From the Trenches – part 3.

All Quiet On The Northern Front


Ajani Burrell (GMAT Instructor and Part-time Spy)


Marquette, Michigan (Latitude: 46.56N by Longitude: 87.41)


Friday, March 14, 2008


10 am EST

The Mission

  • To test a variety of keypad shortcuts to see if any could be used to more efficiently navigate through the screens.
  • Enjoy myself thoroughly.

The Experience

For those of you who might not recognize the city or coordinates above, I took my test in the largest city in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. We sit on the beautiful (and frighteningly cold) Lake Superior, which has a maximum depth of about 1300 feet and more than 2,700 miles of shoreline. Superior is the largest body of fresh lake water in the world, but sadly, the average temperature of all this water is about 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius for you metric system-philes).

Lake Superior affects just about every aspect of life in Marquette, but on my test day the old dame was in an accommodating mood. The sky was clear, the air crisp, the sun out. Well, the sun was out when I went in to take my test. She was still hiding when I woke up at 7:30 to place my call to the car rental company to come pick me up (that’s a whole other story; I don’t own a car, haven’t for years; it makes winter interesting). Nevertheless, the car rental company was prompt and I arrived at the test center a half hour early for my 10 am sitting.

Check-in Procedures

  • Arrive & lock all possessions in locker
  • Provide valid ID(non-citizens must provide passport not drivers license)
  • Take digital mugshot
  • Submit to digital thumb scan

The building was small and quiet (4 testing stations), but the staff were exceptionally friendly. We went through the registration process smoothly, though with all the finger printing and pictures and such I felt like I was trying to go through airport security with a Mag-lite flashlight strapped to my leg. The guy that signed me in got me squared away and then passed me on to the second guy, the Guard. We got everything done early so I even was able to start my joy-ride fifteen minutes early.

Anatomy of the Experience


Analysis of an Argument

The first essay was the Analysis of an Argument, in which one newspaper editorialist argued against building a new shopping mall in Town X based on the fact that similar (in size) Town Y built a similar shopping mall to disastrous effects (increased arrests for a wide range of crimes, increased traffic congestion, the closing of smaller traditional retailers) in the town. I put aside my disdain for Analytical Writing and my longstanding distrust of anything that smells even remotely like a mall and tried to give the old argument a go. It went swimmingly, though I felt a little dirty afterwards for pushing the cause.

Editor’s note: This prompt or one very similar to it can be found on page 777 of the Official Guide for GMAT Review 11th Edition. Anyone who is concerned about the AWA should go through these prompts because GMAC continues to reuse prompts

Analysis of an Issue

I did not attempt to fight the good fight on this essay, preferring instead to mostly rant about newspaper editors who feel the need try and dictate economic policy for a town on faulty logic. My advice (after a good ten minutes of lampooning the editorialist from the Analysis of an Argument prompt) was that perhaps the editorialist should have gotten a job at the shopping mall in Town X, since he was clearly unfit to fulfill the duties of his current occupation.

Needless to say, my efforts somehow managed to swing a 5.5 on the analytical writing. Not bad, I guess, considering I didn’t really write on the prompt for one of them.


The Quantitative section was pretty straight-forward. The expected number of DS and PS occurred, and all of the six major content areas (Basics/Number Properties/Arithmetic/Algebra/Geometry/Statistics) were represented. There were no notable absences from the quant. I had quite a few question types: combination-permutation (3), probability and combined probability, a mixture, combined rates, shared figures geometry, groups (2), simultaneous equations, patterns, exponents, coordinate plane geometry questions (3), roots, factoring and quadratics, percents, standard deviation, and functions.

Below is a description of a few of the more interesting problems I encountered, as well as questions from our database that would help one prepare for them:

Editor’s note: Questions have been altered to preserve the integrity of the GMAT.

1. DS Groups: From a class, 180 students take either math or science. 120 take math and 100 take science. How many took math but not science?

(A) 50 took science but not math.

(B) 75 took only science.

[Similar to Bell Curves QID: 164]

2. PS Patterns: If 2720 is multiplied out, what is the units digit?

[Similar to Bell Curves QID: 9029, 9030, 9031]

3. PS Combined Rates: Two machines working independently on a project can complete the job in 16 days. Machine A does in 14 days, Machine B does it in 18 days. If A works 2 days and then stops, how long does B have to work to finish the job?

[Similar to Bell Curves QID: 2861, 2866, 2868]

4. PS Probabilities A & B are two of 6 workers. If two workers will be selected to participate in a survey, what are the odds that both will be selected?

[Similar to Bell Curves QID: 8661 (Are there others? I fee like there are)]

5. DS – # Properties/Decimals Is the units digit of N equal to 3?

(1) N/1000 has hundredths digit 3.

(2) 100N has thousands digit 3.

