Conquer Even the Trickiest GMAT Main Idea Question

Sometimes a GMAT Primary Purpose or Main Idea question can be especially difficult. The passage may not be obviously informational or obviously persuasive, so how can we figure out the author’s point in writing it?

To start, let’s refresh the best 5-Step method for killing GMAT RC:

Proper RC Strategy

Step 1 – Read the Passage —> Do a Passage Map!

Step 2 – Rephrase the Question

Step 3 – Write Down a Prediction (Go Back to the Passage!)

Step 4 – Eliminate 3 Choices (Use “+”, “-“”, and “?” Symbols)

Step 5 – Carefully Compare the “Final Two”

Questions to Ask:

– Does the Wrong Answer Use Unnecessary Extreme Language?

– Is the Wrong Answer Outside the Scope of the Passage?

– Is the Wrong Answer Not Specifically Answering THIS Question?

– Can I Rephrase the Wrong Answer to Make It More Understandably Incorrect?

First, let’s re-format the passage so we can see how the author organizes it:

The fields of antebellum (pre-Civil War) political history and women’s history use separate sources and focus on separate issues. Political historians, examining sources such as voting records, newspapers, and politicians’ writings, focus on the emergence in the 1840’s of a new “American political nation,” and since women were neither voters nor politicians, they receive little discussion. Women’s historians, meanwhile, have shown little interest in the subject of party politics, instead drawing on personal papers, legal records such as wills, and records of female associations to illuminate women’s domestic lives, their moral reform activities, and the emergence of the woman’s rights movement.

However, most historians have underestimated the extent and significance of women’s political allegiance in the antebellum period. For example, in the presidential election campaigns of the 1840’s, the Virginia Whig party strove to win the allegiance of Virginia’s women by inviting them to rallies and speeches. According to Whig propaganda, women who turned out at the party’s rallies gathered information that enabled them to mold party-loyal families, reminded men of moral values that transcended party loyalty, and conferred moral standing on the party. Virginia Democrats, in response, began to make similar appeals to women as well. By the mid-1850’s the inclusion of women in the rituals of party politics had become commonplace and the ideology that justified such inclusion had been assimilated by the Democrats.

We’ve got two paragraphs, so I’d break them down on our scratch pad as below. I highlighted the keywords from the passage that stuck out to me and upon which I based my inferences.

STEP 1 – Passage Map

Topic: history fields
Scope: how they differ
1: to describe how sources/foci of fields differ
2: to exemplify how 1 field underestimates the other
Author’s POV: political historians (-); women’s history (+)
Purpose: to explain how 2 fields differ, and why that’s not (+)

Now we’re in a great position to try a question!

The primary purpose of the passage as a whole is to

STEP 2 – Rephrase: What’s the purpose?
STEP 3 – Prediction: to explain how 2 fields differ, and why that’s not (+)

A. examine the tactics of antebellum political parties with regard to women
B. trace the effect of politics on the emergence of the woman’s rights movement
C. point out a deficiency in the study of a particular historical period
D. discuss the ideologies of opposing antebellum political parties
E. contrast the methodologies in two differing fields of historical inquiry

STEP 4 – First pass:

A. (-) too specific to paragraph 2
B. (?) a little too specific to paragraph 2, but poss. long-shot
C. (+) potentially too negative in tone, but maybe
D. (-) the passage’s topic is not political parties
E. (+) a great fit for the first paragraph, but potentially leaves out paragraph 2

STEP 5 – Second pass:

The “final two” are C and E, since those are the only two options with a (+) mark. So let’s carefully examine the subtle differences between them.

C. point out a deficiency in the study of a particular historical period
E. contrast the methodologies in two differing fields of historical inquiry

Let’s rephrase each one:

C. show (-) in antebellum study
E. contrast HOW 2 fields studied

What it comes down to is whether we believe the ultimate purpose of this passage is INFORMATIONAL or PERSUASIVE. It’s tough, because the first paragraph is largely informational, and then the second paragraph is largely persuasive (it’s rare to see a passage so “split” like this, and this is not an actual GMAC passage, so we can have some healthy suspicion regarding its quality).

