GMAT Tip of the Week: The Song Remains the Same

Welcome back to hip hop month in the GMAT Tip of the Week space, where we’re constantly asking ourselves, “Wait, where have I heard that before?” If you listen to enough hip hop, you’ll recognize that just about every beat or lyric you hear either samples from or derives from another track that came before it (unless, of course, the artist is Ol’ Dirty Bastard, for whom, as his nickname derives, there ain’t no father to his style).

Biggie’s “Hypnotize” samples directly from “La Di Da Di” (originally by Doug E. Fresh – yep, he’s the one who inspired “The Dougie” that Cali Swag District wants to teach you – and Slick Rick). “Biggie Biggie Biggie, can’t you see, sometimes your words just hypnotize me…” was originally “Ricky, Ricky, Ricky…” And right around the same time, Snoop Dogg and 2Pac just redid the entire song just about verbatim, save for a few brand names.

The “East Coast edit” of Chris Brown’s “Loyal”? French Montana starts his verse straight quoting Jay-Z’s “I Just Wanna Love U” (“I’m a pimp by blood, not relation, I don’t chase ’em, I replace ’em…”), which (probably) borrowed the line “I don’t chase ’em I replace ’em” from a Biggie track, which probably got it from something else. And these are just songs we heard on the radio this morning driving to work…

The point? Hip hop is a constant variation on the same themes, one of the greatest recycling centers the world has ever known.

And so is the GMAT.

Good test-takers – like veteran hip hop heads – train themselves to see the familiar within what looks (or sounds) unique. A hip hop fan often says, “Wait, where I have heard that before?” and similarly, a good test-taker sees a unique, challenging problem and says, “Wait, where have I seen that before?”

And just like you might recite a lyric back and forth in your mind trying to determine where you’ve heard it before, on test day you should recite the operative parts of the problem or the rule to jog your memory and to remind yourself that you’ve seen this concept before.

Is it a remainder problem? Flip through the concepts that you’ve seen during your GMAT prep about working with remainders (“the remainder divided by the divisor gives you the decimals; when the numerator is smaller then the denominator the whole numerator is the remainder…”).

Is it a geometry problem? Think of the rules and relationships that showed up on tricky geometry problems you have studied (“I can always draw a diagonal of a rectangle and create a right triangle; I can calculate arc length from an inscribed angle on a circle by doubling the measure of that angle and treating it like a central angle…”).

Is it a problem that asks for a seemingly-incalculable number? Run through the strategies you’ve used to perform estimates or determine strange number properties on similar practice problems in the past.

The GMAT is a lot like hip hop – just when you think they’ve created something incredibly unique and innovative, you dig back into your memory bank (or click to a jazz or funk station) and realize that they’ve basically re-released the same thing a few times a decade, just under a slightly different name or with a slightly different rhythm.

The lesson?

You won’t see anything truly unique on the GMAT. So when you find yourself stumped, act like the old guy at work when you tell him to listen to a new hip hop song: “Oh I’ve heard this before…and actually when I heard it before in the ’90s, my neighbor told me that she had heard it before in the ’80s…” As you study, train yourself to see the similarities in seemingly-unique problems and see though the GMAT’s rampant plagiarism of itself.

The repetitive nature of the GMAT and of hip hop will likely mean that you’re no longer so impressed by Tyga, but you can use that recognition to be much more impressive to Fuqua.

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: Big Sean Says Your GMAT Score Will Bounce Back

Welcome back to Hip Hop Month in the GMAT Tip of the Week space, where naturally, we woke up in beast mode (with your author legitimately wishing he was bouncing back to D-town from LAX this weekend, but blog duty calls!).

If you have a car stereo or Pandora account, you’ve undoubtedly heard Big Sean talking about bouncing back this month. “Bounce Back” is a great anthem for anyone hitting a rough patch – at work, in a relationship, after a rough day for your brackets during next week’s NCAA tournament – but this isn’t a self-help, “it’s always darkest before dawn,” feel-good article. Big Sean has some direct insight into the GMAT scoring algorithm with Bounce Back, and if you pay attention, you can leverage Bounce Back (off the album “I Decided” – that’ll be important, too) to game-plan your test day strategy and increase your score.

So, what’s Big Sean’s big insight?

The GMAT scoring (and question delivery) algorithm is designed specifically so that you can “take an L” and bounce back. And if you understand that, you can budget your time and focus appropriately. The test is designed so that just about everybody misses multiple questions – the adaptive system serves you problems that should test your upper threshold of ability, and can also test your lower limit if you’re not careful.

What does that mean? Say you, as Big Sean would say, “take an L” (or a loss) on a question. That’s perfectly fine…everyone does it. The next question should be a bit easier, providing you with a chance to bounce back. The delivery system is designed to use the test’s current estimate of your ability to deliver you questions that will help it refine that estimate, meaning that it’s serving you questions that lie in a difficulty range within a few percentile points of where it thinks you’re scoring.