[Similar to Bell Curves QID: 9027, 9028]

6. PS Combination-Permutation: All products from a particular store have a three digit product code, comprised of 2 letters from a through e and either a 1 or 2. If the letters can repeat but the letters cannot be separated by the number, how many possible product codes are there?

[Similar to Bell Curves QID: 2626, 2631, 2633]

7. PS Combination-Permutation: 12 people are either going to be put into committees of 6 or committees of 5. What is the ratio of the total number possible six-person committees to total possible five-person committees?

[Do we have anything like this? It's kind of a pattern/ratio/comb-perm prob]

8. DS Line Q passes through the origin and has the coordinates (a, b) and (a , -b) [OR something like that]. Is the slope of line Q negative?

(1) a = -b

(2) a = b

[Similar to Bell Curves QID (these aren't really exactly like this question, but they start to get at the concept; I'll have to write new): 3011, 3012, 5059]

9. 3 red balls, 3 blue balls and 3 yellow balls are put into a bin. If three balls are selected randomly one after another without replacement, what is the probability of selecting exactly 1 blue ball and 1 red ball?

[Similar to Bell Curves QID: 867, 2308, 2309]


The verbal section was straight-forward, but had a higher level of difficulty set of questions. The reading comprehension passages were typical in their density of language and organizational structure. Reviewing reading comprehension strategy sections in the GMAT Center would help prepare you to tackle these questions.

One passage was about environmentalism, but contained a discussion of a particular environmental response theory. The theory was discussed, and a particular aspect of that theory was discussed and eventually used as the crux of a disagreement between opponents and proponents of the particular theory. This was the most difficult of the passages, primarily because the language used was relatively abstract and the line of reasoning between deciding on environmental action and the particular aspect of the theory was stretched across the entire passage.

Another passage dealt with the development of ceramic pottery in Native American populations in the Southwestern United States. The passage dealt with historical and archeological evidence used to assess when (and why at that time) pottery was introduced. The focus of the passage was more on why the pottery was introduced when it was as opposed to simply determining when.

Another passage dealt with possible interpretations of evidence surrounding causes of the Bubonic Plague in the middle ages.

The last passage dealt with the economic and social dynamics of men and women, particularly married couples, with regard to estate and tax law. This passage was longer and more convoluted. This passage was made difficult largely because the connections between the evidence cited and the claims were often hard to spot. The passage focused primarily on the role of tax collectors and the relative autonomy of tax collectors, which made analyzing evidence from tax rolls difficult.

The questions for these passages were relatively straight forward, and included questions that asked what the purpose of the highlighted portion was, what the role of a particular paragraph was in the passage, or what the passage said about a particular topic.

The critical reasoning questions had a couple things of note. One bolded question included parts of the passage that were the counter-claim and the evidence that would support the primary claim. Another question was a complete the argument question, but rather than ask for a conclusion it asked that you complete the argument with reasoning why an expected situation or decision should be made based on the evidence given. Essentially this question wanted you to interpret evidence and make an inference.

[Similar to Bell Curves QID: 8979, 9032]

The Sentence Corrections questions seemed to have a higher concentration of modifier-based questions than is normally expected. Some of the modifiers could be tricky (deciding between which, that, or a gerund to begin the modifier). You should review the modifier strategy section in the Bell Curves GMAT Center and do modifier problems to increase your efficiency in this area.

[Similar to Bell Curves QID: 9033, 9034]

Parting Thoughts

I spent several minutes trying out various key combinations to see if any keyboard shortcuts would work. Guess what? They don’t. Forget about crtl + n or alt + spacebar, or any of those useless function keys. It seems as though the people at GMAC want to make this process as tedious as possible. The only place you can use keyboard keys is once you’ve clicked the Next button with your mouse and the pop-up box comes up asking if you’d like to proceed to the next question. Here (and only here as far as I can tell) can you use a keyboard shortcut. This is the same short cut that can be done on the GMATPrep software, so if you’d like to get comfortable with using that shortcut practice it there before going into the real thing. For my money, that shortcut is almost more of a waste of time than the mouse, since you have to move your hand from the mouse to the keyboard. My advice: just get comfortable with the electronic rodent. It doesn’t have rabies, I promise.

Final Scores

Verbal: 38 / 84%
Quantitative: 47 / 81%
Total: 690 / 90%
Analytical Writing: 5.5 / 83%

Until next time. Enjoy your GMAT Preparations

Editor’s note: The mission assigned to Ajani was not to achieve the highest score possible but instead to achieve that which would get most test-takers considered at all business schools, this way he will see a wider range of questions and questions that are relevant to the vast majority of test-takers. By assigning specific test-taking missions to our teachers BC gains better insight into the nuances and content of the GMAT as well as the continued efficacy of our strategies. Though all our GMAT instructors have received scores at or above the 98th percentile, we feel that real benefit to our students comes more from exploring the trends and variations in the content on the GMAT than from having “bragging rights” of our teachers getting questions that 99% of test-takers will not encounter.

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