Revamping Your Prep

Below is a letter from a test-taker seeing advice for GMAT preparation (some names have been changed to maintain the person’s anonymity):


My name is Nunya and I am currently planning to apply to MBA programs. I am struggling with the GMAT and am looking for any suggestions on study strategies that you may have to offer.

Last year, I took a six week GMAT prep course that the University of Malawi offered through their College of Continuing Education program. The course ended on July 19 and I took the GMAT on August 30. I will admit that my study schedule between the last class and the day of the test was not consistent and I could have devoted more time to it. My overall score was a 530 with a 32 in Verbal and 31 in Quantitative.

This year, I decided to get more serious about the test. I took an eight week Kaplan course that ended a few months ago. From the day that the course ended until last week (3 months), the day of my test, I studied three hours a day and took one practice exam almost every week. Most of my studying was focused on the quantitative area. When I first started taking the practice exams, my scores were all over the place from 490-590. In the last four exams, my scores were consistently at 590, however, I never scored in the 600s. On the day of the exam, I scored 540 overall with a raw score of 29 in verbal and 35 in quantitative.

I am going to retake the exam, but I undoubtedly need a new strategy. Is there anything that you would recommend? Any suggestions or feedback is greatly appreciated.

Thanking you in advance,

Nunya B.


Dear Nunya,

RC: The Key to GMAT Verbal Success

Over the course of a few weeks in December and January I received a number of practice test results from students preparing to take the GMAT. As the fourth or fifth result came my way I noticed that all of these students happened to be struggling to break the 35-point barrier on the verbal section. The realization gave me pause (I mean, I’m a test prep geek, why wouldn’t it?). Over the years I’d come to realize that many students at one point or another struggle to maximize their verbal score, and more importantly, these struggles were usually tied to reading comprehension.

I wanted to see if I could quantify this a bit for folks, so I started by going back through those student’s results to see if there were any trends. Sure enough, an initial investigation revealed what looked to be a pretty strong correlation between RC and Verbal subscore.

My interest piqued, I started to dig a little deeper. Bear with me, there’s gonna be a few numbers with this. Numbers? you ask. In a blogpost about verbal? Yup. Think of it like an integrated reasoning blog post.

So, with the help of one of our interns (big shout out to Cannie L!) we tabulated the results of about 220 GMATPrep, and broke out their respective accuracy %s on CR, RC, and SC. After grappling MMA-style with those percentages (grappling I’m not going to bore you with – let’s just say it was ugly…almost as ugly as this knockout), were able to see some pretty clear – and surprising – trendlines. Let’s take a look at our sample:

Total GMATPrep Results: 216

# with Verbal 35 or greater: 92

# with Verbal 34 or less: 124

Essentially, I aggregated and compared these results to see if, in fact, there was some strong correlation between RC accuracy and Verbal score. Turns out, there kind of is. Of the 92 results that scored 35 or above on the verbal, only 3 of those had managed that score with an RC-accuracy below 71%. It’s important to note that we just studied results where test-takers answered all of the Verbal questions. Reading comprehension totals 14 questions of the verbal, and 71% is 10 out of 14 questions correct. So basically, only three of the 92 results had fewer than 10/14 of the RC questions correct. That’s approximately 3.2% of the sample. 96.8% of the results that were 35 or higher had 10 or more RC correct! The breakdown is illustrated here:

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:

  • (646) 414-1586
COPYRIGHT ©2002 - 2015 BELL CURVES LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. All tests names are registered trademarks of the respective testing companies, which do not endorse and are not affiliated with Bell Curves.
BELL CURVES - 25 West 36th Street Street, 8th Floor - New York, NY 10018 Bell Curves is an educational services and test preparation company. It delivers high-quality consulting services, test preparation programs, and self-study resources to students throughout the country.
Equal Opportunity Employer - Privacy Policy - Refund Policy