If you “take an L” on a problem that’s even a bit below your true ability, missing a question or two there is fine as long as it’s an outlier. No one question is a perfect predictor of ability, so any single missed question isn’t that big of a deal…if you bounce back and get another few questions right in and around that range, the system will continue to test your upper threshold of ability and give you chances to prove that the outlier was a fluke.

The problem comes when you don’t bounce back. This doesn’t mean that you have to get the next question right, but it does mean that you can’t afford big rough patches – a run of 3 out of 4 wrong or 4 out of 5 wrong, for example. At that point, the system’s estimate of you has to change (your occasional miss isn’t an outlier anymore) and while you can still bounce back, you now run the risk of running out of problems to prove yourself. As the test serves you questions closer to its new estimate of you, you’re not using the problems to “prove how good you are,” but instead having to spend a few problems proving you’re “not that bad, I promise!”

So, okay. Great advice – “don’t get a lot of problems wrong.” Where’s the real insight? It can be found in the lyrics to “Bounce Back”:

Everything I do is righteous
Betting on me is the right risk
Even in a ***** crisis…

During the test you have to manage your time and effort wisely, and that means looking at hard questions and determining whether betting on that question is the right risk. You will get questions wrong, but you also control how much you let any one question affect your ability to answer the others correctly. A single question can hurt your chances at the others if you:

  • Spend too much time on a problem that you weren’t going to get right, anyway
  • Let a problem get in your head and distract you from giving the next one your full attention and confidence

Most test-takers would be comfortable on section pacing if they had something like 3-5 fewer questions to answer, but when they’re faced with the full 37 Quant and 41 Verbal problems they feel the need to rush, and rushing leads to silly mistakes (or just blindly guessing on the last few problems). And when those silly mistakes pile up and become closer to the norm than to the outlier, that’s when your score is in trouble.

You can avoid that spiral by determining when a question is not the right risk! If you recognize in 30-40 seconds (or less) that you’re probably going to take an L, then take that L quickly (put in a guess and move on) and bank the time so that you can guarantee you’ll bounce back. You know you’re taking at least 5 Ls on each section (for most test-takers, even in the 700s that number is probably closer to 10) so let yourself be comfortable with choosing to take 3-4 Ls consciously, and strategically bank the time to ensure that you can thoroughly get right the problems that you know you should get right.

Guessing on the GMAT doesn’t have to be a panic move – when you know that the name of the game is giving yourself the time and patience to bounce back, a guess can summon Big Sean’s album title, “I Decided,” as opposed to “I screwed up.” (And if you need proof that even statistics PhDs who wrote the GMAT scoring algorithm need some coaching with regard to taking the L and bouncing back, watch the last ~90 seconds of this video.)

So, what action items can you take to maximize your opportunity to bounce back?

Right now: pay attention to the concepts, question types, and common problem setups that you tend to waste time on and get wrong. Have a plan in mind for test day that “if it’s this type of problem and I don’t see a path to the finish line quickly, I’m better off taking the L and making sure I bounce back on the next one.”

Also, as you review those types of problems in your homework and practice tests, look for techniques you can use to guess intelligently. For many, combinatorics with restrictions is one of those categories for which they often cannot see a path to a correct answer. Those problems are easy to guess on, however! Often you can eliminate a choice or two by looking at the number of possibilities that would exist without the restriction (e.g. if Remy and Nicki would just patch up their beef and stand next to each other, there would be 120 ways to arrange the photo, but since they won’t the number has to be less than 120…). And you can also use that total to ask yourself, “Does the restriction take away a lot of possibilities or just a few?” and get a better estimate of the remaining choices.

On test day: Give yourself 3-4 “I Decided” guesses and don’t feel bad about them. If your experience tells you that betting your time and energy on a question is not the right risk, take the L and use the extra time to make sure you bounce back.

The GMAT, like life, guarantees that you’ll get knocked down a few times, but what you can control is how you respond. Accept the fact that you’re going to take your fair share of Ls, but if you’re a real one you know how to bounce back.

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: Evolving Your GMAT Quant Score with Help from The Evolution Of Rap

GMAT Tip of the WeekIf it’s March, it must be Hip Hop Month at the GMAT Tip of the Week space, where this year we’ve been transfixed by Vox’s video on the evolution of rhyme schemes in the rap world.

The video below (which is absolutely worth a watch during a designated study break) explores the way that rap has evolved from simple rhyme schemes (yada yada yada Bat, yada yada yada Hat, yada yada yada Rat, yada yada yada Cat…) to the more complex “wait did he just say what I thought he said?” inside-out rhyme schemes that make you rewind an Eminem or Kendrick Lamar track because your ears must be playing tricks on you.

