## GMAT Bootcamp: Are you tough enough?

Date: Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Time: 9:30pm-11:00pm ET/6:30pm-8:00pm PT

What: GMAT Bootcamp

Hosts: Kaplan GMAT Instructor Team — Justin Doff, Teresa Rupp, and Lucas Weingarten

Why: To learn the strategies you need to build the speed and accuracy to tackle the most advanced content on the test.

Listen up, people! You’ve got somewhere to be on Tuesday, May 14, 2013! One of Kaplan’s Elite GMAT instructors, Justin Lawrence Doff (shown here), will be on-camera and coming to you live from Los Angeles, CA dead-set on a singular agenda: arming you with what you need to conquer the most advanced attacks the GMAT has to throw at you. Learn how to set the pace on the climb to the top scoring tiers and, most importantly, how to maintain that level of performance to the end.

It’s bootcamp*. Expect to work hard and to make gains. No matter where you are in your GMAT prep cycle, Kaplan GMAT Bootcamp is designed for the GMAT warrior within us all.

We are saying ‘JUMP!’ and you are saying ‘HOW HIGH?’ See ya Tuesday.

*But don’t worry. We aren’t going to yell at you.

## GMAT Fluency

From The Free Dictionary:

flu·ent   (flnt)

1.

a. Able to express oneself readily and effortlessly

b. Flowing effortlessly; polished

2. Flowing or moving smoothly; graceful

3. Flowing or capable of flowing; fluid

fluen·cy n.

When I teach people how to beat the GMAT a common refrain of mine during class #1 goes something like this:

“It is not enough to study content. It’s not enough to study methods and strategies. It’s not enough to merely understand how to get the right answer to a GMAT question. If you truly want to dominate this test, which is entirely possible for you to do, then you must attain GMAT fluency. You must be fluent in all aspects of the GMAT: content, methodology, strategy, timing, what the GMAT is, what the GMAT is built to test, why you have to take it, what the scores communicate, the levels and types of stress it cultivates, etc., etc., etc. Fluency is the key.”

In Kaplan GMAT courses, we begin our conversation about the Quant and Verbal sections of the test by discussing what we call the GMAT’s four Core Competencies. These core skills are what the GMAT is designed to test and every single question you will face on test day will leverage each of these competencies in some way. A particular problem solving question, for example, may lean heavily on critical thinking and pattern recognition, and less so on paraphrasing and attention to the right detail. The next one, though, might be built almost entirely around one tucked away, camouflaged detail that most test takers brush right by on their way to getting the right answer to the wrong question—a common GMAT mistake. However, the other three central competencies will still lurk within this question and the test will reward those who exercise those skills.

The point of this conversation about what skills the GMAT cares most about, despite my best efforts to make it intriguing, is very often lost on many. I try my best to describe that the GMAT is a definable thing and it belongs in a particular box and that the walls of this box are created by these core competencies. I try my best… but, despite my effort, I watch so many who are new to the game inherit only the most superficial appreciation of these concepts. I move on because there is always so much to do in a Kaplan class, always so much to cover, and I must trust that at some point on their trip down Preparation Road each will, in turn, have their own “a-ha moment” and perhaps revisit the big ideas again. (Admittedly, I help ensure these revelations by consistently tracking the competencies throughout the course.)

Possibly, what makes it a difficult sell initially is that the GMAT will never test whether someone knows what the four core competencies are or what aspects of a particular question pertain to which. Similarly, it is hard for some to remember the names of the Critical Reasoning or Reading Comprehension question types. After all, that terminology will never actually be tested. Yet, the ability to spot and accurately identify these question types is monumentally crucial to test day success. How a question ought to be approached and answered is inextricably tied to its type. Nonetheless, it is a common occurrence in my line of work to engage a seasoned GMAT prep student in conversation over a troublesome question and during that discussion I inquire as to the type of question we are talking about. Promptly, I am then met with a coy smile followed by, “I dunno… assumption? Inference?”

