How to Study for the GMAT
There’s always a smarter way of doing things, and that includes cracking the GMAT. Think about it: the GMAT isn’t testing your ability to memorize formulas; it is testing your ability to identify the moment and situation when you have to use them to solve the problem. The questions aren’t hard, but they’re not straightforward, either. They’re just trying to trick or trap you. You can either spot and overcome them or dig yourself a hole!
What you need is a solid strategy to navigate the exam intelligently and achieve your desired score.
This guide will introduce you to tips, tricks, and techniques that can supplement your foundational knowledge and skills to improve your score in a short amount of time. They also serve as an antidote to the far too common pre-exam jitters that tend to afflict most GMAT test-takers.
Chapter 1 – Understanding the GMAT More than 6,000 international graduate schools rely on the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) for narrowing down the list of applicants to their traditional campus and now even MBA online programs. One of the reasons why GMAT is so popular is that it focuses on reasoning rather than rote memorization. The test is designed to predict how successful you will be as a management trainee. Prove your mettle by acing the GMAT. Start with the GMAT basics, such as formal, sections, score breakdown and more discussed in chapter one.
Chapter 2 – Most Common Reasons for Failing the GMAT Even though the GMAT does not require students to memorize things extensively and reproduce them on answer sheets, it remains a tricky exam to crack. Why do students fail the GMAT? Those who fail often do so because they forget to brush-up the basics, mismanage time, make careless mistakes, or do all three simultaneously. Read on to find out what the most common reasons for GMAT failure are, and how to nip them in the bud.
Chapter 3 – Verbal Section The verbal section of the GMAT presents you with 41 questions to be completed in 75 minutes or less. This section tests your reading and comprehending abilities as well as your prowess in identifying and correcting wrong grammar or language. Sub-sections include comprehension, sentence correction, and critical reasoning. In this chapter, you will find out exactly what is included in each sub-section, understand the scoring rules, and take a look at some sample questions and common mistakes within each section.
Chapter 4 – Quantitative Section The quantitative section of the GMAT presents you with 37 questions, to be completed in 75 minutes or less. This section will test your ability to analyze data and draw reasonably accurate conclusions from the same. On pure mathematical level, the questions are typical of high school or secondary school courses. Sub-sections including problem solving and data sufficiency. For details on the basic principles involved in each section, strategies and tips for handling each section as well as a list of all mathematical topics, examples by section, and common mistakes, be sure to read this chapter.
Chapter 5 – Analytical Writing Assessment Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA) is a relatively new section that was added to the GMAT after repeated requests from business schools around the globe. It ensures that you possess the basic skills of writing, critical assessment, and expression in the English language. This section has only one essay and lasts 30 minutes. Do not let that trick you into thinking less of the AWA section. It is anything but easy. Read on to find out how to organize your essay into three parts and get a high score in the GMAT AWA. Sample structures, practice topics, and more are included in this section.
Chapter 6 – Integrated Reasoning Integrated reasoning is a test of your critical assessment and reasoning abilities. It presents you with 12 questions where data is presented to you in the form of tables, charts or plain words. You must assess and analyze the data to draw conclusions within 30 minutes. This is perhaps the most complex of all GMAT test sections because of its focus on high-order reasoning. Read on to find out what type of questions are included in this section, how to manage time and solve 12 tricky questions within 30 minutes, and other tricks to ace this section. Also included is insight into the decision-making processes of managers, which you can use in the test.
Chapter 7 – Exam Day Tips All the preparations and all the hard work ultimately boils down to the exam day, when you are seated in your place, ready to take the test. Visualizing success and feeling confident can help you make sure you perform your best on the exam day. Read on to find other tips to stay calm and collected on exam day.
Understanding The GMAT
Taking the GMAT is a natural step on your journey in getting an MBA Degree. The Graduate Management Admission Test is a standard test accepted by business degree schools around the world.
Taking the GMAT basically involves applying the math and English skills acquired over your high school and college years. The test itself measures how well you can reason using these skills. Your GMAT score serves as a standard measurement tool business schools use to predict if you will be a successful student.
What You Will be Provided with
- 5 sheets and 10 numbered pages (you can request for as many as you want)
- Test instructions on the first page Pages 2-10 are work surfaces
- Black wet-erase pens
GMAT Score Breakdown
- The Verbal score on a scale from 0-60
- The Quantitative score on a scale from 0-60
- A total score from 200-800, which is a scaled combination of verbal and quantitative scores, indicating your overall performance in the multiple-choice sections
- Analytical Writing is scored independently on a scale from 0 to 6
- Integrated Reasoning is scored independently on a scale from 1 to 8
Note that Analytical Writing Assessment and Integrated Reasoning scores do not impact your total (200-800) score.
Here’s a table of percentile rankings for each section and the total GMAT score.
Verbal + Quantitative
Two-thirds of test-takers score between 400 and 600
The mean score for this section is 27.04. It is quite rare for test-takers to score less than nine and more than 44.
The mean score for this section is 38.03. It is rare for test-takers to score less than 7 and more than 50.
Analytical Writing Assignment
The mean score for this section is 4.34. It is an average of two scores, one from a human reader and other from a computerized assessment program.
The mean score for this section is 4.33.
3 Most Common Reasons for Failing the GMAT
Why do some GMAT test-takers fail to perform to their potential? Is it a lack of preparation or a lack of understanding of the fundamentals? Do they lose the race against time, or are their careless errors to blame? It is actually all these reasons, as discussed below.
By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail – Benjamin Franklin
As you know by now, GMAT tests you on your junior high and high school level curricula. Naturally, you need to know the material cold. More importantly, you need to train your mind to apply the knowledge to the mind-bending questioning style you’ll encounter on your GMAT exam. Don’t remember high school algebra? You won’t do well on the Quant Section. The same is true if you’re not as comfortable crunching decimals, fractions, and percents. Your language skills may otherwise be solid, but your knowledge of the grammatical rules and stylistic conventions learnt years ago may have become a bit rusty. It increases the likelihood that you will spend more time on the tough questions in the Verbal Section. All of this ties into the basic mistake of not understanding the fundamentals well enough.
