn’t matter what number we pick (so long as we don’t end up with an illogical scenario in which, say, the number of migrating male geese is greater than the number of total male geese). To see why, watch what happens when we do this algebraically:

Say that we have a total of “t” geese. If 30% are male, we’ll have 0.30t male geese and 0.70t females geese.  Now, let’s call the migrating geese “m.” If 20% are male, we’ll have 0.20m migrating males and 0.80m migrating females. Now our chart will look like this:

Male Female Total
Migrating 0.20m 0.80m m
Total 0.30t 0.70t t

The migration rate for the male geese is 0.20m/0.30t or 2m/3t. The migration rate for the female geese is 0.80m/0.70t or 8m/7t. We want the ratio of the male migration rate (2m/3t) to the female migration rate (8m/7t), so we need to simplify (2m/3t)/(8m/7t) = (2m*7t)/(3t * 8m) = 14mt/24mt = 7mt/12mt = 7/12. It’s clear now why the numbers we picked for m and t don’t matter – they cancel out in the end.

Takeaway: We cannot say this enough: the GMAT is not testing your ability to do formal algebra. It’s testing your ability to make good decisions in a stressful environment. So your goal, when preparing for this test, isn’t to become a virtuoso mathematician, even for the toughest questions. It’s to practice the kind of simple creative thinking that will get you to your answer with the smallest investment of your time.

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 written by him here.

How to Use Units Digits to Avoid Doing Painful Calculations on the GMAT

StudentDuring the first session of each new class I teach, we do a quick primer on the utility of units digits. Imagine I want to solve 130,467 * 367,569. Without a calculator, we are surely entering a world of hurt. But we can see almost instantaneously what the units digit of this product would be.

The units digit of 130,467 * 367,569 would be the same as the units digit of 7*9, as only the units digits of the larger numbers are relevant in such a calculation. 7*9 = 63, so the units digit of 130,467 * 367,569 is 3. This is one of those concepts that is so simple and elegant that it seems too good to be true.

And yet, this simple, elegant rule comes into play on the GMAT with surprising frequency.

Take this question for example:

If n is a positive integer, how many of the ten digits from 0 through 9 could be the units digit of n^3?

A) three
B) four
C) six
D) nine
E) ten

Surely, you think, the solution to this question can’t be as simple as cubing the easiest possible numbers to see how many different units digits result. And yet that’s exactly what we’d do here.

1^3 = 1

2^3 = 8

3^3 = 27 à units 7

4^3 = 64 à units 4

5^3 = ends in 5 (Fun fact: 5 raised to any positive integer will end in 5.)

6^3 = ends in 6 (Fun fact: 6 raised to any positive integer will end in 6.)

7^3 = ends in 3 (Well 7*7 = 49. 49*7 isn’t that hard to calculate, but only the units digit matters, and 9*7 is 63, so 7^3 will end in 3.)

8^3 = ends in 2 (Well, 8*8 = 64, and 4*8 = 32, so 8^3 will end in 2.)

9^3 = ends in 9 (9*9 = 81 and 1 * 9 = 9, so 9^3 will end in 9.)

10^3 = ends in 0

Amazingly, when I cube all the integers from 1 to 10 inclusive, I get 10 different units digits. Pretty neat. The answer is E.

Of course, this question specifically invoked the term “units digit.” What are the odds of that happening? Maybe not terribly high, but any time there’s a painful calculation, you’d want to consider thinking about the units digits.

Take this question, for example:

A certain stock exchange designates each stock with a one, two or three letter code, where each letter is selected from the 26 letters of the alphabet. If the letters may be replaced and if the same letters used in a different order constitute a different code, how many different stocks is it possible to uniquely designate with these codes? 

A) 2,951
B) 8,125
C) 15,600
D) 16,302
E) 18,278 

Conceptually, this one doesn’t seem that bad.

If I wanted to make a one-letter code, there’d be 26 ways I could do so.

If I wanted to make a two-letter code, there’d be 26*26 or 26^2 ways I could do so.

If I wanted to make a three-letter code, there’d be 26*26*26, or 26^3 ways I could so.

So the total number of codes I could make, given the conditions of the problem, would be 26 + 26^2 + 26^3. Hopefully, at this point, you notice two things. First, this arithmetic will be deeply unpleasant to do.  Second, all of the answer choices have different units digits!

Now remember that 6 raised to any positive integer will always end in 6. So the units digit of 26 is 6, and the units digit of 26^2 is 6 and the units digit of 26^3 is also 6. Therefore, the units digit of 26 + 26^2 + 26^3 will be the same as the units digit of 6 + 6 + 6. Because 6 + 6 + 6 = 18, our answer will end in an 8. The only possibility here is E. Pretty nifty.

Takeaway: Painful arithmetic can always be avoided on the GMAT. When calculating large numbers, note that we can quickly find the units digit with minimal effort. If all the answer choices have different units digits, the question writer is blatantly telegraphing how to approach this problem.

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 written by him here.

How to Approach Difficult GMAT Problems

SAT/ACTMy students have a hard time understanding what makes a difficult GMAT question difficult. They assume that the tougher questions are either testing something they don’t know, or that these problems involve a dizzying level of complexity that requires an algebraic proficiency that’s simply beyond them.

One of my main goals in teaching a class is to persuade everyone that this is not, in fact, how hard questions work on this test. Hard questions don’t ask you do to something you don’t know how to do. Rather, they’re cleverly designed to provoke an anxiety response that makes it difficult to realize that you do know exactly how to solve the problem.

Take this official question, for example:

Let a, b, c and d be nonzero real numbers. If the quadratic equation ax(cx + d) = -b(cx +d) is solved for x, which of the following is a possible ratio of the 2 solutions?

A) –ab/cd
B) –ac/bd
C) –ad/bc
D) ab/cd
E) ad/bc

Most students see this and panic. Often, they’ll start by multiplying out the left side of the equation, see that the expression is horrible (acx^2 + adx), and take this as evidence that this question is beyond their skill level. And, of course, the question was designed to elicit precisely this response. So when I do this problem in class, I always start by telling my students, much to their surprise, that every one of them already knows how to do this. They’ve just succumbed to the question writer’s attempt to convince them otherwise.

So let’s start simple. I’ll write the following on the board: xy = 0. Then I’ll ask what we know about x or y. And my students shrug and say x or y (or both) is equal to 0. They’ll also wonder what on earth such a simple identity has to do with the algebraic mess of the question they’d been struggling with.

I’ll then write this: zx + zy = 0. Again, I’ll ask what we know about the variables. Most will quickly see that we can factor out a “z” and get z(x+y) = 0. And again, applying the same logic, we see that one of the two components of the product must equal zero – either z = 0 or x + y = 0.

Next, I’ll ask if they would approach the problem any differently if I’d given them zx = -zy – they wouldn’t.

Now it clicks. We can take our initial equation in the aforementioned problem: ax(cx +d) = -b(cx+d), and see that we have a ‘cx + d’ on both sides of the equation, just as we’d had a “z” on both sides of the previous example. If I’m able to get everything on one side of the equation, I can factor out the common term.

Now ax(cx +d) = -b(cx+d) becomes ax(cx +d) + b(cx+d) = 0.

Just as we factored out a “z” in the previous example, we can factor out “cx + d” in this one.

Now we have (cx + d)(ax + b) = 0.

Again, if we multiply two expressions to get a product of zero, we know that at least one of those expressions must equal 0. Either cx + d = 0 or ax + b = 0.

If cx + d = 0, then x = -d/c.

If ax + b = 0, then x = -b/a.

Therefore, our two possible solutions for x are –d/c and –b/a. So, the ratio of the two would simply be (-d/c)/(-b/a). Recall that dividing by a fraction is the equivalent of multiplying by the reciprocal, so we’re ultimately solving for (-d/c)(-a/b). Multiplying two negatives gives us a positive, and we end up with da/cb, which is equivalent to answer choice E.

Takeaway: Anytime you see something on the GMAT that you think you don’t know how to do, remind yourself that the question was designed to create this false impression. You know how to do it – don’t hesitate to dive in and search for how to apply this knowledge.

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 written by him here.

How to Reach a 99th Percentile GMAT Score Using No New Academic Strategies

Pump UpLast week I received an email from an old student who’d just retaken the GMAT. He was writing to let me know that he’d just received a 770. Of course, I was ecstatic for him, but I was even more excited once I considered what his journey could mean for other students.

His story is a fairly typical one: like the vast majority of GMAT test-takers, he enrolled in the class looking to hit a 700. His scores improved steadily throughout the course, and when he took the test the first time, he’d received a 720, which was in line with his last two practice exams. After he finished the official test, he called me – both because he was feeling pretty good about his score but also because a part of him was sure he could do better.

My feeling at the time was that there really wasn’t any pressing need for a retake: a 720 is a fantastic score, and once you hit that level of success, the incremental gains of an improvement begin to suffer from the law of diminishing returns. Still, when you’re talking about the most competitive MBA programs, you want any edge you can get. Moreover, he’d already made up his mind. He wanted to retake.

Part of his decision was rooted in principle. He was sure he could hit the 99th percentile, and he wanted to prove it to himself. The problem, he noted, was that he’d already mastered the test’s content. So if there was nothing left for him to learn, how did he jump to the 99th percentile?

The answer can be found in the vast body of literature enumerating the psychological variables that influence test scores. We like to think of tests as detached analytic tools that measure how well we’ve mastered a given topic. In reality, our mastery of the content is one small aspect of performance.

Many of us know this from experience – we’ve all had the experience of studying hard for a test, feeling as though we know everything cold, and then ending up with a score that didn’t seem to reflect how well we’d learned the material. After I looked at the research, it was clear that the two most important psychological variables were 1) confidence and 2) how well test-takers managed test anxiety. (And there’s every reason to believe that those two variables are interconnected.)

I’ve written in the past about how a mindfulness meditation practice can boost test day performance. I’ve also written about how perceiving anxiety as excitement, rather than as a nefarious force that needs to be conquered, has a similarly salutary effect. Recently I came across a pair of newer studies.

In one, researchers found that when students wrote in their journals for 10 minutes about their test-taking anxiety the morning of their exams, their scores went up substantially. In another, the social psychologist Amy Cuddy found that body language had a profound impact on performance in all sorts of domains. For example, her research has revealed that subjects who assumed “power poses” for two minutes before a job interview projected more confidence during the interview and were better able to solve problems than a control group that assumed more lethargic postures. (To see what these power poses look like, check out Cuddy’s fascinating Ted talk here.) Moreover, doing power poses actually created a physiological change, boosting testosterone and reducing the stress hormone Cortisol.

Though her research wasn’t targeted specifically at test-takers, there’s every reason to believe that there would be a beneficial effect for students who practiced power poses before an exam. Many teachers acquainted with Cuddy’s research now recommend that their students do this before tests.

So the missing piece of the puzzle for my student was simply confidence. His strategies hadn’t changed. His knowledge of the core concepts was the same. The only difference was his psychological approach. So now I’m recommending that all of my students do the following to cultivate an ideal mindset for producing their best possible test scores:

  1. Perform mindfulness meditation for the two weeks leading up to the exam.
  2. Reframe test-day anxiety as excitement.
  3. Spend 10 minutes the morning of the test writing in a journal.
  4. Practice two minutes of power poses in the waiting room before sitting for the exam and between the Quant and Verbal section.

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 written by him here.

Don’t Swim Against the Arithmetic Currents on the GMAT Quant Section

MalibuWhen I was a child, I was terrified of riptides. Partially, this was a function of having been raised by unusually neurotic parents who painstakingly instilled this fear in me, and partially this was a function of having inherited a set of genes that seems to have predisposed me towards neuroticism. (The point, of course, is that my parents are to blame for everything. Perhaps there is a better venue for discussing these issues.)

If there’s a benefit to fears, it’s that they serve as potent motivators to find solutions to the troubling predicaments that prompt them. The solution to dealing with riptides is to avoid struggling against the current. The water is more powerful than you are, so a fight is a losing proposition – rather, you want to wait for an opportunity to swim with the current and allow the surf to bring you back to shore. There’s a profound wisdom here that translates to many domains, including the GMAT.

In class, whenever we review a strategy, my students are usually comfortable applying it almost immediately. Their deeper concern is about when to apply the strategy, as they’ll invariably find that different approaches work with different levels of efficacy on different problems. Moreover, even if one has a good strategy in mind, the way the strategy is best applied is often context-dependent. When we’re picking numbers, we can say that x = 2 or x = 100 or x = 10,000; the key is not to go in with a single approach in mind. Put another way, don’t swim against the arithmetic currents.

Let’s look at some questions to see this approach in action:

At a picnic there were 3 times as many adults as children and twice as many women as men. If there was a total of x men, women, and children at the picnic, how many men were there, in terms of x?

A) x/2
B) x/3
C) x/4
D) x/5
E) x/6

The moment we see “x,” we can consider picking numbers. The key here is contemplating how complicated the number should be. Swim with the current – let the question tell you. A quick look at the answer choices reveals that x could be something simple. Ultimately, we’re just dividing this value by 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6.

Keeping this in mind, let’s think about the first line of the question. If there are 3 times as many adults as children, and we’re keeping things simple, we can say that there are 3 adults and 1 child, for a total of 4 people. So, x = 4.

Now, we know that among our 3 adults, there are twice as many women as men. So let’s say there are 2 women and 1 man. Easy enough. In sum, we have 2 women, 1 man, and 1 child at this picnic, and a total of 4 people. The question is how many men are there? There’s just 1! So now we plug x = 4 into the answers and keep going until we find x = 1. Clearly x/4 will work, so C is our answer. The key was to let the question dictate our approach rather than trying to impose an approach on the question.

Let’s try another one:

Last year, sales at Company X were 10% greater in February than in January, 15% less in March than in February, 20% greater in April than in March, 10% less in May than in April, and 5% greater in June than in May. On which month were sales closes to the sales in January?