And if you don’t have the study break time right now, we’ll summarize. While a standard rhyme might have a one-syllable rhyme at the end of each bar (do you like green eggs and HAM, yes I like them Sam I AM), rappers have continued to evolve to the point where nowadays each bar can contain multiple rhyme schemes. Consider Eminem’s “Lose Yourself”:

Snap back to reality, oh there goes gravity
Oh there goes Rabbit he choked, he’s so mad but he won’t
Give up that easy, nope, he won’t have it he knows
His whole back’s to these ropes, it don’t matter he’s dope
He knows that but he’s broke, he’s so stagnant he knows…

Where “gravity,” “Rabbit, he,” “mad but he,” “that easy,” “have it he,” “back’s to these,” “matter he’s,” “that but he’s,” and “stagnant, he” all rhyme with one another, the list of goes/goes/choked/so/won’t/knows/whole/ropes/don’t/dope… keeps that hard “O” sound rhyming consistently throughout, too. And that was 15 years ago…since them, Eminem, Kendrick, and others have continued to build elaborate rhyme schemes that reward those listeners who don’t just listen for the simple rhyme at the end of each bar, but pick up the subtle rhyme flows that sometimes don’t come back until a few lines later.

So what does this have to do with your GMAT score?

One of the most common study mistakes that test-takers make is that they study skills as individual, standalone entities, and don’t look for the subtle ways that the GMAT testmaker can layer in those sophisticated Andre-3000-style combinations. Consider an example of an important GMAT skill, the “Difference of Squares” rule that (x + y)(x – y) = x^2 – y^2. A standard (think early 1980s Sugarhill Gang or Grandmaster Flash) GMAT question might test it in a relatively “obvious” way:

What is the value of (x + y)?

(1) x^2 – y^2 = 0
(2) x does not equal y

Here if you factor Statement 1 you’ll get (x + y)(x – y) = 0, and then Statement 2 tells you that it’s not (x – y) that equals zero, so it must be x + y. This Data Sufficiency answer is C, and the test is essentially just rewarding you for knowing the Difference of Squares.

The GMAT it cares
’bout the Difference of Squares
When there’s squares and subtraction
Put this rule into action

A slightly more sophisticated question (think late 1980s/early 1990s Rob Bass or Run DMC) won’t so obviously show you the Difference of Squares. It might “hide” that behind a square that few people tend to see as a square, the number 1:

If y = 2^(16) – 1, the greatest prime factor of y is:

(A) Less than 6
(B) Between 6 and 10
(C) Between 10 and 14
(D) Between 14 and 18
(E) Greater than 18

Here, many people don’t recognize 1 as a perfect square, so they don’t see that the setup is 2^(16) – 1^(2), which can be factored as:

(2^8 + 1)(2^8 – 1)

And that 2^8 – 1 can be factored again, since 1 remains 1^2:

(2^8 + 1)(2^4 + 1)(2^4 – 1)

And that ultimately you could do it again with 2^4 – 1 if you wanted, but you should know that 2^4 is 16 so you can now get to work on smaller numbers. 2^8 is 256 and 2^4 is 16, so you have:

257 * 17 * 15

And what really happens now is that you have to factor out 257 to see if you can break it into anything smaller than 17 as a factor (since, if not, you can select “greater than 18”). Since you can’t, you know that 257 must have a prime factor greater than 18 (it turns out that it’s prime) and correctly select E.

The lesson here? This problem directly tests the Difference of Squares (you don’t want to try to calculate 2^16, then subtract 1, then try to factor out that massive number) but it does so more subtly, layering it inside the obvious “prime factor” problem like a rapper might embed a secondary rhyme scheme in the middle of each bar.

But in really hard problems, the testmaker goes full-on Greatest of All Time rapper, testing several things at the same time and rewarding only the really astute for recognizing the game being played. Consider:

The size of a television screen is given as the length of the screen’s diagonal. If the screens were flat, then the area of a square 21-inch screen would be how many square inches greater than the area of a square 19-inch screen?

(A) 2
(B) 4
(C) 16
(D) 38
(E) 40

Now here you KNOW you’re dealing with a geometry problem, and it also looks like a word problem given the television backstory. As you start calculating, you’ll know that you have to take the diagonal of each square TV and use that to determine the length of each side, using the 45-45-90 triangle ratio, where the diagonal = x√2. So the length of a side of the smaller TV is 19/√2 and the length of a side of the larger TV is 21/√2.

Then you have to calculate the area, which is the side squared, so the area of the smaller TV is (19/√2)^2 and the area of the larger TV is (21/√2)^2. This is starting to look messy (Who knows the squares for 21 and 19 offhand? And radicals in denominators never look fun…) UNTIL you realize that you have to subtract the two areas. Which means that your calculation is:

(21/√2)^2 – (19/√2)^2

This fits perfectly in the Difference of Squares formula, meaning that you can express x^2 – y^2 as (x + y)(x – y). Doing that, you have:

[(21 + 19)/√2][(21-19)/√2]

Which is really convenient because the math in the numerators is easy and leaves you with:

(40/√2) * (2/√2)

And when you multiply them, the √2 terms in the denominators square out to 2, which factors with the 2 in the numerator of the right-side fraction, and everything simplifies to 40. And then, in classic “oh this guy’s effing GOOD” hip-hop style (like in the Eminem lyric “you’re witnessing a massacre like you’re watching a church gathering take place” and you realize that he’s using “massacre” and “mass occur” – the church gathering taking place – simultaneously), you realize that you should have seen it coming all along. Because when you subtract the area of one square minus the area of another square you’re LITERALLY taking the DIFFERENCE of two SQUARES.

