GMAT Tip of the Week Is Not A Player, It Just Crushes A Lot

GMAT Tip of the WeekOn this last day of Hip Hop Month in the GMAT Tip of the Week space, let’s talk about the big picture related to your GMAT score with a nod to one of hip hop’s most notorious B-I-Gs: Big Punisher. The “Big Punisher” of your GMAT score – the item that can take what would have been a great day and leave you walking away from the test sobbing “It’s So Hard” (another Big Pun hit…look it up – he had more than one!) – is poor time management.

On a test-taker’s route to a strong section score, there lie a handful of questions that tempt you to devote several fruitless minutes playing around with equations, calculations, and techniques that aren’t working. A few questions later you look at the clock and realize that even though 90% of the problems have gone well for you, you’re several minutes off your target pace…all because of that one big punisher, the question you should have left alone.

Fortunately, Big Punisher has a mantra for you to keep in mind on test day:

“I’m not a player, I just crush a lot”

Meaning, of course, that you’re not the kind of test-taker who aimlessly plays around with the 3-4 “big punisher” questions that will ruin the time you have left for the others. You quickly identify that no one question is worth taking your whole pacing strategy on (as Snoop would say, “I’m too swift on my toes to get caught up with you hos,” hos, of course, being short for “horribly involved problems that I’ll probably get wrong anyway) and bank that time for the many other problems that you’ll crush…a lot.

Functionally that means this: when you realize that you’re more likely wasting time than progressing toward a right answer, cut your losses and move on so that you save the time for the problems that you will undoubtedly get right…as long as you have a reasonable amount of time for them. You might consider paying homage to Big Pun by using his name as a quick mnemonic for your strategic options:

P: Pick Numbers. If the calculations or algebra you’re performing seems to either be going in circles or getting worse, look back and see if you could simply pick numbers instead. This often works when you’re dealing with variables as parts of the answer choices.

U: Use Answer Choices. Again, if you feel like you’re running in circles, check and see if there are clues in the answer choices or if you can plug them in and backsolve directly.

N: Not Worth My Time. And if a quick assessment tells you that you can’t pick numbers or use answer choices, recognize that this problem simply isn’t worth your time, and blow in a guess. Remember: you’re not a player – you won’t let the test bait you into playing with a single crazy question for more than a minute without a direct path to the finish line – so save the time to focus on crushing a lot of problems that you know you can crush.

On your journey to completing entire GMAT sections on time, heed Big Pun’s warning: don’t stop (to play around with questions you already know you’re not getting right), get it, get it – meaning pick up the pace to have meaningful time to spend on the questions you can get. The biggest punisher of what should be high GMAT scores is poor time management, almost always caused by spending far too long on just a few problems. So remember: you’re not a player on those problems…go out there and crush a lot of the problems you know you can crush.

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 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: 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 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: As You Debate Over Answer Choices… Just Answer The Freaking Question!

GMAT Tip of the WeekIf you’re like many – to the dismay of the NFL and the advertising industry – you’re planning to watch another presidential debate this coming Sunday. And just like Trump-Clinton I and Pence-Kaine earlier this week, this debate will provide plenty of opportunities to be annoyed, frustrated, and disappointed…but it will also provide an ever-important lesson about the GMAT.

It’s no surprise that candidate approval ratings are low for the same reason that far too many GMAT scores are lower than candidates would hope. Why?

People don’t directly answer the question.

This is incredibly common in the debates, where the poor moderators are helpless against the talking points and stump speeches of the candidates. The public then suffers because people cannot get direct answers to the questions that matter. This is also very common on the GMAT, where students will invest the time in critical thought and calculation, and then levy an answer that just doesn’t hit the mark. Consider the example:

Donald has $520,000 in campaign money available to spend on advertising for the month of October, and his advisers are telling him that he should spend a minimum of $360,000 in the battleground states of Ohio, Florida, Virginia, and North Carolina. If he plans to spend the minimum amount in battleground states to appease his advisers, plus impress his friends by a big ad spend specific to New York City (and then he will skip advertising in the rest of the country), how much money will he have remaining if he wants 20% of his ad spend to take place in New York City?

