Haaaappy Halloweeeeen, dear reader. What’s that? You’re already annoyed by the trite conceit of this conveniently-timed piece about trick-or-treating?
(INTERNET: “Did Patrick stumble upon this trick-or-treating metaphor organically, or did he just think about the post date of the blog and reverse-engineer something safe—and topical for fifth graders?!”)
Easy there, Bub. We don’t need a heckler.
If Hallowed Eve’s sacred thirty-first night of Octobreth weren’t so nigh, I would have called this “Kids at Amusement Parks Are Using the Executive Mindset.” Ya happy? It’s kind of a well-thought-out metaphor.
The underlying dilemma of amusement parks, trick-or-treating, and GMAT is that you have a lit fuse: a finite, insufficient amount of time to cash in on all the available opportunities. So you have to strategize where to invest your time and where to just say “skip it.”
Trick-or-Treating Executive Mindset Dilemma #1
Do you go for the homes of wealthy people?
Pro: the candy’s usually more luxe (rich people have never even heard of fun size).
Con: the yards are so large that the commute time to the next house is brutal.
The opposite pendulum is an apartment complex. Door density reaches peak levels, but so does the risk of receiving unfamiliar treats. (“Sorry, sir, you said this Blartz bar is from… Latvia?”)
If I may presumptuously speak for everyone (INTERNET: “You may not!”), I think we can all agree that the best value trick-or-treating neighborhood is middle-class.
Similarly, on GMAT (INTERNET: “Oh, how rewarding, the completely-expected GMAT segue…”), we get the best score our current ability level will allow when we invest our time in modest but rewarding challenges. Looking for solutions that are too quick will leave your score with the acrid taste of a Blartz bar in its mouth. Walking super-long driveways to hopefully get a premium reward will leave you huffing and puffing to the next house, forcing you to go home long before you get a chance to visit the whole neighborhood.
Trick-or-Treating Executive Mindset Dilemma #2
Now that we’ve established the right rhythm for trick-or-treating (moderate walks, not sprints or marathons), let’s talk house selection.
There are a few houses we’re probably going to want to avoid:
- Ol’ Man Squirrel Whisperer
- The House Where the Teenage Boys and Maybe the Dad Never Have Their Shirts On
- The Dunphys (not literally from Modern Family, but your local overachievers)
- The Green Party Birkenstock’d Couple Who Consider Flax Wafers a Non-Insult
- The House That’s Probably a Cult Because Their Clothing is at Best Perplexing
Similarly, there are a few GMAT “houses” we’d like to avoid.
(INTERNET: [groan] “Stop this overwrought metaphor. I mean, I was about to say, ‘You’re better than this,’ but then I thought to myself, ‘Is he?’ and deleted my comment.”)
The House of Mirrors (Inequalities / Quadratics / Absolute Value)
It’s easy to get turned around in these worlds, because you see the image of a number, but you can’t tell whether it’s on the positive or negative side of the mirror.
When we see something like “xy > xz,” we do not divide by ‘x’ to get “y > z.”
When you multiply or divide an inequality by a negative number, you have to flip the sign. Is “x” negative or positive? We don’t know. It’s exactly like shooting a gun at something in a house of mirrors.
When Data Sufficiency asks us, “What’s the value of x?” and Statement 1 says (1) x² = 25, it is insufficient, because we don’t know whether x is 5 or -5.
Incidentally, a lot of people don’t realize that when you square root that quadratic, √x² = √25, we get the absolute value of the square root when a variable is involved. |x| = 5
You know the magnitude, but you don’t know whether it’s positively or negatively charged.
When we get an absolute value equation or inequality, such as |x – 3| = 10 or |x – 3| > 10, we solve for the positive and the negative version of what’s in the absolute value: (x – 3) = 10 and -(x – 3) = 10 or (x – 3) > 10 and -(x – 3) > 10.
…Sort of like when you’re trying to shoot someone in a hall of mirrors: ideally, you have two guns that can be pointed in opposite directions, just to cover your bases. Well, ideally, and if money is no object, you’d have to say the Omni-Gun is the obvious choice for covering all polygonal permutations of halls of mirror.
(INTERNET: “Nice sensitivity, Patrick. What if someone gets triggered by your violent hall of mirrors metaphor?”)
That would make me very sad, Internet. I hope this is a farcical enough example that it only triggers Bruce Lee’s character in Enter the Dragon.
Gross-Looking Monsters (Sequences / Functions)
You wanna tell whether someone’s mathphobic? Put a problem involving subscripts or functions in front of them and monitor their swallowing for any hints of tiny, vomitous reactions when they first see the problem.
Doesn’t this look lucid and welcoming?
In the sequence a1, a2, a3, … an, …., where n >2, an = 3(an-1) – 4(an-2)
Those subscripts are risin’ from the GRAVE, I tellz ya!
In reality, sequence problems can be tamed, once we learn to read a sequence equation as a process: a set of instructions to follow for figuring out the next term in a sequence. All that gobbledygook was saying was, “This is a sequence problem. Here is your process: an = 3(an-1) – 4(an-2). That means, “To find a term, multiply the previous term by 3 and the term before that by 4, and subtract one from the other.” Hey, Internet… I almost tried to make a goblin pun on “gobbledygook,” but I refrained. Proud much?
(INTERNET: “Sighhhh… I’ll tell you what… Good job. It’s a start.”)
Function problems also present a process, but whereas sequences always have that same subscript look, functions get dressed up in a lot of different costumes.
(INTERNET: “I can’t believe we started to believe in you.”)
Just because we haven’t seen a function before doesn’t mean we’re unprepared. They are novel tasks that we simply have to patiently read and follow.
