January 8, 2012
One week is just about enough time to make and break all sorts of New Year’s resolutions. I actually avoid making any, but my wife likes to do it which almost always results in me having to come up with a few. After that round of car trip conversation, I promptly (if not intentionally) forget about the ones I made so breaking them doesn’t ever bother me.
Despite my attitude, the intention of making introspective promises to better your life and self is not lost on me. In fact, I am here now to advocate making a few specifically regarding your GMAT goals. Here are five things to consider:
- The GMAT is changing in June and you should take the test before that happens. With the addition of a new Integrated Reasoning section, test preparation is going to be more difficult and take more time. Keep in mind that GMAT scores are good for 5 years, so even if you don’t plan on going to grad school right away, load your bases now.
- GMAT test prep is a long road. All things considered, plan on a 2-3 month time table from your first study session to Test Day.
- Commitment is key. We have seemingly limitless demands on our time. Your GMAT prep is a personal undertaking; a decision you’ve made that no job or school schedule is going to factor in. Neither will your friends and family. You are solely responsible for setting and maintaining a study schedule. Make it the rule, not the exception.
- Plan on taking the test once. Now, that is not to say that retaking the GMAT when necessary is a bad thing. But, when planning your schedule (item 3) be sure to factor in items 1 & 2. Keep in mind that you must wait 30 days between test days. Therefore, if you take the GMAT in mid-May and aren’t happy with your score, you are going to have to take the new GMAT which means a lot more studying.
- Never underestimate the power of your attitude. Commit right now to maintaining a positive one. You can absolutely get the score you need to get, but it is going to take hard work and Preparation Road is full of peaks and valleys. Believe in yourself and celebrate mistakes.
November 9, 2011
U.S. News & World Report is ranked #1 in… ranking. Specifically, I’m talking about they’re annual rankings of colleges and universities. US News is the go-to publication for anyone interested in where an institution falls in relation to its peer institutions, and the expectation is that the “Top XX” lists are actually meaningful. Well, the meaningfulness of those lists is under some serious scrutiny.
After the question was asked and momentum built, the National Association of College Admissions Counseling (NACAC) published a report in late-September 2011 outlining the deficiencies of the magazine’s ranking algorithm and making recommendations on how US News & World Report can improve their current methodology (a weighted average of various assessment scores). Interestingly, US News’ response, in sum, was, ‘Thanks for the conversation, but we’re satisfied with how we arrive at our rankings and we will continue to do it the way we’ve always done it.’
One of the ranking criteria is average scores on standardized tests. The publication’s argument for including those scores is buttressed by how highly institutions value those scores. “Schools are using [test scores] to build their class,” said Robert Morse, US News rankings supervisor. “We believe that makes [them] a credible metric.”
Here’s the thing: a high(er) ranking in US News & World Report is coveted by universities and held up by faculty, staff, current students, and alumni as solid evidence of worth and effectiveness. Whether that ranking is actually representative of actual student-body strength and experience is another issue. Why this matters for you, right now, is that schools want the highest numerical ranking possible, and they know that your GMAT score directly impacts that number. Well, are you gonna help ‘em or are you gonna hurt ‘em?
September 16, 2010
There’s so much to do as you prep for the GMAT…review math formulas, remind yourself of grammar rules from way back when, take practice tests, learn this whole new world of data sufficiency…there are endless tips on how to improve your score, and most people find the need to spend 2-3 months or so preparing. In addition to the study-prep tips that are already top of mind, such as working through all of the practice problems in your test-prep books, there are other things that you can do during your preparation period that can indirectly help you improve your GMAT score, outside of your study time. One of these is to READ as much as possible between now and Test Day.
So what exactly is meant by reading more — are we talking reading GMAT material, or just reading in general? While it IS important to do a lot of GMAT reading (i.e. from your practice materials) as frequently as possible, ANY increased reading you do, of virtually any content, has the potential to improve your test-day mindset and performance. So when you take your study breaks, while you ride the bus or subway if applicable, or while you walk that treadmill you got as part of your new year’s resolutions, fit in some reading whenever possible—choose reading over watching TV or playing video games when you can, for example; it may just help you get an extra edge.
How exactly can reading more help your GMAT score? Reading more can:
Improve your reading SPEED
We all know how time-pressured the GMAT experience is, so wouldn’t you give anything to have a bit more time on test day? Improving your overall reading speed can help with ALL types of test questions, verbal and math, saving you time on Test Day.