#1: Lacking Factual Knowledge
Some areas of the curriculum may come easily to you, and you may face no problem getting through with them correctly and swiftly. Other areas may confuse you a bit and take up time. Every GMAT test-taker has his/her own strengths and weaknesses. Naturally, you want to devote some more time to your weak areas with more practice and preparation. But how do you figure out where you’re lacking? The GMATPrep® software on the official website of the GMAT has mock tests designed to analyze your strengths and weaknesses. Take a stab at these tests and more if you wish; you’ll find hundreds of mock GMAT tests online.
If you’re not getting a particular answer and want to save time trying to figure it out by searching your math book or the dictionary or an online educational resource, select practice tests that come with explanations to each question. When you go wrong, you can always refer to the solution, figure out why you made the mistake, and learn, relearn, or unlearn something to be able to solve all other similar questions correctly. It also helps to maintain notes that you can revisit when in doubt or review right before the exam.
#2 Poor Time Management
Time is of the essence in the GMAT. Many test takers score poorly because they answered slowly and ran out of time. Poor time management means not finishing every question on the test, which can pull down your score. It is critical that you have a time plan for each section and stay on track every step of the way. If it’s been a long time since you took an academic-oriented test, time management can become a lot more challenging. Preparation and practice become even more important in this scenario.
1 Minute Time Sense
You obviously cannot keep checking the clock after every problem. What you can do is develop a time sense, specifically a 1-minute time sense.
How It Works
For Reading Comprehension, Sentence Correction, and other one-minute questions, you must be almost done with the problem in one minute. For Quant and Critical Reasoning questions, you must be on track to solving the problem (knowing what to do) at the end of the first minute, and get to the answer within the next minute.
What You Need
- A stopwatch with lap timing enabled
- A set of 5-10 Quant or Critical Reasoning questions
Start solving the problems.
When you think it’s been a minute, push the lap button.
Push again when you’re done with the problem. Continue until you finish all the questions.
Go back to see your time performance. Anywhere between 45 seconds and 1 minute 15 seconds is good. With any more or any less, you’ll need more practice. The 1-minute time sense can be developed in three to four weeks.
Two Readings Rule
This is a simple rule requiring you to read any question twice and not any more than that. After the second reading, you’ll only be wasting more time trying to understand it.
Some of the common strategies to improve reading speed.
- Eliminating sub-vocalization, that is, saying the words out aloud in your head. It isn’t necessary to comprehend what you’re reading and only wastes time.
- Reading actively as opposed to passively. One way to do this is to ask yourself what you want to know by reading the information and preparing your mind to notice important details immediately.
- Knowing when to speed up and when to slow down a little. It’s as much about control as it is about acceleration. When the information appears confusing, go slow; if it’s familiar and you can relate it to things you already know, go full speed ahead.
Musk Melson Strategy
Visualize the full section as five wedges of 15 minutes each. Check the number of questions you are able to solve after every 15 minutes. For the Verbal Section, you should be able to solve an average of 8 questions in 15 minutes and 7 for Quant. If you’re unable to, you can adjust your speed accordingly.
#3 Too Many Careless Errors
When you know what to do and make a mistake anyway, that’s a careless error. Careless errors come in various forms. The only way to deal with them is to first understand why you are making them, and then find a solution to eliminate them.
Really, really silly math errors like 3 + 3 = 9 Such errors reflect a lack of focus. The GMAT is a 3.5-hour marathon where your focus must be completely and intently on the problem at hand. If you’re feeling nervous or restless, take a deep breath, relax, and don’t allow yourself to be distracted by your surroundings. A silly error in sentence correction suggests that you may be rushing through the sentence.
These tips can help you avoid silly mistakes.
- Break down a long step into smaller steps
- Be careful while writing plus and minus signs
- Learn to reverse-check quickly (for math) and have a sanity check in place (for english) where you develop a habit of judging if an expression or conclusion sounds right
- Be thorough with the basics to avoid making errors answering simple questions
Solving for what is not asked.
Know what you’re solving for to avoid muddling up details and, worse, wasting time. You could be making this silly error from reading the question too quickly or misreading it. It is important to read the question carefully and equally important not to over-read it, i.e., look for a theoretical answer as opposed to a commonsensical one. Another tip is to explore different ways of solving a problem during your GMAT preparation. This will help you identify the best way to solve and look past what is not necessary to solve. Finally, when analyzing a question or solving a problem, always refer back to what is specifically being asked.
Some test takers have a tendency to make certain types of errors. If you’re prone to making such mistakes, list them out, find appropriate solutions, and monitor for recurrence.
Finally, illegible or careless writing can punish you in the Quant Section. If you’ve mistaken 7 for 1 on multiple occasions during preparation or as a natural habit, it’s time for a permanent fix. The best way to fix this problem is to first examine your writing. Do your “Y’s’ look like “U’s’ and “Q’s’ look like “O’s’? Do the same with numbers and mathematical symbols. Once you’ve identified the handwriting habits that cause errors, practice writing them legibly if only for five or ten minutes a day. It will go a long way in improving your handwriting.
Mental Math vs. Longhand On Scratch Paper.
Some test takers may find their comfort zone in mental math while others may prefer scratch paper. In the former case, you cannot but rely on some tools:
- Substituting numbers by replacing values with equal values that are easier to manipulate
- Changing the order of numbers to make it simpler to work with them
- Decomposing numbers by breaking them into useful units for easier calculations
25×120 Decompose 25 into 20+5 25×120 = 20×120 + 5×120 = 2400 + 600 = 3000
Break each number into its factors 25×120 = 25x12x10 = 25x6x2x10 = 25x2x6x10 = 50×60 = 3000
So, how do you learn and review the basics?