It is not that the student can’t understand the difference between an assumption question vs. an inference question. It is not even that they can’t articulate that difference if really pressed. The problem is that understanding is not enough. This knowledge must be at the very front of your mind. It must flow out of you so effortlessly it is as if you aren’t really even thinking at all—you are just doing.

Fluency is the key. It is difficult to acquire, though entirely possible, and it must be continuously worked in order to maintain once achieved. We most often use and think of fluency in regard to language—of which all of us are fluent in at least one. So, to stick with this line of thinking, I ask you:

Can you speak GMAT? Can you speak it fluently?

## Kaplan GMAT Blog: Post #150

My last retrospective was when I hit fifty. Number one hundred was overshadowed by the test change so there was not an opportunity for much fanfare. However, Elite GMAT Instructor, Justin Doff, asked me what some of my favorite posts were just after I told him that #149 was up on the blogroll. “Geez, that’s a tough one… but it’s a great idea for #150!” I replied.

Nineteen months and one hundred fifty posts later… Here is a list of some of my favorites, or at least these are posts GMAT blog readers might find interesting.

Cheers.

## GMAT Prep: Attitude is critical

Due to some recent student interaction that is disturbingly similar and concentrated with respect to my total student body as well as a conversation I had this morning with my wife in regard to a few students in her Psych 101 class, it is time to resurrect an old post on the importance of your attitude during GMAT prep. Take a moment to click that link and read the story told therein.

Now, admittedly, upon reread, the story is pretty vague. What I was attempting to get across is that your perception of what you can do is a tremendously important variable in the type of score improvement you can yield with a GMAT test prep regimen.

I am often asked, “How much can I expect my score to increase after taking this class?” This is a valid query to pose, but one that simply cannot be answered with any precision. A score increase is a factor of several variables. Here’s a simplified equation:

Final GMAT Score = Diagnostic Score + Target Score + Quality of Prep + Quantity of Prep + Attitude

I call this a simplified equation because many of these variables are comprised of several other variables. Take, for example, Quantity of Prep. On its surface, this appears to be a straight forward, easily quantifiable metric. However, you can further break down quantity by total hours of study time spread over a total days of study time. A good rule of thumb is 120 to 150 hours spread across about three months. Then, of course, you can look at how many days per week and how many hours per day and the typical duration of a study session (note the implications of the word “typical”). At this point, it is easy to see how Quantity of Prep inevitably influences Quality of Prep. Like I said… it’s a simplified equation.

Despite the inherent complexity of the preparation levers mentioned above, let us focus on the final one listed: Attitude.

Coincidentally, in my last post about how Benjamin Franklin would kill the GMAT I included a quote by Henry Ford that says, “Whether you think you can or can’t, you’re right.” The inimitable and profound truth in this statement cannot be overstated. I have seen, and am currently seeing, way too many students engaged in depressing self-fulfilling prophecies that involve their steadfast disbelief in their ability to learn something. Topics range from the micro, like learning how to set up the ever-useful chart for combined work problems, to the ultimate macro: the GMAT itself.

I have said before in uncountable forums that one’s success on the GMAT is borne of tenacity above all else. And tenacity, as it happens, is built on the back of a positive attitude. So, the next time you find yourself engaged in self-deprecation and making defeatist proclamations, STOP! Remind yourself, instead, that you are highly educated, highly intelligent, and eminently capable of beating the GMAT, for it is the truth.

## Ben Franklin would kill the GMAT

Read this article. It’s about how Benjamin Franklin, a notable and influential founding father of the United States, structured his life so as to be as productive as possible and always live knowing tomorrow is, in fact, today. In the article, the author, Samuel Bacharach, a labor management professor at Cornell University, lists five habits Franklin employed to ensure procrastination was not part of his personal description.

In this post, I will apply each habit as listed by the author of the article in order to provide a framework for a productive GMAT study schedule—one that begins today and does not relent until Test Day!