Improve your reading COMPREHENSION
While many people focus less on the reading comprehension portion of the exam, because they feel it is straightforward, reading comp can actually become many test-takers’ downfall if they are not careful. The more you read, the more you improve your comprehension skills, helping you with Reading Comp questions, along with most other GMAT question types.
Improve your GRAMMAR skills
The more you read, the more you will naturally improve your familiarity with commonly accepted grammar usage and style, helping you with some of the nuances on GMAT sentence correction questions.
So what should you read then? First of all, let me remind any non-native English speakers out there—whatever reading you are doing, make sure it is in ENGLISH! That might sound like common sense, but I have tutored many international students who, when I ask them what they are reading during their down times, are doing all of their reading in their native language. Reading more in English is crucial if English isn’t your native language. Also, if you aren’t as used to reading on the computer, you may want to try to do that as much as possible too, in preparation for your GMAT experience which will be all on the computer.
As far as exact content, besides your GMAT practice materials, if you’d like to stick closer to GMAT-style tone and content, you might read scholarly journals or news publications. Articles in publications such as The Economist, and Scientific American come close to the GMAT style, for example. But ANYTHING you read, compared with not reading, can still help you in some way, so as a supplement to your test prep plan, be sure you increase your time spent reading for an extra boost in test-taking ability.
January 29, 2010
You’ve been studying religiously for the GMAT, learning all of the content and formulas you need, practicing under timed conditions…and suddenly, your practice test scores went down! How is that possible, you wonder? Is all the work that you’re doing pointless? Are you doomed to stay at this low score level no matter what?
Relax, and know that it is NORMAL for your practice test scores to fluctuate. There are many reasons for this, including:
• Learning new approaches can slow you down initially
Any good test prep material will provide you with strategic, methodical approaches to each type of GMAT question. Having a step-by-step approach that you take for every question type ensures that you are never just sitting there on test day, staring blankly at the screen. Learning these methods, though, takes time and practice, and you may even SLOW DOWN for a period as you master the strategic approach. Think about learning how to type properly—at first you may type slower than your own practiced method, but eventually, typing appropriately by touch will be faster than any method you had used.
As part of Kaplan’s GMAT team, I’ve seen first-hand how test prep companies and publishers invest in extensive research and development to ensure that the approach they teach for each question type is the most effective and efficient. And the companies update their materials regularly with the latest research, which Kaplan is doing this month with our new GMAT course. These approaches advocated by test prep companies are PROVEN to be effective, while your own “just-wing-it” approach is not. Keep practicing the proven methods– just know that it will take some time until you see results.
• It’s not test day yet—you’re still learning and improving
Unless your test is tomorrow, you have not completed your course of study yet, and hence there are pieces of the GMAT puzzle that you invariably have not devoted as much time to at this point. Maybe it is work formula questions, drilling on parallelism, learning how to attack permutations …but your practice tests will help you identify those pieces that you still need to work on, ensuring that by test day you’ve done all that you can in practicing each topic and question type of the test.
• You can have an “off” day
Did you take the practice test at home? Was the TV on, the phone ringing, dinner cooking? Were you tired, or hungry, or just not focused? Some test-takers find that when they know a test is just practice, they can’t always take it as seriously, and might find their minds wandering during reading passages for example. They will often see an increase between their last practice test score and their real exam, since they are focused and ready on test-day. Other test-takers might find that some days they are less determined and focused due to personal or environmental factors, which might bring down a given day’s practice test score. This also underscores the importance of being well-rested and eating a good breakfast on test day!
Staying positive after practice test score fluctuations
There are always going to be fluctuations in your performance on any given day. Even the real GMAT has a margin of error. And along the way, if you take 6-10 practice tests, which Kaplan and other test prep companies recommend, you are more than likely to see variability as well. The most important thing to do is to remember than no one practice test score is necessarily indicative of your exact score on test day—use the practice tests as a crucial learning tool instead of thinking of them solely as score indicators. After each practice test, set up another study session where you review the exam in its entirety, including all of the explanations. Learning to improve from mistakes that you made under timed, test-like conditions is one of the best things you can do for your real GMAT score.
Stay positive, and keep up the studying!
