May 16, 2011
When studying for the GMAT, one of the first steps you should take is to create a study schedule. Jumping from one topic to the next without structure can have a negative impact on your studying, so putting together a plan is essential to maximizing the effectiveness of the time you have to devote to the GMAT. To make your plan as successful as possible, you should follow a few basic guidelines.
Diagnose your strengths and weaknesses
First, it is a good idea to take a diagnostic test before you do anything else. While knowing the score at which you are starting is useful, it is not the main purpose of this test. You need to analyze the questions you answered incorrectly and look for any patterns in the types of problems and topics that you often miss. This will allow you to make the most of your study-time, as you will be focusing more on those areas you need to work on the most and less on those areas you already do well in.
Don’t overdo it—plan ahead reasonably
Next, make sure to be realistic. Do not plan to study ten hours a day seven days a week – you will most likely not be able to study this much, and, even if you do manage to, you will burn out before test day. Instead, look at how much time you have to work on the GMAT each week, and break that time down into manageable chunks. Even if you are planning to study for six hours a day, break it into two three-hour blocks and take one day off a week. Keeping your goals reasonable will help you not to feel too overwhelmed or discouraged either—if you always think you’ll get ten hours a day in, you’ll always be disappointed and struggle to ever feel you’ve made progress.
Be specific with each day’s study tasks
Finally, be specific when creating your schedule. Do not simply put “math” or verbal,” but rather specify a time and topic. For example, you might label a day as “11-2 reading comp, 4-7 assumption/strengthen/weaken critical reasoning questions.” This way you will both ensure you are working on your weaknesses and guarantee you will know exactly what to study when you sit down.
Putting together a study schedule is a great first step towards achieving a high score on the GMAT. As long as you follow through on your plans, you will be well on the way to the highest score possible.
April 18, 2011
If you have a limited amount of time to study for the GMAT, you are probably unsure of how to divide your time between the math and verbal sections. In determining how to split up your study time, there are a few factors that you should consider.
Above all else, you should consider your relative strengths and weaknesses. Make this assessment based on recent practice. This means that your first step should be to take a diagnostic GMAT exam, which you can analyze to determine your strengths and weaknesses. Many students expect to be stronger in math than verbal, based on their experience in high school and are surprised when this is no longer the case. In order to ensure you accurately assess your trouble areas, you must take a diagnostic exam with GMAT style questions.
Once you have made this assessment you will know in which section to spend more time, however, you must also remember that this does not mean you should study your trouble areas exclusively. If you want to achieve the highest score possible, you need to study everything that is tested on the GMAT. Just because you are better in one area, does not mean you should ignore it. Even if you made no errors in a particular part of the exam, you need to reinforce that strength, to ensure you do not regress. This means that even the student with the most lopsided score, for example someone in the 95th percentile in verbal and the 30th percentile in math, should spend at least 20% of their time on their strength to make sure it remains a strength. Finally, it is a good idea to mix up your study sessions regularly, as opposed to going days or even weeks focused on just math or just verbal, so that you keep up your skills in both sections.
June 29, 2010
So you have finally decided to apply to business school, but your deadline is fast approaching and you only have one or two weeks before you need to take your exam – what should you do?
A student who studies for the GMAT for two weeks or less requires a very different plan than a student who studies for the more traditional one to three months.
Students studying for a longer period of time have the luxury of mastering the most effective methods and strategies before sitting for their exam. If you are studying for less than two weeks you will not be able to master these methods and strategies. Always remember, the GMAT is not a test for which you can cram – learning brand new methods in under two weeks is simply not possible.
Instead, students who are studying for such a short period of time should focus on two areas: improving in topics with which they are already familiar and test timing.
When studying for such a short period of time, students should not study areas with which they are not at all familiar. This means that the inclination most students have towards studying topics such as combinations, probability and coordinate geometry may be ignored. Instead students should think, “in what areas am I good but not great?” Whatever the answer is, is what you should work on.