1.  Start a group and share knowledge. GMAT study is too often a very lonely endeavor. Despite my encouragement, it is with rare frequency my students organize study groups. I could speculate reasons as to why—busy schedules, different strengths/weaknesses, not wanting to exhibit weakness in front of others, lack of an idea about how to actually structure group study—and all are totally understandable. However, I really wish this were not the case. I have had groups jump at the chance to meet with their peers and have received a lot of positive feedback about the benefits.

Surrounding yourself with others plodding along a similar road to yours helps stimulate ideas, expand understanding, derive opportunities to learn by teaching, and motivate you to show up and get to work. Create a GMAT Junto!

2. Attack opportunities. You will never recognize opportunities if you do not look for them. A constructive attitude about what constitutes an opportunity during GMAT prep is a wondrous and invaluable thing. Really, several items on this list are opportunities all GMAT test preppers can expect to find. Starting a study group, making mistakes, and planning are all opportunities to get the most out of your study time.

As we discuss each, view them through the lens of opportunity and continue to approach GMAT prep in this way. For example, freaking out during a practice test gives you the chance to learn to recognize stress when it arises and devise a plan to overcome it. Test prep classes and the resources that accompany them are an opportunity to learn how to get the score you deserve to get. A previous misstep in calculating the tremendous challenge of the GMAT is an opportunity to make sure round two is the last round.

3.  Time is a commodity in short supply. Time management, study schedules, and respect for the test are common themes in my writing on Kaplan’s GMAT Blog. For some thoughts on the matter, read these three posts: The GMAT Needs a Runway, How to Get Ready for the GMAT, and MBA Decision: The Financial Times Explores the Process.

4.  Make a list. Beyond the pro-and-con list described in the article, plan out everything with regard to GMAT prep. So you can see for yourself, definitely take the time to list the good and bad aspects of a top notch study regimen, but continue to utilize lists during the prep cycle to maintain momentum and efficiency.

Something I tell all of my students to do is take the last 5-10 minutes of every study session to plan what they will do when they sit down for the next session. Doing this ensures you will hit the ground running and not be overwhelmed under the weight of all the stuff you could be doing. The latter situation usually results in a useless foray of social voyeurism on Facebook—something that definitively will NOT help improve your GMAT score.

5.  Fail often; fail hard; but don’t expect to. Quite simply, celebrate mistakes. Each stumble on Preparation Road makes it that much more likely you will not make the same mistake on the only day it matters: Test Day. A mistake is an opportunity to learn.

Did you get it wrong because you got the right answer to the wrong question? Did you miss it because you searched outside the scope of the passage or argument? Did you run out of time because you gave two “tough nut” questions ten minutes of effort?

If I have said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: tenacity is what builds high GMAT scores. After all, in the immortal words of Henry Ford:

”Whether you think you can or can’t, you’re right.”

## Balancing the Holidays and Your GMAT Studies

The holidays are upon us, and with them come a flurry of seasonal activities: shopping trips, parties, and visits with family and friends.  If you’re planning on taking your GMAT in January, you’re probably struggling with the challenge of fitting your studies into your holiday schedule.  Here are a few tips to help you make the most of this busy time.

First, acknowledge your limitations.  Because of your holiday obligations, you’ll probably need to scale back your  GMAT study time.  The holidays provide you with a great opportunity to recharge mentally and emotionally, so there’s nothing wrong with cutting back a little on your studies to give yourself some more personal time.  You’ll be able to create a study schedule–and stick to it–if you’re realistic with yourself about how much time you’ll actually have for studying over the holidays.

