Using Strategy on the GMAT to Improve your Score

When a GMAT student asks me, “What can I do to get better scores?” usually the first thing I ask is, “What is your current strategy?” Most of the time, I get a pretty vague response. Reading about strategy is the OG, on the BTG forum, or in a GMAT book is NOT the same as actually having a solid strategy. The word “strategy” may sound fuzzy, but all it means is a simple step-by-step approach for each unique question type.

Not only do you have to choose a strategy that works for you, but you have to implement it every time, practicing enough so that is becomes second-hand. Ballet dancers practice a pirouette millions of times, so that when they perform onstage they don’t have to think about it. You want to do the same thing for GMAT.

Before you sit down to take your next diagnostic on GMATPrep, quickly review this strategy cheat sheet (or make one of your own). These methods may not necessarily work for you, but you’ll only learn what does through trial and error. For more in-depth discussion on each of these strategies, search my other posts.

Verbal

Reading Comprehension –

1. Break down the passage. 2. Rephrase the question. 3. Predict an answer. 4. Eliminate.

Critical Reasoning –

1. Identify the Conclusion, Evidence & Assumptions. 2. Rephrase the question. 3. Predict and answer.

Sentence Correction –

1. Spot the primary error. 2. Eliminate answer choices that do not fix. 3. Look for secondary errors and eliminate.

Quant

Problem Solving –

1. Write down the given information. 2. Scan the answer choices. 3. Look for ways to pick numbers or plug in. 4. Recall relevant formulas. 5. Solve.

Data Sufficiency –

1. Identify the type of DS. 2. Determine what is needed for sufficiency. 3. Evaluate statements independently. 4. Combine if needed.

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How to Pace Yourself on the ACT Reading Test

The ACT Reading Test is 35 minutes long and contains 40 questions (10 questions on each passage). This means you’ll have slightly less than 9 minutes to spend on each of the 4 passages, so pacing yourself is essential.

One way you can focus your timing is to briefly flip through the entire test BEFORE you begin. You will always see 4 passages and you must always answer all 40 questions, but that doesn’t mean you have to approach them in the order in which they are presented on the test. As you practice, you will start to realize which passages are easier and which are more challenging for you.

For example, if Prose Fiction is your strong point but Natural Science passages make you nervous, it may make sense for you to do the Prose Fiction passage first and save the Natural Science passage for last. Just because the Natural Science passage is first, doesn’t mean you’ve got to do it right away. If you do decide to skip around, make sure you are still bubbling in your answers into the corresponding numbers on the answer grid. You don’t want to lose points because you bubbled incorrectly!

Another way you can pace yourself appropriately is by practicing your active reading skills. Do you find yourself getting lost in the details or are you someone who tends to read too quickly and miss some of the important information? For the ACT Reading Test, you’ve got to strike a balance between reading for the author’s point of view and for the function of each paragraph and also noting the location of important details in case you need to come back later. Make sure you underline anything that seems significant to you – look for words and phrases that reveal the author’s opinion or summarize or give the main idea of each paragraph. Practice with an egg timer. If you are spending more than 3 minutes reading and marking passages, you are risking not being able to finish all of the questions on test day.

Once you feel confident in your Reading skills and strategies, it’s important to practice before your test day by taking a few full-length practice reading sections. Full-length practice tests are available in ACT practice books at local bookstores, at your local library, and are even downloadable online. Find a quiet place where you can take the practice session and clear off the table or desk. Try and eliminate any distractions and do the best your can to mimic your test-day environment. Keep a clock or timer in front of you so you can periodically check and see how you are doing. You may want to set the timer to go off every 9-10 minutes. If it does and you are still on the same passage, it may indicate to you that you need to practice your strategies in order to get through the test. Don’t rush, but make sure you can move confidently from one passage to the next and answer ALL questions in the time allotted.

Remember there is no wrong answer penalty on the ACT test so you need to make sure to bubble in something, even if you are running out of time!

Tough GMAT: Problem of the Day!

Political Analyst: Because our city is a border city, illegal immigration is an important issue in the current race for mayor. Of the two candidates for mayor, one supports a plan that would attempt to deport the city’s 9,000 illegal immigrants and the other does not. Surveys consistently show that about 60% of the city’s residents are opposed to the plan, while about 35% are in support of the plan. Therefore, the candidate who does not support the plan will win the election for mayor.

All of the following statements weaken the analyst’s argument, EXCEPT:

A) In the city at issue, most voters make their voting decisions based on the candidates’ positions on abortion.

B) Of the 35% of residents who support the plan, some are willing to consider alternate plans for addressing illegal immigration.

C) Many of the residents who oppose the plan are not registered voters.

D) The candidate who supports the plan is the incumbent mayor, and has been elected to four consecutive terms despite taking controversial positions on many important issues.

E) Just under 30% of the city’s residents are illegal immigrants who cannot vote.

Explanation:

Conclusion: Candidate who does NOT support the plan will win.

Evidence: 60% of the residents oppose/35% support.

Assumption: That the majority of the voters support the plane (i.e. the 60%/35% breakdown accurately represents those who will vote).

Question: What will STRENGTHEN or be IRRELEVANT?

Prediction: Anything that aligns the resident-poll with voting accurately, or tips the favor into the hands of those against the plan. Or does not relate to the argument (neither weakens, nor strengthens).

A. Abortion is out of scope…so potentially “irrelevant”
B. If the 35% who are supportive might change their minds, this would strengthen the anti-plan contingent. Correct.
C. This hurts the conclusion.
D. This hurts the conclusion by showing the city re-elects the candidate who only has 35% support.
E. This only tells us info about those that support it — we need to know whether the 60% who don’t support it can/will vote.

The correct answer is (B).