July 25, 2012
July 18, 2012
Listen to a politician speaking, and you’ll hear a lot of platitudes and vague statements. Occasionally, a senator or congressman will make a statement about a specific number or an exact proposal; rarely, those statements will even be correct. But mostly, you’ll hear things like, “the hidden costs will total billions,” or “this program will have far-reaching negative impacts,” or “some have suggested that this proposed law will do nothing but enrich corporations.”
When you think about it, these claims make perfect sense. With a claim as vague as the ones above, it’s hard to be proven wrong or caught in a lie. For instance, “hidden costs” could refer to net costs, but it also could refer to gross costs even if the proposal actually netted a profit. “Billions” could refer to two billion, or it could refer to two hundred billion!
In other words, the vaguer the claim, the more likely it is to be true. And on GMAT Critical Reasoning Inference questions, which ask you to identify what must be true on the basis of a short statement, the vaguest answer is most likely to be correct.
It may seem contradictory that strong words like “must” are rarely the answer to a question that asks what “must be true.” But when you think about it, it makes sense. It’s very, very easy to conclude something is possible. It’s much harder to prove something is certain. For instance, it can be easy to prove that a type of thing might have a certain quality—for instance, you can prove that some swans are white by pointing to a single white swan. But proving that all those things have that quality requires you to rule out every possible exception. Even if you show me 999 white swans, the 1,000th swan might turn out to be black!
You should always spend a few moments trying to predict the answer to an Inference question, even though it’s not always possible. And if the answer is too hard to predict, your next step should be to carefully check the answers for one that must be true. But sometimes, the computer adaptive test will give you a very high-difficulty problem, or you’ll be stuck between two answer choices, or you just won’t have time and need to guess strategically on a problem or two to beat the clock. And in those cases, picking the vaguest answer is one of the most reliable guessing strategies on the GMAT.
Consider the following GMAT practice problem. Without reading the text, can you figure out which answer is most likely correct? Then, go through the whole problem properly, and see why it’s a good fit. Good luck!
Randall: Many of the productions of my plays by
amateur theater groups are poorly done, and such
interpretations do not provide a true measure of my
skills as a dramatist.
Which one of the following can be properly inferred
from Randall’s statement?
(A) Some amateur theater groups’ productions of
Randall’s plays provide a true measure of his
skills as a dramatist.
(B) All amateur theater group productions of
Randall’s plays that are not poorly done provide
a true measure of his skills as a dramatist.
(C) All of the productions of Randall’s plays by
amateur theater groups that do not provide a
true measure of his skills as a dramatist are
(D) If a production of a dramatist’s play is well done,
then it provides a true measure of his or her
skills as a dramatist.
(E) At least some amateur theatrical groups’
productions of Randall’s plays fail to provide a
true measure of his skills as a dramatist.
Step 1: Identify the Question Type
The keywords “properly inferred” in
the question stem are a sure sign of an
Step 2: Untangle the Stimulus
Randall’s comments can be reduced
to an if/then statement: If productions
of his plays are poorly done, then they
don’t provide a true measure of his
skills as a dramatist. And many amateur
theater groups perform his plays poorly.
Step 3: Predict the Answer
While we may not be able to predict
what the correct answer choice will
infer, we can be certain that it is a
statement that must be true if we accept
Randall’s statement as true.
Step 4: Evaluate the Choices
Since many amateur productions
are poorly done, and no poorly done
production provides a true measure of
Randall’s skills, it must be true that at
least some amateur groups’ productions
do not provide a true measure of his
skills, so (E) is correct. Don’t be afraid
of (E) because it seems “obvious.” This
is not a test maker trick—an “obvious”
answer is one that must be true, so it
works as a valid Inference. (A) seriously
distorts Randall’s statement. Just
because some amateur productions
don’t do him justice doesn’t mean that
there are other productions that do. If
the GMAT tells you that some marbles
are red, you can’t automatically infer
that some are not red. (B) is another
sort of distortion. Randall’s statement
about certain poorly done productions
in no way guarantees anything about
productions that aren’t poorly done.