So what’s the point?

Too often people study for the GMAT like they’d listen to 1980s rap. They expect the Difference of Squares to pair nicely at the end of an Algebra-with-Exponents bar, and the Isosceles Right Triangle formula to pair nicely with a Triangle question. They learn skills in distinct silos, memorize their flashcards in nice, tidy sets, and then go into the test and realize that they’re up against an exam that looks a lot more like a 2017 mixtape with layers of rhyme schemes and motives.

You need to be prepared to use skills where they don’t seem to obviously belong, to jot down and rearrange your scratchwork, label your unknowns, etc., looking for how you might reposition the math you’re given to help you bring in a skill or concept that you’ve used countless times, just in totally different contexts. The GMAT testmaker has a much more sophisticated flow than the one you’re likely studying for, so pay attention to that nuance when you study and you’ll have a much better chance of keeping your score 800.

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.

SAT Tip of the Week: Reading Like Rihanna Means Less “Work”

SAT Tip of the Week (2)As we return to Hip Hop Month in the SAT Tip of the Week space, let’s turn out attention to Reading. And who better to teach Reading than RiRi herself? Ironically, her current hit “Work” provides probably the best example of how to reduce the amount you have to work on SAT Reading passages.

Quick: get the song “Work” stuck in your head (or get it playing on your phone). What’s the most notable thing about the lyrics she’s singing? For most of the chorus, she’s not even singing them. “Work work work work work” becomes “Wu wu wu wu wu.” She’s going through the motions and ignoring most of the words, glossing them over (almost like she herself is thinking “let’s just get past this and get to the Drake part”). She’ll fully articulate “work” and “dirt” the first time or two she says it, but then she’ll play the “you already know what I’m saying so let’s just get through it with as little effort as possible” part.

Oddly enough, that’s how you should approach Reading on the SAT. It’s just too much work to try to process every single word, so like Rihanna you’ll want to skim through portions that aren’t essential to your understanding and then lock in when it’s truly important. Rihanna’s genius on “Work” is that she rises to the occasion when she has to deliver, but she’s comfortable glossing over what doesn’t matter. Here’s how you can read like Riri.

Focus when:
1) You see transition/structural words like “however” and “therefore.” These words signal what the author is doing. “However” (or conversely, but, on the other hand…) tells you that the direction of the argument is changing. What comes after that is going to refute what came before it, and that’s usually where an argument or thesis takes shape (for example, an old theory seemed true, BUT new research shows that it has flaws). “Therefore” (or thus, consequently, etc.) typically shows what the author’s point is (whether it’s the main point of the passage or just of that paragraph). And “also” (or furthermore, moreover, additionally) means that the author is adding more evidence for a point. Those signals are good places to focus, because that’s where the author is telling you what she’s trying to accomplish with the sentences around it.

2) You see topic sentences. Not all SAT passages are well-organized, but when they are you’ll generally see topic sentences at the beginning or end of a paragraph and of the passage. These help you to determine the content and direction of what you’re reading.

3) There is italicized text at the top of the passage. This section is crucial – many SAT passages are excerpts from larger articles/chapters/books, and they can start quite abruptly without context. The italicized portions give you that context and allow you to have a feel for what you’re about to read so that it doesn’t come out of nowhere.

Ultimately your goal in reading the passage is to take 1-2 minutes to identify the author’s general point (why did she pick up the pen?) and to have a good feel for where you’d return to find answers (for example, the first paragraph or two may be about the initial theory for why something happens, the middle portion of the passage is about the research that disproved it, and the end talks about what new research the author proposes). If you can come away with a good understanding of “the author is advocating for X, and I know where to go if they ask me about Y” you’ve done your job with little work and you have plenty of time to focus on the questions.

Skim when:
1) The passage gets into dense details. These can be confusing or just labor-intensive, taking time to read, but details are only important if a question asks about them. Every passage will contain several details that don’t have questions about them, so save your time and energy and only focus on the major themes during your first read.

2) You’ve identified the purpose of a paragraph or section, and just want to make sure that the author doesn’t change gears. This is Rihanna’s “Work” at its finest…it’s not that she’s skipping the word “work” entirely, but that she’s saving her energy to get to “what’s new” in the verses.  She addresses each word, but casually, and that’s how you should skim. If you know what the author is doing, let your eyes run over each word but only lock in when you see that something is changing. If the author, for example, is listing 3-4 examples, you can skim that. But when the author says “however, there are exceptions” that means that something has changed. What was true isn’t always true, and that’s new information that’s probably important.

