My Career as a Hit Man is Over

The Story

Today officially marked the end of all my dreams of being a hit man. Today, I’m officially “in the system” and to be a top notched hit man you have to be off the grid. If you think of all the truly great hit men Leon (the Professional), Booth (In the Line of Fire), and Nikita (Point of No Return, hit woman really) all were off the grid no record, no bank accounts, no paper trail. I have to give up my aspirations, my dreams, my future.

But I get ahead of myself, let me start at the beginning.

Today, January 3rd, 2006 I took the GMAT again. I periodically (if you’ve read my other postings you already know this) take the GMAT in order to explore whether its changed and if so how. This month’s testing is about exploring how the change to the new test administrator Pearson Vue would affect the testing experience.

Well it turns out that it the change to Pearson didn’t really affect the GMAT but it ruined my future. Here’s what happened. I get up kiss my wife goodbye as she heads off to work, wait for the babysitter to come take my son, and then jump in a gypsy cab. I arrive at 45 Main Street in DUMBO (down under the Manhattan bridge overpass), a tony neighborhood in Brooklyn, at 11:06 for my 11:30 appointment and all is well, I’m about 30 minutes early as I was told to be. Mary at the desk asks for my registration letter and my ID and then gives me a document to read about testing policies (I told her I knew what it said and didn’t bother to read it). She asked me to sign my name to a digital signature pad, I thought it was pretty futuristic but cool so I did it (I also didn’t have a choice if I wanted to take the test). After that she asked me to place my right index finder on a digital fingerprint reader.

Here is where the trouble starts…

I’ve never been fingerprinted before, there is no government record of my prints so if I commit a crime they have nothing to compare my prints to, if I choose to take up my aspirations and apprentice to Robert Rath (Stallone Assassins) I can feel comfortable in the knowledge that if I forget my training and leave a print I can’t be tracked that way. The moment I allow Mary to print me I’m on the grid and my future is over, this was one of those defining moments in a persons life; if I turn and walk away I can have my career in espionage or assassinship, if I stay I give up my dreams.

I think of all of you in the struggle that are reading this looking for some glimmer of hope, some glorious shining light to illuminate the murky waters of test prep, some inspiration, some knowledge…

I stayed.

The Mission
With my hopes of being a super assassin dashed I might as well satisfy myself with some GMAT espionage. My assignment from the powers that be at Bell Curves was to do the following:

  • Continue to test Bell Curves revolutionary new way of approaching the test.
  • Test theories of questions flow on the math and verbal sections of a real test.
  • Harvest question ideas for future content.
  • Analyze breakdown of topics on both math and verbal sections.
  • Explore the new Pearson Vue test centers, procedures, test appearance, and materials.

With renewed commitment to my mission I put my finger on the digital scanner and enter the world of high stakes standardized testing.

The Test
After taking my fingerprint they aren’t done, I have to have my picture taken digitally. I make a screwface, and Mary asks if I really want that face in the picture. I say yes she snaps the shot!

Finally Mary is done with me (I asked her if she wanted a blood sample but she said no), she tells me to put all my things in a locker and then whenever I’m ready go around the corner to see Dan, who’ll do my final check in. I lock my stuff in a in locker number 11. I head over to Dan and the real fun begins.

I give my government issued ID to Dan, which he peers at intently before giving back. Dan then takes my finger print again in case the 6 foot tall man with the orange sweater on has slipped his notice in the last 5 steps changed identities. Dan tells me I will escort you into and out of the room. Do not get up for any reason, if you need to get up raise your hand and I will come over. I’m here to make you comfortable, when go in the room take time to adjust your seat. He then hands me erasable notepad (click here for a picture of the erasable pad now given as scrap paper), thin sharpie type erasable marker, and says: Here is your erasable notepad if you fill it do not erase it, raise your hand and I will bring you another. He escorts me the 12 steps to station number 13. I start the test.

One change I noticed that is not readily apparently from the practice software is that all parts of this test is timed; reading directions, selecting schools, breaks, etc. Everything is timed you no longer have the opportunity to take extra time for breaks or the tutorial.