(C) is far too extreme. Randall does
establish a correlation between poor
production quality and failure to provide
a true measure of his skills, but that
correlation has only been established
for a certain set of productions and
can’t be extended to all productions.
(D) attempts to extract a broad principle
from Randall’s statement, but his
statement is too particular to allow this
kind of extrapolation.
The answer is (E).
July 5, 2012
Some people see official scores so far above or below their expectation that they assume a math error is the only explanation. Others hear that a batch of Kaplan tests from around 2007 had some scoring irregularities, and assume (incorrectly) that we haven’t fixed things in the past five years. And still others just haven’t practiced enough to understand the ins and outs of the GMAT’s adaptive testing. But the question is always the same: are Kaplan tests mathematically representative of the real GMAT?
The answer is “yes.” Kaplan uses the Official GMAT tests to normalize our scores; students who take a Kaplan test and the Official GMAT in the same weekend usually get scores no further apart than the test’s statistical margin of error, 29 points.
But that’s not the whole story. As I mentioned, many students do see scores on test day that surprise them. Test scores on practice tests can vary wildly from exam to exam. Assuming an “accurate” test, this seems impossible; the GMAT produces very consistent scores.
The key lies in the fact that practice tests are practice. The GMAT isn’t purely a test of grammar, logic and math. It’s a mental game, testing your endurance and focus. Students who force tests into a busy schedule will find their late-night scores plummeting. Conversely, students who were nervous going into the real test but relaxed under the low pressure of a diagnostic may find their practice scores leagues higher than their official results.
So when you take a Kaplan test, you can be confident that it’s an accurate mathematical representation of your score. But you can’t be sure it’s an accurate real-life approximation. Instead, you need to ask yourself: how did I feel when I took the mock test? How will I feel on Test Day? If you realize there’s a discrepancy, take that into account when you look at your score. And try to minimize the factors that could disrupt your score; you can reduce study-stress by planning out a study schedule, and use stress-reduction techniques on the day of the GMAT to make sure your head stays in the game.
April 22, 2012
As you may know, I recently took a break from studying the GMAT, but I didn’t take a break from researching B-school programs. I had the pleasure of interviewing my friend, Cavaughn Noel. He is a 2009 graduate of the NYU Stern full time program. Here are some of the golden nuggets he shared with me:
Candice: I know it’s been a while, but can you recall your experience preparing for and taking the GMAT? Do you have any tips for those of us still in this stage of the B-school application process?
Cavaughn: It was hard (laughing) – we all know that! I didn’t take a prep course beforehand, but looking back, I think it would have been a good idea. I took a lot of practice CAT’s. Repetition is key. The more practice tests I took, the more comfortable I felt with the questions. So, I would suggest taking a course and taking as many CATs as you can.
Cavaughn: Stern was the only school I applied to. I looked at a few other programs, but I was confident that the curriculum and environment at Stern were the perfect fit for my future goals. If you are still at the beginning stages, I suggest you do extensive research on all aspects of the various programs to make sure the fit is right for you.
Candice: What was your favorite part of the program at NYU Stern?
Cavaughn: I am very passionate about entrepreneurship. I love the idea of people creating their own wealth. The business plan competition was one of my favorite events. It was great to meet other B-school students with similar interests and a shared passion for innovation.
Candice: What are you up to now?
Cavaughn: My passion for entrepreneurship has led me to start my own social travel company. I can’t share the details yet. We are still in the planning stages. In the meantime, I have been working for a few companies as a consultant.
Candice: Thanks for your time Cavaughn!
This is just the tip of the iceberg of my B-school research. I hope it was informative and helpful. I plan to do more interviews in the coming weeks, and I’ll post them here. Next up, Rutgers University (my alma mater). What other schools do you want to hear about?
Now it’s time to get back to the GMAT…Happy Studying!