A) February
B) March
C) April
D) May
E) June

Great, you say. It’s a percent question. So you know that picking 100 is often a good idea. So, let’s say sales in January were 100. If we want the month when sales were closest to January’s level, we want the month when sales were closest to 100, Sales in February were 10% greater, so February sales were 110. (Remember that if sales increase by 10%, we can multiply the original number by 1.1. If they decrease by 10% we could multiply by 0.9, and so forth.)

So far so good. Sales in March were 15% less than in February. Well, if sales in Feb were 110, then the sales in March must be 110*(0.85). Hmm… A little tougher, but not insurmountable. Now, sales in April were 20% greater than they were in March, meaning that April sales would be 110*(0.85)*1.2. Uh oh.  Once you see that sales are 10% less in May than they were in April, we know that sales will be 110*(0.85)*1.2*0.9.

Now you need to stop. Don’t swim against the current. The arithmetic is getting hard and is going to become time-consuming. The question asks which month is closest to 100, so we don’t have to calculate precise values. We can estimate a bit. Let’s double back and try to simplify month by month, keeping things as simple as possible.

Our February sales were simple: 110. March sales were 110*0.85 – an unpleasant number. So, let’s try thinking about this a little differently. 100*0.85 = 85.  10*0.85 = 8.5. Add them together and we get 85 + 8.5 = 93.5.  Let’s make life easier on ourselves – we’ll round up, and call this number 94.

April sales are 20% more than March sales. Well, 20% of 100 is clearly 20, so 20% of 94 will be a little less than that. Say it’s 18. Now sales are up to 94 + 18 = 112. Still not close to 100, so we’ll keep going.

May sales are 10% less than April sales. 10% of 112 is about 11. Subtract 11 from 112, and you get 101. We’re looking for the number closest to 100, so we’ve got our answer – it’s D, May.

Takeaway: Don’t try to impose your will on GMAT questions. Use the structural clues of the problems to dictate how you implement your strategy, and be prepared to adjust midstream. The goal is never to conquer the ocean, but rather, to ride the waves to calmer waters.

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 written by him here.

GMAT Tip of the Week: Exit the GMAT Test Center…Don’t Brexit It

GMAT Tip of the WeekAcross much of the United Kingdom today, referendum voters are asking themselves “wait, did I think that through thoroughly?” in the aftermath of yesterday’s Brexit vote. Some voters have already admitted that they’d like a do-over, while evidence from Google searches in the hours immediately following the poll closures show that many Brits did a good deal of research after the fact.

And regardless of whether you side with Leave or Stay as it corresponds to the EU, if your goal is to Leave your job to Stay at a top MBA program in the near future, you’d be well-served to learn a lesson from those experiencing Brexit Remorse today.

How can the Brexit aftermath improve you GMAT score?

Pregrets, Not Regrets (Yes, Brexiters…we can combine words too.)
The first lesson is quite simple. Unlike those who returned home from the polls to immediately research “What should I have read up on beforehand?” you should make sure that you do your GMAT study before you get to the test center, not after you’ve (br)exited it with a score as disappointing as this morning’s Dow Jones.

But that doesn’t just mean, “Study before the test!” – an obvious tip. It also means, “Anticipate the things you’ll wish you had thought about.” Which means that you should go into the test center with list of “pregrets” and not leave the test center with a list of regrets.

Having “pregrets” means that you already know before you get to the test center what your likely regrets will be, so that you can fix them in the moment and not lament them after you’ve seen your score. Your list of pregrets should be a summary of the most common mistakes you’ve made on your practice tests, things like:

  • On Data Sufficiency, I’d better not forget to consider negative numbers and nonintegers.
  • Before I start doing algebra, I should check the answer choices to see if I can stop with an estimate.
  • I always blank on the 30-60-90 divisibility rule, so I should memorize it one more time in the parking lot and write it down as soon as I get my noteboard.
  • Reading Comprehension inferences must be true, so always look for proof.
  • Slow down when writing 4’s and 7’s on scratchwork, since when I rush they tend to look too much alike.
  • Check after every 10 questions to make sure I’m on a good pace.

Any mistakes you’ve made more than once on practice tests, any formulas that you know you’re apt to blank on, any reminders to yourself that “when X happens, that’s when the test starts to go downhill” – these are all items that you can plan for in advance. Your debriefs of your practice tests are previews of the real thing, so you should arrive at the test center with your pregrets in mind so that you can avoid having them become regrets.

Much like select English voters, many GMAT examinees can readily articulate, “I should have read/studied/prepare for _____” within minutes of completing their exam, and very frequently, those elements are not a surprise. So anticipate in the hour/day before the test what your regrets might be in the hours/days immediately following the test, and you can avoid that immediate remorse.

Double Cheque Your Work
Much like a Brexit vote, you only get one shot at each GMAT problem, and then the results lead to consequences. But the GMAT gives you a chance to save yourself from yourself – you have to both select your answer and confirm it. So, unlike those who voted and then came home to Google asking, “Did I do the right thing?” you should ask yourself that question before you confirm your answer. Again, your pregrets are helpful. Before you submit your answer, ask yourself:

  • Did I solve for the proper variable?
  • Does this number make logical sense?
  • Does this answer choice create a logical sentence when I read it back to myself?
  • Does this Inference answer have to be true, or is there a chance it’s not?
  • Am I really allowed to perform that algebraic operation? Let me try it with small numbers to make sure…

There will, of course, be some problems on the GMAT that you simply don’t know how to do, and you’ll undoubtedly get some problems wrong. But for those problems that you really should have gotten right, the worst thing that can happen is realizing a question or two later that you blew it.

Almost every GMAT examinee can immediately add 30 points to his score by simply taking back those points he would have given away by rushing through a problem and making a mistake he’d be humiliated to know he made. So, take that extra 5-10 seconds on each question to double check for common mistakes, even if that means you have to burn a guess later in the section. If you minimize those mistakes on questions within your ability level, that guess will come on a problem you should get wrong, anyway.

Like a Brexit voter, the best you can do the day before and day of your important decision-making day is to prepare to make the best decisions you can make. If you’re right, you’re right, and if you’re wrong, you’re wrong, and you may never know which is which (the GMAT won’t release your questions/answers and the Brexit decision will take time to play out). The key is making sure that you don’t leave with immediate regrets that you made bad decisions or didn’t take the short amount of time to prepare yourself for better ones. Enter the test center with pregrets; don’t Brexit it with regrets.

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.

How to Simplify Percent Questions on the GMAT

stressed-studentOne of the most confounding aspects of the GMAT is its tendency to make simple concepts seem far more complex than they are in reality. Percent questions are an excellent example of this.

When I introduce this topic, I’ll typically start by asking my class the following question: If you’ve completed 10% of a project how much is left to do?  I have never, in all my years of teaching, had a class that was unable to tell me that 90% of the project remains. It’s more likely that they’ll react as though I’m insulting their collective intelligence. And yet, when test-takers see this concept under pressure, they’ll often fail to recognize it.

Take the following question, for example:

Dara ran on a treadmill that had a readout indicating the time remaining in her exercise session. When the readout indicated 24 min 18 sec, she had completed 10% of her exercise session. The readout indicated which of the following when she had completed 40% of her exercise session.

(A) 10 min. 48 sec.
(B) 14 min. 52 sec.
(C) 14 min. 58 sec.
(D) 16 min. 6 sec.
(E) 16 min. 12 sec.

Hopefully, you’ve noticed that this question is testing the same simple concept that I use when introducing percent problems to my class. And yet, in my experience, a solid majority of students are stumped by this problem. The reason, I suspect, is twofold. First, that figure – 24 min. 18 sec. – is decidedly unfriendly. Painful math often lends itself to careless mistakes and can easily trigger a panic response. Second, anxiety causes us to work faster, and when we work faster, we’re often unable to recognize patterns that would be clearer to us if we were calm.

There’s interesting research on this. Psychologists, knowing that the color red prompts an anxiety response and that the color blue has a calming effect, conducted a study in which test-takers had to answer math questions – the questions were given to some subjects on paper with a red background and to other subjects on paper with a blue background. (The control group had questions on standard white paper.) The red anxiety-producing background noticeably lowered scores and the calming blue background boosted scores.

Now, the GMAT doesn’t give you a red background, but it does give you unfriendly-seeming numbers that likely have the same effect. So, this question is as much about psychology as it is about mathematical proficiency. Our job is to take a deep breath or two and rein in our anxiety before we proceed.

If Dara has completed 10% of her workout, we know she has 90% of her workout remaining. So, that 24 min. 18 sec. presents 90% of her total workout. If we designate her total workout time as “t,” we end up with the following equation:

24 min. 18 sec. = 0.90t

Let’s work with fractions to solve. 18 seconds is 18/60 minutes, which simplifies to 3/10 minutes. 0.9 is 9/10, so we can rewrite our equation as:

24 + 3/10 = (9/10)t
(243/10) = (9/10)t
(243/10)*(10/9) = t
27 = t

Not so bad. Dara’s full workout is 27 minutes long.

We want to know how much time is remaining when Dara has completed 40% of her workout. Well, if she’s completed 40% of her workout, we know she has 60% of her workout remaining. If her full workout is 27 minutes, then 60% of this value is 0.60*27 = (3/5)*27 = 81/5 = 16 + 1/5, or 16 minutes 12 seconds. And we’ve got our answer: E.

Now, let’s say you get this problem with 20 seconds remaining on the clock and you simply don’t have time to solve it properly. Let’s estimate.

Say, instead of 24 min 18 seconds remaining, Dara had 24 minutes remaining (so we know we’re going to underestimate the answer). If that’s 90% of her workout time, 24 = (9/10)t, or 240/9 = t.

We want 60% of this, so we want (240/9)*(3/5).

Because 240/5 = 48 and 9/3 = 3, (240/9)*(3/5) = 48/3 = 16.

We know that the correct answer is over 16 minutes and that we’ve significantly underestimated – makes sense to go with E.

Takeaway: Don’t let the question-writer trip you up with figures concocted to make you nervous. Take a breath, and remember that the concepts being tested are the same ones that, when boiled down to their essence, are a breeze when we’re calm.

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 written by him here.

GMAT Tip of the Week: The Least Helpful Waze To Study

GMAT Tip of the WeekIf you drive in a large city, chances are you’re at least familiar with Waze, a navigation app that leverages user data to suggest time-saving routes that avoid traffic and construction and that shave off seconds and minutes with shortcuts on lesser-used streets.

And chances are that you’ve also, at some point or another, been inconvenienced by Waze, whether by a devout user cutting blindly across several lanes to make a suggested turn, by the app requiring you to cut through smaller streets and alleys to save a minute, or by Waze users turning your once-quiet side street into the Talladega Superspeedway.

To its credit, Waze is correcting one of its most common user complaints – that it often leads users into harrowing and time-consuming left turns. But another major concern still looms, and it’s one that could damage both your fender and your chances on the GMAT:

Beware the shortcuts and “crutches” that save you a few seconds, but in doing so completely remove all reasoning and awareness.

With Waze, we’ve all seen it happen: someone so beholden to, “I must turn left on 9th Street because the app told me to!” will often barrel through two lanes of traffic – with no turn signal – to make that turn…not realizing that the trip would have taken the exact same amount of time, with much less risk to the driver and everyone else on the road, had he waited a block or two to safely merge left and turn on 10th or 11th. By focusing so intently on the app’s “don’t worry about paying attention…we’ll tell you when to turn” features, the driver was unaware of other cars and of earlier opportunities to safely make the merge in the desired direction.

The GMAT offers similar pitfalls when examinees rely too heavily on “turn your brain off” tricks and techniques. As you learn and practice them, strategies like the “plumber butt” for rates and averages may seem quick, easy, and “turn your brain off” painless. But the last thing you want to do on a higher-order thinking test like the GMAT is completely turn your brain off. For example, a “turn your brain off” rate problem might say:

John drives at an average rate of 45 miles per hour. How many miles will he drive in 2.5 hours?

And using a Waze-style crutch, you could remember that to get distance you multiply time by rate so you’d get 112.5 miles. That may be a few seconds faster than performing the algebra by thinking “Rate = Distance over Time”; 45 = D/2.5; 45(2.5) = D; D = 112.5.

But where a shortcut crutch saves you time on easier problems, it can leave you helpless on longer problems that are designed to make you think. Consider this Data Sufficiency example:

A factory has three types of machines – A, B, and C – each of which works at its own constant rate. How many widgets could one machine A, one Machine B, and one Machine C produce in one 8-hour day?

(1) 7 Machine As and 11 Machine Bs can produce 250 widgets per hour

(2) 8 Machine As and 22 Machine Cs can produce 600 widgets per hour

Here, simply trying to plug the information into a simple diagram will lead you directly to choice E. You simply cannot separate the rate of A from the rate of B, or the rate of B from the rate of C. It will not fit into the classic “rate pie / plumber’s butt” diagram that many test-takers use as their “I hate rates so I’ll just do this trick instead” crutch.

However, those who have their critical thinking mind turned on will notice two things: that choice E is kind of obvious (the algebra doesn’t get you very close to solving for any one machine’s rate) so it’s worth pressing the issue for the “reward” answer of C, and that if you simply arrange the algebra there are similarities between the number of B and of C:

7(Rate A) + 11(Rate B) = 250
8(Rate A) + 22(Rate C) = 600

Since 11 is half of 22, one way to play with this is to double the first equation so that you at least have the same number of Bs as Cs (and remember…those are the only two machines that you don’t have “together” in either statement, so relating one to the other may help). If you do, then you have:

14(A) + 22(B) = 500
8(A) + 22(C) = 600

Then if you sum the questions (Where does the third 22 come from? Oh, 14 + 8, the coefficients for A.), you have:

22A + 22B + 22C = 1100

So, A + B + C = 50, and now you know the rate for one of each machine. The two statements together are sufficient, but the road to get there comes from awareness and algebra, not from reliance on a trick designed to make easy problems even easier.