Here’s the most effective approach:
- Review one topic at a time, such as four-function math, parallelism, or subject-predicate
- Become adept in the topic
- Practice questions/problems around the topic to pick up speed
The GMAT Verbal Section is comprised of 41 questions that cover grammar, reading, and analytical questions to be answered within 75 minutes. The objective of this section is to assess your prowess over written English, your ability to analyze arguments, and your reading ability. Typically, you should expect about 14 to 15 questions each dealing with sentence correction and critical reasoning and approximately 12 questions testing your reading comprehension.
The scores for the verbal section are given from 0 to 60 although it is virtually impossible to score above 44. It is equally rare to see a score below 9 in this section, too. For incomplete tests, the scoring is done on the basis of the number of questions answered provided all sections have some attempted answers. However, do note that unanswered questions will dramatically reduce your overall score. The GMAT scoring algorithm also factors in the difficulty levels of the questions answered.
Basics of Preparing for the Verbal Section
Developing a strong command over the language from various sources known for elevated English is a good strategy to scoring well in this section. Good choices would be newspapers like the New York Times, classics, or well-written modern fiction. Pick up reading material that has correct, idiomatic language.
Daily preparation is necessary to score well on the GMAT, and this applies to the Verbal Section, as well. Use the official materials to study for the test, and take up one section per day so that you can have a complete and clear understand of all the concepts before you move on to the next. However, it is important to revisit the previously studied sections periodically to firmly entrench the information in your mind. Give more attention to the areas where you score the least during your practice tests. Regular, consistent practice is critical, and you should set aside a specific time of the day every day to improve your ability to score in this section.
The Basic Principles of the Verbal Section
The objective of this section of the GMAT exam is to evaluate whether or not you can read and accurately comprehend English content, reason out arguments without losing sight of their inferences, identify incorrect English, and make appropriate corrections.
The sentence correction section assesses your command over the language and the language conventions. You will need to be proficient in grammar, sentence structure, and diction to score highly here. Each question comes with five options to choose from.
The critical reasoning section evaluates your ability to critically comprehend an argument that is presented in a paragraph. The reading comprehension section measures your ability to read quickly yet effectively without compromising on your understanding of the paragraph. Expect to see excerpts from the social sciences, humanities, business, biology and the physical sciences here. The reading comprehension questions are further categorized into four sets.
Common Misconceptions About the Verbal Section
One of the most common mistakes frequently made by candidates who are native speakers of English is to give the verbal section less attention. This assumption that they can score without specifically training for this part of the test is a fallacy that can prove to be very damaging to their overall scores. Even English majors will need to put in adequate study to ensure they can get a high score because the questions appearing in this section of the exam do not test the language skills you developed at the college level.
The GMAT verbal section does not directly assess your vocabulary. This is another area where most people make the mistake of expecting word analogies or multiple-choice questions. Your vocabulary is evaluated by the presentation of text throughout the three sections that appear within this segment.
In this section, it is important to switch your mental gears into thinking of the most valid answers rather than the exact ones. This is another area where many candidates waste a lot of unnecessary time trying to locate the perfect answer. The best approach is to undertake a process of elimination wherein you keep striking out the answers that seem least likely to be correct until you arrive at the most appropriate one.
A paragraph of anywhere between 150 to 350 words long is presented followed by questions. These questions evaluate how well you have understood and interpreted the passage, whether you have drawn the correct conclusion and inferences from it, and whether you are able to spot the logical reasoning that flows through the passage.
Question Format and Structure
You have a total of 12 to 13 questions which are further categorized into four sets. The questions follow the paragraph and ask you to determine the most likely answer from the choices given to you.
The basic principles to scoring in reading comprehension Read the passage completely before starting the questions. At regular points midway through your reading, mentally summarize what you have read so far and what it indicates. GMAT paragraphs are usually very structured, and that means the first sentence gives you a good idea of what the rest of the paragraph has to say. Keep a keen eye out for words like but, still, however, nevertheless, although, and regardless. These words subtly change the meanings of the sentences, and unless you are paying keen attention, you will miss the words and the slant they give to the paragraph.
Choosing the most apparent option; this is usually not the right one. Trigger words are used to switch the paragraph’s meaning, and candidates often miss this when they skim through quickly. Getting too involved in reading the answers and trying to understand them instead of first weeding out the ones that are out of the scope of the paragraph. Getting bogged down by facts and figures rather than understanding the overall direction of the paragraph.
A preview of critical reasoning Arguments are presented in the form of a short passage. You have to read the passage, understand it, and choose the right answers.
Question Format and Structure
- 1) choose the answer that either supports or weakens the original premise
- 2) find the correct assumption based on the argument, or
- 3) make an accurate inference from the argument.
- There are 14 to 15 questions here and five answer choices per question.
A good strategy is to read the questions first and then move on to reading the actual passage. This helps you identify the section of the passage and the specific argument that pertains to the question. Break down the passage into its intro, evidence, and conclusion to avoid ambiguity. The paragraph is sure to be peppered with logical traps. Pay keen attention to the word usage to get the flow of logic accurately.
Overlooking opposite answer questions. Falling for logical traps and confusing consequences with causes. Not being familiar with terminology and, as a result, making the wrong answer choices.
A preview of critical reasoning Previewing sentence correction: This section is typically deemed to be the easiest of the three, but going into this section with overconfidence can cost you heavily. Here, you may have sentences with seven types of errors: verb time, comparison, modifiers, parallelism, subject-verb agreement, pronoun agreement, and idioms.
