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Welcome to our third and final installment dedicated to those pesky maximize / minimize quant problems. If you haven’t yet reviewed the earlier installments, start with part 1 and work your way back up to this post.

I’d originally intended to do just a two-part series, but I found another GMATPrep® problem (from the free tests) covering this topic, so here you go:

“A set of 15 different integers has a median of 25 and a range of 25. What is the greatest possible integer that could be in this set?

“(A) 32

“(B) 37

“(C) 40

“(D) 43

“(E) 50”

Here’s the general process for answering quant questions—a process designed to make sure that you understand what’s going on and come up with the best plan before you dive in and solve:


Fifteen integers…that’s a little annoying because I don’t literally want to draw 15 blanks for 15 numbers. How can I shortcut this while still making sure that I’m not missing anything or causing myself to make a careless mistake?

Hmm. I could just work backwards: start from the answers and see what works. In this case, I’d want to start with answer (E), 50, since the problem asks for the greatest possible integer.

2-11-ScienceWe’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.

2-6-HabitsDistractions 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.

The GMAT Review Game

Céilidh Erickson —  November 19, 2014 — 2 Comments

GMAT_ChartSo you’ve just taken a practice test. Chances are, you didn’t get a perfect 800. (If you did, stop studying and come work for us!). You probably didn’t even get a score that you like yet. That doesn’t mean that you’ve failed, though. In fact, you’ve barely started, because…


Most people take tests, then look at the score, then click on the explanations to the ones they got wrong. Their review process takes about 15 minutes, and just involves “oh, I did that wrong. Oh, that’s the right answer.” This kind of review process teaches you next to nothing about how to do better on the next one.

So here’s what you need to do. The test gave you a score from 200-800 on accuracy, but you need to give yourself your own score on your review process. Here’s how it works…

For every single question – not just the ones you got wrong! – you should be going back and re-solving. Take yourself through this checklist for quant problems:


1) Did I fully understand the concept and the rules behind it? +1
Give yourself a point if you could tell that a question was asking about DIVISIBILITY, or understood the RATE x TIME = DISTANCE relationship.

2) Did I understand what the question was asking for? +1
Did you rephrase DS questions to pinpoint what they were really asking for? Did you notice that it asked for “Amy’s age in 5 years,” and wrote down A + 5 instead of just A? Did you understand what it means when they ask for “x in terms of y and z”?

3) Did you solve it correctly? up to +5
Give yourself up to 5 points if you solved correctly the first time and got the right answer. Subtract a point or two if you took longer than you should have, or made a mistake before ultimately correcting it. Only give yourself +1 for a random lucky guess and +2 for an educated guess.

4) … or if you didn’t solve correctly, did you make a good decision to skip? +2
You’re not going to be able to solve every question on the GMAT, because you’re always going to run into questions that are above your ability level – that’s how the test is designed! So you should pat yourself on the back whenever you recognize that a question is too hard to solve, and you make the decision not to attempt it. Lock in an educated guess and save that extra time for a problem that is doable for you.

11-12-ReviewAs we discussed in the first half of this series, Building Your Game Plan, during the last 7 to 14 days before you take the real test, your entire study focus changes. In this article, we’re going to discuss the second half of this process: how to review. (If you haven’t already read the first half, do so before you continue with this part.)

What to Review

Part of the game planning process is determining your strengths and weaknesses. Map these against the frequency with which various topics or question types tend to be tested on the real exam. You want to spend the bulk of your time reviewing the material that is most likely to appear on the test.

If an infrequently-tested area is also a weakness (I’m looking at you, combinatorics), drop it entirely. If you get an easier one on the test, try it for up to 2 minutes. If you get a hard one, call that one of your freebies: guess quickly and use that time elsewhere.

If you’re not sure how frequently a particular type of content or question appears on the exam, ask on the forums. I’m not going to provide a list in this article because these frequencies can change over time; I don’t want people reading this in future to be misled when things do change. The General GMAT Strategy folder in our own forums has a bookmarked thread—it always sits at the top—that discusses this very issue. If I’ve commented on the topic or question type mix within (at least) the past 6 months, then you’re up to date.

How to Review

How you review is going to vary somewhat depending upon whether you’re reviewing a strength or a weakness. You do NOT want to do the same kind of review for everything, but you DO want to review both strengths and weaknesses. I’m going to make a distinction between the following categories:

Easier-for-you: you find the question fairly straightforward and you expect to answer it correctly without needing extra time, though you may sometimes make a careless mistake.

Harder-for-you: this question is more of a struggle, though you still will answer some of these correctly.

TOP_GMAT_COURSES_LogoThe following excerpt comes from Top GMAT Prep Courses, a helpful resource for comparing your GMAT prep options, gathering  in-depth course reviews, and receiving exclusive discounts. Top GMAT Prep Courses had the chance to connect with Ron Purewal, one of Manhattan Prep’s veteran GMAT instructors, to ask questions about the GMAT that we hope all prospective MBA candidates will benefit from. Want more? Head on over to the full article!


What are the most common misconceptions of the GMAT that you notice on a regular basis?

“There are two BIG misconceptions in play here.

The first is “knowledge.” Too many people view this test as a monumental task of memorization. A test of knowing stuff. If you’re new to this exam, it’s understandable that you might think this way. After all, that’s how tests have always worked at school, right? Right. And that’s exactly why the GMAT doesn’t work that way. Think about it for a sec: When it comes to those tests, the tests of knowing stuff, you already have 16 or more years of experience (and grades) under your belt. If the GMAT were yet another one of those tests, it would have no utility. It wouldn’t exist. Instead, the GMAT is precisely the opposite: It’s a test designed to be challenging, and to test skills relevant to business school, while requiring as little concrete knowledge as possible.

