January 21, 2012
After only a few weeks of 2012, I can already see increased interest in taking the GMAT before GMAC adds the new Integrated Reasoning section in June. A good percentage of my students (I’ll not try to estimate how many) have said the impending change is the #1 reason they decided to start studying now. Wise move.
As the year trods on, I hope to see more and more people with this brand of forethought. Since GMAT scores are good
for five years after Test Day, I implore you: please do not wait to take the test until the year or semester before you plan to start grad school. Even if you are on the fence about whether you’ll even end up going, that is a good enough reason to get the GMAT out of the way now. Load your bases, set your table, tee up your shot… Use whatever metaphor that resonates with you, just understand that strategy is about planning for the future and a very smart tactical move is to take the GMAT before June 1, 2012.
How do you factor this into your plan? You need to schedule your GMAT for no later than the end of April. That way, if something does go wrong—for whatever reason—on Test Day, you can set another one before June 1st.One more piece of information for your consideration: in the event you have to take the test again, your official GMAT test days must happen 30 days apart. No one should plan on taking this test more than once. Study hard and get your top score the first time. However, stress is going to impact your performance. One of your goals during test prep is to identify ways to mitigate that stress so the kind you feel on Test Day is the type that keeps you focused, motivated, and competitive. A good mitigator is knowing you can do it again if you had to.
November 10, 2011
I ran across a post on the HBR Blog Network about strategy entitled, “Strategy on One Page.” It’s an interesting little tool useful for summarizing the overarching strategic direction of a company through four directed questions:
- Why do you exist (what’s the big idea)?
- What is your value proposition?
- Who are you trying to serve?
- How do you know you are winning?
As I was reading through the article, I found myself directing the questions inwardly. As it turns out, these questions are useful as a tool for personal reflection. For you, dear reader, these are a fantastic set of queries to ask yourself as you embark on the road toward a graduate degree in business. Try it out. What are your answers? One immediate application of the information that bubbles to the surface, by the way, is on those admissions essays you keep putting off.
December 20, 2010
At Kaplan, we’ve been working with standardized tests for years. Through this experience, we continue to see trends and patterns. The GMAT is fundamentally different from other standardized tests – the test is a competency based test: meaning that the GMAT isn’t testing your quantitative facility as much as it is testing your ability to deal with certain situations – situations that are repeated test administration after test administration. There are several core competencies that permeate the test, and are necessary not just for the test, but for business school and for success in the corporate world.
Competency #1: Critical Thinking
It is easy for a test prep company to say that the GMAT is testing your Geometry skills. It is easy to learn geometry – you already have in high school. However, do you believe that business schools are primarily focused on your ability to manipulate squares and triangles? No. When I was a TA for Corporate Finance, we never discussed Triangles. The GMAT is testing your ability to identify innovative and creative approaches to solving problems. As you study for the GMAT, realize that simply learning content won’t get the score you want – learn the content, but then, more importantly, learn to apply it in creative ways.
Competency #2: Pattern Recognition
For the past six years, I’ve worked in the consulting industry. As consultants, we walk into different environments and are asked to solve complex problems. The key to success in these complex, fast paced situations relies on the consultant’s ability to see similarities to previous problems and solutions. The GMAT is also testing your ability to identify common recurring themes and topics. For example, 93 percent of all sentence correction problems fall into 7 definable categories. Knowing these 7 categories saves you from having to re-learn all the intricacies of the English language. Pattern recognition will also be extremely helpful in dealing with what many consider to be the toughest, or at least most unique, question type: Data Sufficiency.
Competency #3: Paraphrasing
Have you noticed the difficult language on the GMAT? Some quant problems are convoluted. Many of the Critical Reasoning questions are difficult to fully grasp. However, most of the time, a detailed understanding of every part of these problems isn’t required to get to the right answer. It is important to be able to articulate the ‘gist’ of arguments, reading comprehension passages, and word problems in the quant section. The ability to summarize details and articulate the primary point is beneficial on the GMAT (so beneficial it is a core component of our prep courses) as well as beneficial to your future career as a business executive.
