Category Archives: Test Prep Advice
February 28, 2014
Guest post from our friends at Magoosh test prep Aristotle (384 – 322 BCE) wrote, “Wishing to be friends is quick work, but friendship is a slow ripening fruit.” Of course, our fast-moving world doesn’t …
Guest post from our friends at Magoosh test prep
Aristotle (384 – 322 BCE) wrote, “Wishing to be friends is quick work, but friendship is a slow ripening fruit.” Of course, our fast-moving world doesn’t like to hear about things that take time, things that can’t be fast-forwarded with electronically interconnected efficiency, and patience sometimes runs particularly thin where ambitions run high. Hence, the paradox of preparing for the GMAT.
You see, learning is also a “slow ripening fruit.” It’s true that shallow memorization can be quick, and for some purposes, that’s enough, but the GMAT is far too rigorous and exhaustive to expect to achieve excellence with efficiency.
For example, some folks studying for the GMAT try to memorize a list of math formulas. It’s true that knowing the formulas is better than not knowing them, but GMAT absolutely excels at writing out-of-the-box math questions that cannot be solved by the simple application of a formula.
The GMAT demands that you think and understand. How does one prepare for this? Certainly, a good start would be having the most current 2014 GMAT books and resources. A mad dash through these resources, though, would not be the best way to use them. The brain encodes deep memory with repeated exposure.
Furthermore, it’s important to vary context. Many folks make the mistake of doing almost exclusively focused studying. It’s not enough to understand what’s true about isosceles triangles only while you are reviewing everything in geometry, and, similarly, it isn’t helpful to practice all the geometry questions at once.
On the GMAT, question #14 may be about permutations or compound interest, and then when you press “submit answer”, BAM! Question #15 about isosceles triangles will pop up out of the blue; right there and then, with no warm-up or context, you will need to understand them. For the GMAT, you don’t understand something until you can recall it flawlessly, with full details, completely cold, with no warm-up at all.
A good GMAT study plan will take this into account. By enforcing mixed practice, early and often, such a plan will present enough repeated exposures, in out-of-context appearances, to build deep understanding. This non-linear path through the material may seem inefficient, but in the long run, it’s actually one of the fastest ways to encode the information into your brain. A good GMAT study plan will also allow for three or six months of studying. A single month involves a breakneck pace, and any time less than this is crazy.
Folks who have no idea how the brain works, assume that six weeks of ten hours a week, spread evenly through each week, is the same as three intense 20-hour weekend sessions. The amount of time is the same, but the brain’s capacity to absorb and assimilate material is vastly different.
Finally, do you know when your brain does the important work of consolidating the memory of what you learn? In REM sleep. Human sleeps goes through cycles of about 90 minutes, with the REM period coming at the end of each cycle. The REM periods get longer and longer on successive cycles, so in eight hours of sleep, the longest REM period is right before waking.
If you sleep only 6-7 hours in a night, you miss out on this particularly long REM period, thus compromising your ability to learn and remember. Hence, the importance of adequate sleep while you are studying for the GMAT.
Getting a full eight hours of sleep is yet another casualty of postmodern post-industrial hyper-efficiency. Caffeine and energy drinks will make you feel more awake, but they do absolutely zilch to replace the lost opportunity to encode memory.
If you want to excel on the GMAT, then be ready to dig in for the long haul when it comes to preparing. There are few endeavors in life in which truly outstanding results emerge from a quick and efficient shortcut, and GMAT is no exception.
February 10, 2014
This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on U.S.News.com The MBA admissions process is a holistic one. If it weren’t, every MBA cohort would be full of finance wizards and accounting gurus – not …
This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on U.S.News.com
The MBA admissions process is a holistic one. If it weren’t, every MBA cohort would be full of finance wizards and accounting gurus – not an especially well-rounded group.
These days, business schools seek a diverse array of students to fill their classes, knowing that the unique life and career experiences they bring will enrich the classroom experience for everyone.