October 16, 2009
Using my finely honed investigative skills, I’ve been able to obtain the results from Kaplan’s most recent survey of 260 business school admissions officers, including many from the most selective schools. Of course by “investigative skills” I mean I simply asked for them.
Here’s some of the juicier tidbits:
51% of admissions officers stated that the number of applicants reporting they are unemployed has increased. In the past, being unemployed was commonly considered a blot on an application, but today’s economic reality seems to be changing that.
Among the 76% of schools that currently don’t accept the GRE as a substitute for the GMAT, almost 9 out of 10 reported that they most likely will not consider changing their policy. So much for the GRE’s plans for world domination.
Slightly more than one quarter of officers surveyed reported an increase in applicants directly from college. That suggests that the outreach efforts of some schools to expand the number of direct from college students is having some impact, but at this point it’s not particularly widespread.
And finally, when asked what one factor would most be considered an application killer, 44% of the officers said a low GMAT score, by far the most common response. By contrast 27% said a low GPA, and 10% said a lack of work experience. For all the discussion from admissions officers that they take a holistic approach to every application and that no single factor is more important than any other, it remains wise to approach the GMAT very seriously. Because evidently, that’s what admissions officers do.
Keep in mind that when reviewing an application, admissions officers first assess whether they believe a candidate can succeed academically. And while the overall quality of the application can help bolster the board’s confidence in a candidate’s capabilities, the GMAT sticks out like no other data point. Even your grades can be considered somewhat subjective because admissions officers factor in the reputations of schools, the rigor of coursework, and the possibility of grade inflation. The GMAT, whatever your feeling about it, remains the purest objective measure in the application.
So there you have the survey feedback from admissions officers. In my next post, I’ll share what I heard directly from them at the World MBA events I participated in recently around the country.
At the end of every course, I ask my students to shoot me an e-mail with their impressions of the actual GMAT. While I get a lot of feedback, the positive comment I receive most frequently is, “I can’t believe I got a 6 on the essays!” Does that mean test takers don’t need to worry about the two essays that kick off the test? Not really. But it does suggest that being fully prepared for this part of the GMAT need not be a daunting challenge.
Before we talk about preparing for the Analytical Writing section, just what is the function of this part of the test? Scores on the essays are not as important in the admissions decision as the 200-800 combined score for the Quant and Verbal sections. However, the essay section does answer a very basic question for the admissions committee – “does this test taker have the communication skills necessary to participate in an academic program and a career path that place high value on these competencies?”
Yes, you will also submit two or three carefully crafted application essays that will be the product of days, weeks or even months of introspection, analysis and artful story-telling; essays that will, at their best, reveal profound insights into your character and motivations. But the GMAT essays require performance under fire. You have only thirty minutes to craft each essay. That means not only are your writing skills being challenged, but also your ability to think on your feet, to produce well reasoned, well presented analyses and arguments on the fly. Of course these are skills that are important to your success.
In addition to measuring effective communication under time pressure, the GMAT essay also plays a “quality control” role for the admissions committee. When you enter the testing center on Test Day, you will present an official ID, be photographed, and a scan of the veins in you palm taken. You will videotaped during the actual test. There will be no question about the identity of the individual writing the GMAT essays. Copies of your essays will be sent along with your scores to each school. So schools have a baseline from which to compare the word choice, syntax and style in your application essays.
So what skills do you need to do well on the AWA? Well, in the argument essay you need to analyze the argument in the prompt, identify its assumptions and associated flaws. You must be able to suggest ways the argument could be strengthened. These are all skills that come directly from critical reasoning (CR). Master CR and you’ve got a major piece of the Argument Essay covered.
On the Issue Essay, the challenge comes from the other direction. Rather than analyzing someone else’s argument, the test taker must create a persuasive defense on one side or the other of the issue in the prompt. In addition to applying the CR skills mentioned above, you must consider what information would be sufficient to make the case – exactly the skill set required in Data Sufficiency questions.
Of course, having a well-conceived argument/analysis is not going to do the trick by itself. The essay must be well written. Again we can look to another area of the test – Sentence Correction. By skillfully applying the rules of grammar and usage to the essay, you will insure high marks for the style parameter of the grading rubric.