(A) $45,000
(B) $52,000
(C) $70,000
(D) $90,000
(E) $104,000

As people begin to calculate, it’s common to try to determine all of the facets of Donald’s ad spend. If he’s spending only the $360,000 in battleground states plus the 20% he’ll spend in New York City, then $360,000 will represent 80% of his total ad spend. If $360,000 = 0.8(Total), then the total will be $450,000. That means that he’ll spend $90,000 in New York City. Which is answer choice D…but that’s not the question!

The question asked for how much of his campaign money would be left over, so the calculation you need to focus on is the $520,000 he started with minus the $450,000 he spent for a total of $70,000, answer choice C. And in a larger context, you can learn a major lesson from Wharton’s most famous alumnus: it’s not enough for your answer to be related to the question. On the GMAT, you must answer the question directly! So make sure that you:

  1. Double check which portion of a word problem the question asked for. Don’t be relieved when your algebra spits out “a” number. Make sure it’s “the” number.
  2. Be careful with Strengthen/Weaken Critical Reasoning problems. A well-written Strengthen problem will likely have a good Weaken answer choice, and vice-versa.
  3. In algebra problems, make sure to identify the proper variable (or combination of variables if they ask, for example “What is 6x – y?”).
  4. With Data Sufficiency problems, pay attention to the exact values being asked for. One of the most common mistakes that people make is saying that a statement is insufficient because they’re looking to fill in all variables, when actually it is sufficient to answer the exact combination that the test asked for.

As you watch the debate this weekend, notice (How could you not?) how absurd it is that the candidates just about never directly answer the question…and then vow to not make the same mistake on your GMAT exam.

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.

The Benefits of Thinking With a Growth-Mindset Mentality

GMAT ReasoningDuring a little summer beach vacation, I had the chance to read Carol Dweck’s Mindset. (Yes, this is my beach reading. Don’t judge.) If you’re not familiar with Dweck’s work, she’s the psychologist who pioneered the concepts of the fixed-mindset and the growth-mindset.

In a classic study, students at a middle school were interviewed and asked whether they believed that intelligence was an inherent characteristic (fixed-mindset) or that intelligence was something you can cultivate and improve through hard work (growth-mindset). It will come as no surprise that the growth-mindset group improved their grades over the course of the year by significantly more than the fixed-mindset group did. These effects became more pronounced through high school and college.

Dweck’s book is full of interesting tidbits about the history of testing. For example, Alfred Binet, one of the pioneers of IQ testing, didn’t believe that his tests measured intelligence. Rather, he saw them as a way to identify which students hadn’t properly benefited from their public school education, so that a different, more effective approach might be employed.

Put another way, the test not only wasn’t supposed to measure intelligence, it was designed on the premise that there was no such thing as fixed intelligence, – that anyone could improve and thrive if they had access to the proper tools and strategies.

I’ve written a bit about Dweck in the past, but I’m beginning to see that the implications of her research are even broader than I’d initially suspected. It should go without saying that here at Veritas Prep, we’re advocates of growth-mindset – in fact, the whole notion of test prep is rooted in a growth-mindset mentality! Moreover, I’ve noticed that this fixed vs. growth notion isn’t just applicable to performance on GMAT in general, but has implications for how test-takers attack individual questions.

Here’s a question I tackled with a tutoring student the other day:

How many positive three-digit integers are divisible by both 3 and 4? 

A) 75
B) 128
C) 150
D) 225
E) 300 

My student began by recognizing that if a number is divisible by both 3 and 4, it’s divisible by 12 as well, so the question was really asking how many three-digit numbers were multiples of 12. Then he looked up and told me that he didn’t know what to do.

Now, there is, of course, a way to solve this problem formally. You can find the number of elements in an evenly spaced set by using the following formula: [(High – Low)/Interval] + 1. The smallest three-digit multiple of 12 is 108 (clearly, 120 is a multiple of 12, so you can quickly see that the previous multiple of 12 is 120-12 = 108). The largest three-digit multiple of 12 is 996. (It’s divisible by 3 because 9 + 9 + 6 = 24, which is a multiple of 3. And it’s divisible by 4 because the number formed by the last two digits, 96, is divisible by 4.) So, one way to tackle this problem is to plug these numbers into the aforementioned formula to get [(996-108)/12] + 1 = (888/12) + 1 = 74 + 1 = 75.