Question Format and Structure
14 to 15 questions are typical in the sentence correction section of your GMAT test. You will have five choices for each question, and you will have to identify the correct one in terms of style, structure, grammar, usage, clarity, and idiomatic expression. The first option is usually the same as what is given in the question. A portion of the sentence is underlined, and you have to choose the best answer in terms of whether the underlined portion is correct or whether any of the remaining four choices can replace it to make the sentence clearer. Look at a sample question here.
Commonly Tested Grammar on the GMAT
Consistency of pronoun use, subject-verb agreement, pronoun consistency, parallel construction, verb tense, dangling modifiers – these are the common grammatical aspects that you expect to be tested on in this section. Apart from this, you should keep an eye out for redundancy, word mismatches, and missing words.
Here Are a Few Ways that SC Questions Get Harder.
- Sentences get longer and more complex.
- The underlined portion gets longer (sometimes including the entire sentence).
- The correct answer is less appealing.
- All the answers are grammatically correct, but only one is the best, making it difficult to find the right one.
- The right answer may not be perfect, it may still be awkward. Don’t overlook an option just because it “doesn’t sound right”. The idea is to find the best among the given choices, not the best among all possible answers.
- Word order errors or the use of similar sounding words that have different meanings is a common trick used to complicate GMAT SC questions.
Top Seven Tips for Scoring in Sentence Correction.
- Invest time in understanding basic concepts (e.g.: fluff vs. deep structure, clauses vs. phrases, verbs vs. verb forms) and get adequate practice.
- Look for subject-verb agreement issues which occur in almost half of your SC questions.
- Line up pronouns correctly with their antecedents. Understand the rules.
- There is typically one critical issue with each question. Your first step should be to eliminate all the answers that are evidently wrong in terms of this critical issue.
- Use splits to eliminate wrong answers quickly but beware of false splits. Reading and comprehending the answer options thoroughly is a good way to avoid this trap.
- Do not start by reading the paragraph and then the question and then going through each answer option one by one in detail. The key is to eliminate wrong answers as quickly as possible.
- Every SC question is designed to evaluate two concepts, so starting out by identifying which two are being tested makes your answer choice elimination easier and the final choice more accurate.
Resources to Study the GMAT Verbal Section:
The Quantitative Section tests how well you can analyze data using your reasoning skills to draw accurate conclusions. The mathematics curriculum for the section is the same as that taught in secondary school/high school.
Tests, Composition, and Pacing
Two types of multiple-choice questions: data sufficiency and problem-solving. 13-14 data sufficiency questions: One question is followed by two statements. You must determine if the information in the statements — whether taken singly or together — is sufficient to answer the question. 23-24 problem-solving questions: Choose the best among the five solutions to a problem.
In totality, the Quantitative Section consists of 37 questions that must be solved in 75 minutes. That gives you an average of a little over two minutes per question. If you understand the questions and work off strong foundational knowledge, you’ll easily be able to solve each within two minutes.
You can score between 0 and 60 points. See table here.
Algebra is one of the core competencies of this section and involved in more than 50% of all problems. Geometry, number theory, probability, combinatorics, exponents and square roots, and variable operations are some other fundamentals you’ll be measured on. As indicated earlier, you’ll be tested on elementary mathematical concepts that most students have learned by 10th grade.
What business schools want to know is, given your math fundamentals, how you can reason quantitatively. In the real world, when you’re dealing with a vast amount of information from case studies, you’ll need to make sense of it all and use it to inform solutions to business challenges.
Other competencies are analysis, attention to the right details, pattern recognition, and translating statement problems into math (paraphrasing).
- Solve the problems and choose the best answer.
- All figures lie in a plane except when noted. All numbers used are real numbers. Flat figures and a lack of imaginary numbers simplify analysis.
Note: Unless otherwise indicated, the figures accompanying questions have been drawn as accurately as possible and may be used as sources of information for answering the questions. This means you can use the figures for estimating measurements and size relationships. When diagrams are not drawn to scale, observing them closely does not make sense, and you’re better off working past them to get to the solution.
You can use a simple four-step process to tackle all the problems in this section.
- Identify the type of problem: algebra, permutation, standard deviation, overlapping sets, etc. This will tell you what formulas and/or rules to use.
- See if you can simplify the problem.
- Scan the answers to select the approach: if they’re numerical values, can you put them back into the question (backsolve), or if they’re widely spread, can you estimate?
Stating the task
A common trap is to find the right answer to the wrong question. So be clear about what you’re solving for.
You should have a straightforward approach and avoid getting into complex calculations.
As you cannot return to an answer to re-check your work, it is best to read the question again as you’re selecting the answer, and should you spot a glitch, take a second stab at it. If not, you can move on to the next question.
In this method, you solve the problem backwards by starting with the answer choices and putting them in the given equations to determine which one works.
Example 1 – A rectangular door is twice as long as it is wide. If its perimeter is 20 feet, what are the rectangle’s dimensions?
- A: 16/2 by 7/2
- B: 20/2 by 10/2
- C: 10/2 by 5/2
- D: 20/3 by 10/3
- E: 9 by 6
Answer – Perimeter = 2(L+W), so you need to see which answer can make the perimeter equal to 20 feet. Also note that L:W :: 2:1. You can eliminate ‘A’ because 16/2 is not twice 7/2. You can similarly rule out E because two times six is not nine. Move to B. 2[(20/2)] + 2[(10/2)] = 30, so wrong answer. Move to C. 2[(10/2)] + 2[(5/2)] = 15, so wrong answer. So the right answer has to be D. Confirm it. 2[(20/3)] + 2[(10/3)] = 60/3 = 20.
Picking numbers In this method, you select numbers that meet the conditions/requirements of the question, perform certain operations on them, and then compare them against the answer choices.
Example 2 – The revenue of a company increased 20 percent and then decreased 25 percent. What was the final change in revenue relative to the original revenue?
