GMAT Mythbuster #2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GMAT Tip of the Week

Prime Time

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

A recent episode of “The Office” featured a classic, GMAT-relevant exchange, in which a cash-strapped Michael Scott asks his financial analyst to “crunch those numbers again”. The stunned analyst explains that, because the calculations were all done accurately using a computer program, there was no mechanism for “crunching” the numbers again, and even if there were, there would be no change.

Such is life in business nowadays. Sophisticated machines do a lot of the “number crunching” for us, and business managers are much more often in the business of analyzing numbers than of crunching them. The GMAT, in an attempt to determine the candidates best suited to thrive in such an environment, heavily features the analysis of numbers in similar ways, requiring you to think often about the properties of numbers.

A prime example of this is the examination of prime numbers on the GMAT. Prime numbers are those that have exactly two factors (itself and 1) – a seemingly simple definition that can often become cumbersome to employ on the GMAT. One such way in which prime numbers can lead to frustration is a question like the following:

How many prime numbers are between 110 and 120?

It’s unlikely that you’ll have memorized the list of prime numbers up in to the triple-digits, so you will probably approach this question by taking the set of numbers and eliminating any numbers that are not prime. Even numbers, by definition, are divisible by 2, so the even numbers in this set are definitely not prime, leaving us with a set of:


It’s also relatively easy to eliminate 115, because a number ending in 5 is divisible by 5, so we’re down to four numbers remaining. 111 and 117 are each divisible by 3 (there’s a trick for making that determination that we’ll probably feature in an upcoming GMAT Tip of the Week), so we’re left to test:


This is where it may get tricky, as in order to prove that a number is prime, we need to prove that it is not divisible by anything but itself and 1. With a 3-digit number, this process could be time consuming without these two principles:

1) You don’t need to test for divisibility by anything other than prime numbers.

If a number is divisible by, say, 4, it needs to also be divisible by 2, because 4 is divisible by 2. So, if you’ve already determined that 113 is not divisible by 2, you don’t need to test to see if it is divisible by 4 (or 6, or 8, etc.).

2) You don’t need to test a number by anything higher than the square root of the next-highest perfect square.

This is probably best illustrated by an example. With 113, the next highest square above it is 121, and we know that 121 is the same as 11*11. So, logically speaking, in order for a number greater than 11 to multiply with another integer to produce a number smaller than 121, that other integer must be less than 11. If it were greater than 11, the product would be higher than 121.

If we test 113 by the other primes (7 and 11), we find that it’s not divisible by 7 (7*10 = 70 and 7*6 = 42, so 7*16 is 112, meaning that 113 cannot be divisible by 7… but also that 119 is divisible by 7. So, our work with 119 is done.).

It’s also not divisible by 11 (11 * 10 = 110, so we know that 113 is not a multiple of 11).

Now, because we’ve already tested everything up to 11, we’re done…we know that 113 is prime. Again, if 113 were to be divisible by 13, it would also have to be divisible by something less than 11, because we know that 11*11 is already too high. So, there’s no need to test 113 for divisibility by anything other than what we already have, and we can prove that the answer to the overall question is 1.

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