The organization of the essay is another important consideration. Once again, another question type helps. Reading Comprehension questions require test takers to understand the structure of an essay and to track the logical development of the author’s argument. In addition, test takers who learn to use keywords to interpolate the structure of an argument will also understand just how powerfully these small additions assist the reader. My Kaplan students have yet another tool to organize their essays, the Kaplan Essay Templates – simple yet highly effective.
The obvious message is that thorough preparation for the 200 – 800 sections of the test provides many of the tools necessary to excel on the AWA. Keeping those tools in mind as you analyze and compose will add points to your essay score.
But there is more help available. The Analytical Writing sections of the Official Guide supply scoring criteria, samples and analyses of essays at various score levels, and essay topics. At MBA.com, GMAC offers the chance to have essays scored by the e-rater, the computer program that contributes half your score. Kaplan students get the benefit of the Kaplan methods for both essays and can have a certified essay grader review and score their work. Of course, as in all areas of test prep, practice is important. Full-length practice tests offer a great opportunity to pull together all of these skills under timed conditions.
Finally, for really complete preparation you can go to mba.com or to the OG and view all the current essay prompts. A few years back I counted 623 argument essay prompts. You could just write an essay for each…
August 5, 2009
The slow down paradox: going slower on the GMAT can make you faster.
Recently, one of my GMAT tutoring students, an engineering undergrad at Penn, hit the test prep wall. After a couple of months of study he was consistently scoring 670/680 on weekly practice tests, but he needed to do significantly better to qualify for Wharton’s sub matriculation program. This student was a bright guy and a typical engineer, accustomed to attacking challenges and blowing through them. His problem was quant. – all kinds of quant. This was particularly surprising since, in both our sessions together and his homework, he demonstrated mastery of high-level content and methods. But something was falling apart under test conditions. Together, we analyzed his situation and soon saw a pattern. Specifically, he was making unforced errors, misreading the problems and falling into traps. Meanwhile, he was regularly finishing the section 15 minutes early!
Every time you make an “unforced” or preventable error on the GMAT, you’re falling into a trap designed to test your critical thinking skills and your attention to detail. The test-maker frequently presents information in deliberately confusing order, separates data that need to be considered together, or uses terms with very specific implications. Test takers need to be alert to these pitfalls while at the same time identifying the relevant content information and choosing the most efficient method to solve the particular problem.
Since he had plenty of extra time in the section, I challenged my student to slow down his reading of each question. More specifically, his assignment was to read each question exactly once. To read only once, he had to visualize the relationships and goal in each question. I dared him to take the test-maker’s question and make it his own before proceeding – much as test-takers learn to paraphrase a critical reasoning stimulus or summarize each paragraph in a reading comprehension passage.
On his next practice test, the student put this new discipline to work. He slowed down his reading and increased his understanding of each quant question before going to his noteboard to calculate. It worked: his score shot up 30 points. His meticulous approach enabled him sidestep the snares that previously had been tripping him up. And as he mastered the technique, his performance continued to improve.
Now, this may sound all well and good if you’ve got an additional 15 minutes to play with. A little more patience, a little more attention will obviously pay off if only you had the time. Well, just maybe you do. You see, in addition improving his score, the student also found that, by reading each question once and not having to go back again and again, he actually finished the section even earlier. Try it.
July 29, 2009
The problem with this question is that it’s seldom asked early enough. You enroll in an MBA program to develop your business skills. The GMAT tests your aptitude for the business school curriculum. Planning is a skill basic to business – in fact, to life. Yet, I can’t tell you how many students seem to say to themselves, “Hmm, it’s August and I want to have my app in to Wharton, Kellogg and Stanford by mid-October. I guess I’ll start studying for the GMAT.”
While this startlingly illogical approach works for some, it’s NOT optimal for most of us. That said, there is no RIGHT amount of time to prepare. How much time you’ll need to prepare for the GMAT depends on the following questions:
1) What’s your target? Are you striving for your personal best or are you aiming for the window set by one or more schools? If the latter, are you using the school’s published average score? While this provides a general indication, the average score may or may not be the right target for YOU. A more helpful tool is the school’s 20th–80th percentile range, i.e. the range of scores earned by the middle 60 % of accepted applicants. Better yet, call or visit your target schools. Connect with an admission’s officer and start a dialogue about you and the school. Then, in the context of the overall fit for both sides, let them know you are methodically prepping for GMAT and would appreciate their assistance in appropriately managing your time. Ask what GMAT score you need to achieve to be admitted to their program. One of my tutoring clients was told by a Top 5 school that she needed a 650 to gain admission, because they liked the rest of her application. The same school told 2 other students (with law school backgrounds) that their target score was 730.
