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I just got my official score this afternoon and wanted to share the experience and strategies I used on the test. I've been mostly a lurker here but the tips on this board really helped out (especially in finding out which practice tests were good predictors of your score and which ones over/underestimated).
So I wanted to give back. I've listed my own test taking and prep experience below. I got a 760 (99%), 51Q (99%), 44V (97%), and 6.0/6.0 AWA (90%) by taking a very systematic approach to each of the sections. Of course, the validity of these tips will depend on your own studying style and goals. But this is what I did and it worked for me, so it might work for some of you too. I have it formatted and broken down by section for ease of readability.
ANALYTICAL WRITING ASSESSMENT
1. Analysis of an Argument
This question will give you a short paragraph, typically about a business-oriented subject (like business operations, pay, profit, etc.), and will ask you (a) whether you think it's a good argument, (b) why or why not, and (c) anything that could be added to make it stronger.
I will answer (a) right now: it's not a good argument. In fact, it's an extremely poorly constructed argument. You can probably find 4-5 egregious, damaging flaws in the paragraph that make its conclusion pretty much wholly invalid. My suggestion is pick your favorite 3 flaws and run with them. If you're the kind of person who likes to rain on people's parades, you'll like this question a lot. I know I did.
Treat this like a critical reasoning weaken question. I'll get more into this in the third section, but normally when I go through multiple choice verbal questions I try to answer the prompt even before reading the answers. If you have enough practice doing that, you'll find yourself answering this question pretty comfortably.
I followed a very simple template for answering this question. I listed numbers 1-3 on my scratch paper, and under each number I had the following sub-bullets:
Succinct description of the flaw (e.g. "Confuses profits with sales")
Counter example that would make his conclusion invalid (e.g. "High costs would yield very low profit, despite high sales")
A way to make the argument better (e.g. "Had he discussed costs in his statement then his argument would have been more sound")
Devote a sentence or two to each of those bullet points, and that's it, you have three body paragraphs! Just slap on a short introduction at the top and a conclusion at the bottom and you're good to go. These don't have to be artistic or well constructed or anything like that. In fact, I think my intro was something like "This argument is flawed because it relies on three important assumptions. Any loosening of the assumptions would make his argument less sound". I didn't even specifically discuss the prompt in my intro.
In the conclusion, state your three reasons succinctly.
2. Analysis of an Issue
In this section, you're asked to discuss your opinion on some polemical or grey-area issue, like "Teachers should instill moral and ethical values in children, in order to ensure that they are well-prepared, productive members of the national community." (I made that up just now, so don't treat that like a real question).
I want to dispel a very popular rumor that's been floating around the GMAT Club forums for a while. Other AOI tip pages often say something like "You need to take one side or the other, don't ever argue for both sides because there's not enough time, etc." I want to qualify that statement by saying that you can take a side in the middle, but it has to be well-defined. You can't just say it's sometimes one or sometimes the other; you need to have a distinct and systematic reason for taking a non-polarized stance. Being distinct and systematic is far more important than taking a polarized stance, so if you had to choose between the two, go with distinct and systematic. That's what I did (mostly just to see what would happen), and it worked out for me.
For example, my question was very similar to (but not exactly) something like "The government has the right to intervene in X." My question did not involve the government, but it was close. Anyway, if you took an extreme stance here, you would say something like "The government does not have the right to intervene in X" and list examples showing why it would be inappropriate for the government to do that. Or you may do the opposite and say it always has the right, and list examples supporting that.
I did something a little different. I said "The government has the right to intervene in X, but has to consider personal rights of the individual as stated in the constitution." I then listed two examples that showed when it was appropriate for the government to intervene, and one example showing what would happen if the government violated personal rights.
Notice that this is not quite one side or the other. Nor is it in support of one side with a sidebar comment like "But the other side has merits too" and then randomly discussing the opposing opinion with no framework in mind. Instead, I consider this an example of a successful essay that is both firm and non-polarized.
Anyway, I wrote about this because I want to encourage you to write strong arguments, not stubborn ones. Now, if you think that your strongest argument is one-sided, then go to town with it. For many people, this will probably be the best route. But during the test, when I finished reading my essay prompt, I sort of panicked because I couldn't think of three supporting reasons for just one individual side. I had 15 minutes left and nothing written so I just said "screw this" and wrote out my thoughts. So don't be afraid to write on a qualified stance, but make sure you have a tangible, analytical framework if you do.
As far as execution goes, here's essentially what I did:
Intro: 2-3 sentences that clearly state your opinion
Three body paragraphs, with 3-4 sentences in each paragraph
Conclusion: 2-3 sentences that basically restate your intro but in different words
I was an engineering major in college and picked up an 800 in the SAT math section, so I didn't have all that much trouble with the math concepts in these problems. But I was struggling with the trickiness of the questions. I've listed three important things I learned while prepping for this section and how it got me a 51Q.
TAKE YOUR TIME. Back in high school, I was that kid who could finish a 2-hour calculus exam in 20 minutes and then sleep for the rest of the time. The exam would come back with like a 92 or 93 because I made stupid mistakes, but I didn't care because an A was an A. This is not the case for the GMAT. You should go slowly, in order to (a) make sure you read the question properly, and (b) make sure you didn't miss a negative sign or something like that when solving the problem. This helped me tremendously, and because of it I did a lot better than I would have.
Read the whole question three times (twice before you start solving the problem, and once before you finalize your answer). I can't tell you how many problems I missed in my practice because the question asked about positive integers or even numbers or isosceles triangles. I also can't tell you how many times my ass was saved during the real thing by reading the question one last time before I clicked "confirm", and then realizing that I was about to select a "trick" answer choice. These are mistakes that you can easily avoid by paying close attention to the prompt.
