Last week we gave you a short taste of the sentence correction portion of the GMAT-just to show you what a question looked like. This time, lets take a step back and look at the exam as a whole. This lesson will give you an overview of the parts of the exam, with hints about each part, and then will give you some general strategies and hints you can use on the exam as a whole. As you probably know, the GMAT consists of three parts-the writing test, the verbal test, and the quantitative test. The writing test is given first. For this you get two essays to write, and a half hour each to write them. The first essay asks you to analyze an issue, and the second asks you to rebut an argument. The biggest problems that students have with these are timing and organization. You must practice writing in exactly a half an hour, otherwise you run the risk of running out of time on the exam, and having your essay cut off in the middle of a word. The essays MUST be typed. The word processing program the GMAT uses is unlike anything you will have seen before. The GMAT writers didn’t want to give unfair advantage to users of Microsoft Word or other particular programs. Thus, you will see this horrible little program that has only cut and paste commands-no spell checker, no selection of fonts, not even a tab command! Try practicing on wordpad, or similar simple programs, so that you won’t be tempted to press keys that aren’t there on the actual exam. The writing portion is graded on a scale of 1-6. Four or above is considered passing. Unlike the TOEFL CBT exam, the GMAT writing section DOES NOT affect your overall score at all. It is still an important part of your exam however, because copies of your essays actually go to the business schools to which you are applying. If the business schools have any doubts about your English abilities (if you have borderline TOEFL scores for example), they will look at your GMAT essays. After the writing test you will get a short break and then will get either the verbal or quantitative tests. Each of these two sections lasts a grueling 75 minutes. The verbal and quantitative parts of the exam are scored on a basis of 200-800, and the score is determined using a method called CAT, which stands for Computer Adaptive Testing. The CAT does not give you an equal number of points for each question you get right. Instead, it keeps raising or lowering the difficulty of questions you get, until it determines whether you can answer, for example 600 level questions or 640 level questions. The first questions you get will be of medium difficulty-for example 500 level. If you get those right, the computer may start giving you 600 level questions. If you get those wrong it may drop you down to 525 level, et cetera, until it determines which level you can answer correctly. The CAT means two things in terms of test taking strategy: First, since the CAT makes ever narrowing adjustments, you want to make sure you answer the earlier questions correctly. Second, since the CAT is trying to test you at your top level, the test will always feel difficult. Test Sections: The GMAT Quantitative Test consists of two types of questions, mathematics problem solving and data sufficiency. Math problem solving can range from asking you to solve a simple equation, to giving you a word problem that forces you to both understand English, figure out the equation to use, and solve it. For this reason, we recommend studying for the Math section in English. It might be harder this way than studying in your native language, but it is much more efficient to review mathematics concepts and learn English language math terms at the same time. We also recommend practicing your mental arithmetic, since calculators aren’t allowed. Data sufficiency problems are weird little problems that give you an equation and two pieces of data. They then ask you whether you can solve the problem with only the first piece of data, only the second piece of data, with either one of the first and second pieces of data, only with both pieces of data, or not at all. The easy part about these questions is that you don’t actually have to solve the problem to get the correct answer. The hard part though, is that they tend to be confusing. Most Russian students find the quantitative section of the GMAT fairly easy, because, Russian schools teach mathematics much better than American schools do. In fact, Russian schools teach math SO much better than American schools, that when Russian students started applying to Western MBA programs, they completely spoiled the curve that the GMAT was using; so that since then the GMAT has had to make its math harder to be able to evaluate all these brilliant Russian mathematicians. Today’s GMAT quantitative section tests arithmetic, algebra, geometry, number theory, and probability. This is a big change from four years ago when number theory and probability were not on the exam at all. It’s important when you study, therefore, to make sure you have recent software and textbooks for the quantitative portion of the exam. The verbal portion of the GMAT consists of sentence correction (or grammar, of which we showed you an example of last week), reading comprehension (which tests your ability to understand a long passage of garbage text without falling asleep-oh, sorry, officially it tests you ability to comprehend inferences and details in a written text); and critical reasoning (which essentially tests the basics of logic). Sentence correction, can, in principle, test on any area of English grammar. In fact, however, they test mainly on agreement between the subject and predicate, verb tenses, errors in pronoun reference, errors in parallel construction, misplaced modifiers, and incorrect idioms. The part of the test is not as difficult as Russian speakers expect it to be. This is because, unlike the TOEFL, the GMAT is not looking for mistakes that non-native speakers make in English. Only 30% of students taking the GMAT are from outside the United States. Thus, things like articles and gerunds, that might drive you crazy on the TOEFL, are not likely to be problems on the GMAT. On the other hand, however, there are some questions that do not contain any grammar errors but only a change that will make the sentence sound better to the ear. These are difficult for non-native speakers to catch. Reading comprehension consists of a rather long reading passage, 250-450 words, followed by somewhere between five and ten questions. Reading comprehension is graded differently than the rest of the GMAT. Instead of getting more or less difficult with each question or each few questions, it is only the reading passages that adjust in difficulty. Thus, if you are doing well on the exam you should have more trouble reading the passages at the end of the test-when you are also the most tired. Critical reasoning is the verbal part that gives most Russian students trouble. These questions contain a short passage, followed by some questions that ask you to think about the logic of the passage. They may ask you something like “Which of the following best explains the conclusion of the passage?” or “Which of the following can be inferred from the passage?” The problem with critical reasoning is that there is often more than one answer that seems right. The trick is in learning to think like the test writers-learning to gauge how narrowly and how broadly you should think of the question in order to pick the correct answer. Some of our students tell us that this is difficult because it is “American logic.” We have news for them though-American students find it difficult too! The verbal portion has not gotten any harder over the last few years, so you don’t have to worry about how modern your preparation materials are. However, it has gotten faster. Reading comprehension and critical reasoning passages have gotten longer, with no corresponding increase in the time you are given to complete the test. Thus, learning to read quickly and efficiently is the key to success. Marian Dent is the dean of Pericles, GMAT Professor, and Professor of our Business and Legal courses.

 

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