August 25, 2012
As you likely know, with the inclusion of the Integrated Reasoning (IR) section came the exclusion of the one of the previously required essays. Before the test change, GMAT test takers built their Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA) score on the backs of two essays: Analysis of an Argument and Analysis of an Issue. These two essays would be scored independently—by one human and one computer—then those two scores would be averaged for a total AWA score on a 0-6 point scale in ½-point increments. In order to keep total testing time at 3.5 hours, test makers decided to cut the thirty-minute Analysis of an Issue essay and insert a thirty-minute Integrated Reasoning section.
So what can we make of this decision? Now, let’s not bicker about the Integrated Reasoning section here; it is what it is and we all have to deal with it. Rather, let’s focus on the essay left standing. Since we still have to write, are we better off with the Argument essay over the Issue essay? And, if so, is there a way we can ensure a top-scoring essay on test day? Good news: yes and yes.
First, writing an Argument essay over an Issue essay is preferable because of all the work we do studying GMAT Critical Reasoning (CR) questions. Seventy percent of CR questions we will see on test day will come from what is known as the Assumption Family of question types (aka, the Argument Family). In each of these question types—Assumption, Strengthen, Weaken, and Flaw—we always approach in the exact same way. That is, we identify the Conclusion, then we identify the Evidence, and then we can tease out the author’s primary Assumption(s) by applying our highly tuned critical thinking skills. You see, a GMAT argument will always state both a conclusion and evidence for the conclusion. What we will never be given, what the author will never state explicitly, are the underlying assumptions that allow this evidence to lead to this conclusion. But, in order to answer Assumption Family questions we must identify what those unstated assumptions are.
The good news about the Argument essay can be summed up by “The Four Truths” present in every single essay prompt created:
- There will be a Conclusion.
- There will be Evidence.
- There will be Assumptions linking the Conclusion and Evidence.
- Those Assumptions will be flawed.
Beautiful, right? The better we get at Critical Reasoning, the easier deconstructing the AWA essay prompt will be. In the Issue essay, we had to come up with our own ideas, reasoning, and support for taking a particular position on an issue provided. However, in the Argument essay, all we need is tucked away within the prompt itself. Sure, we have to do some detective work to sniff it out, but it is comforting to know it’s there and that we definitely have developed the skill to find it.
OK, so what about the other question: Is there a sure-fire way to churn out a top-scoring essay no matter what the given argument is? You bet. Quite simply, you’ll open by restating the conclusion and evidence in your own words. Then, you’ll identify at least two flawed assumptions and explain why they are flawed—one assumption per paragraph. After that, you’ll talk about how the argument could be strengthened (here, you can just feed off of what you said was wrong with it), then you’ll wrap up with a conclusion. That’s it.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, your GMAT essay is going to be scored by one human and one computer. I suggest reading my previous post titled “GMAT essays: Computers score your work, and they are really good at it” to learn more about those computers. But just in case you’re running short on time, I’ll give you the gist…
When that human grader gets to your essay—you know, the one you toiled over for half an hour—what do you think that human had been doing right before your essay popped up on their screen? Grading essays. And what do you think that human is going to do after they finish with your essay? Grading essays. And how much time do you think they will devote to evaluating your little essay baby that you worked so hard to compose? Under two minutes, even as little as one. So, then, what is that human trying to do? Emulate a machine.
The aforementioned structure of an Analysis of an Argument might seem bland and formulaic, but you need to appreciate that you are writing for a machine and someone trying their darndest to act like one. Feed the machine and you will be rewarded.
Do you have more questions about the argument essay or the test change? Post them in the comments and we’ll tackle them one at a time.
August 6, 2012
As anyone who has spent any time on GMAT Sentence Correction can tell you, the English language is complex. SC problems will frequently test idioms and tricky verb tenses, among other things. But despite a few exceptions (do you know the difference between economic and economical?), subtle shifts in the meanings of similar words aren’t usually tested in GMAT sentences. They are, however, tested on Critical Reasoning and Analytical Writing prompts.
Assumptions on the GMAT occur when the scope of discussion shifts between the evidence and the conclusion. In an earlier article, I discussed a stimulus involving burgers. One such “scope shift” in that article was that the evidence discussed cholesterol, while the conclusion discussed health in general; another involved evidence about a price reduction and a conclusion about increased consumption of burgers. Some of these are easier to spot than others, but all of them involve looking for changes in terms and terminology.
But sometimes, there is a change of meaning, even though the actual words are the same. Consider the following example:
Buddy claims he hurt his back lifting a heavy box of yogurt onto the store’s shelves. However, he was in the “diet” section of the store, stocking shelves with light yogurt. Clearly the only boxes he lifted were light; his claim for workers compensation must be a fabrication.