Applicants with undergraduate degrees in the humanities are welcomed at all of the elite business schools, but, unlike their business major peers, will need to prove to the admissions committee that their relatively minimal academic experience in quantitative subjects won’t be a hindrance once they hit those core courses.
[Learn how to sell yourself to MBA admissions committees.]
Your GMAT or GRE score is the first and most obvious piece of the puzzle that indicates your ability to handle MBA-level course work, so allow yourself plenty of time to study for the exam.
According to the Graduate Management Admission Council, which administers the GMAT, the average amount of study needed to achieve a score between 600 and 690 is 92 hours and getting above that brass ring score of 700 is 102 hours.
What can you do if you’ve put in the time, taken the test and still receive a so-so score? Schools look favorably upon taking the GMAT more than once.
In my experience, this dedication to improving your score is often interpreted by the admissions committee as a sign that you’ll do whatever it takes to prove you’re ready for business school. So sign up for that prep course or hire a GMAT tutor to help you bump up your score a few notches.
[Try one of these fixes for a low GMAT score.]
At Harvard Business School, the median GMAT score was 730 out of 800, but the lowest accepted GMAT score for students entering in fall 2014 was 550. If you find your score has settled at the lower end of the spectrum, I would encourage you to find other ways to demonstrate your quantitative competence.
Take a college-level calculus class and score a B-plus or better. Focus on the essays, extracurriculars and working with your recommenders so that they support your quant aptitude in their recommendation letters with real-life examples.
If you have strong quantitative work experience and can show a solid grasp of quantitative subjects, then a weak GMAT score may not be overly problematic. The admissions committee will sometimes give candidates the benefit of the doubt if other aspects of their application are exceptionally compelling.
An MBA Podcaster episode on MBA quantitative skills notes that business schools regularly report that many soon-to-be first-year students lack some basic quantitative skills. To remedy this, several top MBA programs offer so-called math camps for accepted students during the summer as a refresher of critical concepts.
[Look beyond top business schools when applying for an MBA.]
Carolyn Sherry, a first-year student at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business who attended math camp last summer, wrote a blog post in the fall addressing precisely this topic.
“If you’re worried about your quantitative skills, here’s my advice,” she writes. “Most importantly, don’t underestimate yourself. Did you do well in college? Do you have a demanding, complex job where you excel? Can you grasp concepts pretty quickly? … These attributes will see you through a rigorous curriculum!”
Ultimately, the GMAT or GRE is just one component of the application, and a high score doesn’t guarantee success in business school. MBA hopefuls should do all they can to offset a lackluster test performance by demonstrating they can handle the work, highlighting a high GPA from a respected undergraduate school and wowing the admissions panel with their compelling extracurricular and leadership activities.
Convince your target business school why an MBA is the best next step in your career progression, and prove to them that you have what it takes to succeed.
January 21, 2014
Guest post by our friends at Magoosh
President Theodore Roosevelt, a scholar and adventurer, said, “Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.” At least some of the folks pursuing an MBA have something of this vision: a quest to do deeply satisfying hard work in the world. In one way or another, the MBA is a “prize” for most of the people pursuing it.
For some people at the initial stages, the GMAT stands as a kind of obstacle in the path to this prize. Perhaps some students even think: “If I could only dispense with this hindrance, then I could move on to the good stuff!” The GMAT, though, is not an arbitrary barrier. Instead, the challenges posed by the GMAT are reflections of some of the challenges you will face in the business world.
How hard the GMAT is depends in part on your perspective. On the GMAT, you have to do math in a relatively tight time frame, if you make a mistake under pressure, you will get the question wrong. In the business world, there may be moments when you may have to do calculations about budgetary issues, perhaps even under pressure, if you make a mistake there, it could cost the company big money.
On the GMAT, you have to sift through tricky arguments, looking for the words and phrases that make a big difference in the logic. As an executive, on multiple occasions, you will be presented with potential sales, partnerships, deals, or other opportunities: some will truly be beneficial in a win-win way, but others will be by ruthless people trying to rob you blind, and you will have to discern what is best for your company and its long-term health.