Remember, the Riri Reading method doesn’t mean that you’re skipping words entirely – it’s just that you can selectively choose which words/sentences are worthy of effort. Reading an entire passage is a lot of work (work, work, work, work), but if you’re choosy about where you expend that energy and time, you can save way more than FourFive Seconds per passage and be on your way to your dream school. Just remember to bring an Umbrella.

Still need to take the SAT? We run a free online SAT prep seminar every few weeks. And be sure to find us on Facebook, YouTube, Google+ and Twitter!

By Brian Galvin.

SAT Tip of the Week: Hotline Bling Is an SAT Thing

SAT Tip of the Week (1)It’s Hip Hop Month in the “SAT Tip of the Week” space, where you’ll learn that that Drake is a university in Iowa (where The Motto is, of course, Veritas) as well as a rapper from Toronto, and that the Common app is a great way to prepare for your Future. So let’s start with Drake, because even if your SAT score started at the bottom, now you’re here. If you’re reading this…it’s NOT too late.

It’s been hard to go anywhere over the last year without hearing Drake’s recent hit “Hotline Bling” (which was not only a monster #1 hit but also a Super Bowl commercial), so there’s a fair chance that as you drive to go take the SAT you’ll get Hotline Bling stuck in your head. And that’s exactly what you want.

Why?

Because, as the song goes, when you hear that Hotline Bling, that can only mean one thing. And there are several “Hotline Blings” on the SAT; recognizing them can save you plenty of time and dramatically raise your accuracy.

Hotline Bling: SAT Math
Positive vs. Negative
For example, on the Math sections, you might see a statement like x > 0 or y < 0. Hotline bling! Greater than zero or less than zero as definitions in an SAT Math problem can only mean one thing: you’d better check the sign of your answer (positive vs. negative) because greater than 0 means positive and less than 0 means negative, and putting those definitions in problems is a huge signal that positive/negative matters.

The expression is equivalent to…
Whenever you see the words “expression” and “equivalent” in an SAT Math problem – usually “The expression (given expression) is equivalent to which of the following?” or “Which of the following is equivalent to the expression shown above?” – that’s a Hotline Bling. That can only mean one thing: you’re going to have to use the answer choices.

Either you’ll try to make the given expression look more like the answer choices (for example, if the answer choices don’t have parentheses or a denominator, you’ll need to work on the given expression to get rid of the parentheses and denominator) or you’ll be able to pick your own numbers. Consider the following example, which appears courtesy the Official SAT Study Guide:

The expression (5x-2)/(x+3) is equivalent to which of the following?
A) (5-2)/3
B) 5 – (2/3)
C) 5 – (x)/(x+3)
D) 5 – (17)/(x+3)

Notice that you HAVE TO use the answer choices here. Without them, you don’t know what to start doing with the given expression. And even with them, it may seem difficult to get a 5 all alone away from the fraction (like answer choices B, C, and D).

That can only mean one thing: this is a great problem on which to try picking your own numbers. If you were to say, for example, that x = -2 (making your math easy by setting the whole denominator of the original equation equal to 1), you’d know that you have [5(-2) – 2]/(-2+3). That means that you have -12 as the value of the given expression when x = -2, so now you can test the answer choices. Clearly A and B do not work, so then check C and D. C then equals 4 while D = -12, so only choice D spits out the right answer when numbers are involved.

Hotline Bling to the rescue – the words “equivalent” and “expression” can only mean one thing…you’d better get the answer choices involved, and there’s a high likelihood that this is a pick your own numbers problem.

Hotline Bling: SAT Writing
Singular vs. Plural
Whenever the answer choices for a Writing problem include the singular and plural form of the same pronoun or verb (“it” vs. “they”; “is” vs. “are”) that can only mean one thing: you need to find the subject and match it up singular or plural.

Homophones
Whenever the answer choices include multiple words that sound the same (they’re / their / there; it’s / its; you’re / your / yore), that can only mean one thing: the test is checking whether you know which version of the word means what. The apostrophe in those words is for a contraction (they are / it is / you are), so if you’re not trying to form a contraction, eliminate it. These problems should be quick, free points.

Addition/Subtraction
Whenever a question asks whether the author should add or delete a sentence, that can only mean one thing: it’s not a matter of personal preference, but a matter of understanding what the author is trying to accomplish. In these cases, you must read the context of that paragraph and determine what the author’s purpose is, then gauge whether adding or deleting anything would be true to that purpose. These questions aren’t about style at all – they’re about the author’s intent, so you have to read a wider scope of information to make sure you know what that purpose is.