The lesson? Much like Waze, which can lead to lack-of-awareness accidents and to shortcuts that dramatically up the degree of difficulty for a minimal time savings, you should take caution when deciding to memorize and rely upon a knee-jerk trick in your GMAT preparation.

Many are willing (or just unaware that this is the decision) to sacrifice mindfulness and awareness to save 10 seconds here or there, but then fall for trap answers because they weren’t paying attention or become lost when problems are more involved because they weren’t prepared.

So, be choosy in the tricks and shortcuts you decide to adopt! If a shortcut saves you a minute or two of calculations, it’s worth the time it takes to learn and master it (but probably never worth completely avoiding the “long way” or knowing the general concept). But if its time savings are minimal and its grand reward is that, “Hey, you don’t have to understand math to do this!” you should be wary of how well it will serve your aspirations of scores above around 600.

Don’t let these slick shortcut waze of avoiding math drive you straight into an accident. Unless the time savings are game-changing, you shouldn’t make a trade that gains you a few seconds of efficiency on select, easier problems in exchange for your awareness and understanding.

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.

How to Simplify Sequences on the GMAT

SAT/ACTThe GMAT loves sequence questions. Test-takers, not surprisingly, do not feel the same level of affection for this topic. In some ways, it’s a peculiar reaction. A sequence is really just a set of numbers. It may be infinite, it may be finite, but it’s this very open-endedness, this dizzying level of fuzzy abstraction, that can make sequences so difficult to mentally corral.

If you are one of the many people who fear and dislike sequences, your main consolation should come from the fact that the main weapon in the question writer’s arsenal is the very fear these questions might elicit. And if you have been a reader of this blog for any length of time, you know that the best way to combat this anxiety is to dive in and convert abstractions into something concrete, either by listing out some portion of the sequence, or by using the answer choices and working backwards.

Take this question for example:

For a certain set of numbers, if x is in the set, then x – 3 is also in the set. If the number 1 is in the set, which of the following must also be in the set? 

I. 4
II. -1
III. -5

A) I only
B) II only
C) III only
D) I and II
E) II and III

Okay, so let’s list out the elements in this set. We know that 1 is in the set. If x= 1, then x – 3 = -2. So -2 is in the set. If x = -2 is in the set, then x – 3 = -5. So -5 is in the set.

By this point, the pattern should be clear: each term is three less than the previous term, giving us a sequence that looks like this: 1, -2, -5, -8, -11….

So we look at our options, and see we that only III is true. And we’re done. That’s it. The answer is C.

Sure, Dave, you may say. That is much easier than any question I’m going to see on the GMAT. First, this is an official question, so I’m not sure where you’re getting the idea that you’d never see a question like this. Second, you’d be surprised by how many test-takers get this wrong.

There is the temptation to assume that if 1 is in the set, then 4 must also be in the set. And note that this is, in fact, a possibility. If x = 4, then x – 3 = 1. But the question asks us what “must be” in the set. So it’s possible that 4 is in our set. But it’s also possible our set begins with 1, in which case 4 would not be included. This little wrinkle is enough to generate a substantial number of incorrect responses.

Still, surely the questions get harder than this. Well, yes. They do. So what are you waiting for? I’m not sure where this testy impatience is coming from, but if you insist:

The sequence a1, a2, a3, . . , an of n integers is such that ak = k if k is odd and ak = -ak-1 if k is even. Is the sum of the terms in the sequence positive?

1) n is odd

2) an is positive

Yikes! Hey, you asked for a harder one. This question looks far more complicated than the previous one, but we can attack it the same way. Let’s establish our sequence:

a1 is the first term in the sequence. We’re told that ak = k if k is odd. Well, 1 is odd, so now we know that a1 = 1. So far so good.

a2 is the second term in the sequence. We’re told that ak = -ak-1 if k is even. 2 is even, so a2 = -a2-1 , meaning that a2 = -a1. Well, we know that a1 = 1, so if a2 = -a1 then a2 = -1.

So, here’s our sequence so far: 1, -1…

Let’s keep going.

a3 is the third term in the sequence. Remember that ak = k if k is odd. 3 is odd, so now we know that a3 = 3.

a4 is the fourth term in the sequence. Remember that ak = -ak-1 if k is even. 4 is even, so a4 = -a4-1 , meaning that a4 = -a3We know that a3 = 3, so if a4 = -a3 then a4 = -3.

Now our sequence looks like this: 1, -1, 3, -3…

By this point we should see the pattern. Every odd term is a positive number that is dictated by its place in the sequence (the first term = 1, the third term = 3, etc.) and every even term is simply the previous term multiplied by -1.

We’re asked about the sum:

After one term, we have 1.

After two terms, we have 1 + (-1) = 0.

After three terms, we have 1 + (-1) + 3 = 3.

After four terms, we have 1 + (-1) + 3 + (-3) = 0.

Notice the trend: after every odd term, the sum is positive. After every even term, the sum is 0.

So the initial question, “Is the sum of the terms in the sequence positive?” can be rephrased as, “Are there an ODD number of terms in the sequence?”

Now to the statements. Statement 1 tells us that there are an odd number of terms in the sequence. That clearly answers our rephrased question, because if there are an odd number of terms, the sum will be positive. This is sufficient.

Statement 2 tells us that an is positive. an is the last term in the sequence. If that term is positive, then, according to the pattern we’ve established, that term must be odd, meaning that the sum of the sequence is positive. This is also sufficient. And the answer is D, either statement alone is sufficient to answer the question.

Takeaway: sequence questions are nothing to fear. Like everything else on the GMAT, the main obstacle we need to overcome is the self-fulfilling prophesy that we don’t know how to proceed, when, in fact, all we need to do is simplify things a bit.

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 written by him here.

You’re Fooling Yourself: The GMAT is NOT the SAT!

StudentWhile a fair number of GMAT test takers study for and complete the exam a number of years into their professional career (the average age of a B-school applicant is 28, a good 6-7 years removed from their undergraduate graduation), you may be one of the ambitious few who is studying for the GMAT during, or immediately following, your undergraduate studies.

There are pros and cons to applying to business school entry straight out of undergraduate – your application lacks the core work experience that many of the higher-tier programs prefer, but unlike the competition, you have not only taken a standardized test in the past 6 years, but you are also (likely) still in the studying mindset and know (versus trying to remember) exactly what it takes to prepare for a difficult exam.

However, you may also fall into a common trap that many younger test takers find themselves in – you decide to tackle the GMAT like your old and recent friend, the SAT.

Now, are there similarities between the GMAT and SAT? Of course.

For starters, the SAT and GMAT are both multiple-choice standardized exams. The math section of the SAT covers arithmetic, geometry, and algebra, just like the quantitative section of the GMAT, with some overlap in statistics and probability. Both exams test a core, basic understanding of English grammar, and ask you to answer questions based on your comprehension of dry, somewhat complex reading passages. The SAT and GMAT also both require you write essays (although the essay on the SAT is now optional), and timing and pacing are issues on both exams, though perhaps more so on the GMAT.

But this is largely where the overlap ends. So, does that mean everything you know and prepped for the SAT should be thrown out the window?

Not necessarily, but it does require a fundamental shift in thinking. While applying your understanding of the Pythagorean Theorem, factorization, permutations, and arithmetic sequences from the SAT will certainly help you begin to tackle GMAT quantitative questions, there are key differences in what the GMAT is looking to assess versus the College Board, and with that, the strategy in tackling these questions should also be quite different.

Simply put, the GMAT is testing how you think, not what you know. This makes sense, when you think about what types of skills are required in business school and, eventually, in the management of business and people. GMAC doesn’t hide what the GMAT is looking to assess – in fact, goals of the GMAT’s assessment are clearly stated on its website:

The GMAT exam is designed to test skills that are highly important to business and management programs. It assesses analytical writing and problem-solving abilities, along with the data sufficiency, logic, and critical reasoning skills that are vital to real-world business and management success. In June 2012, the GMAT exam introduced Integrated Reasoning, a new section designed to measure a test taker’s ability to evaluate information presented in new formats and from multiple sources─skills necessary for management students to succeed in a technologically advanced and data-rich world.

To successfully show that you are a candidate worth considering, in your preparation for the exam, make sure you consider what the right strategy and approach will be. Strategy, strategy, strategy. You need to understand which rabbit holes the GMAT can take you down, what tricks not to fall for (especially via misdirection), and how identification of question types can best inform the next steps you take.

An additional, and really, really important point is to keep in mind is that the GMAT is a computer-adaptive exam, not a pen-and-paper test.

Computer-adaptive means that your answer selection dictates the difficulty level of the next question – stacking itself up to a very accurate assessment of how easily you are able to answer easy, medium, and hard questions. Computer-adaptive also means you are not able to skip around, or go back to questions… including the reading comprehension ones. Just like on any game show, you must select your final answer before moving on.

As a computer-adaptive test, the GMAT not only punishes pacing issues, but can be even more detrimental to those who rush and make careless mistakes in the beginning. To wage war against the CAT format, test takers must be careful and methodical in assessing and answering test questions correctly.

Bottom line: don’t treat the GMAT like the SAT, or assume that because you did well on the SAT, you will also do so on the GMAT (or, vice versa). Make sure you are aware of the components of the GMAT that are different and where the similarities between the two tests end.

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 Ashley Triscuit, a Veritas Prep GMAT instructor based in Boston.

GMAT Tip of the Week: Ernie Els, The Masters, and the First Ten GMAT Questions

GMAT Tip of the WeekAt this weekend’s The Masters golf tournament, the most notable piece of news isn’t the leaderboard, but rather the guy least likely to get near it. Ernie Els set a record with a nine-stroke, quintuple bogey on his first hole of the tournament, effectively ending his tournament minutes after he began it. And in doing so, he also provided you with some insight into the “First Ten Questions” myth that concerns so many GMAT test-takers.

With 18 holes each day for 4 days (Quick mental math! 18×4 is the same as 9×8 – halve the first number and double the second to make it a calculation you know well – so that’s 72 holes), any one hole shouldn’t matter. So why was Els’ first hole such a catastrophe?

It forces him to be nearly perfect the rest of the tournament, because he’s playing at such a disadvantage.

Meanwhile, Day 1 leader Jordan Spieth shot par (“average”) his first few holes and Rory McElroy, in second place at the end of the day, bogeyed (one stroke worse than average) a total of four holes on day one. The leaders were far from perfect themselves – another important lesson for the GMAT – but by avoiding a disastrous start, they allowed themselves plenty of opportunities to make up for mistakes.

And that brings us to the GMAT. Everyone makes mistakes on the GMAT, and that often happens regardless of difficulty level. So if you’re shooting for a top score and you miss half of the first ten questions, you have a few problems to contend with.

For starters, you have to “get hot” here soon and go on a run of correct answers. Secondly, you now have a lot fewer problems available to go on that hot streak (there are only 27 more Quant or 31 more Verbal questions after the first ten). And finally, the scoring/delivery algorithm doesn’t see you as “elite” yet so the questions are going to be a little easier and less “valuable,” meaning that you’ll need to “get hot” both to prove to the computer that you belong at the top level and then to demonstrate that you can stay there.

That’s the Ernie Els problem – regardless of how good you are, you’re probably going to make mistakes, so when you force yourself to be nearly perfect on the “easier” problems you end up with a tricky standard to live up to. Even if you really should be scoring at the 700-level, you don’t have a 100% probability of answering every 500-level problem correctly. That may well be in the 90%+ range, and maybe your likelihood at the 600 level is 75 or 80%. Getting 7, 8, 9 problems right in a row is a tall order as you dig your way out of that hole.

So the first 10 problems ARE important, but not because they have that much more power over the rest of the test – it’s because the more of them you miss, the more unrealistically perfect you have to be. The key is to “not blow it” on the first 10, rather than to “do everything you can to get them all right,” which is the mindset that holds back plenty of test-takers.

Again take the Masters: the leaderboard on Thursday night is never that close to the leaderboard on Sunday evening. Very often it’s someone who starts well, but is a few strokes off the lead the first few days, who wins. The GMAT is similar: a lot can happen from questions 11 through 37 (or 41), so by no means can you celebrate victory a quarter of the way through. Your goal shouldn’t be to be perfect, but rather to get off to a good start. Getting  7 questions right and having sufficient time to complete the rest of the section is much, much better than getting 9 right but forcing yourself to rush later on.

Essentially, as Ernie Els and thousands of GMAT test-takers have learned the hard way, you won’t win it in the first quarter, but you can certainly lose it there.  As you budget your time for the first 10 questions of each section, take a few extra seconds to double-check your work and make sure you’re not making egregious mistakes, but don’t over-invest at the expense of the critical problems to come.

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.

Use This Tip to Avoid Critical Reasoning Traps on the GMAT

GMAT TrapsWhen you’ve been teaching test prep for a while you begin to be able to anticipate the types of questions that will give your students fits. The reason isn’t necessarily because these questions are unusually hard in a conventional sense, but because embedded within these problems is a form of misdirection that is nearly impossible to resist. It’s often worthwhile to dissect these problems in greater detail to reveal some deeper truths about how the test works.

Here is a problem I knew I’d be asked about often the moment I saw it:

W, X, Y, and Z represent distinct digits such that WX * YZ = 1995. What is the value of W?

  1. X is a prime number
  2. Z is not a prime number

The first instinct for most students I work with is, “I’m told nothing about W in either statement. There have to be many possibilities, so each statement alone is not sufficient.” When this thought occurs to you during the test, it’s important to resist it. By this, I don’t mean that you should simply assume that you’re wrong – there likely will be times when your first instincts are correct. Instead, what I mean is that you should take a bit more time to prove your assumptions to yourself. If there really are many workable scenarios, it won’t take much time to find them.