In each of these examples, the ultimate downside for the first is the possibility of bombing this test that, after all, you can take again, whereas the direst negative outcomes in the latter cases can involve tremendous personal, legal, and financial liabilities. The challenges of the GMAT are small potatoes compared to the potential challenges of the world to which the GMAT gains you access.
Students invest a great deal of importance in GMAT score percentiles, perhaps in part because all grades and assessments carry such existential import for folks. Think about this chain of connection: elite GMAT scores often lead to one of the best B-schools, which often leads to landing a coveted management position – that is, a position that entails a tremendous amount of both responsibility and risk.
By all means, reach for the most you can achieve, but understand that whatever is challenging about the GMAT typically leads to more significant challenges down the road.
Some folks coming from more academic pursuits have already taken a GRE and understandably might be interested in GRE to GMAT score conversion. I would caution, though, those students who seek out the GRE because they want something less challenging than the GMAT.
Both tests are hard. If someone has a particularly large vocabulary, it may be that the GRE would be a slightly more advantageous test for that person, but for most folks, the GMAT is the better test to take for business school, simply because it mirrors more closely what is challenging, what is hard, about business world.
In the movie A League of Their Own, player Dottie Hinson tells her manager that she doesn’t like baseball anymore because it became too hard. Her manager, Jimmy Dugan, tells her, “It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard… is what makes it great.” If that’s your attitude, toward both the GMAT and the business world, then, like Teddy, you can embrace the challenges with relish.
December 30, 2013
Guest post by our friends at Magoosh Blind to fallacies, we put off our applications to business school, wait to meet with professors or managers to ask for letters of recommendation, wait to write our …
Guest post by our friends at Magoosh
Blind to fallacies, we put off our applications to business school, wait to meet with professors or managers to ask for letters of recommendation, wait to write our application essays, and wait to start our preparations for the GMAT. And we craft elaborate reasons why we can wait, but never notice that our reasons are pockmarked with fallacies—the very fallacies that we should be preparing to identify and analyze on the GMAT.
How will you analyze arguments on the test if you can’t analyze them in your own arguments? Let’s first change ourselves by looking at four common reasons we tell ourselves to put off studying for the GMAT. And along the way, we might even find a little GMAT preparation as well. (See how I just turned this into an opportunity to not procrastinate?)
Argument: “I am writing all the time at work. I have to read reports, write reviews for our staff, and write proposals to clients, so my verbal skills are strong. I just need to freshen up on math, and I will be ready for the test, so no need to start preparing now.”
Fallacy: False Analogy
This is a classic false analogy—comparing two things that seem comparable, but actually are not. Yes, writing a proposal is writing. Reading reports counts as reading. But the GMAT tests a particular type of writing and a particular type of reading. Just because both are writing or reading doesn’t mean that they are analogous. You need the time to refine your latent reading and writing skills and calibrate them to the specific tasks on the GMAT. I know it’s tempting to compare what you do now with what you think you will need to do on the GMAT. But don’t believe the fallacy.
Argument: “I work on a team of people and one of them just received their GMAT scores, and she did really well. We have the same role at the company, and we both work at the same pace. She only spent a week preparing, so I won’t need that much time to prepare.”
Fallacy: False Cause
We are pattern recognition machines always looking for causal relationships in historical events, weather phenomenon, market fluctuations, stomach aches, etc. But things are not as they seem; Plato said as much in his allegory of the cave.
We miss the complexity in our world, simplify the whole system so we can understand it, and end up confusing causation and correlation in the end. So what might appear to be the cause of a peer’s success—a week of preparation and their pace of work—might not actually be what matters. Many other things, like taking the test multiple times, taking classes in the past year, or reading voraciously, were probably as important.
