Question Trends and Prep Strategies

I recently took the GMAT test and noticed a few trends in the Quant section:

1.  Arithmetic was crucial (the basic operations, fractions, decimals, PEMDAS, etc.).  The GMAT tests critical thinking but the basic components, the 1’s and 0’s, the nuts and bolts, are composed of arithmetic.

2.  There were very few “formula questions”. Formula questions are those that require very little critical thinking and rely largely on knowing a specific mathematical concept, rule, equation, or formula.

3.  There was very little geometry and no coordinate geometry. Geometry questions are often heavily rooted in formulaic information like rules and properties, but can be made more difficult by combining concepts (whether multiple geometry-related concepts or geometry and other concepts, like algebra).

What does this mean?

Making Test Day a Breeze

Editor’s Note: Bell Curves periodically enlists our teachers to take the official GMAT to keep themselves sharp, help them better inform their students about current testing trends and procedures, and provide additional insight for materials development and instruction. Sometimes, we have gung-ho teachers that just want to take the test for fun. To which we say, Rock On! Today’s post comes from Andrew Geller, one of our NYC-based instructors. Below, he provides some insights on making your test day as stress free as possible.


Test day can be stressful but the more you know about the logistics of the test center the better you will feel on your big day.  As we all know: feeling comfortable = better performance.

So what can you do to make the test day easier?  Plan in advance!

The Night Before

The night before, pick out your clothes, know what you will have for breakfast, pack your snack pack, pick out 5-10 quantitative questions as warm-ups (I like to pick ones from my error log that are challenging but that I have reviewed at least once), and know the route to the test center.

The Morning Before

Arrive early to your exam. A half hour or so should suffice.  It helps to arrive early because you get to check in first and end up waiting less.  The test center provides lockers where you must store all of your personal belongings.  You can only enter the testing room with the clothes on your back (you are allowed an extra sweater) and your ID.  No watches.  No bracelets.  No lucky coins.  You will be asked to empty out your pockets for inspection.  If you have forgotten to store an item before checking in you may be sent to the back of the line.  This happened to three people on my test day.

During the Test

Scratchwork – At your cubicle you will be provided with one ten page plastic notepad, one marker, ear plugs, and over-the-ear headphones.  I tried on the headphones but did not like the feeling of being in a sensory deprivation chamber.  I could see them being useful if another test taker were making a racket. Test your marker BEFORE the section begins.  If you need another notepad during a section you have to raise your hand and wait for the proctor to retrieve your pad and replace it with a fresh one.  During each break you can get a fresh pad, however.  My recommendation is to only get a new pad between sections.  It is a waste of time to get a new pad mid-section.  If you must get a new pad then signal for one BEFORE your old pad is full so that you have the least disruption possible.  A quick tip to get the most out of your pad:  you can use the cover page for notes.

Snacks and Breaks – The test is long so the snack pack is important.  Your snack pack should have a caffeine beverage, water, and a sugary snack (I like Cliff Bars and Snickers).  I brought some dark chocolate as well.  Be aware that you can only access your personal items during the eight-minute break between sections and that the timer is running while you sign in and out.  If you are late getting back the time is deducted from the section.  The proctor had issues with the computer while I was signing in so I was late getting back to my cubicle.  Luckily, the proctor reset my timer.  Do not expect this to happen if you are late getting back from a bathroom break.  You have time for a gulp of coffee, a bite of Snickers, a quick bathroom stop, and a quick stretch (this helps!).

The Testing Room – Whenever you need anything you must raise your hand.  You are not allowed to get up from your cubicle without an escort.  Even after the test is over, you will be ushered back to the waiting room and given a printout of your score report.

Tackling the GMAT – Performing well on the GMAT is dependent on many factors.  Some of these factors have nothing to do with the content but with your state of mind.  A couple of things that can help during the test:  First, we all can get a bit dazed during a section.  I like to take a moment every once in a while (2-3 times per section) to reset myself – disengage from the screen, stretch my legs, roll my neck, refocus.  Second, after you confirm an answer choice that question is over, MOVE ON!

