Making the Jump, Pt. 1

So you say you’ve reached a plateau with your GMAT scores? They’ve leveled out (or stayed level) and won’t for the life of you go any higher? You’ve been at it weeks (or months) only to see ten points here and ten points there? I feel your pain. Many test-takers find themselves caught in a similar place, and it’s a frustrating circumstance. The GMAT is designed to thwart score improvement. GMAC, which administers the test, seems to take a certain sadistic pride in touting its algorithm’s accuracy at determining one’s “true” ability on the GMAT, and even has research that shows the average retake score improvement to be somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 points. 30 little points! So what can you do to counter this trend? Let’s take a look in today’s post at some general things you might do to garner yourself a bump. In later posts we’ll return to this theme to look closer at people scoring at different levels to see how they might get themselves out of the GMAT scoring rut.GMAT-Retakers-gmac

1. Study differently — the old adage that “practice makes perfect” only goes so far. For a test as specific and regimented as the GMAT, a certain kind of practice is required. One of the primary inhibitors to improvement is using the same methods over and over and over again (it is this simple fact that often turns peoples’ “three-month study plan” into a year-long struggle). Here are a few things you might do differently:

The PHD Project’s 1000th PhD and 15th Anniversary

As I’ve done the last 5 years or so, this past November I went to Chicago to speak at the PhD Project Annual conference. Each year this organization inspires and fascinates me. Its mission is profound and its reach is broad. While some elements were “business as usual” the event brought together about 400 potential doctoral candidates from around the country (and indirectly the globe)  there were two significant milestones: the 15th year of the program and the 1000th doctoral candidate.

For anyone considering a PhD in business it’s a must that you check out this program!

My small contribution to the program was a presentation on how to prepare for the GMAT.

To Guess or Not To Guess on the GMAT?

A few weeks back we blogged about the latest news from GMAC as presented during their Test Prep Summit. One of the topics of discussion involved how unanswered questions at the end of the Quant or Verbal Section negatively impacted scores. The bottom line was this: the more questions you left unanswered at the end of the section, the lower your score was.

Turns out, there’s just a little bit more to the story. It’s important to take note of so you can maximize your score by understanding the best approach for you, and how end-of-test outcomes affect overall results.

I recently reviewed a GMAC-published research report (Talento-Miller and Guo) that closely examined the effect of guessing vs. omission on computer adaptive tests. For those of you with an aversion to statistics and tables and charts, this wasn’t a document you’d want to spend much time with. I battled through, so here’s the low-down from the research:

GMAT Practice Tests

Often, confusion exists about the uses and benefits of practice tests, and the role of practice tests in preparing for the GMAT. Let’s try and offer some clarity to the situation:

Practice Tests

Practice tests are evaluative tools and should be used as such. They are NOT learning tools. You use tests to asses what you have learned and your ability to apply that learning under conditions as similar to the real exam as you can make them. As such you should only be taking practice tests at most once per week (unless you are not working), and should seek to simulate the conditions of the actual test as much as possible when doing so (especially in the last few weeks before the real exam). In the larger preparation picture, you should take a practice test at the very beginning of your preparations to establish a baseline and determine your areas of strength and weakness. After that, it would be advisable to hold off on doing another practice test until you’ve had a chance to do some content review and focused, small-scale practice. Once you’ve gotten a sizable chunk of material and practice behind you, you should start incorporating full-length practice tests into your preparation regiment.

Key points for simulating practice tests:

Digital Flashcards Have Arrived

This past week we went live online with our comprehensive set of digital flashcards. The original hard copy versions had been so well-received by students that we figured we had to put them up in electronic form. The move means even greater functionality and learning benefits. The flashcards were already a great way to learn vital content and hone recognition skills, and soon the digital versions are going to be linked to examples and practice problems according to skill areas.

For Bell Curves students the digital flash cards can be found in the “Extras” tab in your student account. And the best part? They’re free. Now you can access the flashcards whenever you’re in front of a computer and have a few minutes to do some focused review.