Most likely, there are numerous things that lead to a peer’s success that we can never know. We can’t expect to replicate another person’s success by following the steps we think mattered, not to mention that we also fall into our previous false analogy fallacy when we do so.
Argument: “I am a naturally strong test taker. I always crammed for tests in college and I did fine. I had a 3.8 GPA. I don’t need to spend a whole lot of time preparing.”
Fallacy: Appeal to Nature
What is nature and what is nurture is not entirely clear. For all we know, we might be simplifying—false cause fallacy—the whole process of becoming who we are, and missing the numerous aspects of the world that go into shaping our abilities. Further, popular culture loves this idea of a natural talent, the naturally gifted athlete, musician, or scientist.
But this is incredibly misleading. Natural talent may really just be a tendency or inclination that nudges a person in one direction and another person in another direction. After that, the individuals have to work at it. Tolstoy didn’t naturally write compelling, epic novels; he worked tirelessly to make them that way. Michael Phelps has the frame and build of a great swimmer; but it was his hard work and intense dedication to swimming that led him to become the most decorated Olympian ever.
There is nothing natural about success. It only comes from hard work and dedication. The same is true for test taking. What was once seemingly “natural” might in truth be a skill that needs to be practiced and worked at to ward off atrophy.
Argument: “I scored in the 98th percentile in the SAT math section. I looked at a GMAT score calculator and it looks like there are a lot of possible scores in the 90th percentile, more than the SAT. I don’t think I’m too rusty so I’ll spend a month preparing for the GMAT, maybe a little less. I have a lot that I am doing already anyway.”
Fallacy: Appeal to Tradition
We have no laurels to rest on. The only thing consistent is inconsistency; the only thing that doesn’t change is that things are constantly changing. Appeals to tradition often ignore this. What we did in high school or in undergrad is not going to help us today. The problems we faced then are not the same as the ones we face now. Circumstances change. We can’t expect to use solutions from the 1950s to solve the problems of today. We’ve already seen that legislation written in 2001 is out-of-date and insufficient in light of the technologies of 2013.
So although similar to the SAT in some respects, the GMAT is a very different test. We will see math questions on the GMAT that we have never seen before. And just because we found a plan on How to prepare for the GMAT in one month doesn’t mean that we will only need a month to hone our skills so that they are sharp on test day. A history of performing well and of cramming is just that—history. What matters for tomorrow is what you do today.
It may appear strange, but we can’t trust ourselves, especially our reasons and rationalizations. The fallacies that we have to diagnose on the GMAT exam are the same ones that make us procrastinate and put off our preparations. So instead of coming up with reasons not to start preparing, why not come up with reason to start now? At least this way, our logical fallacies are put to good use.
December 13, 2013
According to Kaplan Test Prep’s 2013 survey of business school admissions officers*, 57% of MBA programs say that an applicant’s score on the GMAT’s recently launched Integrated Reasoning section is not currently an important part …
According to Kaplan Test Prep’s 2013 survey of business school admissions officers*, 57% of MBA programs say that an applicant’s score on the GMAT’s recently launched Integrated Reasoning section is not currently an important part of their evaluation of a prospective student’s overall GMAT score.
Despite that finding, Kaplan’s survey also finds that 51% of business school admissions list a low GMAT score as “the biggest application killer,” confirming that applicants still need to submit a competitive score overall.
In Kaplan’s 2012 survey, business schools were largely undecided about Integrated Reasoning’s importance, with 54% saying they were unsure how important an applicant’s score would be; 22% said it would be important and 24% said it would not be important.
Because test takers receive a separate score for the Integrated Reasoning section, poor performance on this section cannot be masked by stronger performance on other sections of the GMAT.
“It’s not surprising that a majority of business schools are not currently placing too much importance on the Integrated Reasoning section, since it makes sense they’d want to gather performance data on a new section before fully incorporating it into their evaluation process,” said Lee Weiss, Kaplan Test Prep’s executive director of pre-business programs. Weiss also noted that because test scores are good for five years, some applicants in 2012 and 2013 submitted scores from the old GMAT.
