Testing the test

The Assignment:

The assignment was to test out Bell Curves revolutionary test preparation techniques and evaluate how up-to-date our question pool is. While taking the GMAT he was required to answer incorrectly a portion of the quantitative section and guess blindly on a portion of the verbal section.

The Reporter: Ajani (Yanni) Burrell, Bell Curves teacher and developer

Current residence: Munich, Germany

Yanni now lives in Germany where he attends Ludwig Maximilians Universitaet in Munich and studies for a Master’s Degree in Comparative Literature. He has worked in test preparation for the past 5 years, of which the last year has been as materials developer and teacher for Bell Curves.

The Report:

Let’s start by saying that waking up at 6:30 a.m. to take a test is not my idea of a good time. However, the opportunity to test out methods and techniques that have the potential to be successfully applied to the test to increase scores makes the whole process bearable (even interesting some might say). I took my test at a location in the European theatre on a beautiful tree-lined thoroughfare in Munich, Germany. As with their cars and their beer (both some of the best in the world I can assure you) the Germans pay strict attention to the rules, the protocol, and the timeline (this is especially true for the beer). So it was with my test administration. As outlined in my registration email, I walked in exactly 30 minutes early (I’m half German so I know about this whole punctuality thing) to sign in. The sign in process was quick, efficient, clear and completely in English, though with a more-than-slightly-detectable German accent. I finished up with the sign in process by 8:05 am and thought to myself I’d like an early morning cigarette before the brutality begins so made a motion for the door. I was swiftly interrupted by the gentleman who signed me in (though in hindsight he wasn’t so gentlemanly this time around), whereupon he told me that I couldn’t leave the test center until the exam was completed and I had signed out for the last time. I looked him quizzically as though he was speaking German or something (he wasn’t, still English) and thought about asking him what happens if a fire breaks out. I didn’t, but filed the circumstance way for future reference (that future reference being now). Point being, beware you may not be allowed to leave the test area for a cigarette, drink of water, or any other such business.

In any event, I packed my things up in a locker (yes, I was a little put out by the situation, but such is life) save for my passport and well my passport. The passport is not necessary (unless you’re taking the test in India or Bangladesh no comment from me about that, but it is true, even said so in the registration email I got) but you’d need a valid Identification Card from a European Union member state. So, I passed the time intermittently going over my plan of attack and reading the sports section of the day’s paper (mostly soccer, no football news NFL or College, yes in German). Eventually I was called in to sign in for the computer I was to use and to take my picture. The woman conducting this business was also not so keen on me, so I kept my jokes to myself and went in and sat down. I donned the orange headphone/ear cover gadgets they use there, which look like what the people who work the runway at most international airports wear, and I got started. Here’s how it went.

All jokes aside, the part about the test center is accurate, I couldn’t leave. The guy almost didn’t let me take my break outside the room because I spent too much time in the room before asking for my break. I got warning when I got back from the bathroom for taking more than five minutes. Guy was a real a****le. A very thorough and anal seemingly redundant, I know a****le.


The First 10:

Six Problem Solving and four Data Sufficiency.

1-4 and 9-10 were PS and 5-8 were DS.

Most of the math throughout the section was straightforward. Not nearly as much Geometry as on the test as I thought. The most common problem type was probably number properties. There were a couple simultaneous equation problems, several exponent problems, probably three geometry problems (one circle, two triangles), one probability, two pattern/sequence, one combination/permutation problem, a few algebra problems. Most of the DS were manageable. The harder/interesting problems came in the Problem solving. There were a couple ratio problems and a few other misc types.

There were about 6 interesting questions.

The first one, was a question almost directly from the Bell Curves workbook (Algebra Exponents and Roots the last one), it involved a something like 58 55 divided another similar expression where the answers also contained numbers with exponents. No so difficult, just interesting.

Second, there was a probability question involving the finding probability of 10 bulbs on a string going out at the same time

Third, also involved numbers with exponents in a fraction, but this time the exponents were the difference of two variables and it was a DS question, anyone who had completed the exponents problems in the Review section should have been well prepared for these questions.

Fourth: PS, geometry, triangles. A quadrilateral with perimeter was given inside a triangle and you were required to find the perimeter of the triangle.

Fifth: Problem Solving, patterns/sequences. The product of 50 fractions was asked for. Again this seemed right out of the Bell Curves GMAT Workbook (Basics Chapter Fractions Walkthroughs last problem). It was also similar to a couple of the problems from the Fractions Homework.

Sixth: PS. Combinations/permutations. A problem about selecting people from different groups and forming a new group. As I have told my students combinations show up at many different levels of difficulty and score levels and do not necessarily indicate how well you are doing.

The test went according to plan I think. The score on the math was a scaled score of 42, which was in the 66th percentile.


The verbal was interesting on the whole.

The First 10:

The first ten were 2 SC’s, followed by two RC passages back to back for 7 questions, and then 1 CR. The next RC came in the mid-twenties, and the last RC came in the mid-30′s.

The first RC: Biology about liposomes and new research being done on them to see if they can transport drugs within the body better than traditional methods. The results were initially promising, but the end result is that they may not be able to get the job done.

The second RC: Competitive advantage of certain capitol investment policies and practices. Specifically the capital investment policies of the United States, businesses in particular, put them at a disadvantage. The passage describes how they invest in the States for the short term and for immediate returns and goes on to say how this isn’t particularly effective or beneficial.

The third RC: A comparison of new scholarship on the Woman’s suffrage movement versus older views on the subject. It was written in such a manner as to be confusing and difficult to extract which view/perspectives were attributed to which party (author, old scholarship, new scholarship).

The fourth RC: A biology passage the immune system.

There were several more Sentence Completions than Critical Reasoning. The sentence completions were particularly tricky in the sense that they were relatively atypical. Most did not fit nicely into one of the six major categories of errors. There were a couple of comparisons, one list, and several verb based questions. The others seemed a bit more obscure.

The CR was also relatively interesting. Most of the CR were either evaluate the argument types (i.e. what would help the best to understand or evaluate the argument) and the fill in the blank at the end of the argument. There was only one each of assumption, weaken and strengthen. Remarkably there were no categorically identifiable inference questions. Strange.

The Verbal didn’t go as well as the Math. I think the guessing at the end thing (that was part of my assignment really shot the score in the foot, as it was a scaled score of 20 for the 21 percentile. This means that more of questions early on than were part of the original plan were probably incorrect (probably those atypical SCs as they made up the majority of the non-RC questions in the first 20 questions).

The total score was a 530, which is the 46th percentile.

The Lesson:

What a test-taker should gain from this test is

- The verbal scoring seems to be much less forgiving than the quantitative.

- Be prepared for everything. Any question type may dominate your test, the distribution of topics you see on practice test does not necessarily reflect what you will see on tests day. This is the second test this year we’ve seen where Assumption-Based questions were in the minority and evaluate questions played a large role.

- Don’t believe the hype. This test, which was not the most difficult test based on score, had questions types that are often thought only show up when a test taker is scoring fairly high: Science Reading Comprehension, Probability, and Combinations/Permutations.

Hopefully this sheds additional insight on the administration and content of the GMAT.

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