Second, since you’ll have less time to study, plan out carefully what you’re going to study and when.  A specific agenda for each study session will help guarantee that you use your productively.  If you’re used to longer study sessions (two or three hours), but you’ll be studying for shorter periods during the holidays, limit your agenda to one key topic at a time.  For instance, you might spend an hour reviewing just proportions, rather than two hours reviewing proportions, averages, and ratios.  This is also a good time to give yourself short quizzes (5 to 10 questions at time); in an hour, you can complete a short quiz in 15 to 30 minutes, giving you an equal amount of time to use for review of the quiz.  As always, though, be sure to balance your studying between Quant and Verbal.  A good plan is alternating between the two every day, or depending on your individual strengths and weaknesses, spending two days on one, followed by one day on the other.

Finally, recognize that there are benefits to a mini-vacation from your studies.  Taking time away from intense studying gives you time to digest the material.  There’s a lot to learn for the GMAT, and all that material takes time to “settle in” to your brain.  Slowing down for a little while allows you to master concepts and helps prevent burn out.  So take advantage of the pleasures of the holidays: enjoy your time spent not studying, maximize the time you do spend studying, and rest assured that your brain will benefit from the holiday as well.

## GMAT Prep options: What’s better? Online or On Site?

Part of my job as a Kaplan Test Prep GMAT instructor is to host events such as free practice tests and preview classes.  At the end, I like to cover the various prep options Kaplan offers just in case an attendee is interested.  We have four packages to choose from:

At its most basic, the decision boils down to what kind of learner you are.  In this post, however, I’d like to focus on the differences between options 1 and 2 because that is the most common choice people weigh with me.

The first thing to keep in mind is that both the On Site (classroom in a brick-and-mortar, traditional environment) and Anywhere (classroom in our live online virtual Adobe® environment) have seven out of a total of twelve class sessions held online.  Here, I am referring to Kaplan’s Fixed and Flex class sessions.

Our six Fixed sessions are comprised of three Verbal and three Quant classes.  Each of these introduces the student to the Kaplan Methods for each question type and the major strategies our students put to use when cracking the GMAT as well as the primary content knowledge necessary for test day success.  If you are an On Site student, all six of these foundational classes are exactly what you are used to from back in school.  You have a classroom full of colleagues, a GMAT expert you can shake hands with, and a dedicated time and place to show up.

You might be surprised at the core differences between the On Site and the Anywhere course: you can’t shake hands with your Anywhere instructor.  That’s it.  Well, that and you can wear your pajamas to class since you can attend from home.

In all Fixed and Flex online classes, an on-camera instructor engages the class and coaches students through the course material.  Meanwhile, at least one other GMAT expert instructor (sometimes several, depending on class size) is off-camera fielding questions and interacting with the class.  Additionally, all instructors assigned to Anywhere classes are available outside of class for email correspondence.  Of course, On Site instructors continuously exchange emails with students even after the Fixed sessions are completed all the way to Test Day and beyond.

In upcoming posts, I’ll assess each of our Fixed and Flex sessions.  I don’t have the opportunity to delve into this level of detail at marketing events, and I am excited to be able to use the blog to do so.  In the mean time, if you have any specific questions about the various means of prepping for the GMAT with Kaplan, please post them below!

## Study the GMAT in Small Batches

A few months ago I had a student in one of my GMAT classes tell me her study plan.  She was very diligent and committed to the study process, and the plan was a very well thought out and detailed.   Furthermore, she was executing the plan brilliantly.  The problem was that her score was going nowhere.  She wasn’t gaining any ground from her masterful execution.  What was the problem?

After digging a bit deeper, one thing stood out.  She was using all the tools: practice tests, online quizzes, workshops, workbooks etc.  None of this seemed odd.  In fact, it was all commendable.  However, there was a fatal flaw in the way she was using these resources.  She wanted to makes sure that she had the endurance to answer these questions on test day.  Therefore, when she sat down to do quantitative problems, she would create a set of 37, do them all, and then review the answers.  She would do 41 questions for the GMAT verbal section.  This seems like a great idea, right?  It’s very realistic.  Wrong!!!

