Welcome to part 5 of our series on how to answer every single GMAT problem you’ll ever see. If you haven’t already read the earlier installments, start with part 1 and work your way back to me.
Last time, I left you with a Critical Reasoning question from the free questions that come with the GMATPrep® software. Let’s talk about it! Read more
A couple of years ago, I wrote a small series on the Meteor Stream passage from the free set of practice questions that comes with the GMATPrep® software. A student recently mentioned how useful he found the discussion regarding how to handle all the technical language in a science passage, and I realized that there’s more we can do with this passage! Read more
Welcome to the fourth installment of our series: how to tackle every problem on the GMAT. If you’re joining in the middle, go back and learn about the set of principles that tie together everything we need to do on the GMAT. Then work your way back to this installment.
Here’s our framework again:
Welcome to part 3 of our series on how to answer every single GMAT problem you’ll ever see. If you haven’t already read the earlier installments, start with part 1 and work your way back to me.
This time, we’re going to test out the process with a GMATPrep® Sentence Correction question from the free exams. Here you go:
I’ve just finished trying all of the new verbal OG problems. (If you haven’t yet read my earlier installments, start here.) This installment includes my summary of All Things Verbal as well as lists of the new problems by book and question type.
Also, we’re hard at work writing new solutions to add to our GMAT Navigator program, so if you have access to Navigator, you can start to check for new solutions there in—best guess—July.
What’s new in Verbal?
Now that I’ve seen everything, I’ve been able to spot some trends across all of the added and dropped questions. For example, across both The Official Guide for GMAT® Review (aka the big book) and The Official Guide for GMAT® Verbal Review (aka verbal-only or the verbal supplement), 6 science passages were added (out of 11 new passages total), while only 3 were dropped. In addition, 3 social science passages were added (compared to 5 dropped) and 2 business passages were added (compared to 2 dropped).
So, in the books at least, there’s a slight shift towards science. It’s unclear whether this signals an actual change in emphasis on the test, though; these may just be the best retired passages that they wanted to use.
For Critical Reasoning, the same total number of questions were added and dropped. The differential (added minus dropped) for Strengthen questions was +8. Further, 6 of the 22 total new Strengthen questions are fill in the blank (FitB) format, and no new FiTB’s were introduced that were not Strengthen questions.
The differential for Weaken questions was -8 and for Inference questions, it was -4. I’m not entirely sure what to make of the drop in Weaken. I’ve been hearing from students that they’ve been seeing a lot of Strengthen / Weaken on the real test and not many (CR) Inference questions. The Strengthen jump and the small Inference drop seems to go along with that, but not the larger Weaken drop. (This is why I’m always skeptical about drawing broader conclusions based on changes in the books.)
As I mentioned in my first report on Sentence Correction (part 2 of this series), it is difficult to compare categories here because one SC can (and usually does) cross multiple topics. The trends I reported before still hold after my review of the Verbal supplement: meaning and sentence structure are increasingly important, and parallelism and comparisons are just as important as they’ve always been.
Ready for the problem lists?
We’re going to kill two birds with one stone in this week’s article.
Inference questions pop up on both Critical Reasoning (CR) and Reading Comprehension (RC), so you definitely want to master these. Good news: the kind of thinking the test-writers want is the same for both question types. Learn how to do Inference questions on one type and you’ll know what you need to do for the other!
That’s actually only one bird. Here’s the second: both CR and RC can give you science-based text, and that science-y text can get pretty confusing. How can you avoid getting sucked into the technical detail, yet still be able to answer the question asked? Read on.
Try this GMATPrep® CR problem out (it’s from the free practice tests) and then we’ll talk about it. Give yourself about 2 minutes (though it’s okay to stretch to 2.5 minutes on a CR as long as you are making progress.)
“Increases in the level of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) in the human bloodstream lower bloodstream cholesterol levels by increasing the body’s capacity to rid itself of excess cholesterol. Levels of HDL in the bloodstream of some individuals are significantly increased by a program of regular exercise and weight reduction.
“Which of the following can be correctly inferred from the statements above?
“(A) Individuals who are underweight do not run any risk of developing high levels of cholesterol in the bloodstream.
