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,

SAT Tips: Don’t Compare Rooms and Floors

For the SAT Writing test (and grammar in general), there are few topics that warm the heart of grammarians as much as the enforcement of rules pertaining to creating logical comparisons. On every SAT, on every grammar blog, and in every college paper, psychometricians, editors, and English professors break out the brightest red ink and go to town on the violations of “apples to apples, oranges to oranges.” In order to get ready for the SAT (and college, the GMAT, or the workplace), you have to make sure you look for any comparisons that are created and always apply the rule.

SAT Tips: The Holy Grail of SAT Math

Click here to go to College Board and submit your answer

Today’s post, inspired by the SAT Question of the Day for 3/11/12 offers us another opportunity to remind you of one of the few remaining truly magical test-taking techniques: Plugging In!

SAT Tips: Guessing on Hard Math Questions

Not long ago the question above was the Question Of The Day on the College Board website and it inspired another blog post (found here), well this question is the question that keeps on giving (or teaching). Here we go again, taking this question apart so that you can learn from it and be ready for your SAT. Like many questions on the SAT you can look at them from multiple perspectives. We previously looked at this one for the content of the questions and what rules/terms you needed to learn, now we’ll explore what this question has to teach us about SAT strategy.

SAT Tips: Math Vocab

 

One of the first things you need to do when prepping for a test is learn the lingo. SAT Math is prone to using vocabulary that you’ve probably not seen in a while – words like integer, factor, and multiple probably haven’t come up since you were in 7th grade. And even when you saw them in 7th grade,  it probably wasn’t in the same context as how they are used on the SAT. So one of the best starting points for the SAT is to learn vocab, both the words common to Sentence Completion questions but also the words common to Math questions. The College Board QOTD on President’s day stumped 60% of the people who tried it and the only things tested are the understanding of a few math terms. Hopefully by the end of this post you’ll head over to the College Board site and be one of the 40%.

SAT Tips: Vocab Sleight of Hand

 

On February 10, the College Board posted a Sentence Completion question that bamboozled 219,021 of the 331,851 people that attempted to answer the question. This question once again got us thinking about SAT vocabulary, the way the SAT tests vocabulary, and why so many people got this question wrong. And as usual whenever SAT questions get “stuck in our craw,” we have to blog about it to help you conquer this test.

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:

SAT Tips: A Plurality of Pronouns

 

In our continuing series of SAT Tips, today we’ll show you another way the SAT Writing test applies pronoun rules to questions. (You might want to first check out this older post about pronouns before reading further.)  Also remember that the goal of doing the QOTD is to learn at least one thing about the SAT. If you’re not learning from each problem then you’re not getting the most out of your practice. Today’s post teaches us about a couple of the more rare pronouns.

SAT Tips: Right Triangles That Make You Feel Special

Click on the image to go to collegeboard.com and answer the question.

As we’ve stated before, the SAT is standardized, and what that often means is that the types of questions they ask and the type of information they expect you to know reappears over and over from test to test. Today’s question of the day, which a surprisingly small percentage of people got correct, is a great example of how the SAT loves to present Right Triangles. So before we send you off to the College Board’s site to give this question “the old college try,” let’s explore what you need to know about right triangles on the SAT.

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