This is the same challenge that Toyota solved with lean processes and the Lean Startup movement is busy solving in the entrepreneurial world.  Working in large batches seems reasonable and efficient.  However, when our goal is learning and validation, it is counterproductive in a big way.  Now, we could spend a lot of time diving deep into either lean manufacturing or lean startup methods, and that would be a lot of fun.  However, let’s stay on point and look at how it works with GMAT studying.

To complete 37 questions will take you about 75 minutes.  During this time you are busy answering the questions.  This practice is good, but you aren’t adding new knowledge to the mix.  You are just moving along the experience curve and getting faster at what you know.  But what if what you know is wrong?  In that case, you will continue to make the same mistakes all the way through, without the benefit of learning from early mistakes.

Now imagine that you take them in batches of 5 questions and then review the answers.  In this case, if you are lacking some crucial piece of knowledge, you will learn that in the first batch.  Even if you got a question right, you may learn a better way to approach it. You will then be able to apply that knowledge in subsequent sets and move on to higher level challenges.  By working in small batches you will do this over and over again.  In this way you can compound your rate of learning and move to higher and higher scores.

As a final note on this, I thought I’d share a recent success story.  I had a student who was scoring around 650 on his practice tests right up to the week before his test.  His goal was mid 700’s.  He was using a large batch approach as well.  After making the switch to small batch study, he spent a week compounding his learning.  On test day he scored a 750!  Try studying in small batches….

## GMAT Arithmetic Shortcuts: Divide before you multiply

The GMAT loves to test complex proportions, cross multiplication, probability, and combinations. It’s a sure thing, therefore, that you will at some point encounter arithmetic like this:

This task probably won’t be given to you directly in the question stem—more likely, this would be an intermediate step after translating a word problem or plugging in numbers for variables. But it’s certain you’ll see something like this at some point on some GMAT problem.

In real life, you might plug these straight into a calculator. Doing so would give us this:

Ugly, huh? A five-digit number divided by a three-digit number. But the result is a nice even 30. There must be a better way to get there if the division is so neat! The shortcut is to divide. Any time you have numbers over numbers, you should always cancel, cancel, cancel. Dividing first keeps your numbers small and your arithmetic simple. Check out what happens if we cancel first in this problem:

Easy as pie! 7 goes evenly into 21, 9 goes evenly into 45, and 11 goes evenly into 22. Reducing fractions and ratios to their simplest form before multiplying will save you mountains of work on test day.

## GMAT Quantitative Section: Stacking Percents

The Wrentham Village Premium Outlets are a great place to stop for cheap brand-name clothes, and they’re a popular tourist destination for visitors to Massachusetts.  Like all tourist/retail locations, they need to get people in the door. They’ve tried lot of things, but their latest gimmick has interesting implications for GMAT students. They’ve started stacking discounts.

Nearly every store in the mall has signs that say something like, “65% off, PLUS take an additional 20% off!” Moreover, a coupon book gives additional discounts—the particular store with that sign also offered 15% off purchases over a certain value.

To the unenlightened, this seems too good to be true. After all, 65% + 20% + 15% = 100%. Are we seriously to believe that the outlet store is giving away things for free?

Well, that might be a trap answer on the GMAT—and it’s a trap answer for the unwary consumer as well. But because we have been practicing GMAT quant, we know better. Even though the signs say “additional” and “plus,” we’re not really adding. 65% off means that the baseline price 35% of the retail value, and a further 20% off means we pay 80% of that discounted value. When translating from English to Math, the word “of” means “times.” So, when we take a percentage “of” a percent, we multiply; the results of the previous example are as follows:

(1 – 0.65)(1 – 0.2)(1 – 0.15) = (0.35)(0.8)(0.85) = 0.238

We end up with a 76.2% discount all told; that’s a pretty good deal, but hardly the 100% sale that some might have mistakenly expected!

When stacking percentage increases or decreases on the GMAT, you need to multiply—or, you can pick 100 and plug it into the equation. But however you solve, you cannot just add the numbers together; and you can quickly rule out any answer choice that is just a sum of the percents in the stem.