The GMAT is an arduous undertaking in the best of circumstances, but as we can see there are steps you can take to make test day go a little more smoothly. The biggest piece of advice: plan ahead. Know where your test center is, how to get there, especially if you are taking public transportation which may experience delays and construction re-routes. Know the testing procedures, and the ins and outs of the test center. Know what you can and cannot bring, and what you can and cannot do. Know how you’re going to approach the test, and know that once a question has been answered that question is finished. One great way to plan ahead is to practice as you expect the test to go. When doing your practice tests, try however much as possible to mimic what you’ll be doing on test day. That’s right, put together a snack pack for your 8-minute breaks. Rush through your break rituals when you’re doing your practice test, and by all means stick to the 8-minute break on your practice tests as well. Following these helpful tips will help you make the best of your countless hours of preparation come test day. Good luck!

Admissions Spotlight: Timelines & Planning

‘Tis that time of year again. No, not the time when most of the well-intended New Years Resolutions begin the long limp to failure, but rather a new crop of b-school hopefuls gearing up to make a run at their choice programs. To help prospective b-school candidates get a jump on their preparation and make the most of their efforts, we thought we’d share some guidance on how best to plan for the upcoming application year.

Between the GMAT, the essays, the recommendations, and everything else, it is easy to feel overwhelmed when trying to apply to b-school. Your best asset when starting this process is a timeline. Include events and deliverables including GMAT practice tests and courses, application essays, scholarship applications, recommendations, and school visits. Once you figure out what needs to be done first, your priorities begin to align themselves!

Below we’ve included a standard timeline that outlines the bigger picture events you should plan for:

The road to the promised land of GMAT and application glory is long and arduous. To help you retain your sanity, and make this the rare resolution that comes to fruition, keep in mind a few key tips:

  • Start Early – As the timeline indicates, prudent planning should provide six months to prep for the GMAT. If you knock the GMAT out early, great! If not, this allows you time to deal with unexpected interruptions to your prep (they almost always happen) or setbacks, or simply the need for more time to get the score you want. The plan also provides time to focus squarely on applications instead of having to split time two ways (and usually more if you consider most people have full-time employment to deal with, not to mention family and other obligations that come with having some semblance of a life). The bottom line: budget room to have more time, not less, to make your prep a less stressful endeavor.
  • Have a Plan…but be Flexible – As we mentioned above, unanticipated events always arise. Having a plan does wonders for streamlining prep and staying on task, but don’t become too beholden to any one path. Don’t limit yourself to a single approach, a single mode to prepare for the GMAT, or an arbitrary deadline for achieving scores you need on the GMAT. Have a plan and modify as needed. Just think about the “plans” you had for yourself in high school. Have those plan manifested themselves? For most people the plans change. This realm is no exception.
  • Be Tenacious - Your goals are imminently achievable. The path is winding, it is difficult, but it has an end, and it’s the end you want. But to reach that end, you have to stick to your goals. Don’t be dissuaded by setbacks or delays. Don’t let your expectations undermine your commitment or motivation. If you want it, it’s there for the taking. All that’s needed is dedication and prudent preparation.

Happy New Year and best of luck with your GMAT preparation and b-school applications!

For more on how Bell Curves could help you improve your preparation, visit us at Sign up for a free Bell Curves demo account to practice with computer-based materials. Join us for a GMAT Sample Class to experience our fantastic teachers, materials, and approaches to the GMAT, and see firsthand how Bell Curves could help you Get Ahead of the Curve today!

Christmas Miracle

This message was originally posted in 2009, but alas is still relevant today!

Every year about this time I get a few “Christmas Miracle” phone calls. The callers don’t see it that way, but that’s in essence what the calls are. These calls (or sometimes emails) usually start rolling in around mid-December, when people are nearing crunch time for second round b-school application cycles and frantic that their GMAT scores haven’t progressed to a point they feel will give them a reasonable shot at their schools of interest. Let’s take a look at the particulars of a couple such cases from this month.