“Moving forward, business schools may decide that Integrated Reasoning should play a more critical role. In the meantime, prospective MBA students should not take Integrated Reasoning any less seriously than the Quantitative or Verbal sections. It still matters,” Weiss said.
* For the 2013 survey, 152 admissions officers from business schools across the United States were surveyed by telephone between July and September. Among those 152 are five of the top ten MBA programs, as compiled by U.S. News & World Report.
November 27, 2013
Guest post by our friends at Magoosh
Are you a non-native English speaker? Chances are you’ve spent the past months swimming in a sea of GMAT questions and now your gears have to shift to the TOEFL. Unless you are a TOEFL teacher yourself or you’re retaking the test, you probably have no opinion about TOEFL books. And unless you know are in a TOEFL class or have a friend who studied a lot for the test, you might not know how to choose a book.
Should you trust the amazon.com reviews? If people say the reading is too difficult, does that mean it’s actually good practice? Is it important to have a CD with computer practice tests? Is the Official TOEFL Guide the best just because it’s official? What is important in a book?
Well, The answers to those questions, in order: Only a little, rarely, yes, no, and it really depends. That last question is the trickiest one, and that’s what we’ll talk about here.
Learning About the Test
Some students really only need to learn about the format of the TOEFL and some test-taking strategies. If you have spoken English regularly (not just in a class) for many years, you probably fit in this category. If GMAT Verbal was a breeze, the TOEFL likely won’t be so bad.
To find out about the structure of the test, learn how hard the TOEFL is, and get practice taking it, there is no better resource than the official books from ETS. They give the best representation of the test.
But you might also want to learn more about test-taking strategy. For this, other resources become important. You want a book that has a lot of answers and explanations. Ideally, each reading and listening question should have a very long section of explanation. The wrong answers should be explained. Every speaking and writing task should have a few different sample answers and analyses for those samples.
There should be information on how to take good notes, how much time to spend reading each passage, what keywords are important to notice when listening, how much time you should spend speaking about examples, how to format your essays, and many other small topics, too. Cambridge, among other books, does this pretty well. You may have acquired a lot of this over this course of preparing for the GMAT. Use these skills–they’ll help.
For a student in this situation, grammar and vocabulary aren’t as important, so don’t worry if you don’t see many word lists or grammar exercises. Your TOEFL book might be very different from your other English textbooks, and that’s okay.
Improving Your English
Your TOEFL scores are a measurement of more than just your TOEFL practice. They show your total English experience. If you have only studied English in high school or college classes, never lived in an English-speaking country, and don’t have English speaking friends or family, then you might need to improve your English in general. Your GMAT experience helps here, but you’ll quickly learn it’s not eactly the same test of language as the TOEFL.
That means learning more than just the structure of the test and question strategies. It means using English as much as possible, improving your vocabulary, and correcting grammar mistakes. The most important of those three is using English. You need as much experience as possible in all skills (reading, listening, speaking, and writing), especially if you have not practiced speaking and writing essays in the past.
And no TOEFL book includes the type of natural practice you need to really get better. That improvement requires frequent conversation with native speakers. There is no better way to improve your speaking and listening than that.
But if you are in this group–students who are trying to make general English improvement over a long time and learn about the TOEFL–some books are definitely better than others. The Official Guide is not enough. It teaches you about the test, but doesn’t help improve your English very much.
A good book for this type of student would give a lot of reading practice, grammar lessons, hundreds (or maybe thousands) of vocabulary words with exercises, and more. I have, sadly, not yet found the perfect book for this. Just like I’m sure you’ve discovered with the GMAT books out there, there simply isn’t one that is perfect. But if you are looking at reviews on the internet in a store looking at books, look for those three pieces: reading, vocabulary, and grammar.
And here’s where you’ve really got to change your study habits from your GMAT prepartions: make sure you get that speaking and listening practice, too!