- A: 5% increase
- B: 5% decrease
- C: 10% decrease
- D: 10% increase
- E: No change
Answer – Given the percentage values, picking 100, i.e., assuming the original revenue to be $100, can aid quick calculations. A 20% increase brings the revenue to $120. A 25% decrease from $120 brings the revenue down to $90. At this amount, the net change in revenue is negative 10% [($90 – $100)/$100]
GMAT questions are not designed for lengthy, complex calculations, which means you can estimate to arrive at the right answer.
Example 4 – What is 30% of the square root of 67?
- A : 19.2
- B : 54.9
- C : 0.30
- D : 17.8
- E : 2.4
Answer – Approximate 67 a little less to 64, whose square root is 8. So, let the square root of 67 be 8.2. So, now you have to calculate 30% of 8.2. Approximate 30% as 1/3 to now calculate 8.2/3, which is less than 3. As you know this number will be a little bigger than the actual answer, you have to look for an answer that’s a little smaller than this value. That makes the correct answer 2.4.
This method is useful when the problem consists of two sets of data.
Example 5 – At Infotech Corporation, there are 350 employees. Of these, 90 are female and the rest are male. There are 140 managers in total and the rest of the employees are analysts. If there are totally 135 male analysts, how many female managers does the company have?
- A : 10
- B : 20
- C : 15
- D : 30
- E : 5
Answer – As every member is categorized in two different ways, the double matrix method can be used.
The matrix with the numbers filled in
Looking at the table above, G = 260, and the total number of associates = F = 210 (350 total – 140 managers)
The new matrix will look like
In the ‘analysts’ row, 135+E=210, meaning E=75.
Finding the number of female managers is now easy. In the ‘females’ column, B – 75 = 90, meaning B = 15. Therefore, the correct answer is C.
Common problem-solving mistakes
- Over solving problems: Some problems are designed to trap you into unnecessary calculations. Don’t solve more than what is necessary, or you’ll only end up wasting time.
- Rushing too fast: Don’t jump to conclusions. It’s okay to start a little slow to understand the problem correctly and avoid confusion.
- Getting confused: This includes confusing units of measurement, a percent increase with an absolute percent (100 percent of 60 is not the same as a 100 percent increase from a base of 60), volume left versus volume removed, or distance traveled versus distance remaining.
- Getting intimidated by the numbers: As you’re not allowed a calculator, the numbers given will be easy to work with. So focus on acing calculations without fear.
- Not reading questions carefully: A classic mistake test takers make is answering the question they thought they read versus what it actually asked. What’s more, test writers tend to deliberately include answer choices that answer misinterpretations of the questions.
The Data Sufficiency section tests your ability to analyze a quantitative problem and recognize the information necessary to find the solution. There is no calculation or number-crunching involved.
Critical thinking is a skill and an asset to nailing the data sufficiency section. Like problem-solving, attention to the right details is also important.
In each of the problems, a question is followed by two statements containing certain data. You must determine whether the data provided by the statements is sufficient to answer the question. Choose the correct answer based on the statements’ data, your knowledge of mathematics, and your familiarity with everyday facts.
You Need To Indicate Whether:
- A: Statement (1) alone is sufficient, but statement (2) is not sufficient
- B: Statement (2) alone is sufficient, but statement (1) is not sufficient
- C: Both statements taken together are sufficient, but neither statement alone is sufficient
- D: Each statement alone is sufficient
- E: Statements (1) and (2) together are not sufficient
Each data sufficiency question has three components:
- The data given in the question
- The question itself
- The statements that give you data These may or may not allow you to answer the question
Example – If x is positive, is x a prime number?
- x is odd
- x < 8
Answer – Consider (1); it tells you that x is positive and odd. If so, it could be prime, say 3. However, it can also be a composite number, say 9. That makes statement (1) insufficient. Now, let’s consider (2) alone. You know that x is positive and less than 8. Does that make it prime? Not necessarily, as x can be 3 — which is prime — or 4 — which is composite. Additionally, we’re not sure if x is an integer, meaning it could also be 2.5. Therefore, statement (2) is insufficient.
With both statements insufficient on their own, you must consider them together. That tells you that x is odd, positive, and less than 8. The only possible values for x are 1, 3, 5, and 7. Further, 1 is not a prime number. Therefore, when taken together, the statements are still insufficient. The correct choice is ‘E.’
Data Sufficiency Strategies
Memorize the answer choices. The answer choices for data sufficiency questions never change, so memorizing them can save you time by giving you a good head-start. For instance, if Statement 1 is insufficient, you can instantly strike out choices A and D. Use elimination and guessing to your advantage An advantage of data sufficiency questions is that you can rule out two or three answers at a time. But what if you have made a decision on one of the two statements, and you’re struggling to figure out the other one?
Here Are Four Tips:
- If, on its own, Statement 1 is sufficient, and Statement 2 is confusing, strike out B, C, and E. This will leave you with A and D.
- If, on its own, Statement 1 is confusing, and Statement 2 is sufficient on its own, rule out A, C, and E. You’ll be left with B and D.
- If, on its own, Statement 1 is not sufficient, and Statement 2 is confusing, eliminate A and D to choose between B, C, and E.
- If Statement 1 is confusing, and Statement 2 is not sufficient on its own, rule out B and D. This will leave you with A, C, and E.
Prove insufficiency Don’t stop at one or two “no’s.” Seek out various possibilities to prove that the statement is sufficient in all the cases, or find one or more cases that make the statement insufficient. What really helps here is applying the few unique cases where a conclusion that appears likely is invalid.
Treat the obvious answer with caution. Data sufficiency questions are designed to test your ingenuity and critical thinking skills, so don’t expect to arrive at a conclusion in a matter of seconds. If an answer choice seems like an obvious winner within 15-20 seconds, you may just fall into a trap.