First, whenever there is an unusually large number and we’re dealing with multiplication, we want to take the prime factorization of that large number so that we can work with that figure’s basic building blocks and make it more manageable. In this case, the prime factorization of 1995 is 3 * 5 * 7 * 19. (First we see that five is a factor of 1995 because 1995 = 5*399. Next, we see that 3 is a factor of 399, because the digits of 399 sum to a multiple of 3. Now we have 5 * 3 * 133. Last, we know that 133 = 7 * 19, because if there are twenty 7’s in 140, there must be nineteen 7’s in 133.)

Now we can use these building blocks to form two-digit numbers that multiply to 1995. Here is a list of two-digit numbers we can assemble from those prime factors:

3 * 5 = 15

3 * 7 = 21

3 * 19 = 57

5 * 7 = 35

5 * 19 = 95

These are our candidates for WX and YZ. There aren’t many possibilities for multiplying two of these two-digit numbers and still getting a product of 1995. In fact, there are only two: 95*21 = 1995 and 35*57 = 1995. But we’re told that each digit must be unique, so 35*57 can’t work, as two of our variables would equal 5. This means that we know, before we even look at the statements, that our two two-digit numbers are 95 and 21 – we just need to know which is which.

It’s possible that WX = 95 and YZ = 21, or WX = 21 and YZ = 95. That’s it. What at first appeared to be a very open-ended question actually has very few workable solutions. Now that we’ve established our sample space of possibilities, let’s examine the statements:

Statement 1: If we know X is prime, we know that WX cannot be 21, as X would be 1 in this scenario and 1 is not a prime number. This means that WX has to be 95, and thus we know for a fact that W = 9. This statement alone is sufficient to answer the question.

Statement 2: If we know that Z is not prime, we know that YZ cannot be 95, as Z would be 5 in this scenario and 5 is, of course, prime. Thus, YZ is 21 and WX is 95, and again, we know for a fact that W is 9, so this statement alone is also sufficient.

The answer is D, either statement alone is sufficient to answer the question, a result very much at odds with most test-taker’s initial instincts.

Takeaway: the GMAT is engineered to wrong-foot test-takers, using our instincts against us.  Rather than simply assuming our instincts are wrong – they won’t always be – we want to be methodical about proving our intuitions one way or another by confirming them in some instances, refuting them in others. By being thorough and methodical, we reduce the odds that we’ll step into one of the traps the question-writer has set for us and increase the odds that we’ll answer the question correctly.

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.

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: OJ Simpson’s Defense Team And Critical Reasoning Strategy

GMAT Tip of the WeekIf you’re like many people this month, you’re thoroughly enjoying the guilty pleasure that is FX’s series The People v. OJ Simpson. And whether you’re in it to reminisce about the 1990s or for the wealth of Kardashian family history, one thing remains certain (even though, according to the state of California – spoiler alert! – that thing is not OJ’s guilt):

Robert Shaprio, Johnnie Cochran, F. Lee Bailey, Alan Dershowitz, and (yes, even) Robert Kardashian can provide you with the ultimate blueprint for GMAT Critical Reasoning success.

This past week’s third episode focused on the preparations of the prosecutors and of the defense, and showcased some crucial differences between success and failure on GMAT CR:

The prosecution made some classic GMAT CR mistakes, most notably that they went in to the case assuming the truth of their position (that OJ was guilty). On the other hand, the defense took nothing for granted – when they didn’t like the evidence (the bloody glove, for example) they looked for ways that it must be faulty evidence (Mark Fuhrman and the LAPD were racist).

This is how you must approach GMAT Critical Reasoning! The single greatest mistake that examinees make during the GMAT is in accepting that the argument they’re given is valid – like Marcia Clark, you’re a nice, good-natured person and you’ll give the argument the benefit of the doubt. But in law and on the GMAT, bullies like Travolta’s Robert Shapiro win the day. The name of the game is “Critical Reasoning” – make sure that you’re being critical.

What does that look like on the test? It means:

Be Skeptical of Arguments
From the first word of a Strengthen, Weaken, or Assumption question, you’re reading skeptically, and almost angrily so. You’re not buying this argument and you’re searching for holes immediately. Often times these arguments will actually seem pretty valid (sort of like, you know, “OJ did it, based on the glove, the blood in the Brondo, his footprint at the scene, etc.”), but your job is to attack them so you’d better start attacking immediately.

Look for Details That Don’t Match
If an argument says, for example, that “the murder rate is down, so the police department must be doing a better job preventing violent crime…” notice that murder is not the same thing as violent crime, and that even if violent crime is down, you don’t have a direct link to the police department being the catalysts for preventing it. This is part of not buying the argument – when the general flow of ideas suggests “yes,” make sure that the details do, too.

Look for Alternative Explanations
Conclusions on the GMAT – like criminal trial “guilty” verdicts – must be true beyond a reasonable doubt. So even though the premises might make it seem quite likely that a conclusion is true, if there is an alternate explanation that’s consistent with the facts but allows for a different conclusion, that conclusion cannot be logically drawn. This is where the Simpson legal team was so successful: the evidence was overwhelming in its suggestion that Simpson was guilty (as the soon-after civil trial proves), but the defense was able to create just enough suspicion that he could have been framed that the jury was able to acquit.

So whether you’re appalled or enthralled as you watch The People v. OJ Simpson and the defense team shrewdness it portrays, know that the show has valuable insight for you as you attempt to become a Critical Reasoning master. If you want to keep your GMAT verbal score out of jail, you might want to keep up with one particular Kardashian.

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

By Brian Galvin.

GMAT Tip of the Week: Cam Newton’s GMAT Success Strategy

GMAT Tip of the WeekAs we head into Super Bowl weekend, the most popular conversation topic in the world is the Carolina Panthers’ quarterback, Cam Newton. Many questions surround him: is he the QB to whom the Brady/Manning “Greatest of All Time” torch will be passed? Is this the beginning of a new dynasty? Why do people like/dislike him so much? What the heck is the Dab, anyway? And most commonly:

Why is Cam dancing and smiling so much?

The answer? Because smiling may very well be the secret to success, both in the Super Bowl and on the GMAT.

Note: this won’t be the most mathematically tactical GMAT tip post you read, and it’s not something you’ll really be able to practice on Sunday afternoon while you hit the Official Guide for GMAT Review before your Super Bowl party starts. But it may very well be the tip that most impacts your score on test day, because managing stress and optimizing performance are major keys for GMAT examinees. And smiling is a great way to do that.

First, there’s science: the act of smiling itself is known to release endorphins, relaxing your mind and giving you a more positive outlook. And this happens regardless of whether you’re actually happy or optimistic – you can literally “fake it till you make it” by smiling through a stressful or unpleasant experience.

(Plus there’s the fact that smiling puts OTHER people in a better mood, too, which won’t really help you on the GMAT since it’s you against a computer, but for your b-school and job interviews, a smile can go a long way toward an upbeat experience for both you and the interviewer.)

There are plenty of ways to force yourself to smile. One is the obvious: just do it. Write it down on the top of your noteboard in all caps: SMILE! And force yourself to do it, even when it doesn’t feel natural.

But you can also laugh/smile at yourself more naturally: when Question 1 is a permutations problem and you were dreading the idea of a permutations problem, you can laugh at your bad luck but also at the fact that at least you’re getting it over with while you still have plenty of time to recover. When you blank on a rule and have to test small numbers to prove it, you can laugh at the fact that had you not been so fascinated with the video games on your calculator in middle school you’d know that cold. You can smile when you see a friend’s name in a word problem or a Sentence Correction reference to a place you want to visit someday.

And the tactical rationale there: when you can smile in relation to the subject matter on the test, you can remind yourself that, at least on some level, you enjoy learning and problem-solving and striving for achievement. The biggest difference between “good test takers” and “good students, but bad test takers” is in the way that each approaches problems: the latter group says, “I don’t know,” and feels doubt, while the former says, “I don’t know…yet,” and starts from a position of confidence and strength. Then when you apply that confidence and figure out a problem that for a second had you totally stumped, you’ve earned that next smile and the positive energy snowballs.

As you watch Cam Newton on Sunday (For you brand management hopefuls, he’ll be playing football between those commercials you’re so excited to see!), pay attention to that megawatt smile that’s been the topic of so much talk radio controversy the last few weeks. Cam smiles because he’s having fun out there, and then that smile leads to big plays, which is even more fun, and then he’s smiling again. Apply that Cam Newton “smile your way to success” philosophy on test day and maybe you’ll be the next one getting paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to go to school for two years… (We kid, Cam – we kid!)

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

By Brian Galvin.

Why Logic is More Important Than Algebra on the GMAT

QuestioningOne common complaint I get from students is that their algebra skills aren’t where they need to be to excel on the GMAT. This complaint, invariably, is followed by a request for additional algebra drills.

If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time, you know that one of the themes we stress is that Quantitative Reasoning is not, primarily, a math test. Though math is certainly involved – How could it not be? – logic and reasoning are far more important factors than conventional mathematical facility. I stress this in every class I teach. So why the misconception that we need to hone our algebra chops?

I suspect that the culprit here is the explanations that often accompany official GMAC questions. On the whole, they tend to be biased in favor of purely algebraic solutions.  They’re always technically correct, but often suboptimal for the test-taker who needs to arrive at a solution within two minutes. Consequently, many students, after reviewing these solutions and arriving at the conclusion that they would not have been capable of the hairy algebra proffered in the official solution, think they need to work on this aspect of their prep. And for the most part it isn’t true.

Here’s a good example:

If x, y, and k are positive numbers such that [x/(x+y)]*10 + [y/(x+y)]*20 = k and if x < y, which of the following could be the value of k? 

A) 10
B) 12
C) 15
D) 18
E) 30

A large percentage of test-takers see this question, rub their hands together, and dive into the algebra. The solution offered in the Official Guide does the same – it is about fifteen steps, few of them intuitive. If you were fortunate enough to possess the algebraic virtuosity to solve the question in this manner, you’d likely chew up 5 or 6 minutes, a disastrous scenario on a test that requires you to average 2 minutes per problem.

The upshot is that it’s important for test-takers, when they peruse the official solution, not to arrive at the conclusion that they need to solve this question the same way the solution-writer did. Instead, we can use the same simple strategies we’re always preaching on this blog: pick some simple numbers.

We’re told that x<y, but for my first set of numbers, I like to make x and y the same value – this way, I can see what effect the restriction has on the problem. So let’s say x = 1 and y = 1. Plugging those values into the equation, we get:

(1/2) * 10 + (1/2) * 20  = k

5 + 10 = k

15 = k

Well, we know this isn’t the answer, because x should be less than y. So scratch off C. And now let’s see what the effect is when x is, in fact, less than y. Say x = 1 and y = 2. Now we get:

(1/3) * 10 + (2/3) * 20  = k

10/3 + 40/3 = k

50/3 = k

50/3 is about 17. So when we honor the restriction, k becomes larger than 15. The answer therefore must be D or E. Now we could pick another set of numbers and pay attention to the trend, or we can employ a bit of logic and common sense. The first term in the equation x/(x+y)*10 is some fraction multiplied by 10. So this term, logically, is some value that’s less than 10.

The second term in the equation is y/(x+y)*20, is some fraction multiplied by 20, this term must be less than 20. If we add a number that’s less than 10 to a number that’s less than 20, we’re pretty clearly not going to get a sum of 30. That leaves us with an answer of 18, or D.

(Note that if you’re really savvy, you’ll recognize that the equation is a weighted average. The coefficients in the weighted average are 10 and 20. If x and y were equal, we’d end up at the midway point, 15. Because 20 is multiplied by y, and y is greater than x, we’ll be pulled towards the high end of the range, leading to a k that must fall between 15 and 20 – only 18 is in that range.)

Takeaway: Never take a formal solution to a problem at face value. All you’re seeing is one way to solve a given question. If that approach doesn’t resonate for you, or seems so challenging that your conclusion is that you must purchase a host of textbooks in order to improve your formal math skills, then you haven’t absorbed what the GMAT is really about. Often, the relevant question isn’t, “Can you do the math?” It’s, “Can you reason your way to the answer without actually doing the math?”

*Official Guide question 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.

How to Choose the Right Number for a GMAT Variable Problem

Pi to the 36th digitWhen you begin studying for the GMAT, you will quickly discover that most of the strategies are, on the surface, fairly simple. It will not come as a terribly big surprise that selecting numbers and doing arithmetic is often an easier way of attacking a problem than attempting to perform complex algebra. There is, however, a big difference between understanding a strategy in the abstract and having honed that strategy to the point that it can be implemented effectively under pressure.

Now, you may be thinking, “How hard can it possibly be to pick numbers? I see an “x” and I decide x = 5. Not so complicated.” The art is in learning how to pick workable numbers for each question type. Different questions will require different types of numbers to create a scenario that truly is simpler than the algebra. The harder the problem, the more finesse that will be required when selecting numbers. Let’s start with a problem that doesn’t require much strategy:

If n=4p, where p is prime number greater than 2, how many different positive even divisors does n have, including n? 

(A) 2

(B) 3

(C) 4

(D) 6 

(E) 8 

Okay in this problem, “p” is a prime number greater than 2. So let’s say p = 3. If n = 4p, and 4p = 4*3 = 12. Let’s list out the factors of 12: 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 12. The even factors here are 2, 4, 6, 12. There are 4 of them. So the answer is C. Not so bad, right? Just pick the first simple number that pops into your head and you’re off to the races. Bring on the test!

If only it were that simple for all questions. So let’s try a much harder question to illustrate the pitfalls of adhering to an approach that’s overly mechanistic:

The volume of water in a certain tank is x percent greater than it was one week ago. If r percent of the current volume of water in the tank is removed, the resulting volume will be 90 percent of the volume it was one week ago. What is the value of r in terms of x?