This argument is, of course, absurd! But if you’re locked into the GMAT mode of thinking (which is a good thing!) you might wonder why. This problem doesn’t seem to shift scope—both the evidence and the conclusion talk about the yogurt being light, right?
The key is that the author is “equivocating,” a technical term for using the same word with different meanings. “Light” here means “Diet” in the evidence but “Not Heavy” in the conclusion—that’s a pretty big gap, leading to deeply flawed reasoning. This pattern isn’t terribly common on GMAT problems, but it shows up from time to time, usually on Flaw questions. Keep your eyes peeled for words with multiple, ambiguous, or unclear meanings on the GMAT, and on today’s question of the day, an AWA prompt.
The following appeared in an internal memo for the Weekly Globe newspaper.
The proposal to reduce the celebrity section of our print edition from 6 pages weekly to 2 pages is misguided. The celebrity pages on our website average more hits per article than does any other section of our website; clearly the public is most interested in celebrity news. The proposed change would not only hurt our profits, but also betray our dedication to serving the public’s interests.
Discuss how well reasoned…
Post your analysis below, and we’ll let you know if there is anything you missed.
June 30, 2012
Often times, the portion of the GMAT most neglected by students is the writing sample. While this section of the test is certainly less important than your overall 200 to 800 score, you still want to make sure that you know how to handle it.
The essay is graded on a scale from 1 to 6 and most business schools are expecting you to achieve a score of 4 or higher. While the difference between a 4, 5, or 6 is not all that influential on your admissions prospects, receiving a score lower than a 4 can have a negative impact on your application.
While the integrated reasoning section, which was recently added to the GMAT, replaced the issue essay, the argument essay remains a part of the test. In fact, it will be the very first section you see on test day.
The key to the essay is answering the question that GMAT test maker is asking. This can be trickier than you would think. The writing sample is all about analyzing the argument made by the author, not providing your own viewpoint on the topic. Therefore, it is essential that you do not agree or disagree with the author’s opinion. Rather, you need to analyze the argument the author makes to reach his/her conclusion.
To do so, you will need to look for flaws in the author’s reasoning. Specifically, you will want to identify any faulty assumptions that the author makes. Additionally, you will want to offer potential strengtheners – facts that, if they were true, would make the argument more sound.
You may notice that these skills are similar to those employed in the critical reasoning portion of the verbal section. This is not a coincidence. Both parts of the test are all about breaking down the argument and not about the accuracy of the opinion presented.
In order to get an idea of the types of arguments that appear on the GMAT, you can visit the test makers website, mba.com, and view a complete list of possible essay topics. It is a good idea to practice taking a few of these arguments apart and writing essays before test day.
If you want feedback on how to identify the flaws in an argument, post the argument and a bulleted list of the flaws you notice in the comments below. We’ll help you fill in the gaps.
June 21, 2012
It’s an hour before deadline, and I’m supposed to be writing a GMAT blog on keywords. However,____________. In fact, ___________________________. It’s true that _________________________, but on closer inspection, _________________________.
Keywords are vital to improving your understanding of complex passages in several ways. First, they serve as “road signs” to _____________________________. ______ not only ______________________, but also _____________________________. Some keywords indicate _____________________, while others indicate _________________; still others ___________________________________.
Second, keywords can tell you what NOT to read. Contrast keywords such as _________________ indicate _____________, but ___________________ indicating continuation, such as ______________, _______in the most extreme cases, skipping ____________________________entirely. After all,_____________ ______________already read!
Then check out the completed thought:
It’s an hour before deadline. I’m supposed to be writing a GMAT blog on keywords. However, I’m going to leave some things blank to save time. In fact, I’m going to leave out most of the words. It’s true that this might seem confusing. But on closer inspection, the point of this blog will make itself clear.
Keywords are vital to improving your understanding of complex passages in several ways. First, they serve as “road signs” to GMAT reading comprehension passages. They not only connect paragraphs to one another, but also enable you to navigate the sentences within them. Some keywords indicate ideas that are similar, while others indicate an opposite or contrast; still others clue you in to the logical progression of cause and effect.
Second, keywords can tell you what NOT to read. Contrast keywords such as However or But often indicate something the author wants you to pay attention to, but if you see a word indicating continuation, such as And, Moreover, or Additionally, you can sometimes get away with skimming—or in the most extreme cases, skipping that part of the passage entirely. After all, if it’s a continuation, it’s more of something you’ve already read.