B-school Facilitated Test Prep

More and more business schools – whether undergraduate or graduate – are utilizing test preparation to help boost scores on graduate admissions exams like the GMAT and GRE. In the case of graduate schools, more often than not the target market is their likely applicant pool. It’s similar for undergraduate institutions as well, though in the case of undergrads it’s also about bolstering the school’s reputation regardless of whether undergrads ultimately apply to and attend a graduate program at their institution.

Graduate programs direct involvement in providing access to test preparation has grown so much that recently, GMAC (the company that produces the GMAT) held a panel discussion at its annual industry conference in Chicago to discuss this very phenomenon. Three very different programs and three very test preparation methods made up the panel and offered insight into how they provided preparation. In reviewing the discussion, we found that it might be pertinent to point out the differences between the three programs as an example of how varied test preparation offerings could be.

Struggling with GMAT (or GRE) Verbal? Read!

For all prospective GMAT examinees struggling with the Verbal section:  Read!

Reading a quality periodical is one way to beef up your verbal score and maybe even have some interesting things to talk about during an interview.  Jargon filled articles with complex sentences and foreign ideas are very similar to GMAT Reading Comp passages, Critical Reading Prompts, and Sentence Correction problems.  Think about it this way: when you exercise,  varying your workout gives you the most bang for your buck as it stimulates different muscle groups and systems in the body.  This same principle can be applied to studying for the GMAT.  Look outside of traditional test materials to push yourself to that next level.

Integrated Reasoning: 2-month Anniversary Update

On June 5th the new Integrated Reasoning (IR) section debuted on the GMAT, to much consternation and hang-wringing among prospective business school applicants. A couple months on there are a couple points to mention as we look back at the IR.

Initial Integrated Reasoning Percentiles

The scores for the Integrated Reasoning have been known since April, but in order for percentiles to be generated GMAC needed to wait for actual test results. After a few weeks they had given enough to compile and release the first data. From the 6,229 test-takers, GMAC found that the averages score was a 4 on the 1 to 8 scale, corresponding to the 46th percentile.

A top score of 8 would be the 94%, meaning that 6% of all test-takers score an 8. For a complete view of the percentiles, see the graphic (from GMAC), below.

Understanding Your GMAT Practice Scores

With Round 1 application deadlines for many schools just a scant 3 months away, many people are revving up their preparation. One big component of the application process is the test score (GMAT or GRE) that most schools require, and a big part of any preparation are practice tests. In a later post we’re going to discuss how practice test scores influence when we should take the GMAT, but today we’re going to take a look at how practice tests (or an official score you’re not happy with) should inform your preparation decisions.

Before we get into discussing practice test scores, we should take a moment to clarify a few important considerations about practice tests themselves:

Game Changer? Harvard Changing Admission Application

Beginning this fall the Harvard Business School application will reflect its most significant changes since 2003. Long a source of anxiety and many sleepless nights, the HBS application as recently as last year required applicants to submit four different essays that totaled up to 2000 words. Starting for the class of 2015, the number of essays will be halved, with the word limit capped at 400 per essay.

Not only will they be fewer in number and shorter in word requirements, the essays will also be more straightforward. The two essay prompts slated for this fall are

  • Tell us something you’ve done well.
  • Tell us something you wish you had done better.

The HBS application process will also involve another wrinkle. For those who succeed in making it past the first cut, and thereby required (or given the chance) to sit for an interview, an additional post-interview essay will be required. The wrinkle? Well, the essay will be due within 24 hours of the interview, and should address something the applicant wished she or he had said during the interview. This essay will also be capped at 400 words.

6pm GMAT Test Time? Say What?

It’s the end of the GMAT as we know it! It’s the end of the GMAT as we know it (And I feel fine)!