(A) x + 10

(B) 10x + 1

(C) 100(x + 10)

(D) 100 * (x+10)/(x+100)

(E) 100 * (10x + 1)/(10x+10)

You’ll notice quickly that if you simply declare that x = 10 and r =20, you may run into trouble. Say, for example, that the starting value from one week ago was 100 liters. If x = 10, a 10% increase will lead to a volume of 110 liters. If we remove 20% of that 110, we’ll be removing .20*110 = 22 liters, giving us 110-22 = 88 liters. But we’re also told that the resulting volume is 90% of the original volume! 88 is not 90% of 100, therefore our numbers aren’t valid. In instances like this, we need to pick some simple starting numbers and then calculate the numbers that will be required to fit the parameters of the question.

So again, say the volume one week ago was 100 liters. Let’s say that x = 20%, so the volume, after water is added, will be 100 + 20 = 120 liters.

We know that once water is removed, the resulting volume will be 90% of the original. If the original was 100, the volume, once water is removed, will be 100*.90 = 90 liters.

Now, rather than arbitrarily picking an “r”, we’ll calculate it based on the numbers we have. To summarize:

Start: 100 liters

After adding water: 120 liters

After removing water: 90 liters

We now need to calculate what percent of those 120 liters need to be removed to get down to 90. Using our trusty percent change formula [(Change/Original) * 100] we’ll get (30/120) * 100 = 25%.

Thus, when x = 20, r =25. Now all we have to do is substitute “x” with “20” in the answer choices until we hit our target of 25.

Remember that in these types of problems, we want to start at the bottom of the answer choice options and work our way up:

(E) 100 * (10x + 1)/(10x+10)

100 * (10*20 + 1)/(10*20+10) = 201/210. No need to simplify. There’s no way this equals 25.

(D) 100 * (x+10)/(x+100)

100 * (20+10)/(20+100) = 100 * (30/120) = 25. That’s it! We’re done. The correct answer is D.

Takeaways: Internalizing strategies is the first step in your process of preparing for the GMAT. Once you’ve learned these strategies, you need to practice them in a variety of contexts until you’ve fully absorbed how each strategy needs to be tweaked to fit the contours of the question. In some cases, you can pick a single random number. Other times, there will be multiple variables, so you’ll have to pick one or two numbers to start and then solve for the remaining numbers so that you don’t violate the conditions of the problem. Accept that you may have to make adjustments mid-stream. Your first selection may produce hairy arithmetic. There are no style point on the GMAT, so stay flexible, cultivate back-up plans, and remember that mental agility trumps rote memorization every time.

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.

Quarter Wit, Quarter Wisdom: Cyclicity in GMAT Remainder Questions

Quarter Wit, Quarter WisdomUsually, cyclicity cannot help us when dealing with remainders, but in some cases it can. Today we will look at the cases in which it can, and we will see why it helps us in these cases.

First let’s look at a pattern:


20/10 gives us a remainder of 0 (as 20 is exactly divisible by 10)

21/10 gives a remainder of 1

22/10 gives a remainder of 2

23/10 gives a remainder of 3

24/10 gives a remainder of 4

25/10 gives a remainder of 5

and so on…

In the case of this pattern, 20 is the closest multiple of 10 that goes completely into all these numbers and you are left with the units digit as the remainder. Whenever you divide a number by 10, the units digit will be the remainder. Of course, if the units digit of a number is 0, the remainder will be 0 and that number will be divisible by 10 — but we already know that. So remainder when 467,639 is divided by 10 is 9. The remainder when 100,238 is divided by 10 is 8 and so on…

Along the same lines, we also know that every number that ends in 0 or 5 is a multiple of 5 and every multiple of 5 must end in either 0 or 5. So if the units digit of a number is 1, it gives a remainder of 1 when divided by 5. If the units digit of a number is 2, it gives a remainder of 2 when divided by 5. If the units digit of a number is 6, it gives a remainder of 1 when divided by 5 (as it is 1 more than the previous multiple of 5).

With this in mind:

20/5 gives a remainder of 0 (as 20 is exactly divisible by 5)

21/5 gives a remainder of 1

22/5 gives a remainder of 2

23/5 gives a remainder of 3

24/5 gives a remainder of 4

25/5 gives a remainder of 0 (as 25 is exactly divisible by 5)

26/5 gives a remainder of 1

27/5 gives a remainder of 2

28/5 gives a remainder of 3

29/5 gives a remainder of 4

30/5 gives a remainder of 0 (as 30 is exactly divisible by 5)

and so on…

So the units digit is all that matters when trying to get the remainder of a division by 5 or by 10.

Let’s take a few questions now:

What is the remainder when 86^(183) is divided by 10?

Here, we need to find the last digit of 86^(183) to get the remainder. Whenever the units digit is 6, it remains 6 no matter what the positive integer exponent is (previously discussed in this post).

So the units digit of 86^(183) will be 6. So when we divide this by 10, the remainder will also be 6.

Next question:

What is the remainder when 487^(191) is divided by 5?

Again, when considering division by 5, the units digit can help us.

The units digit of 487 is 7.

7 has a cyclicity of 7, 9, 3, 1.

Divide 191 by 4 to get a quotient of 47 and a remainder of 3. This means that we will have 47 full cycles of “7, 9, 3, 1” and then a new cycle will start and continue until the third term.

7, 9, 3, 1

7, 9, 3, 1

7, 9, 3, 1

7, 9, 3, 1

7, 9, 3

So the units digit of 487^(191) is 3, and the number would look something like ……………..3

As discussed, the number ……………..0 would be divisible by 5 and ……………..3 would be 3 more, so it will also give a remainder of 3 when divided by 5.

Therefore, the remainder of 487^(191) divided by 5 is 3.

Last question:

If x is a positive integer, what is the remainder when 488^(6x) is divided by 2?

Take a minute to review the question first. If you start by analyzing the expression 488^(6x), you will waste a lot of time. This is a trick question! The divisor is 2, and we know that every even number is divisible by 2, and every odd number gives a remainder 1 when divided by 2. Therefore, we just need to determine whether 488^(6x) is odd or even.

488^(6x) will be even no matter what x is (as long as it is a positive integer), because 488 is even and we know even*even*even……(any number of terms) = even.

So 488^(6x) is even and will give remainder 0 when it is divided by 2.

That is all for today. We will look at some GMAT remainders-cyclicity questions next week!

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

Karishma, a Computer Engineer with a keen interest in alternative Mathematical approaches, has mentored students in the continents of Asia, Europe and North America. She teaches the GMAT for Veritas Prep and regularly participates in content development projects such as this blog!

Quarter Wit, Quarter Wisdom: Cyclicity of Units Digits on the GMAT (Part 2)

Quarter Wit, Quarter WisdomAs discussed last week, all units digits have a cyclicity of 1 or 2 or 4. Digits 2, 3, 7 and 8 have a cyclicity of 4, i.e. the units digit repeats itself every 4 digit:

Cyclicity of 2: 2, 4, 8, 6

Cyclicity of 3: 3, 9, 7, 1

Cyclicity of 7: 7, 9, 3, 1

Cyclicity of 8: 8, 4, 2, 6

Digits 4 and 9 have a cyclicity of 2, i.e. the units digit repeats itself every 2 digits:

Cyclicity of 4: 4, 6

Cyclicity of 9: 9, 1

Digits 0, 1, 5 and 6 have a cyclicity of 1, i.e. the units digit is 0, 1, 5, or 6 respectively.

Now let’s take a look at how to apply these fundamentals:

What is the units digit of 813^(27)?

To get the desired units digit here, all we need to worry about is the units digit of the base, which is 3.

Remember, our cyclicity of 3 is 3, 9, 7, 1 (four numbers total).

We need the units digit of 3^(27). How many full cycles of 4 will be there in 27? There will be 6 full cycles because 27 divided by 4 gives 6 as quotient and 3 will be the remainder. So after 6 full cycles of 4 are complete, a new cycle will start:

3, 9, 7, 1

3, 9, 7, 1

… (6 full cycles)

3, 9, 7 (new cycle for remainder of 3)

7 will be the units digit of 3^(27), so 7 will be the units digit of 813^(27).

Let’s try another question:

What is the units digit of 24^(1098)?

To get the desired units digit here, all we need to worry about is the units digit of the base, which is 4.

Remember, our cyclicity of 4 is 4 and 6 (this time, only 2 numbers).

We need the units digit of 24^(1098) – every odd power of 24 will end in 4 and every even power of 24 will end in 6.

Since 1098 is even, the units digit of 24^(1098) is 6.

Not too bad; let’s try something a little harder:

What is the units digit of 75^(25)^5

Note here that you have 75 raised to power 25 which is further raised to the power of 5.

25^5 is not the same as 25*5 – it is 25*25*25*25*25 which is far more complicated. However, the simplifying element of this question is that the last digit of the base 75 is 5, so it doesn’t matter what the positive integer exponent is, the last digit of the expression will always be 5.

Now let’s take a look at a Data Sufficiency question:

Given that x and y are positive integers, what is the units digit of (5*x*y)^(289)?

Statement 1: x is odd.

Statement 2: y is even.

Here there is a new complication – we don’t know what the base is exactly because the base depends on the value of x and y. As such, the real question should be can we figure out the units digit of the base? That is all we need to find the units digit of this expression.

When 5 is multiplied by an even integer, the product ends in 0.

When 5 is multiplied by an odd integer, the product ends in 5.

These are the only two possible cases: The units digit must be either 0 or 5.

With Statement 1, we do not know whether y is odd or even, we only know that x is odd. If y is odd, x*y will be odd. If y is even, x*y will be even. Since we don’t know whether x*y is odd or even, we don’t know whether 5*x*y will end in 5 or 0, so this statement alone is not sufficient.

With Statement 2, if y is even, x*y will certainly be even because an even * any integer will equal an even integer. Therefore, it doesn’t matter whether x is odd or even – regardless, 5*x*y will be even, hence, it will certainly end in 0.

As we know from our patterns of cyclicity, 0 has a cyclicity of 1, i.e. no matter what the positive integer exponent, the units digit will be 0. Therefore, this statement alone is sufficient and the answer is B (Statement 2 alone is sufficient but Statement 1 alone is not sufficient).

Finally, let’s take a question from our own book:

If n and a are positive integers, what is the units digit of n^(4a+2) – n^(8a)?

Statement 1: n = 3

Statement 2: a is odd.

We know that the cyclicity of every digit is either 1, 2 or 4. So to know the units digit of n^{4a+2} – n^{8a}, we need to know the units digit of n. This will tell us what the cyclicity of n is and what the units digit of each expression will be individually.

Statement 1: n = 3

As we know from our patterns of cyclicity, the cyclicity of 3 is 3, 9, 7, 1

Plugging 3 into “n”, n^{4a+2} = 3^{4a+2}

In the exponent, 4a accounts for “a” full cycles of 4, and then a new cycle begins to account for 2.

3, 9, 7, 1

3, 9, 7, 1

3, 9

The units digit here will be 9.

Again, plugging 3 into “n”, n^{8a} = 3^{8a}

8a is a multiple of 4, so there will be full cycles of 4 only. This means the units digit of 3^{8a} will be 1.

3, 9, 7, 1

3, 9, 7, 1

3, 9, 7, 1

3, 9, 7, 1

Plugging these answers back into our equation: n^{4a+2} – n^{8a} = 9 – 1

The units digit of the combined expression will be 9 – 1 = 8.

Therefore, this statement alone is sufficient.

In Statement 2, we are given what the exponents are but not what the value of n, the base, is. Therefore, this statement alone is not sufficient, and our answer is A (Statement 1 alone is sufficient but Statement 2 alone is not sufficient).

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

Karishma, a Computer Engineer with a keen interest in alternative Mathematical approaches, has mentored students in the continents of Asia, Europe and North America. She teaches the GMAT for Veritas Prep and regularly participates in content development projects such as this blog!

Quarter Wit Quarter Wisdom: Cyclicity of Units Digits on the GMAT

Quarter Wit, Quarter WisdomIn our algebra book, we have discussed finding and extrapolating patterns. In this post today, we will look at the patterns we get with various units digits.

The first thing you need to understand is that when we multiply two integers together, the last digit of the result depends only on the last digits of the two integers.

For example:

24 * 12 = 288

Note here: …4 * …2 = …8

So when we are looking at the units digit of the result of an integer raised to a certain exponent, all we need to worry about is the units digit of the integer.

Let’s look at the pattern when the units digit of a number is 2.

Units digit 2:

2^1 = 2

2^2 = 4

2^3 = 8

2^4 = 16

2^5 = 32

2^6 = 64

2^7 = 128

2^8 = 256

2^9 = 512

2^10 = 1024

Note the units digits. Do you see a pattern? 2, 4, 8, 6, 2, 4, 8, 6, 2, 4 … and so on

So what will 2^11 end with? The pattern tells us that two full cycles of 2-4-8-6 will take us to 2^8, and then a new cycle starts at 2^9. 




The next digit in the pattern will be 8, which will belong to 2^11. 

In fact, any integer that ends with 2 and is raised to the power 11 will end in 8 because the last digit will depend only on the last digit of the base. 

So 652^(11) will end in 8,1896782^(11) will end in 8, and so on…

A similar pattern exists for all units digits. Let’s find out what the pattern is for the rest of the 9 digits. 

Units digit 3:

3^1 = 3

3^2 = 9

3^3 = 27

3^4 = 81

3^5 = 243

3^6 = 729

The pattern here is 3, 9, 7, 1, 3, 9, 7, 1, and so on…

Units digit 4:

4^1 = 4

4^2 = 16

4^3 = 64

4^4 = 256

The pattern here is 4, 6, 4, 6, 4, 6, and so on… 

Integers ending in digits 0, 1, 5 or 6 have the same units digit (0, 1, 5 or 6 respectively), whatever the positive integer exponent. That is:

1545^23 = ……..5

1650^19 = ……..0

161^28 = ………1

Hope you get the point.