Competency #4: Attention to the Right Detail
Have you ever got what you thought was the right answer to the quant problem but when you checked the answer, the answer was actual wrong? Unfortunately, the GMAT often contains many answer choices that WOULD be correct, if the question was slightly different. The test requires that you pay attention to the specific question being asked. Additionally, as you work through Reading Comprehension problems, there are questions that direct you back to the passage directly and/or indirectly. Paying attention to the right details as you read the passage, improves your ability to get to the right answer on test day.
At the end of the day, the GMAT does require some content knowledge, of course, and it’s important that you spend the time you may need to brush up on relevant math and grammar skills as you begin your GMAT preparation. However, the truly difficult part of the test is the unique and unexpected way the GMAT builds these relatively simple principles into difficult problems. Be sure to pair content with strategy – the most effective way to maximize your score.
December 15, 2010
When you first begin prepping for the GMAT, staying motivated is easy. But after a couple of months, it can be difficult to keep yourself motivated as you continue to try to improve your score.
If this happens to you, there are a few strategies you can use to regain your motivation. First, you can remind yourself why you are doing all this work. It is easy to get into a rut in which it seems you are simply taking the GMAT for the sake of the GMAT. Remind yourself of your ultimate goal: to get into business school. Tell yourself not only that you need to study for the GMAT to get a high score, but also that it is that high score that eventually will lead to your admittance to the business school of your choice, which in turn directly affects your employment prospects after graduation.
If this mental boost is not enough, it is possible you are being discouraged by the difficulty you are having with the specific problems you are trying. Remember, you are doing those problems precisely because they are difficult for you. In order to get your confidence back up, do some work on reinforcing your strengths. This will have the added benefit of ensuring that you do not miss questions in areas you did not study as much because you were stronger on them to begin with.
If neither of these methods helps, a final motivational strategy is to create intermediary goals, rather than just thinking of the score you want to achieve. For example, you could create a goal of understanding the basics of probability by the end of the day and work towards that. When you accomplish these smaller goals it will boost your confidence and keep you motivated.
By using these techniques you should be able to keep your motivation up all the way until test day and get the most out of your studies.
December 6, 2010
Once test-takers reach the final week before the GMAT, they are often unsure of the best way to utilize their remaining study time. Luckily, a few strategies exist that can ensure you maximize the effectiveness of your final week of studying.
First off, aim to take two practice tests during the week. Usually, taking one test six days before your exam and another three days before your exam works well. Make sure to write the essays, even if you are confident in your writing abilities, in order to prepare for the length of the real test. The GMAT Prep software, available on mba.com, is a good source for these tests. Be sure to thoroughly review each test that you take—learning from mistakes you made under realistic conditions is one of the most effective preparation strategies, particularly in the run up to test day!
Next, make sure to reinforce your strengths. You have most likely spent most of your study time focusing on your weaknesses. While this is certainly appropriate, you want to use the last week before the exam to make sure that you do not miss questions in your strongest areas. Go back and do a few sets of practice problems in areas in which you score well, and you will ensure that you will not miss questions you should be getting right on test day.
Lastly, the day before the test you should avoid studying. Unlike most tests you have taken, the GMAT is not a test of content, and cramming will not work. On test day, you want to make sure that you are not burnt out from studying. Therefore, do something relaxing the day before your test. This could be going to a movie, shopping or any other activity that will help you take your mind off the test.
By keeping these guidelines in mind, you should get the most out of your last week of studying and you will be ready to perform at your highest ability on the GMAT.
May 13, 2010
In our previous article, we covered some of the areas of content knowledge necessary to perform well on the GMAT. But content is only a small part of the suite of skills that leads to better GMAT scores; in other words, even if you could immediately memorize volumes of Math formulas, Grammar rules, and practice problems, that wouldn’t automatically lead to a perfect score. There are plenty of tests that could test the same subjects as the GMAT–math tests from high school come to mind–but the GMAT is unique, and it has an extreme amount of predictability in its formatting. This means that, ideally, we want to use this format to our advantage; own the GMAT, don’t let it own you.
One unavoidable fact about the test is its timing restrictions: 75 minutes for 37 Quantitative questions or 41 Verbal questions, depending on the section. At 2 minutes per question, this can get quite brutal, especially considering the GMAT’s adaptive nature, which will be sure to consistently feed you questions that are difficult for you. This means that we all, at one point or another, will have to guess.