Additionally, you can improve your timing fairly quickly. Keep in mind that you have two minutes for each math problem. Purchase a stopwatch and make sure you are finishing in the allotted time. If you are not done with a problem after two minutes, practice determining if you have a chance of getting it right in the next minute or so or if you need to guess and move on. It is highly recommended that you do take at least 1-2 full length practice tests as part of your short study period, so that you’ve been through the entire experience and practiced managing your time etc before the actual exam.
By following the guidelines listed above, you will be able to see an improvement over a short period of time. And, it should also be noted, you should only leave such a short time to study if it is absolutely necessary. If you can take more time, you should do so.
As you’re preparing to take the test, you become very familiar with numbers, and I don’t mean just the numbers within the quantitative question. Can you recognize the significance of the following numbers?
700 is a 90th percentile score. The average GMAT score for top 10 b-schools is right around the 700 range, so it’s a good score to set as your target if you’re looking to attend any of those schools. If you knew this, that’s great. You’ve probably already started looking at business programs you’re interested in. If you haven’t already, it’s a good idea to take a practice test to see what range you’re scoring in and how far you have to go to reach your target score.
75/37 refers to the GMAT quant section being 75 minutes long and containing 37 questions. In this handy format, it reminds you that you have an average of 2 minutes per question. If you knew this, you’ve probably cracked open some prep material and you might even be cognizant of time management being a crucial skill for GMAT success.
8 is the number of minutes for each of the two breaks you’ll have on the GMAT. The first of the eight-minute breaks will be after the Analytical Writing Assessment section, and the second will be after the Quantitative section. If you knew this, you may already be engaged in some intense preparation and have completed a practice test as well.
You may be thinking “I care about hitting a 700, and it’s good to know the 75/37 thing, but why do I care about 8?” The best test takers are those who utilize every minute of the exam to maximum efficiency. During the breaks, you need to stretch your legs, clear your head, and get yourself pumped up for the next section. Lastly, for the breaks remember that 6.5 = 8. If you exceed the eight minutes, the test will start again, with or without you! So what I always tell students is to think of the 8 minute break as a 6.5 minute break. You want those extra few seconds as a buffer before starting again; otherwise, what you did to relax during the break is negated by the fear of “did the test resume already?!”
March 10, 2010
It is test day. You are on question number 11 of the quantitative section. You have been on question number 11 for the past 2 minutes. You glance down at your scratch work and you see a tangle of equations and calculations, but not one of them is getting you any closer to the right answer. What do you do?
The first instinct of most students is to check how much time is left. This is an important consideration in determining your next step, but its usefulness varies based on a couple of factors, as we will see below.
After checking the time remaining, students have two basic options: continue working on the problem or make a strategic guess and move to the next question. If you are clearly ahead on time, especially late in a section, take another minute to try to solve it. If you are clearly behind on time, especially early in a section, guess and go to the next question.
But, what to do if your timing is right on track? Look at the work you have done so far and ask yourself the following: how close am I to the right answer? If you determine that it will take you two minutes or more to get there, it is time to take a guess. Remember, GMAT math problems are designed to be completed in an average time of two minutes. If it is going to take you longer than that, your time is better spent on later problems that you will be able to complete in the appropriate time frame. If, however, you believe you can get to the answer in a minute or less, go ahead and finish the problem.
If you opt for the latter option, after another minute ask yourself the question again. If you still believe you can reach the answer within another minute keep working, otherwise guess. If you ever reach the four minute mark, even if you think you are on the right track, you need to move on – you may not see it, but you are making an error somewhere and your time would be better spent on later problems. Learning to let go when you truly are stuck can make all the difference in your overall time management and ultimately your score.
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!
Last Thursday I had the pleasure of attending the GMAC Test Prep Summit and hearing about the GMAT from GMAC’s VP of Research, himself a senior psychometrician (“psychometrician” = GMAT wizard). Over the course of the day I picked up a lot of invaluable nuggets about how the test is scored, and over the next weeks I’ll share these nuggets with you.
