Articles published in April 2015

How to “Read” Your Practice Tests


So, you’ve taken a practice test!  Maybe you’re closing in on the score you want, or maybe you still have some distance left to travel.  Regardless of which scenario applies to you, “reading” your practice test data is an incredibly crucial element to GRE progress!

I write this assuming I don’t need to discuss looking at your score, comparing overall quantitative to overall verbal, etc.  Everyone looks at the ‘big’ numbers.  The question is, what eureka moments can we gain from a deeper analysis?

There are three components to analyzing a practice test: analyzing timing, analyzing accuracy by question type, and analyzing accuracy by topic tested.

Analyzing Timing

You can’t analyze your timing until you know what your timing should look like.

GRE 1 edited

Does anything stand out to you in image above?  Why do some questions take you less than one minute, while some take more than three?  We expect some variation across different questions – Reading Comprehension should take longer than Text Completion or Sentence Equivalence, and Data Interpretation questions (especially the first DI question) will usually take longer than Quantitative Comparison.  But why are there such wide swings in question time within the QC question?  And I can’t help but notice that the two Discrete Quantity questions both took less time than the vast majority of the QC questions.  Perhaps this is someone who is skilled in math, but doesn’t yet truly grasp the logic underlying the QC questions.

A review of QC as a question type is probably called for from this practice test.

Another element of timing is more fundamental (and the above image captures this concept also).  Do you know when to let a question go, guess, and move on to the next question?  Any time you spent three minutes on a question, you had a problem letting go.  Right or wrong, that question hurt you.

Bottom line, when you analyze timing in a practice test, you want to see two things: 1) question by question timing – were you able to let a question go when needed, and 2) question type timing – do you have the desired timing for each question type?

Now it’s time to Generate an Assessment Report!!!  (It’s exciting because it’s got three exclamation points 🙂  )

Analyzing Accuracy by Question Type

GRE 2 edited

Take a few moments and see what you can find in the image above.  Don’t worry, I’ll wait  🙂

Seriously, there’s a lot you should consider here.  If you haven’t been looking for at least 5 minutes, you haven’t spent enough time.  And although I *said* this is the Accuracy analysis portion of this post, we’re not done with timing.

First, let’s talk good decisions vs poor decisions.  Good decisions – on TC, you know when to get out of a question.  Look at the Average Time Wrong vs Average Time right for the Harder and Devilish TC questions.  That’s what we want to see!  This indicates you recognize when more time will/won’t pay off.  (Maybe… more on this in a moment.)

So why aren’t you making the same decisions in SE?

Finally, why, why, why are you spending five minutes – on AVERAGE across three questions – in RC?  What’s going on here?  There’s some leeway in RC, because of the time needed to read and process a longer passage, but not five minutes leeway.

On the Easier RC question that you missed, you missed it in one minute.  This indicates you were confident in your answer.  Confident in the wrong answer – somewhere in this question is a trap that you fell for, and you need to figure out what that trap was!

Back to the TC timing: one possibility is you know when to get out of TC, and that’s why your wrong answers take less time than the right answers.  Another, more disturbing possibility, is you’re cheating yourself on TC time.  How do I know this?  Look at the variation between TC and SE accuracy – it’s not huge, but the discrepancy is there.  Why is TC accuracy lower?

Finally, the most obvious element of this analysis is that RC is your lowest accuracy.  Time to go back and study!!!

Analyzing Accuracy by Topic Tested

This issue cannot be addressed by looking at one image – you will generate an assessment report, and view the Analysis by Content Area and Topic.  There are a few things you’re looking for here.

First, and foremost, are you seeing accuracy and speed in topics you’ve studied?  If you haven’t studied Geometry yet, who cares if your Geometry accuracy is 20%!  But you’ve spent two full weeks reviewing algebra, so why are you missing 2 out of 3 function/formula questions?  Bright side though, your accuracy in Quadratics is through the roof!!

Obviously that paragraph is a hypothetical, but notice two things: first, you need to decide which area(s) deserve your analysis; second, you need to look not just at the overall topic, but also at the subtopics.

You’re looking for improvements and discrepancies.  Which areas are strong?  Which are weak?  Do you have a mix of strong and weak areas in one major topic?  These are all question you need to ask yourself.

BUT you need to take this with a grain of salt – don’t neglect to consider the difficulty of the individual questions!  Yes, maybe you missed 2 function questions.  But they were both Devilish difficulty!  You’re not weak in this area, you just got hit by some of the worst questions.

Finally, don’t neglect to examine timing in this area of analysis.  Yes, you were accurate in Rates questions.  But you spent 4 minutes on them.  Time to study!!

Final Thoughts

I hope you’ve found this helpful.  If you go back and look at my previous GRE blog posts, I think you’ll notice that this post contains many, many more rhetorical questions.  That’s the point of practice test analysis.  In the test, and when you’re studying, the computer, or the book, or whatever study source you’re using is asking you questions.

Analyzing your practice tests is the time for you to ask the questions.  What are the weak areas?  Strong areas?  Why am I performing differently in Word Problems vs Geometry?

And there’s one question you must ask, which I haven’t addresses, simply because of how much space it would require – Are you seeing improvement???

Every time you take a practice test, from the second practice test on to the last, look at the most recent test, do all this analysis.  Then look at the test prior – what’s changed?  What has stayed the same?  Have you improved in your weaknesses, and have strengths remained strong?

A practice test doesn’t teach you anything in and of itself – but it tells you where you are, and where you’re moving, and what you *should* be teaching yourself.

Good Luck!!!

Manhattan Prep Instructor Wows With Record-Setting Jeopardy Win


3-24-Jeopardy-GREYesterday, the whole wide internet was shocked by the Jeopardy dominance of “This dude Michael”, but here at Manhattan Prep we weren’t surprised at all. We already knew that dude was smart and we knew that dude had the mathematical wherewithal to bet $7,000 without batting an eyelash.

Here at MPrep we know that dude as Michael Bilow (one of those people who command such respect that he must always be talked about using his last name lest anyone in earshot mistakenly attribute an anecdote or joke to some less deserving Michael). On Jeopardy, he lived up to his legend taking home the fourth highest single-day winnings in Jeopardy history: $57,198.

Michael Bilow joined the Manhattan Prep family in 2011 using his perfect GRE score and spectacular teaching chops to secure a role as an LA-based GRE instructor. A few years later we realized we needed more Bilow in our business so we asked him to join the Marketing Department. He took a position as our Business Data Analyst, while continuing to teach GRE classes and pursue his PhD. After seeing him flawlessly juggle those responsibilities, we never had any doubt that he would take the Jeopardy world by fire.

By now the whole country knows of Bilow’s intellectual prowess, but we know so much more. Michael is a dedicated practitioner of improv, a delightful presence in Google Hangout meetings, and a stylish dresser. We can’t wait for his next trip to the New York City headquarters so he can buy us a drink with his winnings after he takes a quick a nap in a tutoring pod.

Congrats, Michael Bilow! Keep it up!