“(B) Individuals who do not exercise regularly have a high risk of developing high levels of cholesterol in the bloodstream late in life.
“(C) Exercise and weight reduction are the most effective methods of lowering bloodstream cholesterol levels in humans.
“(D) A program of regular exercise and weight reduction lowers cholesterol levels in the bloodstream of some individuals.
“(E) Only regular exercise is necessary to decrease cholesterol levels in the bloodstream of individuals of average weight.”
Got an answer? (If not, pick one anyway. Pretend it’s the real test and just make a guess.) Before we dive into the solution, let’s talk a little bit about what Inference questions are asking us to do.
Inference questions are sometimes also called Draw a Conclusion questions. I don’t like that title, though, because it can be misleading. Think about a typical CR argument: they usually include a conclusion that is…well…not a solid conclusion. There are holes in the argument, and then they ask you to Strengthen it or Weaken it or something like that.
Distractions are bad. Routine, concentration, and hard work are good. These all seem like common-sense rules for studying, right? Surprisingly (for many people, at least), learning science tells us that these “good habits” may actually be hurting your learning process!
When you were in college, your study process probably looked something like this: for a given class, you’d attend a lecture each week, do the readings (or at least most of them), and maybe turn in an assignment or problem set. Then, at the end of the semester, you’d spend a week furiously cramming all of that information to prepare for the test.
Since this is the way you’ve always studied, it’s probably how you’re approaching the GMAT, too. But I have bad news: this is not an effective approach for the GMAT!
Taking notes then cramming the night before the test is beneficial for tests that ask you to recite knowledge: “what were the major consequences of the Hawley-Smoot tariff” or “explain Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle.” You can hold a lot of facts -for a brief time – in your short-term memory when cramming. You memorize facts, you spit them out for the test… and then, if you’re like me, you find that you’ve forgotten half of what you memorized by the next semester.
Why the GMAT is Different
The GMAT doesn’t reward this style of studying because it’s not simply a test of facts or knowledge. The GMAT requires you to know a lot of rules, of course, but the main thing that it’s testing is your ability to apply those concepts to new problems, to adapt familiar patterns, and to use strategic decision-making. You’ll never see the same problem twice.
Shallow memorization is not nearly enough. You need deep conceptual understanding.
In How We Learn*, science writer Benedict Carey outlines decades of research about how this kind of learning happens. Many of the findings go against what you probably thought were “good” study habits.
It’s here at last: the fourth and final installment of our series on core sentence structure! I recommend reading all of the installments in order, starting with part 1.
Try out this GMATPrep® problem from the free exams.
* “The greatest road system built in the Americas prior to the arrival of Christopher Columbus was the Incan highway, which, over 2,500 miles long and extending from northern Ecuador through Peru to southern Chile.
“(A) Columbus was the Incan highway, which, over 2,500 miles long and extending
“(B) Columbus was the Incan highway, over 2,500 miles in length, and extended
“(C) Columbus, the Incan highway, which was over 2,500 miles in length and extended
“(D) Columbus, the Incan highway, being over 2,500 miles in length, was extended
“(E) Columbus, the Incan highway, was over 2,500 miles long, extending”
The First Glance in this question is similar to the one from the second problem in the series. Here, the first two answers start with a noun and verb, but the next three insert a comma after the subject. Once again, this is a clue to check the core subject-verb sentence structure.
First, strip down the original sentence:
Here’s the core:
The greatest road system was the Incan highway.
(Technically, greatest is a modifier, but I’m leaving it in because it conveys important meaning. We’re not just talking about any road system. We’re talking about the greatest one in a certain era.)
The noun at the beginning of the underline, Columbus, is not the subject of the sentence but the verb was does turn out to be the main verb in the sentence. The First Glance revealed that some answers removed that verb, so check the remaining cores.
“(B) The greatest road system was the Incan highway and extended from Ecuador to Chile.
“(C) The greatest road system.
“(D) The greatest road system was extended from Ecuador to Chile.
“(E) The greatest road system was over 2,500 miles long.”