But if you don’t know the formula, and you see this question on test day, this approach can’t help you. So rather than offer this equation, I pushed my student to think about the problem with a growth-mindset mentality. I reminded him that you don’t have to solve things formally on this test, and that he could definitely figure out a way to arrive at the correct answer based on logic and intuition. Once he stopped dwelling on the fact that he didn’t know how to do the problem formally, he used the following logic:

Between 1 and 1,000 there are 100 multiples of 10 (1,000/10 = 100). Clearly, between 100 and 999 there are fewer than 100 multiples of 12, as 12 is bigger than 10. If the correct answer is less than 100, it has to be 75, as this is the only answer choice under 100. He was able to solve a question he thought he couldn’t do in about 5 seconds. Thus, the power of the growth-mindset mentality.

Takeaway: Read Carol Dweck’s book. Work on internalizing the main ideas. Switching from a fixed-mindset mentality to a growth-mindset mentality can have a profound impact, not only on how well you perform on the GMAT, but on how ably you tackle problems in every domain of life.

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: 6 Reasons That Your Test Day Won’t Be A Labor Day

GMAT Tip of the WeekAs the northern hemisphere drifts toward autumn, two events have become just about synonymous: Labor Day and Back to School. If you’re spending this Labor Day weekend getting yourself ready to go back to graduate school, you may well labor over GMAT study materials in between barbecues and college football games. And if you do, make sure you heed this wisdom: GMAT test day should not be Labor Day!

What does that mean?

On a timed test like the GMAT, one of the biggest drains on your score can be a combination of undue time and undue energy spent on problems that could be done much simpler. “The long way is the wrong way” as a famous GMAT instructor puts it – those seconds you waste, those extra steps that could lead to error or distraction, they’ll add up over the test and pull your score much lower than you’d like it to be. With that in mind, here are six ways to help you avoid too much labor on test day:

QUANTITATIVE SECTION
1) Do the math in your order, only when necessary.
Because the GMAT doesn’t allow a calculator, it heavily rewards candidates who can find efficient ways to avoid the kind of math for which you’d need a calculator. Very frequently this means that the GMAT will tempt you with calculations that you’d ordinarily just plug-and-chug with a calculator, but that can be horribly time-consuming once you start.

For example, a question might require you to take an initial number like 15, then multiply by 51, then divide by 17. On a calculator or in Excel, you’d do exactly that. But on the GMAT, that calculation gets messy. 15*51 = 765 – a calculation that isn’t awful but that will take most people a few steps and maybe 20 seconds. But then you have to do some long division with 17 going into 765. Or do you? If you’re comfortable using factors, multiples, and reducing fractions, you can see those two steps (multiply by 51, divide by 17) as one: multiply by 51/17, and since 51/17 reduces to 3, then you’re really just doing the calculation 15*3, which is easily 45.

The lesson? For one, don’t start doing ugly math until you absolutely know you have to perform that step. Save ugly math for later, because the GMAT is notorious for “rescuing” those who are patient enough to wait for future steps that will simplify the process. And, secondly, get really, really comfortable with factors and divisibility. Quickly recognizing how to break a number into its factors (51 = 3*17; 65 = 5*13; etc.) allows you to streamline calculations and do much of the GMAT math in your head. Getting to that level of comfort may take some labor, but it will save you plenty of workload on test day.

2) Recognize that “Answers Are Assets.”
Another way to avoid or shortcut messy math is to look at the answer choices first. Some problems might look like they involve messy algebra, but can be made much easier by plugging in answer choices and doing the simpler arithmetic. Other times, the answer choices will lead themselves to process of elimination, whether because some choices do not have the proper units digit, or are clearly too small.

Still others will provide you with clues as to how you have to attack the math. For example, if the answer choices are something like: A) 0.0024; B) 0.0246; C) 0.246; D) 2.46; E) 24.6, they’re not really testing you on your ability to arrive at the digits 246, but rather on where the decimal point should go (how many times should that number be multiplied/divided by 10). You can then set your sights on the number of decimal places while not stressing other details of the calculation.

Whatever you do, always scan the answer choices first to see if there are easier ways to do the problem than to simply slog through the math. The answers are assets – they’re there for a reason, and often, they’ll provide you with clues that will help you save valuable time.