You don't have to solve the data sufficiency questions, but if you have time, it helps. This one is a trickier one, since a lot of tip pages will say that you should try not to solve the actual problem if you can avoid it. Solving the problem wastes time, it may throw you off, etc. What I did was slightly different. First, I tried answering the question without solving the problem, and then I solved the problem with the statements that I selected. This is extremely important, as it helps you confirm your answer and be confident in it. But if you're pressed for time, then I don't suggest this. But consider the following data sufficiency question I just now made up:
What is x? (1) 3x + 6y = 9 (2) x = 3 - 2y
If you don't think carefully about this question, you'll think that you have two equations and two unknowns so you have enough to solve for x. But upon further inspection, you'll notice that the two equations are actually equivalent to each other, so you don't have enough information. Thinking carefully about it may not require you to actually solve the problem, but for probably most people (including myself), it helps a lot.
Like with the quant section, I didn't need too much help understanding the concepts, but I had a lot of trouble with timing. During practice, I always found myself scrambling toward the end. Below I've listed some tips, broken down by section that helped me earn a 97th %ile verbal score.
1. Sentence Corrections
The biggest topics covered on this test are parallelism, subject/verb agreement, singular/plural usage, and idioms. In any sentence there can be any combination of these appearing at once. Learn these well, especially if you're not a native speaker. I've heard a lot about MGMAT's sentence correction book. I didn't use it personally, but it seems like it's very much worth it.
When you read the sentence, spend 10-15 seconds prethinking the possible flaw or flaws in the sentence. If the answer isn't "A", then there will likely be more than one flaw.
Read each of the 5 answer choices. Look for what I like to call "3-2 splits" (though I'm sure other people call it that too). For example, if the first word of 3 of the answer choices is "was" and the other two say "were", then you know that you can eliminate a good number of choices right away. There were several questions in each practice exam (and on the real thing) where I was able to 3-2 split my way to the correct answer without even thinking too hard about the sentence.
2. Critical Reasoning
I don't know if I'd recommend reading LSAT logical reasoning questions to assist your studying of GMAT critical reasoning questions. Granted, LSAT questions are much harder so you might think that it helps you break 700 or something like that. However, the scope of the GMAT CR questions is much narrower than that of LSAT LR questions. Spefically, LSAT LR goes over questions such as (in ascending order of difficulty) find the conclusion, strengthen, weaken, assumption, formal logic, and parallelism. On the GMAT, CR is really just made up of conclusion, strengthen, weaken, and assumption. So the GMAT actually goes over an easier subset of questions and you'd be better off just studying GMAT practice tests.
Pre-think the flaws to the question before you even look at the answer choices. This will help you determine the right answer choice much more quickly. Read the other answer choices to make sure there isn't an answer that better matches the answer you pre-thought. I never got a CR question wrong in my practice tests and started to breeze through them when I employed this method.
3. Reading Comprehension
READ THE ENTIRE PASSAGE. Way too many test prep companies (including ones that I've taught for) think that you can read the question and then simply scan the passage for the line that has the answer in it. This is such a bad way to approach the reading comp section, for a number of reasons. First, there's no way you can get the global questions confidently right unless you really read the whole thing to understand the point. The main point may not be in the first paragraph or the last, but might be buried in the supporting paragraphs. Additionally, when reading an "EXCEPT" question, people tend to eliminate answer choices simply because the words from the answer choice are in the passage. This is dangerous, as these types of answer choices need to be highly contextualized. And the best way to contextualize is just to bite the bullet and read the whole god damn passage.
In almost every situation, the correct answer will be explicitly stated or strongly implied in the passage. Watch out for answer choices that make value-based statements, unless the statement is directly implied from the passage. This one is difficult for a lot of people, especially those who like to read in between the lines. But let me tell you, 99 times out of 100, you are not going to be reading in between the lines on this section; you will be reading directly on the lines. Too many of these questions are answered incorrectly because people insert their own inferences and don't just analyze the passage's inferences.
So take these suggestions with a grain of salt, but I do think some of these suggestions are quite underestimated, though they may be echoed by a lot of people in these forums.
great tips and a well written debrief. regarding the LSAT prep books, you'll definitely find varying opinions about using them. on the one hand, you'll have people (like myself) who think that LSAT prep resources (not just logical reasoning books, but also RC) are a big help to getting a high verbal score. others think their benefits are limited at best. i don't think either side is definitively right or wrong.
i do agree that if you are short on studying time, or are starting from the low to mid 30s in verbal, then taking on the LSAT materials might be too much to handle and not the best use of your time. however if you have the time and need to bump up your verbal score to the next level, i'd still say LSAT materials are a good way to go.
good luck on your apps and thanks again for the debrief.
Please tell us how did you find the real GMAT exam in comparison to the GMATPrep Software. Especially the Quants section. Some people suggest that OG maths is very easy compared to the real exam . please elaborate
karankan1 - I actually found the quant section slightly harder than it was on the GMATPrep software. It's not that i saw much harder questions per se, but I saw the questions ramping up in difficulty much faster on the real thing than on GMATPrep. However, I thought the verbal section difficulty was pretty spot on.
shadowsjc - I agree with you completely. I actually took the LSAT several years ago and thought the LR sections were much harder than they are on the GMAT. I missed 1 logical reasoning question on the LSAT, and I'm pretty convinced I got them all right on the GMAT (I got them all right in the practices). If you find yourself consistently missing 3 or more critical reasoning questions on the GMAT then I'd recommend not looking at the LSAT logical reasoning. But if you're missing 1-3 CRs and you've exhausted all of your other resources, the I think that the LSAT LR is a good place to turn to.