With proper strategy, you can make guessing work for you. For example, if you’re short on time and come upon a Data Sufficiency question with a killer Statement (1)–maybe the statement requires substantial words-to-math translation, followed by some tough arithmetic–don’t just pick an answer randomly and move on: do yourself a favor and take a glance at Statement (2) first. Often, the GMAT will hide easy-to-evaluate Statement (2)s behind tricky Statement (1)s to throw us off in this very way. If the second statement can be evaluated in short order, then you can eliminate certain answer choices ((B), (C), and (E) if the statement is Sufficient, or (A) and (D) if it is Insufficient) and dramatically increase your chances of guessing correctly among the remaining choices.
Not that GMAT Strategy is limited to guessing and pacing–far from it. All sorts of tactics, such as assigning numbers to unknown values (in Math) and reading for structure, not content (in Verbal) can be employed across all question types that can work in tandem with Content knowledge to get correct answers as quickly as possible. These myriad strategies are a major ingredient of prep course curricula and the toolboxes of high scorers.
That’s it for our Strategy briefing. Look for Pillar #3: Intangibles next!
March 2, 2010
While the two essays on the GMAT require you to do completely different things, the approach and foundation of each essay is exactly the same. In this blog article, I want to address two questions my students often ask: “How long should I spend on planning the essay vs. writing the essay?” and “How long should the essay be?”.
Pacing the Essay
Thirty minutes isn’t a great deal of time to write Shakespeare. However, you don’t need to be as eloquent and esoteric in your style. What you need to be is clear, organized, and direct. The best way to accomplish those three objectives is to spend a significant amount of time planning your essay before you start typing the essay. Kaplan has specific templates and approaches that we discuss in our course; however, I’m going to simplify our approach for this post:
Step 1: Spend about 8 minutes planning your essay
In this step, make sure you critically assess the argument and issue at hand. Keep yourself unbiased and objective as you initially understand the argument or issue presented.
Step 2: Spend about 20 minutes writing your essay
During the writing step, this is where you pull together the ideas you came up with during the planning stage of the essay. While you were objective during the planning stage, in the writing stage, you drop that objectivity and vociferously attack each essay appropriately. However, make sure you also mention the other side – i.e. acknowledge the dissenting point of view. Indicate that while you understand the different point of view, it is not as strong as your position.
Step 3: Spend about 2 minutes proofreading your essay
Most test takers fail to conduct this final step. Please! Take two minutes to review what you wrote. While you are not restructuring the argument in this case, you need to re-read the essay, correct spelling mistakes, and liberally add structural words.
Length of the Essay
The length of the essay is actually the least important component. The essay is graded on four dimensions – length is not one of those dimensions. Generally, shorter is better (if you were able to clearly articulate your points with specific and clear examples). At the end of the day, the length won’t matter if you are sure to include the following points:
- 1. At least two clear points that articulate your position, broken down by the different essays:
- a. Argument = Two clear flaws of the argument
- b. Issue = Two clear points that defend your side of the issue
- 2. At least two clear examples that drive your point home
- 3. At least one counter point (with rebuttal), broken down by the different essays:
- a. Argument = One clear strengthener point that the author could include to support his position
- b. Issue = Acknowledgment of a potential point someone on the other side of the issue would argue
If you have these three components in a well-written essay, you’ll score at the top of the AWA range; no matter what the length of the essay.
Make sure you practice full-length CAT tests that have essays included! Before you ever see a quantitative question on test day, you will have already spent 60 minutes writing two intense essays, so it’s important to make sure you practice under the same test like conditions. Good luck!
December 28, 2009
For many students, the day you step into your Kaplan GMAT class is the first time you’ve seen the inside of a classroom in a number of years. This can be both exciting and scary, and definitely should be used to your advantage as you work towards becoming a student again. In order to make the most of your study time, it is important to learn (or re-learn) effective ways of understanding, absorbing, and applying the content and Kaplan strategies that you need to be successful on the GMAT. Take some time to determine your learning style and what works best for you.
Fortunately, the newly-revised Kaplan GMAT course has something for every style – visual and auditory input in classroom and live online sessions, endless tactile/hands-on study in your syllabus, course book, and Official Guide, and kinesthetic experience as you interact in class and practice using the new noteboard. I offer other creative suggestions for my students to enhance their learning:
Flashcards are very helpful. Writing concepts, definitions, or strategies gives you both tactile and visual experience with the material, and having flashcards on hand gives you a quick, easy, and portable way to review.
