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.


Circular Permutations Questions

We’ve all seen those tricky Permutation/Combination questions involving people around a circular table. How do we solve them? Well, they’re actually pretty ridiculously easy!

Let’s examine one:

There are 7 people and a round table with 5 seats. How many arrangements are possible?

This question might seem complex at first because there are more people than there are seats. It’s kind of a Permutation AND a Combination in one!

So first we’re wondering, how many ways to choose 5 from 7? This is a simple Comb:

7C5 = 7! / 5!2! = 7 x 6 / 2 = 42/2 = 21 ways

So now for each of those ways, we’re wondering, how many ways can we order 5 people around a table?

For any table with “x” seats, the number of possible arrangements is (x-1)!, so here 4! = 4 x 3 x 2 = 24.

21 x 24 = 504

The correct answer is 504.

The key takeaway here is that “choosing” X from Y always allows for the Combination formula (x! / (x-y)! y!), and the number of arrangements around a circular table with “X” seats is always (X-1)! There’s actually not that much to memorize!

GMAT Prep Analysis: Sentence Correction “Comparison” Question

It’s always valuable to take a good hard look at questions from the GMAC available in the two free GMATPrep CATs and the two supplemental GMAT Exam Pack 1 (for $39). These are all “official” retired GMAT question, so while the GMATPrep does NOT offer explanations for its questions, if we can come up with discerning explanations on our own, we’ll be one step closer to a strong Verbal score on Test Day!

Here’s one question students often get incorrect from the GMAT Prep:

So called green taxes, which exact a price for the use of polluting or nonrenewable fuels, are having a positive effect on the environment and natural resource base of countries as varied as China, the Netherlands, and Hungary.

(A) as varied as
(B) as varied as are
(C) as varied as those of
(D) that are as varied as
(E) that are varied as are

This question tests 2 concepts: Idiom, and Meaning. Idiomatically, when we make a comparison with “as” we need to use a “double as,” or “as…as.” Only (A), (B), and (C) contain the correct idiom. Now we must carefully examine the Meaning.

Here we are comparing the “positive effect” in various “countries.” Since “China,” “the Netherlands,” and “Hungary” are all countries, the comparison is clear in (A).

Why can’t it be (B) or (C)?

The word “are” in (B) is simply not necessary. It does not make the sentence (1) more grammatically correct, (2) cleaner stylistically, or (3) clearer in terms of meaning. (A) is a better choice because it has no grammar error, is shorter, and already has a crystal-clear meaning.

(C) contains a pronoun error – “those” would logically refer to the “environment and natural resource base” of the countries of China, the Netherlands, and Hungary, but we are comparing the countries to one another NOT their respective environment and natural resource bases. The COUNTRIES themselves are “varied,” not the “bases.” Notice how the inclusion of this pronoun changes the Meaning.

This questions serves to remind us that while Idioms are not heavily tested anymore on the GMAT, knowing some of the most common (such as “as…as”) can save you time on Test Day. It also reminds us to pay attention to both Style and Meaning when using process of elimination to remove wrong answer choices.

4 Easy Steps to Rock GMAT Reading Comprehension Passages

Step 1. Find the answers as you read. You already know the types of RC questions you’ll see on Test Day: main idea, detail, logical structure, inference, etc. So why not look for those things the first time you go through the passage? Don’t take notes summarizing. Instead, find the topic, scope, function of each paragraph, author’s point of view, tone, and purpose on your own. Make the inferences ahead of time and read for the implications behind the words. Don’t focus on the details and the subject matter itself.

Step 2. Put the question stem in your own words. Especially for long-winded inference questions, restate the question stem in simpler terms, as if you were asking the question of a small child. For “NOT” and “EXCEPT” questions this is especially important since 4/5 answer choices will actually be correct, and you’ll be required to find the 1 incorrect choice (the opposite of what is usually expected).

Step 3. Write down a prediction. Even for open-ended inference questions, there’s a limited number of logical inferences that can be drawn based on the implications in the passage. Use your notes on the passage to help you eliminate. Process of elimination is a much more effective means of getting the correct answer. You can’t “unread” the answer choices once you’ve looked at them, so if you don’t write down your prediction you will likely adjust it in your head to “fit” answer choices that may be incorrect.