Don’t contradict yourself. The statements in a data sufficiency question will never contradict each other. That means, if your answers for Statement 1 and Statement 2 are different, you need to revisit your work.
Common Data Sufficiency Mistakes
- Over-calculating: Data sufficiency is about determining whether an answer can be given, and not what the answer is. When a question contains a bunch of fractions and operations with just one variable, you only need to figure out whether you have the data to find an answer to the problem.
- Under-calculating: As discussed above, in order to prove insufficiency, you need to consider multiple cases, so you cannot afford to skip calculations.
- Unnecessarily combining statements: One juvenile error is looking at both statements, thinking that you can find the answer, and deciding that together the statements are sufficient. But keep in mind that the answer choices also ask if either statement alone can answer the question.
- Not analyzing each statement separately: It’s really important to determine if each answer by itself offers a satisfactory answer. When moving from one answer choice to another, set aside the data supplied in the previous statement and vice-versa.
- Making assumptions: Assuming more than what’s explicitly stated in a question and foregoing other possible options is dangerous and can easily lead you to the wrong conclusion.
A Rundown Of The Math Topics Covered In The Quantitative Section
Algebra on the GMAT
- Translating Words into Expressions and Equations
- Isolating a Variable
- Quadratic Equations
- Special Cases in Systems of Linear Equations
- Functions and Symbolism
- Answers and Explanations
Arithmetic on the GMAT
- Arithmetic Basics
- Fractions and Decimals
- Absolute Value
- Answers and Explanations
Number Properties on the GMAT
- Integers and Non-integers
- Odds and Evens
- Positives and Negatives
- Factors and Multiples
- Remainders and Primes
Proportions on the GMAT
- Applying Fractions and Proportions
- Ratios Percents with Specified Values
Statistics on the GMAT
- Median, Mode, Range, and Standard Deviation
- Sequences of Integers
- Combinations and Permutations
Math Formulas on the GMAT
- Rates and Speed – Converting Rates
- Rates and Speed – Multi-Part Journeys
- Combined Rates and Combined Work
- Interest Rates
- Overlapping Sets
Geometry on the GMAT
- Lines and Angles
- Multiple Figures
- Coordinate Geometry
GMAT Quantitative Section Resources:
Analytical Writing Assessment
The Analytical Writing Assessment or AWA was added to GMAT after repeated requests from business schools. This section eliminates the possibility of foreign students hiring others to write their application essays and it also weeds out students who lack good writing skills.
In this segment, your critical analysis ability is evaluated and so is your ability to express your ideas. An argument is presented to you and you are required to analyze the reasoning behind it and critique it.
Essay Format and Structure
A single essay question, also called a prompt, is given here. You have 30 minutes to complete this section using the in-built word processor to compose your own essay in response to the prompt.
How is the AWA Scored?
You can score between 0 to 6 on the AWA section of the test. The scoring for this section is done by a college or university faculty member drawn from the English or Communications stream. Holistic grading is applied to your essay with 6 representing an ‘outstanding essay’ and 0 representing no substantive response.
The presentation of the content, the organization of thoughts, command over the english language (syntax and word choice), and grammar all play key roles in your scoring. Your essay is also scored by a computerized e-rater. If the e-rater’s score and the human reader’s score show a variance of only one point, the scores are averaged. Otherwise, a second human reader grades the essay, and the two scores from the human readers are averaged to give you the final score.
The Basic Principles of Analytical Writing
In the 30 minutes that you are allocated, you are required to analyze the argument and then present a constructive critique. You can either agree with the argument or disagree; however, you have to articulate your stance well and present supporting evidence and arguments that are convincing and reasonable. To score high in this section, you need to possess exemplary analytical and writing skills.
An analytical essay is broadly divided into three sections: the opening paragraph, the main idea, and the conclusion. Your essay should adhere to this structure. Keep the language simple and ensure that your arguments are clear and precise. Ambiguity because of complex sentence structure or vague ideas can be detrimental to your score. Pay special attention to the logical flow of your arguments, and ensure that there is no flaw or contradiction. Keep in mind that you are required to follow the rules of standard written English.
Breakdown: Analysis of an Argument
The first step is to read the prompt and understand the central opinion of the author. Your understanding of this can be your opening to the critique. Now, move on to the arguments presented in the prompt and assess them to see which ones seem faulty or weak. Make a note of why you feel these are flawed; you will need to explain this when you write your essay. The next step is to come up with arguments and evidence that supports your stance. At this point, also consider points that may be raised against your conclusion, so that you can preempt criticism and address it in your essay.
Practice makes perfect when it comes to AWAs. Apart from sample AWA prompts that you can find online (such as here), you can also take up news articles from reputed papers, blogs, journals, and weeklies and build arguments in support of them or against them. Review your written arguments objectively and also get them reviewed by people who are fluent in English. Reading arguments, developing and writing your own counter argument, and getting feedback on your written work are the most effective ways to practice for your AWA.
AWA Argument Essay Tips to Scoring High
- Review several sample AWA essays to understand how best to format your argument. You will find a few samples here.
- A review of past AWA essay topics will give you a good idea of what to expect and help you prepare yourself beforehand by reading up on subjects that may be pertinent.
- When you are taking the test, read the prompt thoroughly and identify the main argument being made and the conclusion that is being drawn. This is the first step.
- Look out for flawed logic, baseless assumptions, and weak evidence used to support the conclusion.
- Do not remain focused on the length of your essay. A well-written, well-argued 400-word essay will get a better score than a poorly organized, weakly argued 600-word one.
Tips to Score High with the E-rater:
- Maintain a rigid, highly organized structure with your essay.
- Sections should be clearly demarcated.
- Use qualifiers carefully and judiciously.
Sample Structure of AWA Essay
Introduction Restate the argument in your own words to show how well you have comprehended it. Follow it up by stating whether you agree or disagree with the argument, and present your assessment of why the argument is flawed or correct.
