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I was teaching online with another instructor a few days ago when he told a story about retaking the GMAT (as we instructors often do). He and another woman were riding up in an elevator to the testing facility, and they struck up a conversation. When she found out that he was a Manhattan Prep GMAT instructor, she said, “Quick, tell me something I just HAVE to know for the test!” Talk about pressure!! So, I started thinking about how I would answer that question. Here are the five quick GMAT tips I would tell you during an elevator ride. This is by no means meant to replace actual studying!! These are just quick GMAT tips to keep in mind. (By the way, the other instructor’s answer is below, too—read on.)
1. Sentence Correction – Peanut Butter Words
The GMAT loves to test “peanut butter words.” Actual grammatical term? No. Easy way to remember a concept? Yes. Peanut butter words stick to the noun in front of them, with very few exceptions. Get it, stick? Like peanut butter! The peanut butter words are who, whose, which, when, and where. Memorize them, and ANY time you see one of them underlined, you better check and see if it’s modifying the noun in front of it correctly.
The analysts predicted a severe drop in profits, which made the shareholders unhappy.
Right or wrong?
Well, the peanut butter word “which” is stuck to “profits.” Are the profits the thing or things that made the shareholders unhappy? Nope. Bad modifier! So, this is an incorrect use of the word “which.” A correct use of the word would look like this: I am eating a cupcake, which is my favorite type of dessert. Not only is this a correct use of a peanut butter word, it’s also true. Mmm, cupcakes.
2. Data Sufficiency – Don’t Confuse “NO” with Not Sufficient
The most common error I see on Data Sufficiency is forgetting that either a definite yes or a definite no is sufficient to answer the question. People get a “no” and, without thinking, they decide that the statement is insufficient. But they’re wrong to do so.
For example, let’s say the question is “Is x > 1?”
Statement 1: x = -2
Statement 2: x is less than or equal to 1.
Of course, the GMAT wouldn’t give such a simple question, but this is just for the illustration. If we look at Statement 1, we know that x is DEFINITELY NOT greater than 1. The answer to the question is a DEFINITE NO. So, this statement is sufficient.
Then, we move on to Statement 2. If x is less than or equal to 1, then it is DEFINITELY NOT greater than 1. So again, this statement is sufficient. The correct answer to this question would be “D,” either statement alone is sufficient. I can’t tell you how many times I see people do the right math and then put the wrong answer because they confused NO with not sufficient. Be careful!
3. Reading Comp and Critical Reasoning – An Inference MUST BE TRUE
If I told you that I stopped eating pizza recently, what could you infer?
Here are answers that I get in class all the time:
I’m on a diet.
I became lactose intolerant.
I don’t like pizza.
I’m trying to lose weight.
I’m crazy (because who doesn’t eat pizza?).
What do you think? Are any of those proper inferences? Spoiler alert: Those are all wrong!! In the real world, we use the word inference to mean that we should read between the lines. Like, what could be true? Why might I not eat pizza anymore? This is the WRONG way to approach Inference questions. You instead should think of an inference as asking you, WHAT MUST BE TRUE?
So, let’s try again. If I tell you that I stopped eating pizza recently, WHAT MUST BE TRUE?
The ONLY thing that must be true is that I must have eaten pizza at some point before now. If I don’t eat pizza anymore, then the only thing you know is that I used to eat it. That’s it!! You don’t know anything about why I stopped eating it or how I feel about it. So, remember GMAT inferences are different from the way we use inferences in the real world. Also, the GMAT is often tricky because the test-makers don’t say the words “inference” or “must be true” very often. Instead, they’ll say stuff like, “What does the passage suggest?” or “What does the author imply?” They use these loosey-goosey words when they really mean WHAT MUST BE TRUE? I put these words in all caps several times, so you know that I feel strongly about this!
4. Sentence Correction – The Five Deadly Pronouns
I’ve referred to the five deadly pronouns before (in Good GMAT Student Vs Bad GMAT Student and also in My GMAT Class Just Ended – Now What?), so clearly, I think this is an important topic. In fact, this is what that instructor told the woman in the elevator. So, pay attention!
Anytime you see it, its, they, them, or their underlined in a sentence, you better check and see if the word is being used correctly. How do you do that? You need to see if you can properly identify the antecedent (the noun that the pronoun is taking the place of) and that it matches in terms of singular or plural.
The football team won their game and all the fans cheered.
So, you see the word “their,” one of the five deadly pronouns, and you look for the antecedent. Whose game? The football team’s. Well, there is only ONE team, so the sentence should actually read: The football team won ITS game and all the fans cheered. Whaaaa? Nobody talks this way. And the GMAT knows that nobody talks this way, so that’s how they try to get you. Reminder—don’t listen to your ear! Don’t care about what sounds right! You need to know your RULES.
5. Problem Solving – The Four Scenarios for Smart Numbers
I have some students who loooooooove algebra. I also have some students who hate algebra. You know what they have in common? They both try to use algebra when it’s totally unnecessary, and in fact, more difficult to do so. Regardless of your prowess with algebra, you should think about using Smart Numbers (picking a number in place of any variables or unknowns) when you see certain scenarios pop up.
- When you see VARIABLES in the question and variables in the answer choices.
- When you see PERCENTS in the question and percents in the answer choices.
- When you see FRACTIONS in the question and fractions in the answer choices.
- When you see RATIOS in the question and ratios in the answer choices.
Did you know there are 39 questions in the 2017 Official Guide that can be done with Smart Numbers?! That’s a lot of questions to struggle through long or annoying algebra when you don’t have to. If you want to know exactly which questions they are, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll send you a list!
In summary, I hope you end up in a long elevator ride with a Manhattan Prep instructor. But should that not happen, these 5 quick GMAT tips will get you pretty far. Make sure you practice them!
Elaine Loh is a Manhattan Prep instructor based in Los Angeles, California. She graduated from Brown University with a degree in psychology and a desire to teach others. She can’t get enough of standardized tests and has been a test prep tutor and teacher for over half her life. Check out Elaine’s upcoming GMAT courses here.