Answer (C) is a sentence fragment; it doesn’t contain a main verb. The other choices do contain valid core sentences, though answers (B) and (D) have funny meanings. Let’s tackle (B) first.
“(B) The greatest road system was the Incan highway and extended from Ecuador to Chile.
When two parts of a sentence are connected by the word and, those two parallel pieces of information are not required to have a direct connection:
Yesterday, I worked for 8 hours and had dinner with my family.
Those things did not happen simultaneously. One did not lead to the other. They are both things that I did yesterday, but other than that, they don’t have anything to do with each other.
In the Columbus sentence, though, it doesn’t make sense for the two pieces of information to be separated in this way. The road system was the greatest system built to that point in time because it was so long. The fact that it extended across all of these countries is part of the point. As a result, we don’t want to present these as separate facts that have nothing to do with each other. Eliminate answer (B).
The Graduate Management Admission Test, better known as the GMAT®, is a standardized test used in the admissions process for business school and other specialized Master’s programs. The exam measures certain skills that the business schools care about, most notably Executive Reasoning skills. It does not test any specific business knowledge.
When is the GMAT given?
You can take the GMAT year-round, nearly any day of the week (though they limit you to 5 sittings in a 12-month period and require a wait of 31 days between tests). The exam is given on a computer and is known as a “CAT.”
What is a CAT?
A CAT is a computer-adaptive test: the test actually adapts itself to you while you’re taking it! Two of the four sections on the GMAT, the Quantitative and Verbal sections, are adaptive. Each of these two sections begins with a random, approximately medium-level question. The computer chooses each subsequent question based upon your collective performance to that point in the section.
The practical implications are important. First, every test taker will take a different exam with a different mix of questions, but the test feels hard for everyone, since the test will just keep getting harder until it finds a particular person’s limit. Second, the scoring is pretty peculiar; it’s important to understand how the scoring works.
Want to try your hand at a practice test? Take our free, full-length practice exam here.
How is the GMAT Scored?
Tests you took in school were generally based on the percentage of questions answered correctly: the more you got right, the higher the score you received. As a result, you have been trained to take your time and try to get everything right when you take a test. This general strategy does not work on computer-adaptive sections of the GMAT because, strangely enough, the quant and verbal scores are not based on the percentage of questions answered correctly. On the GMAT, most people answer similar percentages of questions correctly, typically in the 50% to 70% range (even at higher scoring levels!).
How is that possible? The first thing to know: the GMAT is not a school test. The quant section is not really a math test, and the verbal section is not really a grammar test. Of course, you do need to know how to handle those topics. The test writers are really interested, however, in knowing how good you are at making decisions and managing scarce resources. (That’s the second time we’ve linked to that same article. Go read it!)
Welcome to the third installment of our Core Sentence series. In part 1, we began learning how to strip an SC sentence (or any sentence!) down to the core sentence structure. In part 2, we took a look at a compound sentence structure.
Today, we’re going to look at yet another interesting sentence structure that is commonly used on the GMAT.
Try out this GMATPrep® problem from the free exams. (Note: as in the previous installments, I’m going to discuss aspects of our SC Process; if you haven’t learned it already, read about it before doing this problem.)
* “Many financial experts believe that policy makers at the Federal Reserve, now viewing the economy as balanced between moderate growth and low inflation, are almost certain to leave interest rates unchanged for the foreseeable future.
“(A) Reserve, now viewing the economy as balanced between moderate growth and low inflation, are
“(B) Reserve, now viewing the economy to be balanced between that of moderate growth and low inflation and are
“(C) Reserve who, now viewing the economy as balanced between moderate growth and low inflation, are
“(D) Reserve, who now view the economy to be balanced between that of moderate growth and low inflation, will be
“(E) Reserve, which now views the economy to be balanced between moderate growth and low inflation, is”
The First Glance didn’t tell me a lot on this one. In each case, there appears to be some kind of modifier going on, signaled either by the who / which language or by the comma, but I don’t have a good idea of what’s being tested. Time to read the sentence.
I don’t know about you, but the original sentence really doesn’t sound good to me. The difficulty, though, is that I don’t know exactly why. I just find myself thinking, “Ugh, I wouldn’t say it that way.”