Today’s topic: skipped or omitted questions.
You can’t really “skip” questions on the GMAT, but if you run out of time you may leave some unanswered at the end and those questions are referred to as skipped or omitted questions. A few Key Takeaways:
1. Skipped questions can hurt your score really badly – even worse than you think.
2. It’s complex to answer how much a skipped question hurts your score, but given Key Takeaway #1 above, the complexity doesn’t matter much from your perspective.
Skipped questions hurt your score more when you are scoring high. Here is real data, shared by GMAC:
· If your percentile score is otherwise 70th, and you skip one question, your score drops to 65th percentile.
· If your percentile score is otherwise 70th, and you skip three questions, your score drops to 55th percentile.
The exact science is complex. In fact, these figures were presented as empirical results – implying that these results are not transparent in the scoring algorithm, but that rather, they must be inferred after the fact from test-takers scores.
Forget about that. Instead, meditate on those two bullet points. Five percentile points for one skipped question. Given that the effect is pronounced at higher scores, I’d wager that if you’re dancing near a 700 level performance on one section, around 90th percentile, then omitting one question could drop you a good 7 percentile points. Your weeks, months of GMAT prep that you’ve put in (around 100 hours for those scoring 700+) to raise the ceiling of your performance could be thrown away simply by mismanaging your last few seconds.
Don’t omit any questions.
While it’s generally not to your advantage to finish very early, it would be much, much better to finish a whopping 60 seconds early, if that’s what you have to do to make sure you don’t omit any questions.
More nuggets coming up. They are equally earth-shattering, so stay tuned.
November 19, 2009
Guessing on the GMAT is a painful decision point – especially for advanced test takers. In the past, sometimes we were punished for guessing (SATs) and sometimes we were made to feel like we weren’t fully prepared (college Spanish classes!).
However, on the GMAT, while we want to minimize the amount of guess we do, realize that having a guessing strategy in place is important. A guessing strategy is more important in the Quantitative sections since most test takers find they have a more difficult time finishing that section. However, it is also important to not lose track of time on the Verbal section. Primarily there are two distinct times when you want to guess:
Don’t Know the Concept
Honestly, on test day, you have a chance of forgetting one of the several equations you have memorized. Additionally, sometimes you will look at a Problem Solving question and have no idea how to structure the variables or the situation. These are all great times to guess. The key to this situation is to not spend a great deal of time on a problem where you do not remember the formula or the approach.
Too often, test takers spend considerable time examining the question and looking at the answer choices for clues. Generally, this is a good approach. However, spending too long doing the analysis is detrimental. If you don’t know the concept, look at the answer choices and quickly guess between the two or three that look consistent. You want to BANK TIME on questions like these. Spending that extra time on other questions will potentially repair any damage done to your score by making a strategic guess.
Running Out of Time
As you are taking the GMAT, you need to pay attention to the time posted on the screen and the question number you are on. Time Management is not just an activity to be concern with at the end of any given section – it must be considered throughout the Quant and Verbal Sections.
However, if you find yourself running out of time on a Computer Adaptive Test, start to strategically guess on a couple of answer choices to ensure that you get to the end of the section (remember, the GMAT has a harsh penalty for test takers who leave a string of un-answered questions at the end!). The best questions to guess on are Problem Solving questions with real numbers in the answer choices. On these types of problems, often you can quickly read the problem and strategically cross out a couple of the answer choices because they are outside the realm of reasonableness – at this point, the probability of guessing correctly increases exponentially.
Key take away on this topic:
Guessing is not the best way to get through the GMAT, but it’s a key part of GMAT execution and you want to plan for it accordingly. Failing to guess on just one question (that would otherwise take you too long to solve) can have severe consequences on Test Day. Good luck with your preparations.