Now try one more:
Here’s a specific example of how keywords can help. This next paragraph is structured exactly the same as the paragraphs above but with a different opening line. Can you make sense of it, even though it’s talking about technical math you’re probably not familiar with? I’m guessing you can!
The St. Petersburg Paradox would seem to imply that even unbiased games can be manipulated to ensure profit, contradicting Huygen’s results. However, _________________________. In fact____________. It’s true that____________________, but on closer inspection, _______________________________.
Finally, use your knowledge of keywords to deconstruct the question of the day (click here to learn about bolded statement questions first):
Although no script, playbill, or other theater record survives to provide indisputable
evidence, the presence of several references to a tragic character named
“Hamlet” in another dramatist’s diary entries that predate Shakespeare’s
play by several years indicates that there was probably another revenge tragedy
by that name from which Shakespeare found inspiration for his own play. It is true,
of course, that Shakespeare might have based his play only on earlier versions of
the “Hamlet” legend and not even known of the so-called Ur-Hamlet. But there
is reason to think that Thomas Kyd wrote a play featuring a character by
the name of Hamlet, and Shakespeare’s play bears remarkable similarity to
another Kyd revenge play, The Spanish Tragedy.
The two statements in boldface play which of the following roles?
(A) The first and the second each offer reasons to doubt the veracity of the position
that the author seeks to establish.
(B) The first and the second each provide support for the author’s main point.
(C) The first provides evidence to support the author’s main point; the second is
(D) The first is an assertion that would undermine the author’s conclusion; the
second is a refutation of that assertion.
(E) The first and the second each undermine a position that the author seeks to
Step 1: Identify the Question Type
In reading the question stem, we see that this Bolded
Statement question is asking us to determine the roles
played by the two statements. We know that the primary
roles in any argument are conclusion and evidence.
Step 2: Untangle the Stimulus
The conclusion comes in the middle of the stimulus—that
Shakespeare found inspiration for Hamlet in other revenge
tragedies of the same name. We see that the first bolded
statement is evidence to support this conclusion because
of the keyword indicates. The second statement further
provides evidence to prove that Shakespeare found
inspiration in other revenge tragedies, not just in the
general “Hamlet” legend.
Step 3: Predict the Answer
So, our answer must tell us that both bolded statements
are offered in support of the conclusion.
Step 4: Evaluate the Choices
(B) explains that succinctly—they both provide evidence for
the main point. (A) is a 180. Neither statement undermines
the author’s conclusion. (C) gets it half right. The second
statement, however, is not the main point, just specific
evidence about another play Shakespeare borrowed from
supporting it. (D) completely mixes up the relationship. The
second statement does not refute the first. If anything, they
complement each other. Finally, in (E), while the second
statement undermines the position that Shakespeare found
inspiration in the legends, rather than another tragedy (a
position the author does indeed want to weaken), the first
statement supports the author’s main point directly, not by
undermining a position the author wishes to weaken.
June 18, 2012
The GMAT is a long test, but it can feel like it goes by quickly. You’re working straight through after all, at a rapid pace of 2 minutes per math problem, 4 minutes per quickly-scanned passage, and 1 minute per sentence correction question. You’re testing for three and a half hours, so your two eight-minute rests may not seem like enough. The solution? Take more breaks.
This may seem like odd advice, especially given that I’ve written blogs about shaving mere seconds off math problems. And certainly, seconds do count. But taking breaks on the test is similar to paraphrasing question stems and taking notes or reading passages: spending time to rest can save you more time on the rest of the test.
For starters, humans blink less often when they are staring at computer screens. This can result in dry eyes and eyestrain—the last thing you want to happen when you’re faced with a high-difficulty passage on, say, neuroscience. Additionally, human concentration is a limited resource. Focusing exclusively on the test and nothing else for 1:15 can be nearly impossible. And finally, top test-takers tend to breath slowly and regularly, and just taking a few seconds to take a deep breath can help you stay on target.
For these reasons, experienced test-takers will seldom work straight through a GMAT section without pause. Of course, the GMAT is still timed, and any time off from the test has to fit into that time frame. So my advice is this: four times during each test section, close your eyes and count to ten while breathing slowly. That still leaves 74 minutes 20 seconds to answer every question. And in all likelihood, your sharp eyes and sharp mind will improve your performance. If you can catch a detail on a single question and thereby avoid just one 40-second re-read, you’ve already made up for the missing time and taken a key step to Test Day success.
June 13, 2012
Scene: a busy street. A businessman in a suit and tie stands before a cloth covered table. A fortune teller sits on the other side of the table, peering into a crystal ball.