Hotline Bling: SAT Reading
Vocab-in-context
Whenever a question begins with, “As used in line…” (e.g. “As used in line 68, ‘hold’ most nearly means…”) that can only mean one thing: you have to understand the meaning of the sentence that the line number points you to, and not just rely on your knowledge of the word itself. These questions always include multiple answer choices that could mean the same thing as that word itself, but only one that you’d actually use in that sentence. So when you see those questions, don’t try to answer them on answer choices alone; instead, think about what word you’d use in that sentence and find a word that closely matches yours.

Ultimately, Hotline Bling on the SAT is all about recognizing knee-jerk reactions: if “___” appears, that can only mean one thing, so you know exactly what to do next. The list above isn’t a list of all SAT Hotline Blings, but a good start. As you study for the SAT, pay attention to all those Hotline Blings that tell you the one thing you should do next, and soon enough, you’ll be thinking, “Ever since I left the city you…” as you think about your high school friends and foes from far away in a dorm room at your dream school.

Still need to take the SAT? We run a free online SAT prep seminar every few weeks. And be sure to find us on Facebook, YouTube, Google+ and Twitter!

By Brian Galvin.

GMAT Tip of the Week: Verbal Is About The Beat, Not The Lyrics

GMAT Tip of the WeekOn our final Friday of Hip Hop Month here in the “GMAT Tip of the Week” space, let’s take a moment to appreciate the unsung (or at least non-singing) heroes of hip hop. Did you like Snoop and Tupac in the early 90s, or Eminem in the late 90s? They spit the rhymes, but what you likely enjoy most through your Beats By Dre are Dr. Dre’s classic beats.

A fan of Jay-Z and Cam’ron in the early 2000s? There’s no H to the Izzo or Heart of the City without Kanye West’s beats behind them. More recently, Kane Beatz and DJ Khaled have been the masterminds behind those bangers that you know as Drake, Lil’ Wayne, or Nicki Minaj hits.

So, ok The Game wouldn’t get far without Kanye behind him, and 50 Cent would be in da club cleaning the bathrooms without that classic beat by Dre. But what does this have to do with your GMAT score?

One of the biggest mistakes you can make as a GMAT examinee is to see the question for its subject matter (“it’s about crime rates” or “it’s about antihistamines”) and not for its structure (“it’s a wordplay difference” or “that’s classic generalization”). The subject matter is the lyrics that tend to get the glory, but the standardized-format structure is the beat. Even though you may find the lyrics “Go Shorty, it’s your birthday…” in your head, that’s not at all what you like about that song. It’s the epic beat. The same is true for GMAT verbal questions: what makes them tick, and what you should keep your focus on, is the structure behind that content.

Consider two examples, which may look entirely different but are actually the exact same question:

Example #1: The city of Goshorn has a substantial problem with its budgeting process for public works projects. Last year’s Sullivan Park expansion ran nearly 50% over budget, for example, and the city has gone from running an annual budget surplus for nearly two decades straight to now facing prohibitive budget deficits.

Which of the following, if true, most strengthens the argument that Goshorn has a substantial problem with its budgeting process?

(A) The Sullivan Park expansion project featured the smallest cost-above-budget percentage of all Goshorn’s public works projects.
(B) Goshorn’s budgeting process for public works has not been updated in nearly 20 years.
(C) A new hiking and jogging trail in Goshorn cost more than twice as much to construct as did a similar project completed just ten years earlier.
(D) Goshorn’s revenue from property taxes has decreased markedly since the height of the real estate boom five years earlier.
(E) The city of Goshorn does not receive any federal or state funding for its public works projects, although several nearby cities do.

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Example #2: The introduction of a new drug into the marketplace should be contingent upon our having a good understanding of its social impact. However, the social impact of the newly marketed antihistamine is far from clear. It is obvious, then, that there should be a general reduction in the pace of bringing to the marketplace new drugs that are now being created.

Which one of the following, if true, most strengthens the argument?

(A) The social impact of the new antihistamine is much better understood than that of most new drugs being tested.
(B) The social impact of some of the new drugs being tested is poorly understood.
(C) The economic success of some drugs is inversely proportional to how well we understand their social impact.
(D) The new antihistamine is chemically similar to some of the new drugs being tested.
(E) The new antihistamine should be next on the market only if most new drugs being tested should be on the market also.

In each case, exactly one example is provided as evidence that there is an overall, general problem going on. In the first, that example is Sullivan Park, a project that ran over budget, leading to the conclusion that “the city has a substantial problem with its budgeting process.” In the second, exactly one new antihistamine is known to be poorly understood, leading to the conclusion that there should be a “general reduction” in the pace of bringing drugs to market (since, as the argument states, drugs should be well understood before they’re brought to the marketplace).

This is classic generalization, a common theme in Critical Reasoning problems. One example is given and a much broader conclusion is drawn, which is a flawed argument because you just don’t know whether that example is an outlier or the norm. In each of these two problems, your job is to strengthen the argument, so you want to employ the “Strengthen a Generalization Error” strategy – you want to find evidence in the answer choice that the single piece of evidence is indicative of the majority of data points.