Which one should we choose, C or E? This is a MAIN IDEA question, and the correct answer must be the most broad choice that does not step outside the scope of the passage. Since the last half of the passage is persuasive, we could argue that the first paragraph only serves to drive us towards the author’s strong opinion. If we choose (E) here, we are not addressing the final paragraph at all. (E) is really more like the function of the first paragraph only. (C) best matches the overall passage and does an excellent job of matching the author’s point of view.

The answer must be (C).

Takeaway: If a passage seems “split” between informational/persuasive, look closely at the language of the concluding paragraph. Is the author trying to end with a decisive opinion? If so, it’s really a persuasive passage with some informational exposition. What really sold me on C is the strong opinion given in the first sentence of the second paragraph. The author really lays down a thesis, and then provides a detailed example to back himself up. He’s obviously passionate.

Remember to analyze the “final two” answer choices throughly. You can always rephrase them, consider the scope of each one, the specificity of the question-type, and look for extreme/qualifying language. Don’t just read and re-read answer choices as they are presented to you. Think critically!

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Should You Take a Practice Test the Day Before Your Test?

When setting up a Study Schedule with students, I like to leave an open slot the week before the exam, so we can decide as we get closer to your GMAT test whether you should do another “last minute” CAT. Why? Because in my experience there is no hard and fast rule. Some of my students just need a break the two days before the exam to mentally “rest up,” while others seem to enjoy re-taking a GMATPrep 3 or 4 two days before just to move the flow of “official” questions front-and-center.

So what should YOU do? Ultimately, see how you feel the week of, and make your own decision. If you’re feeling burnt out or worried it might make your anxious, definitely avoid it. There’s nothing you’re really going to be able to cram in the 48 hours before the test that’s going to make that great a difference to your score. So the only benefit to a CAT that close to your exam is if you think of it like a prolonged runner’s stretch.

If you were to take a practice test right before, then I’d do it ONLY to keep your pacing “in shape” and your brain in the GMAT-space, and I’d still NOT suggest doing it the day/night before your exam but rather two days before. If you do decide this is the way to go, I’d suggest a GMATPrep re-take and NOT any new practice tests (such as one from Veritas or MGMAT). There’s no point in taking a brand new practice test if you can’t properly examine the errors, and whatever score that is churned out by the private test prep company could likely unnerve your or undermine your confidence.

If you can take the CAT with a sense of “play” and “muscle-flexing” then go for it, if it seems like a horrible stress nightmare that will lead to sleepless nights, then definitely avoid.

5 Reasons I Should Be Your GMAT Tutor!

Picking a GMAT tutor can be stressful. Will I get along with this person? Will they REALLY be able to bring my score up? What if I don’t even know what my weaknesses are? Here’s five areas in which any good GMAT tutor should excel, and why I think I’m pretty gosh darn good at my job!

  • Knowledge. I was a classroom teacher and private tutor for Kaplan for 4+ years, so I know how larger testprep companies “think.” I’ve taken what I found valuable from Kaplan, Grockit, and the many other smaller companies I’ve worked with, and I specialize in designing a personalized approach for each student.
  • Flexibility. I tutored for 5+ years virtually via Skype with Grockit, and 4+ years with GMATRockstar, so I know how to make online tutoring fun and effective. I’m available days, nights, and weekends, and I am always in steady contact with students via email to monitor progress, answer homework questions, and pass on relevant blogs. I’m your personal cheerleader!
  • Resources. I have written thousands of test prep questions as a freelance content creator for companies such as Grockit, Veritas Prep, and Magoosh. I am constantly mocking new questions from the GMAT Official Guide and GMATPrep software so I can provide students with accurate, challenging homework material that closely aligns with GMAC product. I have PDF files of the most reputable GMAT material, and provide all students with these materials for free.
  • Preparation. I track all of my students’ progress, and create a targeted “game plan” for each student.  I own over 40+ GMAT books and know exactly what chapters and materials to recommend to students. I am also a regular contributor to Beat the GMAT and keep up to date with the latest updates and changes from GMAC.
  • Affordability. I only charge $150/hr, as opposed to the ridiculously high rates test prep giants charge, and there is no minimum number of hours.

10 Ways to Beat the GMAT This Year!

Preparing for tests, especially the GMAT, is no easy task! In between filling out MBA applications, applying for college scholarships, and researching the Best Business Schools, you have to carve out several months for GMAT test prep. These free GMAT tips will help you jumpstart your GMAT test prep!

