Evaluating Practice Tests, Pt. 1: What NOT to Ask an AO

Because we are engaged in the business of preparing people for the GMAT, an integral part of their business school application, we often speak with AOs (that’s trade talk for Admissions Officers) about various facets of GMAT testing, among them the role the test plays in admissions.

Recently we had a conversation with an AO from a top 10 school that went something like this:

That Age-old Question: What’s a Good GMAT Score?

So you started preparing for the GMAT and you’re perhaps wondering, “What is a good score?” While there is no simple (or absolute) answer to the question of what a
“good score” is, here are two ways to evaluate your GMAT score and assess how much preparation you should do (or if you have taken the test already, whether you should apply with the score you have).

Personal Best Effort

Your personal best effort means you have done all you can to achieve your highest possible score. Defining your best effort can be tricky, but you must consider whether you have invested all the resources at your disposal to help you achieve your score. You will have to look critically at what you’ve done in preparation for the GMAT and what you could have done. You have to consider what you have invested (not just financially but also mentally) in preparing for the test, and whether that is all you could have invested.

The chart below shows the correlation between time invested preparing for the test and GMAT scores.

Q&A Goes Virtual

Today we’re thrilled to announce the impending launch of Bell Curves’ Virtual Q&A’s. The classroom version proved so popular and beneficial we’ve decided to move the party to the virtual world.

Now ALL Bell Curves students past and present can attend a weekly Q&A session regardless of where they are in the world.

Here are the facts on the new Virtual Q&As:

The Last Hurrah

Here are some facts, reminders, and strategies to improve the last couple weeks or so of studying until you face off with (and hopefully destroy) the GMAT.

In the last few weeks you should be winding down your prep and spending most of your time accomplishing a comprehensive review. You should review all formulae, rules, approaches, strategies, and personal notes from the very beginning of your book/preparation materials, and ensure that everything is committed to memory.

Einstein Can’t Teach Me Physics


Einstein can’t teach me physics! And Michael Jordan can’t teach me basketball.

There, I’ve said it. I’ve put it on the internet for all to know. I don’t think these relative gods of their domain can teach me to succeed in that domain. Before you call me crazy and stop reading, let me make my case.

Einstein was as genius as Jordan was. Geniuses possess innate understanding of their respective fields that most of us do not. Because of this innate understanding, the way they approach that field is very different from that of the average man. This approach combined with their innate knowledge makes them achieve things that we probably can’t follow unless we have the same genius. To learn from this genius you must learn to think like him or he must learn to think like you. That’s a pretty daunting task to accomplish, and most likely a task requiring years of dedication.

Now what’s that got to do with the GMAT you ask?

Undergrads, They’re Coming For YOU!

In order to encourage undergraduates to begin thinking about b-school and the GMAT (when they are better positioned to effectively prepare for it), the good folks at GMAC launched a marketing campaign called “Direct Your Destiny.” The campaign includes a web-based video campaign and other approaches aimed at increasing the number of GMAT test-takers from the undergraduate or recent graduate pool. I checked out the videos the other day, and in all honesty a couple of them are pretty funny.

While the videos are entertaining, the rationale underpinning GMAC’s pitch to undergrads has some significance. Based on the logic, many business majors or business-minded undergraduates should consider taking the GMAT, particularly if they’re pretty sure an MBA is in their future.

Here are a couple things to consider:

Making the Jump, Pt. 1

So you say you’ve reached a plateau with your GMAT scores? They’ve leveled out (or stayed level) and won’t for the life of you go any higher? You’ve been at it weeks (or months) only to see ten points here and ten points there? I feel your pain. Many test-takers find themselves caught in a similar place, and it’s a frustrating circumstance. The GMAT is designed to thwart score improvement. GMAC, which administers the test, seems to take a certain sadistic pride in touting its algorithm’s accuracy at determining one’s “true” ability on the GMAT, and even has research that shows the average retake score improvement to be somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 points. 30 little points! So what can you do to counter this trend? Let’s take a look in today’s post at some general things you might do to garner yourself a bump. In later posts we’ll return to this theme to look closer at people scoring at different levels to see how they might get themselves out of the GMAT scoring rut.GMAT-Retakers-gmac

1. Study differently — the old adage that “practice makes perfect” only goes so far. For a test as specific and regimented as the GMAT, a certain kind of practice is required. One of the primary inhibitors to improvement is using the same methods over and over and over again (it is this simple fact that often turns peoples’ “three-month study plan” into a year-long struggle). Here are a few things you might do differently:

To Guess or Not To Guess on the GMAT?

A few weeks back we blogged about the latest news from GMAC as presented during their Test Prep Summit. One of the topics of discussion involved how unanswered questions at the end of the Quant or Verbal Section negatively impacted scores. The bottom line was this: the more questions you left unanswered at the end of the section, the lower your score was.

Turns out, there’s just a little bit more to the story. It’s important to take note of so you can maximize your score by understanding the best approach for you, and how end-of-test outcomes affect overall results.

I recently reviewed a GMAC-published research report (Talento-Miller and Guo) that closely examined the effect of guessing vs. omission on computer adaptive tests. For those of you with an aversion to statistics and tables and charts, this wasn’t a document you’d want to spend much time with. I battled through, so here’s the low-down from the research:

GMAT 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 asses 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:

Digital Flashcards Have Arrived

This past week we went live online with our comprehensive set of digital flashcards. The original hard copy versions had been so well-received by students that we figured we had to put them up in electronic form. The move means even greater functionality and learning benefits. The flashcards were already a great way to learn vital content and hone recognition skills, and soon the digital versions are going to be linked to examples and practice problems according to skill areas.

For Bell Curves students the digital flash cards can be found in the “Extras” tab in your student account. And the best part? They’re free. Now you can access the flashcards whenever you’re in front of a computer and have a few minutes to do some focused review.

Speaking of the new ways to use our Flashcards, we’ll soon be launching a fantastic GMAT iPhone/iPod App. There aren’t many GMAT-only apps out there (from the purported 100,000 apps Apple currently has available), and this one will offer you features for precise, effective on-the-go learning. Keep your eyes and ears open. We’ll let you know when it launches.

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