## GMAT Scores: The Essay is Still Important

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.

## GMAT Strategic Reading: Keywords Unlock Meaning

First see if you can use keywords to discern what these paragraphs are about:

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):

Question:

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
that point.
(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
weaken

Solution:

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.

## Taking the GMAT with Your Eyes Closed

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.

## GMAT Essays: Avoid Fallacy Fallacy

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…

## New GMAT Transition Coincides with Venus Transit

NASA’s SDO observes Venus prior to solar transit

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…

## GMAT Essays: Computers score your work, and they are really good at it.

Here’s a fun fact:  An expert human essay grader spends 2-3 minutes per essay and is, thus, capable of scoring up to 30 essays in an hour.

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.”

## Seeing the Other Side on the AWA

At some point, everyone has been in an argument with a stubborn person. It can be maddening when you can’t get someone to see things your way. But the worst people to argue with are the ones who don’t acknowledge anything you say. In the best case scenario they’ll mention your reasoning just long enough to dismiss it out of hand; in the worst case scenario, they’ll fail to even address your opinions, doing nothing more than repeating their own views like a broken record.

If these people drive you crazy in real life, imagine how toxic they are in a corporate setting. When they’re wrong about important business decisions, they stubbornly cling to their ideas and can drag the rest of their company down with them. And even when these inflexible individuals happen to have a good idea, their bad attitudes can convince their mistaken co-workers to reciprocate the stubbornness and ignore a potentially valuable contribution.

So how does this affect your test-taking? Well, consider the Analytical Writing Assessment. The two GMAT essays are, of course, intended to test understanding of English grammar and logical reasoning. But because the GMAT tests aspiring MBA candidates, you can’t stand out solely by being grammatically and logically correct. Essay graders also consider the persuasiveness of your essay, because a successful business school student must be able to make others see things his way. So, if your essay reads like one of those bullheaded arguments you can’t stand, the graders will lower your score accordingly.

Every essay you write should demonstrate your ability to understand the other side. Usually, the best place to put it is in the second-to-last paragraph, right before the conclusion. Clearly state what the other side might think, then explain in detail how you’re right anyway—make sure not to be too dismissive. Get it right and this paragraph will be a double-whammy: not only do you get to strengthen your argument by showing the weakness of the opposition, but you also get to show off your well-rounded productive attitude to your graders (and to your target schools, who get copies of your essay with your test scores!).

The exact structure of this penultimate paragraph will vary from prompt to prompt. On Argument Essays it can often be formulaic, simply listing the things that could make the author correct but that aren’t proven by the prompt. On the other hand, and Issue Essay counterargument’s role is more varied, ranging from complete rebuttal (COUNTERARGUMENT, but this argument is flawed and should not be considered, because…) to qualified concession (COUNTERARGUMENT can be true in many cases. Yet those cases are a minority; in the large majority of situations…).

But regardless of how you do it, the technique of considering the other side goes a long way. It can strengthen your essays, and more importantly, it can strengthen your opinions, and your reputation, in business school and beyond.

Question of the Week:

Issue Essay

People who describe local businesses as ‘quaint,’ ‘unique,’ or ‘idiosyncratic’ are merely putting a positive spin on such businesses’ lack of consistent quality when compared to national chains.

To what extent do you agree or disagree with the position above?

## Taking the GMAT? One word: Kaplan

As a Kaplan instructor, I know we get people higher scores on the GMAT.  I literally see it all the time and I truly like helping people reach their goals.  Anyone that respects the test sufficiently to do what it takes to prepare (and prepare correctly) will be able to beat the GMAT on their terms.  Yet, one thing I consciously and continuously remind myself is that, at the beginning of the road, most people don’t understand and don’t always feel so confident.  A task of mine then becomes to get them over that obstacle.  But, it’s always nice to get a little help.

One of my new students fits the mold of many that I’ve worked with: a long time out of school, pretty rusty on the whole study thing, and notably daunted by the GMAT.  Our initial meeting was fairly short (about an hour and a half), but definitely productive.  We mostly talked about what the GMAT is actually testing by way of the quantitative, verbal, and analytical writing sections, and then set some short-, medium-, and long-term goals this individual has (or

now has, anyway) in regard to GMAT prep and solid test day performance.  When he left, he was jazzed about finally starting the journey, but nonetheless concerned about how he will fair on it.

At our next meeting, we really started digging into some content.  Monster Math, a star from his nightmares, sat right down next to him and challenged him to a staring contest.  With some encouragement, coaching, and memory jogging, my guy won.  It was great.

As we were setting up our next few meets, I told him that at some point in the not too distant future someone in his life—friend, family member, work colleague—was going to ask him about the GMAT.  “When that happens,” I said, “you’re gonna suggest they pull up a chair ‘cause you’ll have a heck of a lot to say about the matter.”  He smiled and then told me about a conversation he had with one of the key account managers from work.

“He got his MBA from the University of Chicago [Booth School of Business] and I talk to him sometimes about business school and stuff.  The other day I asked him what he thought about the GMAT.  First thing the guy says: ‘Kaplan.’”