If you are having a hard time memorizing a formula or method, write it 25 times on a sheet of paper! There is a reason we had to do this in grade school – repetition is one of the keys to memorization and understanding.
If you find that you are fidgety and have a hard time sitting still while studying, try standing up and doing your work at a high counter or kitchen bar – for the more kinesthetic learners, this gives you an opportunity to keep your body moving so that you can focus your mind.
If you are having an especially hard time with a certain problem or concept, teach it to someone else! Look at the material with an eye for teaching it to your “student”, and then find a willing friend or family member who wants to learn some Data Sufficiency or Critical Reasoning. Again, there is a reason we had to prepare and present lessons to our classes throughout all of our school years, including college – you learn a lot when you have to teach material to someone else.
November 24, 2009
For many GMAT test-takers, the biggest challenge in GMAT practice isn’t Data Sufficiency, Sentence Correction, or permutations, but rather finding the time to practice at all. On average, the 700+ scorer prepares for about 100 hours for the exam, and finding those hours can seem impossible when you’re trying to keep your job, get promoted, avoid swine flu, and maybe even have a life.
Recently I coached a few of my students at one of Kaplan’s premiere corporate partners on this issue. My advice: the Punchcard Method.
The time card is an obsolete technology for the average b-school applicant (aged late twenties, on average, for a male, and a couple years younger for a female). In decades past, you used to enter your time card in a machine that clocked how many hours you worked.
If you were showing up, but not contributing to work much beyond that, people said you were just “punching the card.” Doesn’t sound like a killer GMAT study strategy, does it? Nevertheless, if you’re having trouble finding time to practice, it’s exactly what I recommend.
Just punch the card. “Show up” to your GMAT practice, every day, even if that’s all you do. Make sure you practice at least one question, or spend at least five pages reviewing one proven test strategy, every day. Don’t worry about how long you study for, as long as you punch the card.
The punchcard method is like having a workout routine that doesn’t focus on how many miles you run or how many hours you’re in the gym; it’s just focused on how many days you actually bother lacing up your sneakers. (And it’s a pretty good way to stay in shape.)
Imagine a calendar hanging on the wall. An X marks every day, meaning you punched the card and studied at least a little GMAT.
What you’ll find, when you adhere to the punchcard method, is that some days you will study only five minutes. But you’ll end up practicing a lot more, and worrying less about time management.
September 16, 2009
Here it is, mid-September, and your business school plans are moving along on schedule. Your GMAT is (or will be) fine, you’ve researched and perhaps even visited your top-choice programs, and you’ve lined up your recommenders…
Well don’t look now, but first round deadlines are rapidly approaching. Check out just a few:
Harvard Business School - October 1
Wharton - October 1
Kellogg (Northwestern) - October 2
Stanford GSB – October 7
Haas (Berkeley) – October 20
If your plan is to apply for round one (and that’s a good plan), but your applications are not yet nearing completion, you’ve got two choices:
1. Kick into high gear, and get them done
2. Hold off and submit your applications for round two
The benefits of applying early are widely known. The first round applicant pools tend to be slightly smaller than in later rounds which may help your chances. After all, all of the spots remain available. Plus, wouldn’t it be nice to get admitted early and be able to relax for the months leading up to your matriculation?
Are there any downsides to racing to get your application submitted for round one? Uh, yeah. There’s one big one, and I think it’s obvious. If in the rush to submit your application on time, you give any less than your best effort, then it’s just not worth it. Any possible advantage to applying early will be more than negated if you submit a sub-optimal application. Keep in mind that first round applicants, while smaller in number, tend to be strong. These are the folks who have planned ahead, tested early, and are well organized. In all, they’re an impressive group. Don’t go into battle with them less than fully armed.
Here, then, is my advice: if you feel confident you can get your application completed on time and that it will reflect your very best work, then by all means go for it. But, if the deadline looms too large, and you know that with more time you can craft a more compelling case for your admission, then back off and prepare to submit a killer application in round two.
And if anyone accuses you of procrastination, you can tell them, “no, it’s strategy.”