We are down to the last two weeks of the GMAT B.I. (Before Integrated Reasoning) and people are scrambling to get their official test done before the switch on June 5th.

We’ve written frequently in this space about how people shouldn’t rush their prep just to avoid IR (i.e. you should not rush to take the test before the IR section gets added in June if you are going to get a lower score on the sections that matter – Quant and Verbal). That being said, there are a number of folks who have been prepping to take their test in the next couple weeks and are ready to do so.

I have a couple such tutoring students, and I found it interesting when one of them told me that her upcoming GMAT was scheduled for 6 o’clock. As in 6 o’clock PM. 1800 hours. Say what? Starting a GMAT at 6pm means ending your GMAT around 10pm. Not good times, but unavoidable it seems given the high volume of test-takers rushing to take test before the change to NextGen GMAT.

Another student taking the test before the change said he had a 4pm test appointment, which is better than 6pm, but certainly outside the ideal testing time for most people. It got me thinking that it might be beneficial to share some tips with people about how best to gear up for their official tests. People with particularly unorthodox testing times like 4pm and (gasp) 6pm should pay particular attention to numbers 1 and 3 below.

  1. Practice (Test) like it’s the Game – Your full-length practice tests should mirror your official test in every way possible: focus, intensity, start time, and components (meaning do the essays, even if you don’t want to). Your goal is both to increase your stamina and prepare your mind/body to be “on” at the same time you have to “on” for the real thing. The later your test is in the day, the more important this is, as people (even late-risers like me) are less fresh and sharp as the day goes on. 6pm, for example, is really pushing the limit of people’s endurance.
  2. Don’t Go Overboard – Practice tests are designed to be evaluative and help you hone your pacing and test management. They’re also designed to increase your test stamina. Doing a test every day isn’t a surefire way to get there. You need time to review, and time to recharge. For every person who says “I did a full-length test every day for two weeks and got a 700,” there’s a dozen people for whom that will not work as a strategy (not least of all because that 700-scorer was probably already ready to score 700). Find your happy medium for practice tests that will allow you enough time to increase your stamina AND give you time to thoroughly review your mistakes and hone skills.
  3. Seek Balance – Don’t disrupt your normal routines too much. We are creatures of habit, and if you all of a sudden stay up really late for a couple nights so you can sleep in later for your noon (or 4pm) test time, your body will NOT be pleased. Same goes for amending your diet or exercise routines. Find the balance between preparing for your test time and maintaining your normal life rhythms.
  4. Avoid Last-minute Practice Tests – Taking a practice test a day or two before your official tends to offer the potential of far more negative consequences than positive. GMAT Preparation is a marathon, not a sprint. Squeezing in that last-minute practice test is going to do very little for your chances on the real thing, largely because you have very little time to learn from and assimilate any insights from it. Conversely, a poor result a day or two before the test can really affect your confidence, and (again) leaves you with little time to redress that blow. Additionally, a 3.5-4 hour GMAT practice test is no joke. It drains you (or should if you’re doing it right). Recovering from that takes time, in the same way that recovering from a marathon session at the gym might for your body.
  5. Don’t Limit Your Prep to Practice Tests – You can do effective practice in small doses as well. In fact, some of the most effective practice comes in smaller doses, largely because you can more easily learn from those sets and then turn around to apply that learning on another set. Regardless of whether you’re doing a lot or a little prep, try to start around the same time you’re going to be taking the real thing (largely because of the reasoning outlined in number 1).
  6. Relax  - The final 24 hours before your test should largely be a stress-free affair. You’ve prepped. You’ve learned what you’re going to learn and have improved as much as you’re going to improve. Frantically running through a bunch of problems the night before (for a morning test) or day of (for afternoon/evening tests) is a recipe for disaster. It taxes you and drives your stress levels way up. You want to go into the test cool, calm, collected, and rested. Period.

For all those taking the test in the next couple weeks, good luck! May the GMAT be permanently in your rear-view when you’re done!

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