3) Question the Question – Know where the game is being played.
Very often, particularly in Data Sufficiency, the GMAT Testmaker will subtly provide a clue as to what’s really being tested. And those who recognize that can very quickly focus on what matters and not get lost in other elements of the problem.

For example, if the question stem includes an inequality with zero (x > 0 or xy < 0), there’s a very high likelihood that you’re being tested on positive/negative number properties. So, when a statement then says something like “1) x^3 = 1331”, you can hold off on trying to take the cube root of 1331 and simply say, “Odd exponent = positive value, so I know that x is positive,” and see if that helps you answer the question without much calculation. Or if the problem asks for the value of 6x – y, you can say to yourself, “I may not be able to solve for x and y individually, but if not, let’s try to isolate exactly that 6x – y term,” and set up your algebra accordingly so that you’re efficiently working toward that specific goal.

Good test-takers tend to see “where the game is being played” by recognizing what the Testmaker is testing. When you can see that a question is about number properties (and not exact values) or a combination of values (and not the individual values themselves) or a comparison of values (again, not the actual values themselves), you can structure your work to directly attack the question and not fall victim to a slog of unnecessary calculations.

VERBAL SECTION
4) Focus on keywords in Critical Reasoning conclusions.
The Verbal section simply looks time-consuming because there’s so much to read, so it pays to know where to spend your time and focus. The single most efficient place to spend time (and the most disastrous if you don’t) is in the conclusion of a Strengthen or Weaken question. To your advantage, noticing a crucial detail in a conclusion can tell you exactly “where the game is being played” (Oh, it’s not how much iron, it’s iron PER CALORIE; it’s not that Company X needs to reduce costs overall, it’s that it needs to reduce SHIPPING costs; etc.) and help you quickly search for the answer choices that deal with that particular gap in logic.

On the downside, if you don’t spend time emphasizing the conclusion, you’re in trouble – burying a conclusion-limiting word or phrase (like “per calorie” or “shipping”) in a long paragraph can be like hiding a needle in a haystack. The Testmaker knows that the untrained are likely to miss these details, and have created trap answers (and just the opportunity to waste time re-reading things that don’t really matter) for those who fall in that group.

5) Scan the Sentence Correction answer choices before you dive into the sentence.
Much like “Answers are Assets” above, a huge help on Sentence Correction problems is to scan the answer choices quickly to see if you can determine where the game is being played (Are they testing pronouns? Verb tenses?). Simply reading a sentence about a strange topic (old excavation sites, a kind of tree that only grows on the leeward slopes of certain mountains…) and looking for anything that strikes you as odd or ungrammatical, that takes time and saps your focus and energy.

However, the GMAT primarily tests a handful of concepts over and over, so if you recognize what is being tested, you can read proactively and look for the words/phrases that directly control that decision you’re being asked to make. Do different answers have different verb tenses? Look for words that signal time (before, since, etc.). Do they involve different pronouns? Read to identify the noun in question and determine which pronoun it needs. You’re not really being tasked with “editing the sentence” as much as your job is to make the proper decision with the choices they’ve already given you. They’ve already narrowed the scope of items you can edit, so identify that scope before you take out the red marking pen across the whole sentence.

6) STOP and avoid rereading.
As the Veritas Prep Reading Comprehension lesson teaches, stop at the end of each paragraph of a reading passage to ask yourself whether you understand Scope, Tone, Organization, and Purpose. The top two time-killers on Reading Comprehension passages/problems are re-reading (you get to the end and realize you don’t really know what you just read) and over-reading (you took several minutes absorbing a lot of details, but now the clock is ticking louder and you haven’t looked at the questions yet).

STOP will help you avoid re-reading (if you weren’t locked in on the first paragraph, you can reread that in 30 seconds and not wait to the end to realize you need to reread the whole thing) and will give you a quick checklist of, “Do I understand just enough to move on?” Details are only important if you’re asked about them, so focus on the major themes (Do you know what the paragraph was about – a quick 5-7 word synopsis is perfect – and why it was written? Good.) and save the details for later.

It may seem ironic that the GMAT is set up to punish hard-workers, but in business, efficiency is everything – the test needs to reward those who work smarter and not just harder, so an effective test day simply cannot be a Labor Day. Use this Labor Day weekend to study effectively so that test day is one on which you prioritize efficiency, not labor.

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: 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.