BC Review: GMATPrep v. 2.2

It has always been a love hate relationship with the GMATPrep software.  Every version of it has had some major flaw, but at the same time you have to love the thing because it houses the only official GMAT CATs available.  In any event, each revision of the software has come with incremental improvements (happily 2.1 brought GMATPrep to Apple computers! woot!), and the new GMATPrep 2.2 continues the slow crawl forward.

Installation was a snap.  I downloaded it, double clicked the install package, agreed to the terms and conditions, and entered my log-in information and within minutes I was exploring the new GMATPrep software.  I have had many install and functionality issues with the last version so this smooth sailing was a nice surprise.

What’s new?  There have been some solid organizational improvements in Question Pack 1, as well as a very critical functionality upgrade.

The Meaning and Value of 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 assess 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:

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):

Hello,

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.

Reply:

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 gmat.bellcurves.com. 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.

GMAT and B-school Volume Up Big

GMAC recently released GMAT testing volume data for the 2012 testing year (July 1 2011 to June 30 2012) that shows significant increases in both the number GMAT tests taken and the number of score reports sent to graduate management schools. Some of the key figures:

  • The 2012 testing year saw more than 286,000 GMAT tests taken, up nearly 11 percent from 2011.
  • About 831,000 GMAT score reports, a historic number, were sent to almost 5,300 programs in 2012.
  • Testing numbers outside the U.S. continue to skyrocket, with the number of tests up 19 percent from 2011 and comprising 59% of all tests taken.
  • The percentage of tests taken by women has jumped to a new record as well, comprising nearly 43% of all tests taken.

Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff: Changes in MBA Application Essays

Today’s guest post is from Nicole Lindsay, who holds a JD/MBA from University of Virginia and is a former MBA admissions officer at Yale School of Management. Nicole Lindsay is the Founder of DiversityMBAPrep.com, an online community that supports women and minorities in applying to MBA programs.

 


 

Earlier this summer, a few MBA programs sent admissions insiders into a tizzy when they decided to revamp their application essay questions. Who knew that a move from four required essays to two could be so disruptive!

Business schools experiment with their applications every year and receive little notice from national media.  This year is different because the changes came from the “Big Three” (Harvard, Wharton, Stanford). Application shifts also came from Kellogg, UVA Darden, Columbia, MIT Sloan, and Iowa (which seems to experiment every year.  Last year the school got national publicity when one essay question sought a 140-word tweet response). Ultimately, all MBA programs are looking for better ways to get the most pertinent information with as few hurdles to applicants as possible.  Business schools want to receive more applications so a lot of thought goes into their application process. Many pundits speculated that this year’s application changes were an attempt to outsmart admissions consultants.  I disagree – the formula for gaining admission to business school is no different than in years past.

MBA applications are trending toward reduced essay requirements, either by requiring fewer essays or lowering maximum word count. These changes signal to me that schools are adapting their application components to more closely align with the real weight that each is given in the admissions decision. Transcripts and GMAT directly tie to a candidate’s academic readiness so they are given significant weight. In the same manner, the resume (work experience) and recommendations link to career and leadership potential, which are critical admissions elements. Over the years, essays have become a catch-all without a specific connection to the factors that drive the admissions decision. Going forward, expect that schools will use essays to (a) learn about your career goals (some will ask this in the application form as a short-answer question) and (b) assess your school fit (examples: questions around teamwork, ethics or exploring a statement or video).

Here’s how I suggest that you approach your MBA applications:

  1. Schools want you to submit strong applications so understand what each question is really asking you. On school and other websites, look for tips and suggestions from the Admissions Committee on the application components, particularly the essays. Feel free to get the opinions of others, but remember, they are simply speculating, while Admissions Committee members actually know.
  2. Take a holistic approach to the application –most of this year’s application changes have come in the essay component. Most schools are opting for shorter essays – this just means you need to get to the point faster. Essays are just one of several parts of an application; you must use every inch of the application to communicate your story. If you are afforded fewer words in a career goal essay to discuss your background, use your resume to highlight accomplishments that relate to your future aspirations.
  3. Don’t sweat new application changes – all applicants are required to complete the same application for admission, so don’t worry about what previous applicants had to do. Nothing has really changed in the admissions process – business schools admit candidates that are academically prepared, with tremendous career and leadership potential and are a fit for their MBA programs.

Good luck with your applications!

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