I complete the essays with only one glitch (an word accidentally got into one of my essays). Pearson Vue says I’ll be able to see the essay scores in 20 days online I can’t wait. After the essays, I leave the room for my 10 minute break between the sections. Dan scans my finger print again on the way out and on the way in. He also escorts me to my seat again insuring that I don’t steal any secrets in the 12 steps from his desk to the station. When I finally get started Dan points out that there is a note on the screen saying that I took 16 seconds too long and that time is deducted from my time for the next section. He clicks ok and true enough the math section starts at 74 minutes and 44 seconds. After starting the math section I have my first experience with the erasable note pad. It’s basically a big 8.5 x 14 pad of 5 sheets (10 sides of which 9 are usable) of yellow paper with grid lines that has been laminated. It’s relatively easy to write on and I actually like it. It is a little bit strange not to be able to erase though. After the math section, I leave for my break and am scanned again, this time I put not the index but the middle on the scanner (just to see what happens) and since the print doesn’t match Dan makes me rescan and reminds me that I should be scanning my index finger.

The test itself was not vastly different from when it was provided by ETS/Prometrics. The content is the same, the question types are the same, and the format is very similar.

The Quantitative Section
The Quant section was fairly par for the course, standard topics in heavy rotation.

Basics were everywhere but mostly as part of other questions.

As usual you had to have a good comfort level with all arithmetic topics, there were quite a few combination questions (questions that tested multiple topics).

  • A couple of combined rate problems (one where a traveler when back and fourth along the same route one combining a couple machines)
  • A simple interest problem where you were given rate, interest, principle and have to find time then use that time to find another interest rate.
  • A mixture problem.

There was very typical fare here, lots of topics that you should be used to and no real strange presentations.

  • A couple of functions (one that used number properties and a funny symbol the other was a DS series s1, s2)
  • DS writing and solving equations
  • Interesting exponent question asking you to add three numbers with the same base and different large exponents
  • A root/quadratic question
  • A tricky inequality
  • A couple of parabolic functions which is a combination of geometry and functions

Number Properties

  • 2 absolute value questions that came back to back both DS
  • A very typical DS factor question that any Bell Curves student should have drooled at receiving

Contrary to rumors and bad advice from other test prep companies, this topic is alive and well. There were at least 5 that I can remember.

  • A couple questions about perimeter. One that involved a quadrilateral in a triangle that was fairly tough at number 2
  • DS questions involving understanding of the equations of lines.

As usual there were only about 2 or 3 stats questions

  • There was a 2 group question in DS form
  • 2 combo questions, one that followed the process fairly straightforwardly another that required me to just write out the variations.
  • No probability

The Verbal Section

Sentence Correction
My first 3 or 4 questions were SC and then the rest were scattered throughout the test before 30 or so, there were very few at the end. Most tested topics were Idioms, Modifiers, and lists. There was only one idiom I thought unusual. A few of the modifiers forced you to deal with and understand the different between using an and or creating a modifying phrase.

Critical Reasoning
Most of the critical reasoning on the test was content based (1 complete the argument, 1 inference, 2 paradox, 1 bolded), this is most likely due to the level of difficulty of the questions I received. Assumption based questions showed up later (2 weaken, 2 id assumptions) CR questions were back loaded with most coming in the second half of the test.

Reading Comprehension
This is the biggest change in the verbal section. Reading Comp no longer has line references. Now if they refer to something from the text it does so by highlighting the referred portions of the text. It’s really cool because it makes it much easier to find the part they are referring to. The other change is that you are no longer told how many questions will be associated with the passage, this I didn’t like so much.

The Results
Again the math strategy worked like a dream and I got a test that was not tremendously difficult but finished with an above average score. For verbal, either I was tired out by the test (I almost never take the full test with essays) and made silly mistakes or the strategy here needs to be revisited. The verbal results were not as good.

Math: 46 80th percentile
Verbal: 27 46th percentile
Total: 600 70th percentile

From what I can see the change to Pearson Vue has brought tighter security and greater technology, but no real changes to the test. Oh yeah one more thing, the new format has the confirmation button in the middle of the screen as a pop up window rather than right next to the accept answer button. This makes it a little more cumbersome and time consuming to record your answer. Anyone who is concerned about the changes should simply download the practice test software from and have a friend treat you like a criminal while you take the practice test and you will get a good sense of what its like to take the test.

The content on the test is well covered in Bell Curves materials and teaching methods. Any student who makes liberal use of the GMAT center should be exposed too all questions types they are likely to see (even miscellaneous topics like mixtures and parabolic functions). Check out the insights section in the coming weeks for new question sets inspired by concepts we’ve seen.

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