For example: If the nightmare on x street means the smallest prime number greater than half of x, what is the nightmare on 16 street + the nightmare on 30 street?
The nightmare on 16 street = the smallest prime that’s bigger than ½ of 16.
The nightmare on 30 street = the smallest prime that’s bigger than ½ of 30.
The smallest prime bigger than ½ of 16, or 8, is 11.
The smallest prime bigger than ½ of 30, or 15, is 17.
So the nightmare on 16 street + the nightmare on 30 street = 11 + 17 = 28.
The Foggy Night (Rate Problems and Geometry Problems)
These can take a while to wade through, and you often can’t envision how you’re getting to the finish line when you begin. It’s very important to take these one step at a time.
On Rate problems, ask yourself, “1 hour later, what has happened? 2 hours later, what has happened?” Once you paw at the air in the dark for a couple seconds, you ultimately find something to hold onto.
On Geometry problems, you keep yourself calm by forcing yourself to write out known formulas. Once you have a formula on your page, e.g. area = ½ (base)*(height), those three parts of the formula act like Ghostbuster containment units for the ideas in the problem. You can see which of those unknowns the problem gave you values for or algebra for and write them into their place in the formula.
(INTERNET: “Hey, old man, despite the recent all-female reboot, we don’t know what Ghostbusters is.”)
You know what, Internet? I don’t think I’m welcome here anymore. While I’d love to keep expounding on these horror show topics, I would have to write so much that I’d be forcing Thanksgiving wordplay on you.
Let’s switch to the lightning round of Haunted Topics:
Combinatorics and Probability
If it’s easy, do it. If you’re great at them, do it. Otherwise, skip it! You’ll probably only see one of these on your test and it will usually be a difficult-ranked problem that is harmlessly missed.
YES / NO Data Sufficiency
Make sure you have consistent habits on your paper of differentiating between a legal number that answers the question NO and an illegal number that violates a constraint and therefore cannot provide any possible answer to the question.
You might want to enact a habit of check-marking your numbers when you test cases (like verifying their Twitter accounts) to show that their creds have been vetted. They comply with the constraints. And when you accidentally consider an illegal number, scratch that work out.
A legal NO case should have a checkmark that shows the number fits the constraint and the answer NO circled proudly nearby. An illegal case should just be scratched out.
Assumption – The task here is really “which answer, if negated, most weakens,” and because of that, people often struggle to apply the right mindset. (When in doubt, remember that about half of all correct answers contain the word ‘not.’)
Describe the Role of Bold – The answers are completely abstract, so students are often lost in the terminology. Remind yourself when you’re initially searching for the conclusion that it will usually appear earlier in the paragraph than its supporting ideas (on this question type only). Try to pre-phrase each bold as either Main Conclusion, Supporting, Opposing, or Neutral.
Inference – The question stem may use “inferred”, “implies”, “suggests”, or “most likely to agree.” All of those formulations tend to sound ‘loose’ enough that students typically assume they have the freedom to speculate, and students too frequently assume that the correct answer should reinforce the main point of the passage.
In reality, we’re just looking for whichever answer is the most provable idea, given the text in the passage. The correct answer usually reinforces a single line reference, but sometimes it involves pulling together details from two different lines of the passage. The test writers go out of their way to find an unexpected way to rephrase something we were told.
Told that “George Washington was the first president of the U.S.”? This suggests that “Not all nations choose Banksy as their inaugural leader.”
Told that “Mailing my ex-girlfriend dead flowers gave her the creeps”? We can infer that “My ability to make people uncomfortable is not limited to my ability to invert my eyelids.”
Pronouns and Complex Tenses – These are guilty until proven innocent.
- When we see “it / its / that of,” we need to find if there’s a singular noun in the sentence to which this pronoun clearly refers.
- When we see “they / them / their / those of,” we need to find if there’s a plural noun in the sentence to which this pronoun clearly refers.
- When we see “has/have,” we need to ask whether we can justify using the complex present perfect tense (‘is it referring to an ongoing time period or an unspecified time period?’).
- When we see “had,” we need to ask whether we can justify using past perfect (‘is this referring to something that’s deeper in the past than some other part of the sentence that’s in the past?’)
Being – 97% of the time we see this word in an answer choice, the choice is wrong. It’s very frequently inserted into an answer choice to give it that “wordy, awkward, un-idiomatic” complaint that GMAT often uses in its explanations. It can be right, but seeing ‘being’ should lead to fleeing
(INTERNET: “I think that was clever? I don’t even know what I like anymore.”)
In summary, if you’re hoping to apply the wisdom of efficient trick-or-treating to your next GMAT:
1. Overall, plan to work moderately hard for your answers. If you’re guessing too quickly or taking too long, you’re browsing in the wrong neighborhood.
2. Keep an eye out for a handful of haunted topics that generally aren’t a great value. Consider hitting them up briskly or not at all.
I hope you’ll join me next month for what will surely be an overwrought attempt to relate the GMAT to the midterm elections.
(INTERNET: “Can this ‘Internet’ character come back too, or is Jim Gaffigan going to come after you for stealing his ‘Audience Guy’ character?”)
Probably the latter. G’night, sweet prince. 📝
Want some more GMAT tips from Patrick? Attend the first session of one of his upcoming GMAT courses absolutely free, no strings attached. Seriously.
Patrick Tyrrell is a Manhattan Prep instructor based in Los Angeles, California. He has a B.A. in philosophy, a 780 on the GMAT, and relentless enthusiasm for his work. In addition to teaching test prep since 2006, he’s also an avid songwriter/musician. Check out Patrick’s upcoming GMAT courses here!