Write two to three body paragraphs to take up specific sections of the prompt, and break them down critically. Conclude with your point of view about the argument and the evidence that would have supported it.
Here is The General Structure to Follow for These Body Paragraphs:
- State the aspect of the argument that you want to address, and describe the manner in which it is either valid or invalid, starting your explanation with a transition.
- Next, share your reasons for holding your point of view.
- Make sure to present your main points and your evidence to back up your points here.
- State why the prompt does not really make a valid point.
- End the paragraph with a summation of how the argument could have been strengthened.
Reiterate your position. Summarize the complete essay, and address the original argument if your view is completely contrary to it.
What to Include in Your AWA Essay:
- Include examples to support your opinion. Make use of “for example,” “specifically,” “for instance,” “to illustrate,” or “because.”
- Include examples providing additional support to your evidence/opinion. Make use of “in addition,” “furthermore,” “moreover,” “similarly,” “also,” “just as,” or “as a result.”
- Add importance to your argument by making use of “surely,” “in fact,” “truly,” “clearly,” “most importantly,” or “undoubtedly.”
- Highlight contrasts by making use of “yet,” “rather,” “despite,” “instead,” “although,” “however,” or “while.”
- Help drive the decision against the prompt by making use of “it could be argued that,” “one cannot deny that,” “admittedly,” or “granted.”
- Encourage comparison by making use of “on one hand” and “on the other hand.” Convince the reader of your conclusion by making use of “ultimately,” “in summary,” “therefore,” “hence,” “in conclusion,” “consequently,” or “in closing.”
Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA) Resources:
The Integrated Reasoning (IR) section requires you to analyze data presented in various forms, such as words, tables, and charts, and derive insights in order to answer questions about the data. The questions are varied, from asking you to interpret the reason for a particular trend in the data to determining whether a statement is true or false. There are a total of 12 questions and a 30-minute deadline.
IR measures your higher-order reasoning skills. It was added to the GMAT to test an important skill that employers seek in new hires: the ability to assess information in a variety of formats, synthesize it, and draw conclusions that aid decision-making. As modern business intelligence and decision support systems are driven by data, this section tests how well you can manage in today’s data-driven workplace.
You can score between 1 and 8 points. It is separate from the Verbal and Quantitative scores, and won’t factor in your overall GMAT score. While the score won’t be included in the Unofficial Score Report that you get immediately after the GMAT, it will be provided to you within 20 days as part of the Official GMAT Score Report.
This section consists of four types of questions:
- Table Analysis: Here, you have to analyze a table of data and determine the accuracy of four or five statements. You can sort the table to pull out insights.
- Graphics Interpretation: You read and interpret a graph or other image and then answer response statements using drop-down menus.
- Multi-Source Reasoning: Here, you’re provided with a set of tabbed pages, all of them containing relevant information. You’re required to use all the sources to judge the accuracy of the given statements.
- Two-Part Analysis: You must figure out the two correct components of the answer to two-part analysis questions. The answer choices are presented in a table, and all options need to be considered.
Manage Time Efficiently
Integrated Reasoning affords you more time per question than the Verbal or Quant sections. However, as the questions in this section are different from each other, you’ll need to time each test accordingly.
Reading the passages will take up a lot of your time. Allocate two minutes to get familiar with the passage and 90 seconds for each question.
As the tables are big and complex, devote up to three minutes to each question to improve your chances of answering all three prompts for each question accurately.
Though you won’t have to deal with as much information as in the Table Analysis, synthesizing it can take up time. You’ll also need to look at multiple prompts per question. So it’s best to allocate three minutes per question.
A comparatively less challenging test, your critical reasoning experience will come in handy here, and the answer choices are also, as such, quite straightforward. Two minutes per question will suffice.
Understand how Executives Make Decisions
The good news is that you can apply some of the skills from the Quant and Verbal sections to IR, particularly the former. Besides the reading and data interpretation, Math is also a common feature across both sections. What makes IR different then? It boils down to the two key skills for this section: critical thinking and executive function.
Critical thinking is a disciplined process involving the skillful conceptualization, application, analysis, synthesis, and/or evaluation of information. In the context of the GMAT, accurate reasoning plays a major role, while in the real world, your evaluation and actions can be guided by observation, experience, and reflection. Executive function comprises mental skills that enable you to plan, organize, remember, reason, prioritize, multi-task, and execute problem-solving. These skills are extremely important for an executive to succeed in today’s dynamic business environment.
How can you develop critical thinking and executive functioning skills when you have little or no executive experience? By understanding how business leaders do it. Make it a habit to read business magazines and newspapers like Bloomberg Business Week, The Economist, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Harvard Business Review, and The Wall Street Journal, to name some. If you have access to business executives in your social circles, attempt to learn more about their craft. Understand how they weigh risks, manage priorities, and take business decisions. Beyond the confines of test materials and practice papers, there’s a wealth of knowledge that can help you become a well-rounded GMAT test taker.
Have perspective, your preparation for the Verbal and Quant sections will, to a great extent, help you with IR. That doesn’t mean you can afford not to study for this section; rather, don’t prioritize it and save your energy for the other sections. Remember that the Integrated Reasoning section is just half an hour long and not included in the 200-800 score.
The 10-question strategy is a good one to consider. Here, you focus on just ten questions and take a guess at the other two.
The advantages of this strategy are:
- An extra 30 seconds to devote to a graph/table can be the difference between a right and wrong answer. By focusing completely on the 10 questions you’re attempting, you can increase your chances of getting a lot more of them right.
- Almost everyone guesses on some questions in this section. The important question is: will these be questions at the end of the section that you didn’t have time to assess, or are they the questions you’ve selected to guess on? The latter will put you in control of the test while the former may leave you with regrets.