Units digit 7:

7^1 = 7

7^2 = 49

7^3 = 343

7^4 = ….1 (Just multiply the last digit of 343 i.e. 3 by another 7 and you get 21 and hence 1 as the units digit)

7^5 = ….7 (Now multiply 1 from above by 7 to get 7 as the units digit)

7^6 = ….9

The pattern here is 7, 9, 3, 1, 7, 9, 3, 1, and so on…

Units digit 8:

8^1 = 8

8^2 = 64

8^3 = …2

8^4 = …6

8^5 = …8

8^6 = …4

The pattern here is 8, 4, 2, 6, 8, 4, 2, 6, and so on…

Units digit 9: 

9^1 = 9

9^2 = 81

9^3 = 729

9^4 = …1

The pattern here is 9, 1, 9, 1, 9, 1, and so on…

Summing it all up:

1) Digits 2, 3, 7 and 8 have a cyclicity of 4; i.e. the units digit repeats itself every 4 digits.

Cyclicity of 2: 2, 4, 8, 6

Cyclicity of 3: 3, 9, 7, 1

Cyclicity of 7: 7, 9, 3, 1

Cyclicity of 8: 8, 4, 2, 6

2) Digits 4 and 9 have a cyclicity of 2; i.e. the units digit repeats itself every 2 digits.

Cyclicity of 4: 4, 6

Cyclicity of 9: 9, 1 

3) Digits 0, 1, 5 and 6 have a cyclicity of 1.

Cyclicity of 0: 0

Cyclicity of 1: 1

Cyclicity of 5: 5

Cyclicity of 6: 6

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

Karishma, a Computer Engineer with a keen interest in alternative Mathematical approaches, has mentored students in the continents of Asia, Europe and North America. She teaches the GMAT for Veritas Prep and regularly participates in content development projects such as this blog!

Is Technology Costing You Your GMAT Score?

Veritas Prep GMAT Prep Books on iPadI recently read Sherry Turkle’s Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age. While the book isn’t about testing advice, per se, its analysis of the costs of technology is so comprehensive that the insights are applicable to virtually every aspect of our lives.

The book’s core thesis – that our smartphones and tablets are fragmenting our concentration and robbing us of a fundamental part of what it means to be human – isn’t a terribly original one. The difference between Turkle’s work and less effective screeds about the evils of technology is the scope of the research she provides in demonstrating how the overuse of our devices is eroding the quality of our education, our personal relationships, and our mental health.

What’s amazing is that these costs are, to some extent, quantifiable. Ever wonder what the impact is of having most of our conversations mediated through screens rather than through hoary old things like facial expressions? College students in the age of smartphones score 40% lower on tests measuring indicators of empathy than college students from a generation ago. In polls, respondents who had access to smartphones by the time they were adolescents reported heightened anxiety about the prospect of face-to-face conversations in general.

Okay, you say. Disturbing as that is, those findings have to do with interpersonal relationships, not education. Can’t technology be used to enhance the learning environment as well? Though it would be silly to condemn any technology as wholly corrosive, particularly in light of the fact that most schools are making a concerted effort to incorporate laptops and tablets in the classroom, Turkle makes a persuasive case that the overall costs outweigh the benefits.

In one study conducted by Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer, the researchers compared the retention rates of students who took notes on their laptops versus those who took notes by hand. The researchers’ assumption had always been that taking notes on a laptop would be more beneficial, as most of us can type faster than we can write longhand. Much to their surprise, the students who took notes by hand did significantly better than those who took notes on their laptops when tested on the contents of a lecture a week later.

The reason, Mueller and Oppenheimer speculate, is that because the students writing longhand couldn’t transcribe fast enough to record everything, they had to work harder to filter the information they were provided, and this additional cognitive effort allowed them to retain more. The ease of transcription – what we perceive as a benefit of technology – actually proved to be a cost. Even more disturbing, another study indicated that the mere presence of a smartphone – even if the phone is off – will cause everyone in its presence to retain less of a lecture, not just the phone’s owner.

I’ve been teaching long enough that when I first started, it was basically unheard of for a student’s attention to wander because he’d been distracted by a device. Smartphones didn’t exist yet. No one brought laptops to class. Now, if I were to take a poll, I’d be surprised if there were a single student in class who didn’t at least glance at a smartphone during the course of a lesson. One imagines that the same is true when students are studying on their own – a phone is nearby, just in case something important comes up. I’d always assumed the presence of these devices was relatively harmless, but if a phone that’s off can degrade the quality of our study sessions, just imagine the impact of a phone that continually pings and buzzes as fresh texts, emails and notifications come in.

The GMAT is a four-hour test that requires intense focus and concentration, so anything that hampers our ability to focus is a potential drag on our scores. There’s no easy solution here. I’m certainly not advocating that anyone throw away their smartphone – the fact that certain technology has costs associated with it is hardly a reason to discard that technology altogether. There are plenty of well-documented educational benefits: one can use a long train ride as an opportunity to do practice problems or watch a lecture. We can easily store data that can shed light on where we need to focus our attention in future study sessions. So the answer isn’t a draconian one in which we have to dramatically alter our lifestyles. Technology isn’t going anywhere – it’s a question of moderation.

Takeaways: No rant about the costs of technology is going to be terribly helpful without an action plan, so here’s what I suggest:

  • Put the devices away in class and take notes longhand. Whether you’re in a GMAT prep class, or an accounting class in your MBA program, this will benefit both you and your classmates.
  • If you aren’t using your device to study, turn it off, and make sure it’s out of sight when you work. The mere visual presence of a smartphone will cause you to retain less.
  • Give yourself at least 2 hours of device-free time each day. This need not be when you’re studying. It can also be when you’re out to dinner with friends or spending time with family. In addition to improving your interpersonal relationships, conversation actually makes you smarter.

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

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

What to Do if You’re Struggling with GMAT Solutions

stressed-studentOne of the most misleading parts of the whole GMAT experience is the process of reading the solution to a math problem in the Quant section. When you try the problem, you struggle, sweat, and go nowhere; when they explain the problem, they wave a snooty, know-it-all magic wand that clears everything up. But how did they think of that? What can you do to think like them (or barring that, where do they keep that magic wand, and how late do we have to break into their house to be sure they’re asleep when we steal it)?

The short answer is that they struggled just like you did, but like anybody else, they wanted to make it look easy. (Think of all the time some people spend preening their LinkedIn or their Instagram: you only ever see the flashy corporate name and the glamour shot, never the 5 AM wake up call or the 6 AM look in the mirror.) Solution writers, particularly those who work for the GMAC, never seem to tell you that problem solving is mostly about blundering through a lot of guesswork before hitting upon a pattern, but that’s really what it is. Your willingness to blunder around until you hit something promising is a huge part of what’s being tested on the GMAT; after all, as depressing as it sounds, that’s basically how life works.

Here’s a great example:

I haven’t laid eyes on it in thirty years, but I still remember that the rope ladder to my childhood treehouse had exactly ten rungs. I was a lot shorter then, and a born lummox, so I could only climb the ladder one or two rungs at a time. I also had more than a touch of childhood OCD, so I had to climb the ladder a different way every time. After how many trips up did my OCD prevent me from ever climbing it again? (In other words, how many different ways was I able to climb the ladder?)

A) 55       

B) 63       

C) 72       

D) 81        

E) 89

Just the thought of trying 55 to 89 different permutations of climbing the ladder has my OCD going off like a car alarm, so I’m going to look for an easier way of doing this. It’s a GMAT problem, albeit one on the level of a Google interview question, so it must have a simple solution. There has to be a pattern here, or the problem wouldn’t be tested. Maybe I could find that pattern, or at least get an idea of how the process works, if I tried some shorter ladders.

Suppose the ladder had one rung. That’d be easy: there’s only one way to climb it.

Now suppose the ladder had two rungs. OK, two ways: I could go 0-1 then 1-2, or straight from 0-2 in a single two step, so there are two ways to climb the ladder.

Now suppose that ladder had three rungs. 0-1, 1-2, 2-3 is one way; 0-2, 2-3 is another; 0-1, 1-3 is the third. So the pattern is looking like 1, 2, 3 … ? That can’t be right! Doubt is gnawing at me, but I’m going to give it one last shot.

Suppose that the ladder had four rungs. I could do [0-1-2-3-4] or [0-1-3-4] or [0-1-2-4] or [0-2-4] or [0-2-3-4]. So there are five ways to climb it … wait, that’s it!

While I was mucking through the ways to climb my four-rung ladder, I hit upon something. When I take my first step onto the ladder, I either climb one rung or two. If I climb one rung, then there are 3 rungs left: in other words, I have a 3-rung ladder, which I can climb in 3 ways, as I saw earlier. If my step is a two-rung step instead, then there are 2 rungs left: in other words, a 2-rung ladder, which I can climb in 2 ways. Making sense?

By the same logic, if I want to climb a 5-rung ladder, I can start with one rung, then have a 4-rung ladder to go, or start with two rungs, then have a 3-rung ladder to go. So the number of ways to climb a 5-rung ladder = (the number of ways to climb a 3-rung ladder) + (the number of ways to climb a 4-rung ladder). Aha!

My pattern starts 1, 2, 3, so from there I can find the number of ways to climb each ladder by summing the previous two. This gives me a 1-, 2-, 3-, … rung ladder list of 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, and 89, so a 10-rung ladder would have 89 possible climbing permutations, and we’re done.

And the lesson? Much like a kid on a rope ladder, for a GMAT examinee on an abstract problem there’s often no “one way” to do the problem, at least not one that you can readily identify from the first instant you start. Very often you have to take a few small steps so that in doing so, you learn what the problem is all about. When all else fails in a “big-number” problem, try testing the relationship with small numbers so that you can either find a pattern or learn more about how you can better attack the bigger numbers. Sometimes your biggest test-day blunder is not allowing yourself to blunder around enough to figure the problem out.

Congratulations: that’s the hardest GMAT problem you’ve solved yet! (And bonus points if you noticed that the answer choices differed by 8, 9, 9, and 8. I still have OCD, and a terrible sense of humor.)

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

You Can Do It! How to Work on GMAT Work Problems

Pump UpRate questions, so far as I can remember, have been a staple of almost every standardized test I’ve ever taken. I recall seeing them on proficiency tests in grade school. They showed up on the SAT. They were on the GRE. And, rest assured, dear reader, you will see them on the GMAT. What’s peculiar is that despite the apparent ubiquity of these problems, I never really learned how to do them in school. This is true for many of my students as well, as they come into my class thinking that they’re just not very good at these kinds of questions, when, in actuality, they’ve just never developed a proper approach. This is doubly true of work problems, which are just a kind of rate problem.

When dealing with a complex work question there are typically only two things we need to keep in mind, aside from our standard “rate * time = work” equation. First, we know that rates are  additive. If I can do 1 job in 4 hours, my rate is 1/4. If you can do 1 job in 3 hours, your rate is 1/3. Therefore, our combined rate is 1/4 + 1/3, or 7/12. So we can do 7 jobs in 12 hours.

The second thing we need to bear in mind is that rate and time have a reciprocal relationship. If our rate is 7/12, then the time it would take us to complete a job is 12/7 hours. Not so complex. What’s interesting is that these simple ideas can unlock seemingly complex questions. Take this official question, for example:

Pumps A, B, and C operate at their respective constant rates. Pumps A and B, operating simultaneously, can fill a certain tank in 6/5 hours; pumps A and C, operating simultaneously, can fill the tank in 3/2 hours; and pumps B and C, operating simultaneously, can fill the tank in 2 hours. How many hours does it take pumps A, B, and C, operating simultaneously, to fill the tank.

A) 1/3

B) 1/2

C) 2/3

D) 5/6

E) 1

So let’s start by assigning some variables. We’ll call the rate for p ump A, Ra. Similarly, we’ll designate the rate for pump B as Rb,and the rate for pump C as Rc.

If the time for A and B together to fill the tank is 6/5 hours, then we know that their combined rate is 5/6, because again, time and rate have a reciprocal relationship. So this first piece of information yields the following equation:

Ra + Rb = 5/6.

If A and C can fill the tank in 3/2 hours, then, employing identical logic, their combined rate will be 2/3, and we’ll get:

Ra + Rc = 2/3.

Last, if B and C can fill tank in 2 hours, then their combined rate will be ½, and we’ll have:

Rb+ Rc = 1/2.

Ultimately, what we want here is the time it would take all three pumps working together to fill the tank. If we can find the combined rate, or Ra + Rb + Rc, then all we need to do is take the reciprocal of that number, and we’ll have our time to full the pump. So now, looking at the above equations, how can we get Ra + Rb + Rc on one side of an equation? First, let’s line our equations up vertically:

 Ra + Rb = 5/6.

Ra + Rc = 2/3.

Rb+ Rc = 1/2.

 Now, if we sum those equations, we’ll get the following:

2Ra + 2Rb + 2Rc = 5/6 + 2/3 + 1/2. This simplifies to:

2Ra + 2Rb + 2Rc = 5/6 + 4/6 + 3/6 = 12/6 or 2Ra + 2Rb + 2Rc  = 2.

Dividing both sides by 2, we’ll get: Ra + Rb + Rc  = 1.

This tells us that the pumps, all working together can do one tank in one hour. Well, if the rate is 1, and the time is the reciprocal of the rate, it’s pretty obvious that the time to complete the task is also 1. The answer, therefore, is E.

Takeaway: the most persistent myth we have about our academic limitations is that we’re simply not good at a certain subset of problems when, in truth, we just never properly learned how to do this type of question. Like every other topic on the GMAT, rate/work questions can be mastered rapidly with a sound framework and a little practice. So file away the notion that rates can be added in work questions and that time and rate have a reciprocal relationship. Then do a few practice questions, move on to the next topic, and know that you’re one step closer to mastering the skills that will lead you to your desired GMAT score.

*GMATPrep question 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 find us on Facebook, YouTubeGoogle+ and Twitter!

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

Don’t Panic on the GMAT!