Fortune teller: “I see danger in your future, you are at grave risk! For $20, I shall peer into this crystal ball and tell you how disaster can be avoided!”
Businessman: “What a load of $&#%! Fortune telling is nonsense, and there is no way you could see my future through the crystal ball. I’m certain I’m in no danger whatsoever!”
Businessman walks across the street without looking and is run over by an ice cream truck.
So, GMAT students, was the fortune teller right? Was she genuinely psychic? Did her crystal ball receive emanations from the spirits predicting the future?
Of course not. Scientific consensus is that psychic powers don’t exist, and even the superstitious must acknowledge plastromancy as the superior form of divination.
But the businessman made a critical mistake: he made what’s known as the“Fallacy Fallacy,” mistaking a flawed argument for a false conclusion. Sure, the crystal-ball reading was a foolish basis for arguments about danger. But as the old saying goes, a stopped clock is right twice a day. Anyone standing on a busy city street is at low-to-moderate risk. Although the fortune teller has no justification for her claim, she happened to be right that the businessman was at risk through accident of location. And the businessman, foolishly assuming himself to be perfectly safe, compounded his risk through his own poor logic.
When you see the Analytical Writing Assessment (which remains on the New GMAT), bear in mind this example . The argument you are given will invariably be terrible, but you can’t dismiss the conclusion solely on that basis. Moreover, the GMAT essay prompts will generally refer to fictional people and business in made-up locations. That means there are countless unknowns and hypotheticals that make definitive judgment impossible.
To plan your response to the AWA, consider the businessman. His proper response would be, “Your crystal ball isn’t persuasive. If I’m at risk, it’s because of factors you can’t possibly be aware of. And if I do get hit by a car, it won’t be because of your crystal ball. Now, excuse me, I need to wait for a walk sign.” And so, when analyzing an argument on the GMAT, you should always conclude the same way. Make clear that the author could be right—he could be lucky, a confluence of factors could make his plan work or bring his prediction to fruition. But his evidence will invariably be lacking, and his logic will certainly rely on improbable assumptions. Go on to explain that he must be lucky for his conclusion to be valid, because luck is the only thing he has going for him.
Question of the day:
Our company’s chief financial advisor is outstanding. Of the ten stocks she invested company funds in over the past year, eight have increased in value, two of them by more than three times the market average. Unfortunately, we know that one of our competitors has been attempting to hire our employees away from us, and she is likely to be on that competitors list of targets. To retain her services, we should substantially increase her salary, contingent on her willingness to sign a non-compete agreement.
To what extent do you agree or disagree with the reasoning in the statement above?
Let’s analyze this together. Take this argument apart and post your thoughts here. Then I’ll jump in and help put it all together…
June 10, 2012
June 5, 2012 has finally come and gone. To those of us within the gravitational pull of the GMAT, this date was no less than a celestial event. June 5th not only marked the transit of Venus across the sun, but also the launch of the New GMAT.
What has changed? A new section called Integrated Reasoning (IR) has replaced the Analysis of an Issue essay and taken its time allotment. Hence, the GMAT is still the same total length. That is, you write a 30-minute Analysis of an Argument essay, then take the new 30-minute Integrated Reasoning section, then take the 75-minute Quantitative section, and finally complete the 75-minute Verbal section (note: you get two 8-minute breaks; one between IR and Quant, and then another between Quant and Verbal).
Integrated Reasoning questions appear in four different formats and across twelve questions total in the 30-minute time frame. The formats are: Graphics Interpretation, Two-Part Analysis, Table Analysis, and Multi-Source Reasoning. A given prompt, or question setup, may have multiple questions and, like the rest of the GMAT, IR is computer adaptive at the question level. Thus, once a question has been answered, you cannot return and change the answer. It is also interesting to note that test takers have access to a very basic on-screen calculator during this section only (i.e., still no calculators on the Quantitative section).
I have written at length about the New GMAT in previous posts and invite you to read through them to learn more (here’s a dozen: one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, and twelve). However, I am much more interested in your actual experiences over my anticipated ones. We want to hear from the pioneers out there—those of you who have been among the first to take the New GMAT.
What was it like?
How did you prepare?
Was it challenging?
Did you really feel like the questions were forcing you to integrate reasoning?
What surprised you?
While Venus will not traverse the sun again until 2117, brave explorers destined for b-school greatness will take the New GMAT just about every day from here on in.