With the first example, Answer Choice A does that by showing that Sullivan Park was actually the best-budgeted project (the smallest cost-above-budget percentage). If that poorly-budgeted project is the best, then all the other projects must be worse, and THEN you have a substantial problem overall. In the second example, again Choice A serves the exact same purpose: if the one antihistamine we know about is better understood than most, then most drugs are less-understood, meaning that the majority of drugs are poorly understood. And if that’s the case, then yes, we can draw that general conclusion.

The overall lesson?

GMAT verbal problems can be about anything under the sun: elections in fake countries, the heights of trees in the Galapagos, warranty claims on heavy duty trucks, the visibility of particles breaking off from comets…but that’s not what the test is about. Focus on the beats, and not the lyrics. And the common Critical Reasoning beats are:

1) Generalization
Like you saw here, if a general/universal conclusion is drawn from one data point, you want to either show that that data point is indicative of most/all (Strengthen) or that it’s an outlier (Weaken).

2) Correlation/Causation
Just because two things occur together (For example, “It’s dark so it must be nighttime.”) does not mean that one causes the other (What about an eclipse, or the fact that your hotel room has blackout shades?).

3) Clever Wordplay
This is the most common type of logical error in Critical Reasoning, in which one premise uses a closely-related term (for example “arrests”) to the term that another premise and/or the conclusion uses (“crimes committed”). When you identify that those two things are close but not quite the same, then your job is clear: find an answer choice that links them together (in a Strengthen question) or one that shows that they’re clearly not the same thing (Weaken).

4) Statistics and Data Flaws
When statistics are used in Critical Reasoning problems, look to make sure that the proper type of statistic is used (does an absolute number make sense, or should it be a percentage?) and that the statistic directly relates to the conclusion (much like the “Clever Wordplay” strategy).

Most importantly, recognize that the content of these problems is more or less a necessary evil: the problems have to be about something, but that’s not what they’re really testing. They’re testing your understanding of the underlying logic and structure. So in honor of all the great DJs that have gotten your shoulders shaking and toes tapping over the years, remember that to beat the GMAT, you’ll have to do it with the beats.

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

By Brian Galvin.

GMAT Tip of the Week: Your Mind Is Playing Tricks On You

GMAT Tip of the WeekOf all the song lyrics of all the hip hop albums of all time, perhaps the one that captures the difficulty of the GMAT the most comes from the Geto Boys:

It’s f-ed up when your mind is playing tricks on you.

The link above demonstrates a handful of ways that your mind can play tricks on you when you’re in the “fog of war” during the GMAT, but here, four Hip Hop Months later in the middle of yet another election season that has many Millennial MBA aspirants feeling the Bern, it’s time to detail one more. Consider this Critical Reasoning problem:

Among the one hundred most profitable companies in the United States, nearly half qualify as “socially responsible companies,” including seven of the top ten most profitable on that list. This designation means that these companies donate a significant portion of their revenues to charity; that they adhere to all relevant environmental and product safety standards; and that their hiring and employment policies encourage commitments to diversity, gender pay equality, and work-life balance.

Which of the following conclusions can be drawn based on the statements above?

(A) Socially responsible companies are, on average, more profitable than other companies.
(B) Consumers prefer to purchase products from socially responsible companies whenever possible.
(C) It is possible for any company to be both socially responsible and profitable.
(D) Companies do not have to be socially responsible in order to be profitable.
(E) Not all socially responsible companies are profitable.

How does your mind play tricks on you here? Check out these statistics from the Veritas Prep Practice Tests:

Socially responsible

When you look at the two most popular answer choices, there’s a stark difference in what they mean outside the context of the problem. The most popular – but incorrect – answer says what you want it to say. You want social responsibility to pay off, for companies to be rewarded for doing the right thing. But it’s the words that don’t appeal to your heart and/or conscience that are the most important on these problems, and the justification for “any company” to be both socially responsible and profitable isn’t there in the argument.

Sure, several companies in the top 10 and top 100 are both socially responsible and profitable, but ANY company means that if you pick any given company, that particular company has to be capable of both. And it may very well be that in certain industries, the profit margins are too slim for that to be possible.

Say, for example, that in one of the commodities markets there simply isn’t any brand equity for social responsibility, and the top competitors are so focused on pushing out competition that any cost outside of productivity would put a company into the red. It’s not a thought you necessarily want to have, but it’s a possible outcome given the prompt, and it invalidates answer (C). Since Inference answers MUST BE TRUE, C just doesn’t meet that standard.

Which brings you to D, the correct but unpopular answer. That’s not what your heart and conscience want to conclude at all – you’d love for there to be a world in which consumers will reject any products from companies that aren’t made by companies taking the moral high ground, but if you look specifically at the facts of the argument, 3 of the top 10 most profitable companies and more than half of the top 100 are not socially responsible. So answer choice D is airtight – it’s not what you want to hear, but it’s definitely true based on the argument.