2) What’s your baseline score? You need to know your starting point in order to determine how much you need to accomplish. You can use a prior GMAT, a Kaplan diagnostic test (available at Kaplan Centers for free), or one of the GMAC practice tests available at mba.com when you register for the test.
3) What prep method are you going to use? Class room course, online, one-on-one tutoring, self-study books? Don’t forget to factor in the course schedule or tutor’s availability. Be realistic. Know your tolerance for concentrating on math and grammar after a full day’s work.
4) Finally, what are the other demands on your time? You still need to take care of work (remember you’re going to be asking for recommendations!), family, and maybe community/volunteer responsibilities. Notice I haven’t included social life here – put it on hold unless you are planning to drag out the process. This is serious business – hopefully, a once-in-a-lifetime, full-bore commitment to your future.
The stakes are high; In a recent Kaplan survey, 55% of admissions officers said the GMAT was the most important consideration in their evaluation of a candidate. Another 35% send it was the second most important factor. That’s right: 90% of admissions personnel interviewed considered your performance on the GMAT as the most or second most important consideration in your application package. Moreover, data collected by U.S. News and World Report indicate that each 10 points your GMAT score increases correlates with an additional $5,000 in annual income. So when you’re deciding how much time and effort to devote to GMAT prep, balance your commitment against the time and money that went into building your college GPA. Then add in the impact of an MBA on your expected lifetime earnings.
Plan and act as if you were training for an Olympic event.
• Know your target score, your test date, your schedule. Plan to hit peak performance on test day.
• Allow time for 8 hrs. sleep per night – remember, you’re in training.
• Exercise at least 3 times per week – daily is better.
• Allow time for a weekly practice test (3.5 hours plus twice that to review.)
Okay, got it! So how much time do I need to budget?
GMAC (Graduate Management Admissions Council) research shows GMAT scores are strongly correlated with both the number of hours of prep and the number of weeks of prep. GMAC offers the following data:
Score–Hours of Study
Of course these data don’t reflect the starting scores or the extent of variation around the values. Will 4 extra hours of study raise a test taker’s score 150 points, i.e. 540 to 690? Not likely. However, if you use Kaplan’s benchmark of an 80 point increase from pre-course baseline test to Test Day, a bump from 620 to 700 with 114 hours of study tracks pretty well. On the other hand, I’ve seen cases of even greater increases – 170, 210, even 340 points. But these students invested proportionately more hours in study.
Bottom Line – plan to spend at least 3 months on GMAT prep; 6 months is better. And you’ll need to schedule between 1 and 3 hours per day for study with approximately 10 hours set aside each week for the practice tests and review. This disciplined commitment in conjunction with the right study materials and guidance is the formula for Test Day success. Now go for it!
Back in the middle ages (the late ’80′s actually), HBS began a multi-year experiment during which the school no longer accepted GMAT scores. The rationale was that the school’s commitment was to admit the best future leaders, not necessarily the best students. One primary goal was to broaden the student body by encouraging applications from those with appealing backgrounds but underwhelming GMAT scores. Although it may have had the desired impact in terms of diversifying the class, it also led to the admission of some students who were in the process of being rejected from what many would consider to be less prestigious programs. A case could be made that during this period, the gap in perceived reputation between HBS and other top programs narrowed.
With the GRE decision, the school is following rather than leading the trend, but is HBS dipping its feet into the very same murky waters? Will this move help attract more non-traditional applicants? Likely, it will, and that’s good. But the GMAT and GRE are very different tests, and for a reason.
Call me a standardized test elitist (on second thought, don’t), but the GMAT has the benefit of being designed to predict performance for a single discipline (graduate management education), while the GRE is designed to predict performance over a virtual ocean of graduate programs. The GRE feels so much like the SAT because by design, it has to. Put bluntly, GRE math is quite a bit easier than GMAT math and therefore is a cruder measure of quantitative ability.
Should business skills sacrifice insight into applicants’ quantitative skills to re-engineer the student body? That question is above my pay grade, but more importantly, what does this mean for you as an applicant? How can you turn this to your advantage? Once I catch my breath, I’ll share my thoughts…