If you’re skeptical, go work a few GMAT problems.  Then, when the smoke clears, take an inventory of all the stuff you had to know to solve the problem, as opposed to the thought process itself.  You’ll be surprised by how short the list is, and how elementary the things are.  The challenge isn’t the “what;” it’s the “how.” …Continue reading for the second misconception.

How common is it for a student to raise his or her GMAT score 100 points or more, and what is the largest GMAT score increase you’ve personally seen while working at Manhattan Prep?

“We’ve seen such increases from many of our students. I’ve even seen a few increases of more than 300 points, from English learners who made parallel progress on the GMAT and in English itself. I don’t have statistics, but what I can give you is far more important: a list of traits that those successful students have in common.

1) They are flexible and willing to change. They do not cling stubbornly to “preferred” or “textbook” ways of solving problems; instead, they simply collect as many different strategies as possible.

2) They are resilient. When an approach fails, they don’t internalize it as “defeat,” and they don’t keep trying the same things over and over. They just dump the approach that isn’t working, and look for something different. If they come up empty, they simply disengage, guess, and move on.

3) They are balanced. They make time to engage with the GMAT, but they don’t subordinate their entire lives to it. They study three, four, five days a week—not zero, and not seven. They review problems when they’re actually primed to learn; they don’t put in hours just for the sake of putting in hours. If they’re overwhelmed, exhausted, or distressed, they’ll shut the books and hit them another day. In short, they stay sane… Continue reading for more traits of successful students.


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Recently, we talked about what to try if your deadlines are rapidly approaching and you don’t yet have the score that you want. I’d like to talk about next steps for those of you who decide to postpone your exam and possibly your b-school applications.

I didn’t actually decide “ I just didn’t get the score I wanted

postpone gmatFirst, a pep talk. You always have a choice. You could, for example, choose to apply this year but lower your standards in terms of where you apply. In fact, if you fall into certain categories, this may be better than waiting a year to try to get into a better (or, at least, higher-ranked) school. Let’s say that you’re being groomed to take over a family business. The current CEO is getting older. The business is well-established and fairly regional, so actually the best thing might be to get a degree from a respected (but not necessarily top) school in the same geographic region as the company headquarters.

On the other hand, let’s say that’s NOT you “ in your case, you’re only willing to spend $100,000+ if you can get into a top-fill-in-the-blank school (top 5? top 10? top 20?), and your current GMAT score is probably going to hold you back. In that case, postponing for a year may be the way to go. Any helpful friends or family members who say, Hey, I thought you were applying to business school! can be told, It’s actually a smarter career move to wait until next year. They don’t need to know that the GMAT had anything to do with that decision.

How do you study? More importantly, how do you know that the way in which you’re studying is effective “ that is, that you’re learning what you need to learn to improve your GMAT score? Read on!

In the first part of this series, we discussed how to get started: setting up your timeframe, picking out your materials, and so on. (If you haven’t read it yet, please do so before you continue here!) In today’s installment, we’ll talk about how to study and make progress over the actual length of your study timeframe.

HOW Do I Learn?

This section addresses probably the single biggest mistake that people make when preparing for the GMAT.

gmat planAt first, you’re going to concentrate more on what you need to learn / re-learn, but as you progress, you’re going to concentrate more on learning how to think. Yes, you need to know the formula for the area of a circle and how modifiers work and so on. But that’s only the start. Once you learn or re-learn a lot of that content, you will then need to move to the next level, which is what this test is really testing: how to think your way through any given problem.

At the end of each study session, jot down in your journal what you did that day, what you think went well, and what you think needs more work. (This knowledge will all come from your analysis of what you did that day.) If something didn’t go as well as you’d hoped, then feel free to adjust your calendar. At the end of the week, review your journal and set up your plan for the next week.


Just starting out? Or maybe you’ve been studying for weeks already? Perhaps you’ve already taken the official test once but want another crack at it? Whatever stage you’re at, you need a plan, so that’s what we’re going to talk about this week: how to develop your own personalized study plan. (Note: this is an update from the original article about 2.5 years ago. If you run across the older version, ignore it; use this newer one instead!)

gmat study planIn this first part, we’re going to talk about setting up your overall timeframe and getting yourself set up to go! In part 2, we’ll talk about how to study and make progress over time.

Get a notebook, open up a file on your computer, or start a blog. Record everything. The record doesn’t need to be exhaustive in detail, but pay particular attention to three things: (1) what you’ve done, (2) what you’ve learned (big lessons, such as how do I know when to cut myself off on a problem? and not things like memorize this formula, and (3) what you want to review at a later date (again, high level).

Getting Started

First, you need to know your current score and the score level that will make you competitive at the schools to which you plan to apply. This gives you an idea of how much improvement you will need and may affect your prep plans, including the length of time you plan to spend and whether you work on your own. (Generally speaking, the larger the desired improvement, the more likely it is that the student will need more time and / or more outside help.) Put this info in your journal.


The GMAT RoadmapThis article, written by Abby Pelcyger and Stacey Koprince, was adapted from our upcoming book, The GMAT Roadmap: Expert Advice Through Test Day. The full book will be available mid-November.

Okay, you have your study timeline mapped out. Now, how do you use your time most effectively?

Climbing the Mountain

Look over your study timeline (for many of you, that may be the syllabus for your Manhattan GMAT class). Look at the assignment you have earmarked for the following week. Get a calendar and block off the time periods during which you will study during the upcoming week. Next to each scheduled appointment, list tasks you intend to accomplish during that time slot. Prioritize the areas that address your weaknesses (as indicated by your CAT analysis results) by placing them earliest in the week. Assign only make-up work to your last study session of the week”trust us: there’ll be plenty of it to do.