Specifically, I don’t like the “now viewing” after the comma…but when I examined it a second time, I couldn’t find an actual error. That’s a good clue to me that I need to leave the answer in; they’re just trying to fool my ear (and almost succeeding!).
Because I’m not certain what to examine and because I know that there may be something going on with modifiers, I’m going to strip the original sentence down to the core:
Here’s the core:
Many experts believe that policy makers are almost certain to leave interest rates unchanged.
This sentence uses what we call a “Subject-Verb-THAT” structure. When you see the word that immediately after a verb, expect another subject and verb (and possibly object) to come after. The full core will be Subject-Verb-THAT-Subject-Verb(-Object).
Back to the problem: notice where the underline falls. The Subject-Verb-THAT-Subject part is not underlined, but the second verb is, and it’s the last underlined word. Check the core sentence with the different options in the answers:
Many experts believe that policy makers __________ almost certain to leave rates unchanged.
(A) Many experts believe that policy makers are almost certain to leave rates unchanged.
(B) Many experts believe that policy makers and are almost certain to leave rates unchanged.
(C) Many experts believe that policy makers.
(D) Many experts believe that policy makers will be almost certain to leave rates unchanged.
(E) Many experts believe that policy makers is almost certain to leave rates unchanged.
Excellent! First, answer (E) is wrong because it uses a singular verb to match with the plural policy makers.
Next, notice that answer (B) tosses the conjunction and into the mix. A sentence can have two verbs, in which case you could connect them with an and, but this answer just tosses in a random and between the subject and the verb. Answer (B) is also incorrect.
Answer (C) is tricky! At first, it might look like the core is the same as answer (A)’s core. It’s not. Notice the lack of a comma before the word who. Take a look at this example:
The cat thought that the dog who lived next door was really annoying.
What’s the core sentence here? This still has a subject-verb-THAT-subject-verb(-object) set-up. It also has a modifier that contains its own verb—but this verb is not part of the core sentence:
The cat thought that the dog [who lived next door] was really annoying.
Answer (C) has this same structure:
Many experts believe that policy makers [who are almost certain to leave rates unchanged]…
Where’s the main verb that goes with policy makers? It isn’t there at all. Answer (C) is a sentence fragment.
We’re down to answers (A) and (D). Both cores are solid, so we’ll have to dig a little deeper. So far, we’ve been ignoring the modifier in the middle of the sentence. Let’s take a look; compare the two answers directly:
“(A) Reserve, now viewing the economy as balanced between moderate growth and low inflation, are
“(D) Reserve, who now view the economy to be balanced between that of moderate growth and low inflation, will be”
Probably the most obvious difference is are vs. will be. I don’t like this one though because I think either tense can logically finish the sentence. I’m going to look for something else.
There are two other big differences. First, there’s an idiom. Is it view as or view to be? If you’re not sure, there’s also a comparison issue. Is the economy balanced between growth and inflation? Or between that of growth and inflation?
The that of structure should be referring to another noun somewhere else: She likes her brother’s house more than she likes that of her sister. In this case, that of refers to house.
What does that of refer to in answer (D)?
I’m not really sure. The economy? The Federal Reserve? These don’t make sense. The two things that are balanced are, in fact, the growth and the inflation; that of is unnecessary. Answer (D) is incorrect.
The correct answer is (A).
The correct idiom is view as, so answers (B), (D), and (E) are all incorrect based on the idiom.
Key Takeaways: Strip the sentence to the Core
(1) When you see the word that immediately following a verb, then you have a Subject-Verb-THAT-Subject-Verb(-Object) structure. Check the core sentence to make sure that all of the necessary pieces are present. Also make sure, as always, that the subjects and verbs match.
(2) If you still have two or more answers left after dealing with the core sentence, then check any modifiers. The two main modifier issues are bad placement (which makes them seem to be pointing to the wrong thing) or meaning issues. In this case, the modifier tossed in a couple of extraneous words that messed up the meaning of the between X and Y idiom.
* GMATPrep® questions courtesy of the Graduate Management Admissions Council. Usage of this question does not imply endorsement by GMAC.