Step 4. Eliminate out of scope choices. Just what does “out of scope” mean? “Scope” is the focus of the passage, how it narrows down the topic. What does the author spend the majority of his time discussing? Think of it like a circular fence. Everything that relates to the passage fits inside the fence. There may be answer choices that relate to the topic, but would not really go “inside the fence.” This would be considered out of scope.

Step 5. Be wary of extreme language. Answer choices that use words like “no”, “none”, “never”, “always” are typically incorrect. It’s possible a choice containing extreme language is the correct answer, but you should only select it once you’ve confidently eliminated the other choices, and confirmed that the tone of the passage does in fact warrant the use of such a strong statement.

4 Steps for Two-Blank Sentence Equivalence Questions

One the Revised GRE, Sentence Equivalence questions contain one, two, or three blanks. Two of the answer choices (out of six presented on the GRE) will be correct, and you will need to understand both the meaning of the sentence/s as a whole and be able to identify the clues in the sentence to find the correct blanks. For better scores on GRE Verbal questions like these, follow these easy tips on your GRE Test Day!

STEP 1: Write down the keywords. As you read the sentence, you will be on the lookout for keywords, words that describe the blank or relate to the overall flow of the sentence (transition words). Write them down! It may seem redundant, but the act of writing them down will slow down your impulses and force your brain to think critically. What do the words tell you about the blank?

STEP 2: Write down a prediction for the easiest blank. Once you’ve analyzed the keywords and punctuation of a sentence, you can come up with a prediction for the blank which seems the most straightforward to you. It doesn’t have to be a great prediction, but make sure you do write something down. Even a simple prediction like, “a negative word” or “something like sad” is great! Don’t let yourself read the answer choices without a written-down prediction. If you don’t write it down, you will likely forget it as you read the answer choices.

STEP 3: Eliminate answer choices based on that prediction. Instead of scanning the answers quickly looking for the correct one, carefully move through the choices from A to F, eliminating the answer choices that could not possible match your prediction. Only worry about scanning the column for the blank you predicted for – don’t even read the other words.

STEP 4: Plug in for the remaining blank, if necessary. If you have more than two answer choices left after eliminating, then plug them into the sentence to see which ones are correct. Remember that for Sentence Equivalence, there will be two correct answers!

How to Solve 1-Blank GRE Sentence Equivalence Questions

In Sentence Equivalence questions on the New GRE, the blank(s) will always have a relationship to the rest of the sentence. We identify keywords because it helps us understand this relationship. Some blanks will have a “defining” relationship, meaning the blank will be defined by the rest of the sentence, so you’ll look for a word to embody the description. Other blanks will have a “contrasting” relationship, and you’ll need to choose the word that provides the best contrast to the describing keywords.

On harder Sentence Equivalence, you will often see a more complex relationship, such as “causation.” Let’s see an example of how we can identify keywords to show us the relationship, and allow us to predict for the blank.

Although appliance manufacturers would have you believe otherwise, items like blenders and toasters are not requirements for the creation of a delicious meal; for centuries, our ancestors cooked without these modern _______.

A) conveniences
B) hindrances
C) requisitions
D) creeds
E) incidents
F) utilities

Let’s pick out the keywords:

Although appliance manufacturers would have you believe otherwise, items like blenders and toasters are not requirements for the creation of a delicious meal; for centuries, our ancestors cooked without these modern _______.

“Although” is a common keyword that introduces a contrast. The manufacturers want you to believe the “blenders and toasters” ARE requirements. The word “these” in the second clause refers back to the “blenders and toasters” in the first clause. The clauses here contrast with each other, but the blank is going to be a word that describes “blenders and toasters.” A good prediction would be a word like “appliances.” Essentially, a word that could describe an tangible object.

Scanning the answer choices, B, C, D, and E do not refer to tangible objects. The correct answers must be A and F. After identifying the keywords and making a prediction, we barely had to consider each answer choices. Process of elimination allows us to identify the correct choices (always two for sentence equivalence questions) quickly and effectively! There’s never a need to re-read the sentence 6 times with each answer choice plugged in.

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!