- Trying to answer each of the 12 questions within a 30-minute timeframe is stressful. With no prior plan to skip one or more questions, you’re left with less time per question. Just the knowledge that you have 10 questions before you to tackle and, therefore, a little more time can reduce stress and be good for overall confidence.
Learn the IR Question Types and Formats
A familiarity with how this section works and the different types of tests on it can help you manage time and effort efficiently. As the IR section comes before the Quant/Verbal section, it is important that you don’t panic and carry over the stress to these sections. When you know what you’re in for, your stress levels will stay in control!
Know When to Cut Your Losses
As you can’t get a partial credit in IR and each question has multiple parts, it is best to focus on getting answers right than getting to all of them. Prioritize quality over quantity. For instance, say an IR question has three statements and you need to pick the right choice for each. That means, to get any credit, you’ll have to choose the correct option for all three statements. In a situation where you have figured out the first two questions, it makes sense to attempt the third question. On the other hand, if you’re thrown off by the first two questions, it’s not worth wasting your energy on the third one. It’s better to cut your losses, skip the question, and move on to the next.
Focus on Getting Reading Comprehension Right.
The first critical step in IR is interpreting the question perfectly, which will then allow you to solve it correctly. The verbal and Math concepts tested in this section are not hard; the challenge comes from the way in which they’re framed. Approach the questions as you would a Reading Comprehension passage, working out how different bits of information interact with each other and tie into the big picture.
Five Tips on Analyzing IR Questions
Find the relationship between the variables. When you see a graph, chart or a table, spot the relationships between the variables in the diagram. Does the data increase or decrease suddenly at one or more points? Is there is a direct or indirect correlation between the variables? This understanding will assist in interpreting multiple responses to a large extent.
Read All the Labels
Avoid skipping screens and going straight to the questions, or you may end up sacrificing accuracy. Read the writing near or on the data, including titles, captions, footnotes, etc., as they’re essential to how everything else comes together. Just scanning the data won’t work; in order to analyze and synthesize it, you’ll first need to comprehend it fully.
The Data is There For You to See
Like an open-book test, the answers to IR questions are lurking in the graph, chart, table, and passage provided to you. You just need to know where to look, and this is possible only if you grasp and apply information from everything that’s presented. Sometimes, you may have to use data from one screen and apply it to another. It helps if you can mentally categorize the screens to juggle the data as and when required.
Note Units Carefully
Besides noting the captions and other data located near diagrams, you also need to pay attention to units (sq ft, cub ft, m3, mph, etc.). Is the data in the chart represented in years or months? Do the calculations require you to convert from days to hours? You may have to perform simple conversions when moving between screens, or the units may change from chart to table. Absorb these details to think with greater clarity and minimize risk of errors.
Identify Data Trends
Integrated reasoning is about spotting patterns and data trends. The illustrations and passages are trying to tell you something. The data may move from broad to specific or vice-versa. See if there is or isn’t room for generalization. Understand how trend lines and correlations work to analyze data with accuracy.
Some More Pointers
- Start practicing for the Integrated Reasoning section early on. Include IR practice sections as part of your entire practice test, and try to attempt extra questions, as well.
- If you feel comfortable tackling all 12 multiple questions within the half-hour timeframe, go the full mile on test day. If not, focus on the type of questions you’re good at and those you want to guess on.
- On test day, take a few seconds to assess your least favorite questions instead of just guessing them. If you’re confident about getting them right, attempt them or else quickly guess and move on.
GMAT Integrated Reasoning (IR) Study Resources:
Exam Day Tips
Advanced prepping and smart strategizing apart, a winning attitude can be the morale booster you need to ace the GMAT. Here are some tips on doing your best on exam day.
Create a Schedule
Set a study schedule based on your current situation (are you devoting your full time to studies, are you employed, are you managing a business, etc.), your study habits, and your strengths and weaknesses based on the skills necessary for this exam. Choose the hours for GMAT preparation wisely; this is when you should have both the free time and energy to completely devote yourself to the task at hand.
It’s not the end of the world if you cannot solve a GMAT problem involving ninth grade math. Don’t let what you don’t know get in the way of what you can learn and achieve. Set aside any feelings of shame or dejection, and stay motivated to correct your mistakes and pick up smarter, better ways of navigating this exam.
Visualization is a powerful tool that can alter your environment, changing the way your mind and body react to your surroundings. When attempting practice tests, imagine that it’s D-Day and prepare yourself for what’s ahead. Visualize peak performance on the big day. Spend time every day imagining the various details of each test. This mental preparation will carry over to the actual test day and help you tackle questions with precision and clarity.
Meditation and quiet time can work wonders in calming your nerves and relaxing your mind. If you often tend to get anxious about taking the GMAT, you can try two very effective and simple yoga breathing exercises: pranayama and nadi shodhana.
Make Time for Hobbies and Socialization.
Cramming for the GMAT and staying indoors all day on weekends can take a toll on your mental and physical health. Make some time for hobbies and socializing to clear your mind, think optimistically, and benefit from the encouraging words of support from family and friends.
Last but not the least, take good care of yourself. Eat a nutritious diet and get the physical activity your body needs to build stamina. Don’t sacrifice sleep, and maintain a sense of humor about the GMAT.
All the best!
Lisa Zimmer Hatch, Scott Hatch. GMAT For Dummies. Wiley Press, 2013. ISBN:978-1-118-27383-8
GMAC. The Official Guide for GMAT Review 13th Edition. Wiley Press, 2012. ISBN-13:978-1118109793
LTG Exam Prep. Hacking the GMAT: Sentence Correction: The essential guide for mastering SC grammar. Kindle Publishing 2015.
Brandon Wu. 30 Day GMAT Success, Edition 3: How I Scored 780 on the GMAT in 30 Days and How You Can Too!. Thirty Day Success Press 2014. ISBN-13:978-0983170167
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