Tell us about your experience blazing the trail that others will soon follow. If you have taken it, we want to hear about it! Boast, warn, and teach – whatever you think the experience calls for…
June 3, 2012
A little thing here or there doesn’t usually make a whole lot of difference. But when you aggregate, knowing some of the little things about the GMAT can be a big help on Test Day. In this blog post, I am bringing some perhaps unexpected or otherwise novel little GMAT tidbits to your attention in hopes you find them useful or at least interesting. This list is not comprehensive, of course, but is rather whatever sprang to mind as I thought about it. If you, dear reader, have anything you’d like to add then please do so in the comments section below. Thanks!
- Your photograph taken at the testing center on test day will be sent to schools. That’s right, folks. Just when you thought it was safe to wear your lucky shirt—you know, the one with the crass cartoon of a feral dog at a cocktail party—Big Brother steps in and spoils it for you. According to GMAC’s website, your test day photograph as well as any voluntarily reported background information (e.g., undergrad GPA, phone number, intended area of graduate study, etc.) will be sent along with your score report to any of your selected recipients if they have requested to receive such information.
- Full copies of your Analytical Writing Assessment essay will be sent to schools. Whether admissions officers actually read these essays we can never know, but we do know that those officers can read them if they want to. What does this mean for you? Eh, not much. You are going to learn how to write a top scoring essay way before you sit for the exam and the one you write on test day will be one of several well-composed writing samples you’ve completed. In fact, you’ll want people to read it because it will be that good!
- The unique pattern of the veins in your palms will be used to identify you. Who doesn’t love a good biometric identification device? We don’t live in the future just to offer up a driver’s license or a finger print. Come on! We want computers to scan our veins!! In addition to having both palms scanned, you will also have to bring valid photo identification, allow your picture to be taken at the test center, and sign a digital signature pad. Oh, and you’ll have to scan your palms every time you re-enter the testing room—for example, after using the rest room during one of the two 8-minute breaks.
- You receive your GMAT score instantly. You will have to wait to receive your AWA and IR scores as well as a breakdown of your total score, but as soon as you choose to accept your scores… TA-DA!!! Your 200-800 point GMAT score will appear on the screen in front of you instantaneously. When I took the GMAT, this took me completely off guard, actually. I knew I’d get my score on the same day, but the speed with which it flashed on the screen startled me. I think I actually jumped and gasped in the same way I would at the unanticipated sight of a latex zombie in a haunted house at the state fair. However, unlike the zombie, my score looked beautiful.
- You can only take the GMAT once per every 31 days and only up to 5 times per year. The good news is that since you did such a wonderful job preparing for the exam the first time, this information won’t apply to you. However, I do recommend a thorough understanding of what taking the GMAT twice really means [please link the phrase “taking the GMAT twice” with the blog article of the same name (post #110)] and what it doesn’t. This knowledge about the frequency at which you can sit for the exam may be of some help when planning your b-school application timeline. By the way, it’s once per 31 calendar days and 5 times per twelve month period. Basically, you start your own clock on the day you initially sit.
- Preparing for the GMAT takes longer than you think. I wrote about this in a previous blog article that I suggest you read right now. This may well be the most vicious of the unexpected and is arguably quite out of place on a list of “little things.” However, since we’re talking about aspects of the GMAT that may surprise you, a long prep runway is something you can and should plan to lay out for yourself. Respect the test.
Here’s another fun fact: A computer can score 16,000 essays in 20 seconds (and does it just as accurately as the human).
A new study out of the University of Akron published some very intriguing findings on the efficiency and accuracy of automated readers (aka, robo-readers, e-Raters, e-graders, etc.). A team of researchers used more than 20,000 essays across eight different prompts and nine different programs to evaluate our electronic counterparts and the algorithms that govern them. Turns out, not only are these programs staggeringly more efficient, but they are also just as accurate as their human workmates. Sorry, John Henry.
So does this mean that GMAC is keeping mere mortals on the payroll out of pity? Or perhaps to protect themselves from the wrath of an angry mob of Luddites? An MIT researcher says no. According to Les Perelman, the e-grader’s most significant problem is its inability to identify truth. He also claims that while a robo-reader may be extremely accurate in giving scores as compared to human derived scores, it is both possible and easy to game the system. In other words, you can learn to write in the way a computer is designed to reward. [And, by the way, Kaplan can teach you how to please both circuitry and gray matter.]
For now, the world—and the GMAT—still need a human touch. Bear in mind, though, that while you may spend thirty minutes toiling and sweating over your Argument or Issue essay, that ‘human touch’ will spend just 120 seconds skimming your creation. I’ll leave you with an insightful quote from a Discover article:
“And as for human essay graders, they have only a couple minutes to come up with a score. When you’re under that kind of pressure, machine-like behavior is the best you can hope for.”