The lesson? Once you get that MBA you have the opportunity to change the world, but while you’re in the GMAT test center doing Critical Reasoning problems, you can only draw conclusions based on the facts that they give you. Don’t let your outside opinions frame the way that you read the problem. If you know that you have some personal interest in the topic, that’s a sign that you’ll need to be even more literal about what’s written. Your mind can play tricks on you – as it did for nearly half of test-takers here – so know that on test day you have to get it under control.

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: The Biggie Smalls Sufficiency Strategy

GMAT Tip of the WeekIf it’s March, it must be Hip Hop Month in the Veritas Prep GMAT Tip of the Week space, where this week we’ll tackle the most notorious GMAT question type – Data Sufficiency – with some help from hip hop’s most notorious rapper – Biggie Smalls.

Biggie’s lyrics – and his name itself – provide a terrific template for you to use when picking numbers to test whether a statement is sufficient or not. So let’s begin with a classic lyric from “Big Poppa” – you may think Big is describing how he’s approach a young lady in a nightclub, but if you listen closely he’s actually talking directly to you as you attack Data Sufficiency:

“Ask you what your interests are, who you be with. Things to make you smile; what numbers to dial.”

“What numbers to dial” tends to be one of the biggest challenges that face GMAT examinees, so let’s examine the strategies that can take your score from “it was all a dream” to sipping champagne when you’re thirsty.

Biggie Smalls Strategy #1: Biggie Smalls
Consider this Data Sufficiency problem:

What is the value of integer z?

1) z is the remainder when positive integer y is divided by positive integer (y – 1)

2) y is not a prime number

Statistically, more than 50% of respondents in the Veritas Prep practice tests incorrectly choose answer choice A, that Statement 1 alone is sufficient but Statement 2 alone is not sufficient. Why? Because they’re not quite sure “what numbers to dial.” People know that they need to test numbers – Statement 1 is very abstract and difficult to visualize with variables – so they test a few numbers that come to mind:

If y = 5, y – 1 = 4, and the problem is then 5/4 which leads to 1, remainder 1.

If y = 10, y – 1 = 9, so the problem is then 10/9 which also leads to 1, remainder 1.

If they keep choosing random integers that happen to come to mind, they’ll see that pattern hold – the answer is ALMOST always 1 remainder 1, with exactly one exception. If y = 2, then y – 1 = 1, and 2 divided by 1 is 2 with no remainder. This is the only case where z does not equal 1, but that one exception shows that Statement 1 is not sufficient.

The question then becomes, “If there’s only one exception, how the heck does the GMAT expect me to stumble on that needle in a haystack?” And the answer comes directly from the Notorious BIG himself:

You need to test “Biggie Smalls,” meaning that you need to test the biggest number they’ll let you use (here it can be infinite, so just test a couple of really big numbers like 1,000 and 1,000,000) and you need to test the smallest number they’ll let you use. Here, that’s y = 2 and y – 1 = 1, since y – 1 must be a positive integer, and the smallest of those is 1.

The problem is that people tend to simply test numbers that come to mind (again, over half of all respondents think that Statement 1 is sufficient, which means that they very likely never considered the pairing of 2 and 1) and don’t push the limits. Data Sufficiency tends to play to the edge cases – if you get a statement like 5 < x < 12, you can’t just test 8, 9, and 10 – you’ll want to consider 5.00001 and 11.9999. When the GMAT gives you a range, use the entire range – and a good way to remind yourself of that is to just remember “Biggie Smalls.”

Biggie Smalls Strategy #2:  Juicy
In arguably his most famous song, “Juicy”, Biggie spits the line, “Damn right I like the life I live, because I went from negative to positive and it’s all…it’s all good (and if you don’t know, now you know).”

There, of course, Biggie is reminding you that you have to consider both negative and positive numbers in Data Sufficiency problems. Consider this example:

a, b, c, and d are consecutive integers such that the product abcd = 5,040. What is the value of d?

1) d is prime

2) a>b>c>d

This problem exemplifies why keeping Big’s words top of mind is so crucial – difficult problems will often “satisfy your intellect” with interesting math…and then beat you with negative/positive ideology. Here it takes some time to factor 5040 into the consecutive integers 7 x 8 x 9 x 10, but once you do, you can see that Statement 1 is sufficient: 7 is the only prime number.

But then when you carry that over to Statement 2, it’s very, very easy to see 7, 8, 9, and 10 as the only choices and again see that d = 7. But wait! If d doesn’t have to be prime – primes can only be positive – that allows for a possibility of negative numbers: -10, -9, -8, and -7. In that case, d could be either 7 or -10, so Statement 2 is actually not sufficient.

So heed Biggie’s logic: you’ll like the life you live much better if you go from negative to positive (or in most cases, vice versa since your mind usually thinks positive first), and if you don’t know (is that sufficient?) now, after checking for both positive and negative and for the biggest and smallest numbers they’ll let you pick, now you know.

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.