Create an Error Log. An Error Log is a spreadsheet designed to help you track your incorrect questions for later review. Add to it on an ongoing basis. You will want to re-take GMAT practice questions multiple times to make sure you do not get them incorrect a second or third time. This will improve your GMAT score more than you think! Free GMAT Error Logs are available online at GMAT websites such as Beat the GMAT and GMAT Club.

Practice online. The GMAT is an online exam, so to ace the GMAT you will need to become an expert at negotiating between the screen and your scratch pad. GMAT test prep books such as the OG, or those made by Kaplan, Powerscore, and MGMAT are excellent sources of GMAT practice questions, but make sure you also do a significant amount of studying for the GMAT online. Mimic the test-taking environment as best you can as you study. Websites such as Grockit and MGMAT offer six free GMAT practice tests with their membership or purchase of one of their books. Ideal for adjusting to an online format!

Learn your grammar. Success on the SC portion of the GMAT entirely depends on your ability to recognize the most-tested grammatical errors. Use a good English-grammar book or a reputable GMAT online SC resource to review the basics of subject-verb agreement, independent/dependent clauses, and grammatical construction.

Take full-length tests. The GMAT requires a great deal of stamina. Even if you have limited resources, most test-prep companies such as Knewton, MGMAT, Kaplan, etc. offer one free GMAT practice test online.

Understand why you get questions wrong. Some students believe that more questions answered = better scores on the GMAT. Fundamentally, answered a ton of GMAT practice questions will only lead to faster pacing, but without solid strategies and disciplined reviewing, your overall score will not improve. Don’t be a lazy reviewer!

Study in shorter blocks. Don’t burn yourself out as you aim for better GMAT scores. It’s better to study in shorter 2-3 blocks, taking frequent breaks to eat, stretch, and exercise, rather than to park yourself in front of your computer and books for 10 hours at a time. The GMAT takes commitment, but you don’t want to become a GMAT zombie.

Don’t neglect AWA. Read through the free GMAT list of essay topics for each AWA essay provided for free on mba.com. You will want to practice writing at least 3 of each so that you are comfortable with the timing guidelines. Have a template in mind for each GMAT essay and get feedback from other GMAT students.

Take notes as you read RC passages. Keep it short and simple, but make sure to extract and write down the important information in each GMAT passage: topic, scope, author’s tone, function of each paragraph, and main idea. That way you already have predictions for most of the GMAT RC questions and you will save time by not having to constantly re-read the passage.

Use “12TEN” for Data Sufficiency. Instead of writing down ABCDE for the answer choices on your scratch pad. Use the acronym “12TEN” to represent each choice. T = together. E = either. N = neither. This will help you keep straight what each GMAT answer choice means, and allow you to cross off the options quickly and efficiently as you evaluate the statements.

Backsolve and Pick Numbers. Use these GMAT Quant strategies as much as possible on the more difficult GMAT Math practice questions. Remember that there is often more than one way to get the correct answer! Choose the method of least resistance.

How Much Should You Pay for a Good GMAT Score?

yelpCurrently, my rate is $150/hr for all of my GMAT tutoring, and the question I get the most often from students is, “how can you charge so much less?”

It’s important for GMAT students to consider WHAT they are paying for, exactly, when they hire a company or a tutor to help them with their GMAT prep.

If money is the most important thing to you, then you might as well pay $50/hour for a college freshman to give you algebra tips, but if you want someone who knows the GMAT inside and out (and loves the GMAT), you need to start looking at the $100+ range.

I spent almost a decade working for private test prep companies, as both a classroom teacher/in-person tutor (Kaplan) and a virtual tutor (Grockit), as well as consulting with firms such as Magoosh and Veritas Prep to help them write their curriculum.

Though I learned a great deal working for these companies, one thing many GMAT students don’t realize is that what they are paying and what kind of tutor they are getting is not necessarily directly proportional.

Larger companies often pay their tutors in the realm of $20/hr to start (Kaplan), while charging students somewhere between $150-$300/hr. Teachers and tutors receive minimal training (usually around just 20-30 hours) during which they simply memorize a set script with set strategies and problems, and teach the same course material and the same 50 questions or so over and over (and over and over) again.

These courses are rarely designed to benefit students, since we each learn material differently and have our different strengths and weaknesses. It’s a very “one size fits all” approach, and that is ultimately what jaded me the most about working for a test prep company.