Speaking of the new ways to use our Flashcards, we’ll soon be launching a fantastic GMAT iPhone/iPod App. There aren’t many GMAT-only apps out there (from the purported 100,000 apps Apple currently has available), and this one will offer you features for precise, effective on-the-go learning. Keep your eyes and ears open. We’ll let you know when it launches.

Jason Goes GMAT

Instructor: Jason Chan

Location: 500 Fifth Ave (at 42nd street), New York, NY

[Editors note: Bell Curves instructors are required to have taken the GMAT and scored above the 98th percentile before they were invited to train with Bell Curves. After successfully completing training, our teachers take the test at least once a year so they can stay current with the GMAT experience and provide feedback that will allow us to continually improve our teachers and materials. In the interest of research, Jason was asked to go into the test and be the obsessive methodical student. He was required to spend an inordinate amount of time on any question he thought would be tricky to an above average, yet not stellar, test-taker. The intent was to get a score in the 600 range and see what types of questions and content showed up most frequently in that range.]

So it’s a random Tuesday and here I am taking the GMAT. Yay me!

Yale School of Management (SOM) Explore Diversity 2009 Event

This past Sunday and Monday (the 8th and 9th of November), the Yale SOM hosted it’s annual Explore Diversity event. I was invited to attend and give a GMAT Presentation, and had a chance to meet many of the people directly involved in selecting candidates from the large pool of SOM applicants.

I have to say, first off, I was pleased to find that when Yale’s SOM touts a diversity weekend, they mean more than just ethnic or racial diversity. Their notions of diversity extend to include a great many parameters that would distinguish candidates, including career choices, country of origin, undergraduate education, and employment history, among others.

I also have to say I found the members of YSOM Admissions Committee to be a great bunch of people. Smaller, more intimate events such as this one give attendees a better opportunity to meet the people behind those the email addresses. The Admissions Committee seems as committed to diversity as the school is, with members clearly expressing very different personalities and perspectives. I imagine committee discussions about applicants are always interesting, and probably quite often heated. If you’re considering Yale, you should definitely meet some of these folks, and if they are any representation of the YSOM, it seems a great place to be!

Sitting in on the various events and talking to other people there, I got a few insights about the Yale SOM application/selection process.

From China to the GMAT

For the better part of five months, the GMAT was the bane of my
existence. I dont think an hour went by without me thinking about it.
It was everywhere I looked. I one time even figured out the possible
combinations of the food items offered at the restaurant I worked at.
Ironically, I didnt come up with the right answer.

At some point the GMAT stopped being a test and started being a fight.
That is a development I am certainly thankful for. Because once I
stopped thinking of the GMAT as a test and more of a mountain that I
had to climb, thing became much clearer.

Looking back, I realize that the concepts that the GMAT tests are not
complex. Theres no calculus, advanced physics, or expectations of you
analyzing Shakespeares later works. The GMAT is simply high school
math and grammar meant to stump the smartest people alive. Its
slightly ingenious really.

Aesop’s Fables and GMAT Timing

As I listen to the bloggersphere and twitterverse, attend conferences, and talk to test takers, there is a consistent concern about timing on the GMAT and how much it impacts their performance on the test. Survey GMAT test-takers and I bet that 90% of them will claim their biggest challenge is finishing the test (especially the Quant section). This fear is further propagated by test prep “experts” who cite the lofty goal of answering all Quant questions in 2 minutes or less and all Verbal questions in 1:45 minutes or less. I, however, have not drunk of that particular flavor of Kool-Aid and don’t recommend you do so either.To all those of the 2 minute cult, I’d point you to the wisdom of Aesop and the story of the Tortoise and the Hare.

The GMAC Test Prep Summit

A few days ago the world had their eyes focused on New York City, where the biennial GMAC Test Prep Summit was held. Okay, so maybe the whole world wasn’t watching, but we at Bell Curves were, as were a great many others in the test prep community. Over ten hours, attendees were treated to a wealth of information (some new, some not) from GMAC, the company that develops the GMAT.

Presentation topics included world-wide GMAT testing volume and new developments for the test and its administration (by the end of 2009 every test center will require you to use the vein patterns in your palm as identification – and no, I’m not kidding, it’s called ‘Palm Vein Recognition’).

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