Letter of RecommendationYou’ve made it. After months of study, mountains of flash cards, and enough time spent on our YouTube channel that you’re starting to feel like Brian Galvin is one of your roommates, you’re at the test center and the GMAT — not the essay or something, but the real GMAT, in all its evil glory, complete with exponents and fractions — is about to begin. You’re nervous but excited, and cautiously optimistic for the first question: maybe it’ll be something like “What’s (2²)³?” or a work rate problem about how long it’d take George Jetson to burn down a widget factory. You mostly remember these questions, so you click “Begin”, and this is what you see:

A palindrome is a number that reads the same front-to-back as it does back-to-front (e.g. 202, 575, 1991, etc.) p is the smallest integer greater than 200 that is both a prime and a palindrome. What is the sum of the digits of p?

A) 3

B) 4

C) 5

D) 6

E) 7


I don’t know about you, but I’m petrified. I mean, yeah, I know what you’re saying — I’m the bozo who just dreamed up that question — but I don’t know where it came from, and I’m sort of thinking I might need to summon an exorcist, because I must be possessed by a math demon. What does that question even say? How the heck are we going to solve it?

This is such a common GMAT predicament to be in that I’m willing to bet that 99% of test takers experience it: the feeling that you don’t even know what the question is saying, and the sense of creeping terror that maybe you don’t know what any of these questions are saying. This is by design, of course. The test writers love these sort of “gut check” questions that test your ability to calmly unpack and reason out a cruel and unusual prompt. So many students take themselves out of the game by panicking, but like any GMAT question, once we get past the intimidation factor, the problem is simple at heart. Let’s try to model the process.

We’ll start by clarifying our terms. Palindrome, palindrome … what on earth is a palindrome!? Is that some sort of hovercraft where Sarah Palin lives? Where are our flash cards? Maybe we should just go to law school or open a food truck or something, this test is absurd.

Wait, the answer is right in front of us, in the very first line! “A palindrome is a number that reads the same back-to-front as it does front-to-back.” Phew, OK, and there are even some examples. So a palindrome is a number like 101, 111, 121, etc. Alright, got that. And it’s prime … prime, prime … OK, right, that WAS on a flashcard: a prime number is a number with exactly two factors, such as 2, or 3, or 5, or 7. So if we were to make lists of each of these numbers, primes and palindromes, we’d have

Primes: 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17, 19, …

Palindromes: 101, 111, 121, 131, …

and we want the first number that’s greater than 200 that appears on both lists. OK!

Now let’s think of where to start. We know our number is greater than 200, so 202 seems promising. But that can’t be prime: it’s even, so it has at least three factors (1, itself, and 2). Great! We can skip everything that begins/ends with 2, and fast forward to 303. That looks prime, but what was it that Brian kept telling us about divisibility by 3 … ah, yes, test the sum of the digits! 3 + 0 + 3 = 6, and 6 divides by 3, so 303 also divides by 3.

Our next candidate is 313. This seems to be our final hurdle: a lot of quick arithmetic. That’s what the question is testing, after all, right? How quickly can you factor 313?

It sure seems that way, but take one last look at the answers. The GMAT tests efficiency as much as anything else, and it has a way of hiding easter eggs for the observant. Our largest answer is 7, and what’s 3+1+3? 7! So this MUST be the answer, and any time spent factoring 313 is wasted time.

We made it! In hindsight, that didn’t really feel like a math problem, did it? It was testing our ability to:

1) Remember a definition (“prime”)

2) Actually read the question stem (“a palindrome is…”)

3) Not panic, and try a few numbers (“202”? “303”?)

4) Realize that heavy calculation is for suckers, and that the answer might be right in front of us (“check the answers”)

So we just had to remember, actually read the directions, have the courage to try something to see where it leads, and look for clues directly around us. I don’t know about you, but if I were running a business, those are exactly the sort of skills I’d want my employees to have; maybe these test writers are on to something after all!

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

Use Number Lines on the GMAT, Not Memory!

SAT/ACTI’ve written in the past about how the biggest challenge on many GMAT questions is the strain they put on our working memory. Working memory, or our ability to process information that we hold temporarily, is by definition quite limited. It’s why phone numbers only contain seven digits – any more than that and most people wouldn’t be able to recall them. (Yes, there was a time, in the dark and distant past, when we had to remember phone numbers.)

One of the most simple and effective strategies we can deploy to combat our working memory limitations is to simply list out the sample space of scenarios we’re dealing with. If we were told, for example, that x is a prime number less than 20, rather than internalize this information, we can jot down x = 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17, or 19. The harder and more abstract the question, the more necessary such a strategy will prove to be.

Take this challenging Data Sufficiency question, for example:

On the number line, the distance between x and y is greater than the distance between x and z. Does z lie between x and y on the number line?

1) xyz < 0

2) xy <0

The reader is hereby challenged to attempt this exercise in his or her head without inducing some kind of hemorrhage.

So, rather than try to conceptualize this problem mentally, let’s start by actually writing down all the number line configurations that we might have to deal with before even glancing at the statements. We know that x and z are closer than x and y. So we could get the following:



Or we can swap x and y to generate a kind of mirror image



The above number lines are the only four possibilities given the constraints provided in the question stem. Now we have something concrete and visual that we can use when evaluating the statements.

Statement 1 tells us that the product of the three variables is negative. If you’ve internalized your number properties – and we heartily encourage that you do – you know that a product is negative if there are an odd number of negative elements in said product. In this case, that means that either one of the variables is negative, or all three of them are. So let’s use say one of the variables is negative. By placing a 0 strategically, we can use any of our above number lines:





Each of these scenarios will satisfy that first statement. But we only need two.

In our first number line, z is between x and y, so we get a YES to the question.

In our second number line, z is not between x and y, so we get a NO to the question.

Because we can get a YES or a NO to the original question, Statement 1 alone is not sufficient. Eliminate answer choices A and D.

Statement 2 tells us that the product of x and y is negative. Thus, we know that one of the variables is positive, and one of the variables is negative. Again, we can simply peruse our number lines and select a couple of examples that satisfy this condition.

In our first number line, z is between x and y, so we get a YES to the question.

In our third number line, z is not between x and y, so we get a NO to the question.

Like with Statement 1, because we can get a YES or NO to the original question, Statement 2 alone is also not sufficient. Eliminate answer choice B.

When testing the statements together, we know two pieces of information. Statement 1 tells us that either one variable is negative or all three are. Statement 2 tells us that, between x and y, we have one negative and one positive. Therefore, together, we know that either x or y is negative, and the remaining variables are all positive. Now all we have to do is peruse our sample space and locate these scenarios. It turns out that we can use the same two number lines we used when testing Statement 2:

In our first number line, z is between x and y, so we get a YES to the question.

In our third number line, z is not between x and y, so we get a NO to the question.

So even together, the statements are not sufficient to answer the question – the correct answer is E.

Takeaway: on the GMAT there’s no reason to strain your brain any more than is necessary. The more concrete you can make the information you’re provided on a given question, the more likely it is that you’ll be able to properly execute whatever math or logic maneuvers you’re asked to perform.

*GMATPrep question 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 find us on Facebook, YouTubeGoogle+ and Twitter!

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

GMAT Tip of the Week: Movember and Moving Your GMAT Score Higher

GMAT Tip of the WeekOn this first Friday of November, you may start seeing some peach fuzz sprouts on the upper lips of some of your friends and colleagues. For many around the world, November means Movember, a month dedicated to the hopefully-overlapping Venn Diagram of mustaches and men’s health. Why – other than the fact that this is a GMAT blog – do we mention the Venn Diagram?

Because while the Movember Foundation is committed to using mustaches as a way to increase both awareness of and funding for men’s health issues (in particular prostate and testicular cancer), many young men focus solely on the mustache-growth facet of the month. And “I’m growing a mustache for Movember” without the fundraising follow-through is akin to the following quotes:

“I’m growing a mustache for Movember.”

“I’m running a marathon for lymphoma research.”

“I’m dumping a bucket of ice water over my head on Facebook.”

“I’m taking a GMAT practice test this weekend.”/”I’m going to the library to study for the GMAT.”

Now, those are all noble sentiments expressed with great intentions. But another thing they all have in common is that they’re each missing a critical action step in their mission to reach their desired outcome. Growing a mustache does very little to prevent or treat prostate cancer. Running a marathon isn’t what furthers scientists’ knowledge of lymphoma. Dumping an ice bucket over your head is more likely to cause pneumonia than to cure ALS. And taking a practice test won’t do very much for your GMAT score.

Each of those actions requires a much more thorough and meaningful component. It’s the fundraising behind Movember, Team in Training, and the Ice Bucket Challenge that advances those causes. It’s your effort to use your mustache, sore knees, and Facebook video to encourage friends and family to seek out early diagnosis or to donate to the cause. And it’s the follow-up to your GMAT practice test or homework session that helps you increase your score.

This weekend, well over a thousand practice tests will be taken in the Veritas Prep system, many by young men a week into their mustache growth. But the practice tests that are truly valuable will be taken by those who follow up on their performance, adding that extra step of action that’s all so critical. They’ll ask themselves:

Which mistakes can I keep top-of-mind so that I never make them again?

How could I have budgeted my time better? Which types of problems take the most time with the least probability of a right answer, and which types would I always get right if I just took the extra few seconds to double check and really focus?

Based on this test, which are the 2-3 content areas/question types that I can markedly improve upon between now and my next practice test?

How will I structure this week’s study sessions to directly attack those areas?

And then they’ll follow up on what they’ve learned, following the new week’s plan of attack until it’s time to again take the first step (a practice test) with the commitment to take the substantially-more-important follow-up steps that really move the needle toward success.

Taking a practice test and growing a Movember mustache are great first steps toward accomplishing noble goals, but in classic Critical Reasoning form, premise alone doesn’t guarantee the conclusion. So make sure you don’t leave the GMAT test center this November with an ineffective mustache and a dismal score – put in the hard work that has to accompany that first step, and this can be a Movember to Remember.

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.

GMAT Tip of the Week: Trick or Treat

ZombieinsteinOne of the most dreaded things about the GMAT is the time-honored “Testmaker Trick” – the device that the GMAT question author uses to sucker you into a trap answer on a question. You’ve done all the math right, but forgot to consider negative numbers or submitted the answer for x when the question really asks for y. The “Testmaker Tricks” are enough to make you resent the test and to see it in a derogatory light. This is a grad school test, not Simon Says! Why should it matter that Simon didn’t say “positive”?

But as we head into Halloween weekend, it’s an appropriate time for you to think back to the phrase that earned you pounds and pounds of candy (and maybe tons if you followed Jim Harbaugh’s double-costume strategy): Trick or Treat.

In a GMAT context, that means that on these challenging questions, what tricks one examinee is the “treat” or reward for those who buy into the critical thinking mindset that the GMAT is set up to reward. The GMAT testmakers themselves are defensive about the idea of the “trap” answer, preferring to see it as a reward system; the intent isn’t to “trick” people as much as it is to “treat” higher-order thinking and critical reasoning. Consider the Data Sufficiency example:

Is x > 3z?

(1) x/z > 3

(2) z > 0

Here the “trick” that the testmaker employs is that of negative numbers. Many people will say that Statement 1 is sufficient (just multiply both sides by z and Statement 1 directly answers the questions, x > 3z), but it’s important to remember that z could be negative, and if it were negative you’d have to flip the sign, as you do in an inequality problem when you multiply or divide by a negative. In that case x < 3z and the answer is an emphatic no.

Now, those test takers who lament the trick after getting it wrong are somewhat justified in their complaint that “you forgot about negatives!” is a pretty cheap trick. But that’s not the entire question: Statement 2 exists, too, and it’s a total throwaway when you consider it alone. Why is it there? It’s there to “treat” those who are able to leverage that hint: why would it matter if z is greater than 0? That statement provides a very important clue as to how you should have been thinking when you looked at Statement 1.

If your initial read of Statement 1 – under timed pressure in the middle of a test, mind you – had you doing that quick algebra and making the mistake of saying that it’s sufficient, that’s understandable. But if you blew right past the clear hint in the second statement, you missed a very important opportunity to seize the treat. To some degree this problem is about the math, but the GMAT often adds that larger degree of leveraging hints – after all, much of business success comes down to your ability to find an asset that others have overlooked, or to get more value out of an asset than anyone else could.

So as you study for the GMAT, keep that Halloween spirit close by. When you miss a problem because of a dirty “trick,” take a second to also go back and see if you missed a potential treat – a reward that the GMAT was dangling just out of reach so that only the most critical thinkers could find it and take advantage. GMAT problems aren’t all ghosts, goblins, and ghouls out to frighten and trick you; often they include very friendly pieces of information just disguised or camouflaged enough that you have to train yourself to spot the treat.

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 and Google+, and Twitter!

By Brian Galvin.

How to Solve Tough GMAT Quant Problems by Blending Strategies

victorinox_mountaineer_lgI wrote a post a few weeks ago in which I discussed the importance of blending strategies on certain questions. It’s a mistake to pigeonhole a complex problem as one in which a single tool will be most effective. By test day you will have cultivated a veritable Swiss army knife of strategies and you want to be able to switch from one to another seamlessly.

This philosophy came to mind the other day when a student sent me the following official problem:

For a certain art exhibit, a museum sold admission tickets to a group of 30 people every 5 minutes from 9:00 in the morning to 5:55 in the afternoon, inclusive. The price of a regular admission ticket was $10 and the price of a student ticket was $6. If on one day 3 times as man regular admissions tickets were sold as student tickets, was the total revenue from ticket sales that day?

A) 24,960

B) 25,920

C) 28,080

D) 28,500

E) 29,160

Oh boy. There’s a lot going on here. So let’s start by simply finding the total number of tickets sold. We know that every 5 minutes, 30 tickets are sold. We know that there are twelve 5-minute increments each hour, so 12*30 = 360 tickets are sold each hour. We see that the museum will be open for a total of 9 hours, so a total of 9*360 = 3240 tickets are sold during that time.