As you embark on your GMAT studies, I encourage you to think about what you expect out of a GMAT classroom course or private GMAT tutor (it’s great when students say to me in a first session, “Here’s the score I want. What do I really need to do to get there?”).

GMAT tutoring is more expensive than ever! Here’s a round-up of current (as of 2016) pricing available online:

  • Kaplan offers three tutoring packages: $2649 for 15 hours, $3749 for 25 hours, or $4849 for 35 hours. That works out to $176/hr, $149/hr, or $138/hr.
  • Manhattan Prep offers a base price of $220/hr, and then a cheaper rate as you buy more hours. If you purchase 25 hours, the rate becomes $195/hr.
  • Veritas Prep also offers its tutoring in packages starting at $2940 for 14 hours. Rates go from $183/hr to $210/hr depending on the package.

The problem:

All of the tutors who work for these companies will teach you curriculum specific to their company and their company only.

If you only study with a Veritas Prep tutor, you might miss out on a specific chapter of a Manhattan Guide that has a superior way of explaining something. If you only study with Kaplan, you may never know how to effectively utilize online resources such as GMATClub or Beat the GMAT to supplement your homework.

You will be getting the exact same tutoring session as every other student.

So why do I charge only $150/hr?

  • I have no boss.
  • I “remix” the best GMAT strategies and materials I have absorbed in my 10+ years to make my own curriculum for each individual student (this is fun for me, I know I’m a nerd). 🙂
  • I believe a good GMAT score is (and should be) available to EVERYONE who can put in at least 10+ hours a week of studying.

So whether you decide to tutor with me or another tutor, make sure you get what you pay for. 

Happy studying! 🙂

Quick Tips to Shift your GMAT AWA Score

1. Use effective transitions. Transitions are words or phrases that connect ideas. They are used by writers to assist the reader in understanding shifts in thought between ideas. They also reveal the relationship between ideas presented in an essay, and they reveal the role a paragraph plays with the rest of the essay. You’ve probably noticed a lot of Transition words in the Reading Comp passages in the GMAT Verbal section without even realizing it! This table provides an overview of most of the common types of Transitions!

2. Don’t try to “have it both ways. ” Choose a side for the Issue essay and stick with it. Don’t try to take a “middle of the road” approach. Even if you don’t 100% believe in the side you’ve chosen to defend, defend it to your full capacity. In 30 minutes, you won’t be able to address the full complexity of the issue.

3. Make a concession before reiterating your thesis. A great way to strengthen your own argument is to acknowledge that there is in fact complexity to the issue. However, if you bring up and describe the opposing side, make sure to criticize it effectively and reiterate that your side is the only one that is valid. This is a great tool to use in your conclusion and can work in either the Issue essay or the Argument essay.

4. Don’t make up examples. Made up statistics and facts won’t impress the GMAT graders, but strong organization, logical arguments, and specific supportive examples will. You can see from the GMAT rubric that the structure, logic, and clarity of your essay are what counts the most, not its level of scholarship. You can get a perfect score even if you know very little of the subject matter.

5. Leave time to proofread. Make sure to spend at least 2-3 minutes at the end re-reading and editing your essay. Are your transitions clear? Are there any spelling or grammar errors? Focus on conveying your argument succinctly and forcefully and look to eliminate long-winded or pedantic phrases/clauses. Also avoid any slang or colloquial speech. The argument essay needs to be formal, but more importantly, forceful, and a couple minutes of editing can really help improve your score!

15-Second Tips for Better Sentence Correction Scores

Here are a few quick tricks I like to use when Sentence Correction starts to feel overwhelming (especially when dealing with convoluted meanings, extremely bloated, wordy clauses, and completely-underlined sentences):

1. Mentally “remove” appositive phrases.

Long GMAT sentences often have way too much extra information. Try to mentally delete the useless info, and hone in on the main pieces of the sentence.

2. Listen to your gut.

Your accuracy was better when you were instinctually identifying what “sounded funny” to you. Hone in on that. The point of learning the common errors is to have a mental checklist to go through when you CAN’T identify what “sounds funny”.

3. Start by identifying the Subject & the Verb.

Every sentence must have them, and if you start here, you’ll be less likely to be overwhelmed by the sentence as a whole.