We’ve got two different kinds of tickets – general and student. The general tickets were $10 and the student tickets were $6. And we know that 3 times as many general tickets were sold as student tickets. So the tickets were overwhelmingly for general admission. If they were all for general admissions tickets, we know that the revenue would have been 3240*10 = 32,400. Because 25% of the tickets were sold for $6, we know that the correct answer will be a bit below this value. If we were short on time, E would be a pretty reasonable guess.

But say we’ve achieved a level of mastery where we don’t need to guess. Hopefully, you recognized that if the ratio of general tickets to student tickets is 3:1, we’re dealing with a kind of weighted average, meaning we can use a number line to find the average overall ticket price, which will be much closer to $10 than to $6. So we know the average price is greater than $8, as this would be the average price if the same number of both kinds of tickets were sold. What about $9? On the number line, we’ll have the following: 6——–9—-10.

9 is three units away from 6 and one unit away from 10, thus yielding our desired 3:1 ratio. Now we know that the average price is $9 per ticket.

So all we have to do is calculate 3240 * 9, as 3240 tickets were sold for an average of $9 each, and we have our answer. That math isn’t too bad, but we can incorporate a couple more useful strategies to save some time. We know that 3000*9 = 27,000, so clearly 3240*9 is greater than 27,000. Now we can eliminate A and B from contention.  Next, we can see that going from right to left, the first non-zero digit of 3240*9 will be 6, as 4*9 = 36. Among C, D, and E, the only answer choice that has a 6 in the tens place is E, which is our answer.

Takeaway: In a single question, we ended up doing a bit of estimation, using the answer choices, employing some rudimentary logic, and using the number line to simplify a weighted average. Just as important as what we did do, is what we avoided doing – a lot of grinding calculation.

We cannot emphasize this enough: the Quant section is not a math test. It’s an opportunity to demonstrate fluid thinking under pressure. So when you’re doing practice questions, work on employing every tool in your Swiss army knife of strategies. By the day of the test, the more fluidly you can switch from one tool to another, the better you’ll be able to handle even the most challenging problems.

*GMATPrep question 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 find us on Facebook, YouTube and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

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

How “Back to the Future” Can Help Your GMAT Score!

Back to the FutureAs a social media user, you’re probably very away that today – October 21, 2015 – is “The Future,” the day from Back to the Future II when Marty McFly and Doc Brown (along with a sleeping Jennifer) visit Hill Valley 30 years in the future. And while we don’t yet have hoverboards and while the bold prediction that the Cubs will have just won the World Series seems to be slipping away, the Back to the Future trilogy does offer some incredibly valuable GMAT lessons. How can Marty McFly help you better understand the GMAT and increase your score?

1) The Space-Time Continuum

Throughout the Back to the Future series, Doc Brown was keenly aware of the impacts that any slight alteration to the past would have on the future (as it turns out, stopping your parents from meeting or allowing the scores of all future sporting events to fall into the hands of your family’s mortal enemy could have disastrous results!). The GMAT works on a similar premise: because the GMAT is adaptive, each question impacts the future questions you will see – the events are connected and sequential. Which means:

A) You can’t go back and change your answers. That would violate the “Space-Time Continuum” nature of the GMAT (changing #5 would mean that questions 6-37 would all be different, so it’s just not an option). And THAT means that you have to make good decisions in real-time – you need to double-check for careless errors before you submit, because if you realize later that you blew it, that question is gone.

B) You can’t afford a disastrous start. It’s not that the first 10 questions matter exponentially more (as the old myth goes), but they are slightly more important if only for this reason: a strong early performance means that you’re seeing harder questions once you’re in your groove, and a poor early performance means that you’re seeing easier questions and have a much lower margin for error. Throughout each section you’ll make a few mistakes and you’ll hit a lucky guess or two.

If you’ve done well and avoided careless mistakes early, then your mistakes and lucky guesses will be on harder questions. If you haven’t, then those mistakes come on easier questions and pull down your score all the more. It *is* possible to recover from a poor start…it just requires you to be a lot closer to perfect and that can be hard to do on test day. Please note: you don’t need to get all 10 right to consider it a good start!  6 or 7 will probably put you on a track you’re happy with; the key is to just make sure you’re not making too many silly mistakes early and missing the questions that you should get right.

2) Save the Clock Tower! 

Back to the Future taught a generation the importance of timeline, and that’s critical on the GMAT. You need to be mindful of time and ensure that you have enough to finish each section. Just like in the movies, where mismanagement of time and unforeseen events created precarious situations (would Doc get the wire connected before lightning struck? Would Marty get to that point at the proper time? Would Doc reach Clara before the train tumbled off the cliff?), the GMAT offers you plenty of opportunities to waste time and get off schedule (and maybe your score falls off a cliff, or you’re the one stuck in the past…an era when master’s degrees were far from the norm).

You need to conserve time on the test so that you don’t find a catastrophe waiting at the end. Which means that sometimes you have to let a hard problem go so that it doesn’t suck up several minutes of your time (even if the hard problem seems to be calling you “chicken”!). Like Marty should have done in most time-travel situations, have a plan for how you’ll address events in a timely fashion and stick to it. If you want to have 53 minutes left after 10 questions and you have 51, know that you’ll probably have to guess soon to get back on track.

3) Find Your Skateboard

1985 was easy for Marty, like a 400-500 level GMAT problem. If he needed to quickly get from one place to another, he’d hop on his skateboard and grab the back of a truck. But 1955 and 2015 were quite different – there weren’t conventional skateboards for him to use, so he had to improvise either by breaking a scooter in two or learning how to handle a hoverboard.

The GMAT is similar: the tools you’ll use to solve problems (find skateboard, let a Tannen chase you, veer off at the last second leaving him to crash into a pile of manure) are extremely similar, but just different enough that it may not be obvious what to do at first. Your job as you study is to learn how to look for that “skateboard.”

On exponent problems, for example, the key is almost always getting the given information to a point where you can perform the rules you know. And since those rules are almost always requiring you to deal with exponents with the same base and that the terms are being multiplied or divided, your “finding the skateboard” process usually involves factoring non-prime bases into prime factors and factoring addition and subtraction into multiplication. Much like Marty McFly in a new decade, you’ll find yourself seeing slightly-familiar, but yet totally different situations on the test – your job is to focus more on the similarity and seek out a couple steps to get it to where the rest is rote.

4) Be a Man (or Woman) of Action

In the original Back to the Future, you saw how the entire future changed with just one action: the ever analytical and incredibly intelligent George McFly just wasn’t a confident or action-oriented man, and so despite Marty’s best efforts to talk him up to Lorraine and to get him to be a bit more debonair, the McFly family future was fading quickly. Until…George had the opportunity to stop analyzing and just “do,” telling Biff to “get your damn hands off” Lorraine and ultimately punching Biff in the mouth. From that point on, the George-and-Lorraine romance was on (again?) and the future was just a matter of density. I mean…destiny.

If you’re reading a blog post about the GMAT you’re certainly not the type that Principal Strickland would call a slacker, but there’s a good likelihood that you’ll perform on test day like the “old” George McFly: intelligent and capable, but timid and over-analytical. Particularly with the timed nature of the GMAT, you often just have to go with an instinct and try it out, whether that means writing down an equation and then double checking that you like your math (as opposed to reading the question again and again) or testing your theory that you’re allowed to cross-multiply there (test it with small numbers and see if you get the answer you should).

The biggest mistake that the truly-capable make on the GMAT is one of paralysis by analysis; they’re afraid to put pen to paper to “try something” and then they become acutely aware of the time ticking past them and panic all the more. Avoid that trap! Be willing to try, to take action, and you’ll find that – like the owner of  DeLorean time machine – you have plenty of time.

On this 30th anniversary of Marty’s journey to the future, plan for your future 30 years down the road. The way you study for the GMAT, the way you manage your time and confidence on the test – they could have a major impact on what your future looks like. Heed the lessons that Doc and Marty taught you, and you could leave the test center saying, “Roads? Where I’m going, we don’t need roads,” of course because most elite b-school campuses are all about sidewalks.

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 and Google+, and Twitter!

By Brian Galvin.

GMAT Tip of the Week: Your GMAT Verbal (Donald) Trump Card

GMAT Tip of the WeekThe general consensus coming out of this week’s Democratic debate for the 2016 U.S. Presidency was this: the Democrats were quick to defend and agree with each other, particularly in contrast to the recent Republican debates in which the candidates were much more apt to attack each other.

The Democrats discussed, but the Republicans DEBATED, fiercely and critically. And – putting politics aside – one of the main issues on which those Republican candidates have attacked each other is “who is the more successful CEO/entrepreneur?” (And the answer to that? Likely Wharton’s finest: Donald “You’re Fired” Trump.)

So as you watch the political debates in between GMAT study sessions, keep this in mind: on the GMAT verbal section, you want to think more like a Republican candidate, and if possible you want to think like The Donald. Trump thinking is your Trump card: on GMAT verbal, you should attack, not defend.


Because incorrect answers are very easy to defend if that’s your mindset. They’re wrong because of a small (but significant) technicality, but to the “I see the good in all answer choices” eye, they’ll often look correct. You want to be in attack mode, critically eliminating answer choices and enjoying the process of doing so. Consider an example:

From 1998 to 2008, the amount of oil exported from the nation of Livonia increased by nearly 20% as the world’s demand soared. Yet over the same period, Livonia lost over 8,000 jobs in oil drilling and refinement, representing a 25% increase in the nation’s unemployment rate.

Which of the following, if true, would best explain the discrepancy outlined above?

A) Because of a slumping local economy, Livonia also lost 5,000 service jobs and 7,500 manufacturing jobs.

B) Several other countries in the region reported similar percentages of jobs lost in the oil industry over the same period.

C) Because of Livonia’s overvalued currency, most of the nation’s crude oil is now being refined after it has been exported.

D) Technological advancements in oil drilling techniques have allowed for a greater percentage of the world’s oil to be obtained from underneath the ocean floor.

E) Many former oil employees have found more lucrative work in the Livonia’s burgeoning precious metals mining industry.

The paradox/discrepancy here is that oil exports are up, but that jobs in oil drilling and refinement are down. What’s a Wharton-bound Trump to do here? Donald certainly wouldn’t overlook the word “Critical” in “Critical Reasoning.” Almost immediately, he’d be attacking the two-part job loss – it’s not that “oil jobs” are down, it’s that oil jobs in “drilling AND refinement” are down. Divide and conquer, he’d think, one of those items (either drilling or refinement) is bound to be a “lightweight” ready to be attacked.

Choice A is something that you could talk yourself into. “Hey, the economy overall is down, so it only makes sense that oil jobs would be down, too.” But think critically – you ALREADY know that the oil sector is not down. Oil exports are up 20% and global demand is soaring, so these oil jobs should be different. Critical thinking shows you that the general economy and this particular segment are on different tracks. Choice A does not explain the discrepancy.

Choice B is similar: if you’re looking for a reason to make it right, you might think, “See, it’s just part of what’s going on in the world.” But again, be critical. This is a bad answer, because it overlooks information you already have. Livonia’s oil exports are up, so absent a major reason that those exports are occurring without human labor, we don’t have a sound explanation.

Choice C hits on Trump’s “divide and conquer” attack strategy outlined above: if a conclusion to a Critical Reasoning problem includes the word “AND” there’s a very high likelihood that one of the two portions is the weak link. So fixate on that “and” and try to find which is the lightweight. Here you see that the oil is being exported from Livonia, but no longer being REFINED there. Those are the jobs that are leaving the country, and that explains why exports could be up with employment going down.

Choice D is tempting (statistically the most popular incorrect answer choice to this problem, with Trump-like polling numbers in the ~25% range). Why? Because you’re conditioned to think, “Oh, they’re losing jobs to technology.” So if you’re looking to find a correct answer without much critical thought and effort, this one shines like a beacon. But get more critical on the second half of the sentence: it’s not that technology makes it easier to obtain oil without human labor, it’s that technology is allowing for more drilling from the ocean. But that’s irrelevant, because, again, Livonia’s exports are up! So whether it’s Livonia getting that seafloor oil or other countries doing so, the fact remains that with oil exports up, you’d think that Livonia would have more jobs in oil, and this answer doesn’t explain why that’s not the case.

Here it pays to be critical all the way through the sentence: just because the first few words match what you think you might want to hear, that doesn’t mean that the entire statement is true. Think of this in Trump terms: Megyn Kelly might start a sentence with, “Mr. Trump, you’re arguably the most successful businessman of your generation,” (and you know Trump will love that) but if she follows that with, “But many would argue that your success was largely a result of your father’s money and that your manipulation of bankruptcy laws is unbefitting of an American president,” you know he’d be in attack mode immediately thereafter. Don’t fall in love with the first few words of an answer choice – stay ready to attack at a moment’s notice!

And choice E is similarly vulnerable to attack: yes some oil employees may have taken other jobs, but someone has to be doing the oil work. And if unemployment is up overall (as you know from the stimulus) then people are waiting to take those jobs, so the fact that some employees have left doesn’t explain why no one has filled those spots. When Donald Trump had to surrender his post as the star of The Apprentice, Arnold Schwarzenegger was ready to take his place; so, too, should unemployed members of the labor pool in Livonia be ready to take those oil jobs, absent a major reason why they wouldn’t, and choice E fails to present one.

Overall, your job on GMAT Verbal is to be as critical as possible. You’re there to debate the answer choices, not to defend or discuss them. As you read the conclusion of a Critical Reasoning problem, you want to be scanning for a “lightweight” word or phrase that makes it all the more vulnerable to attack. And as you read each answer choice, you shouldn’t be quick to see the good in the sentence, but instead you should be probing it to see where it’s weak and vulnerable to attack.

Let the answer choices view you as a bully – you’re not at the GMAT test center to make friends. Always be attacking, always be looking for words, phrases, or ideas that are an answer choice’s undoing. Trump logic is your Trump card, take joy from telling four of five answer choices “You’re Fired.”

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By Brian Galvin.