Anatomy of a GMAT Practice Test: Math + Verbal = Exam

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Anatomy of a GMAT Practice Test: Math + Verbal = Exam

GMAT practice test

The first time you see a GMAT should actually be a GMAT practice test, not the real thing.  For many people, it can be a bit of a shock; they aren’t used to the kinds of math and verbal questions we see on the GMAT exam, and haven’t had the benefit of working with practice questions in tough categories like critical reasoning.  So before you look at a GMAT practice test, it might help to get a little sample of what you might see there-- think of it as checking out a menu online before heading to the restaurant: you’re just glancing at the options so you have an idea of what to expect.

First of all, the GMAT is a computer-adaptive test, which can freak people out from the get-go.  Don’t freak out; it just means you approach the verbal and math sections (as well as the new section type we’ll discuss in a minute) with different strategies than you might use on a straight English or algebra exam.  Do not fear the adaptation-- it is (hopefully) not Skynet, we promise.

CAT: A Sample of How the GMAT is Unique

The GMAT computer adaptive test (CAT) is more than just a computerized version of a paper-and-pencil test. On the GMAT, the CAT actually adapts to your performance as you’re taking the test. Understanding how the CAT works and approaching practice questions with a few strategies specific to this particular format will absolutely help you get in fighting form.

When you begin the GMAT exam, the computer assumes you have an average score and gives you a question of medium difficulty. Within each section (so math and verbal are adapted separately), as you get answers correct, the computer provides more difficult questions. On the other hand, as you answer incorrectly, the computer serves up easier questions. Your exam score is determined by an algorithm that calculates your ability level based not just on what you got right or wrong; but also on the difficulty level of the questions you answered.

Because each answer directly affects the next question, the CAT does not allow you to go back to questions you’ve already answered. On the GMAT CAT, you see only one question at a time. You won’t see the next question until you’ve provided an answer to the one in front of you. Once you’ve confirmed your answer, that’s it.  Again, that will affect your prep and how you approach both a GMAT practice test and the real exam-- and there are different strategies you will learn for the verbal and quantitative sections.

GMAT Exam Breakdown: 4 Sections

The test consists of three sections and is scored on a range between 200 and 800.

GMAT sections

The GMAT Quantitative Section

The Basics

  • Time: 75 minutes

  • Format: 37 questions

  • Tests: Arithmetic, Algebra, and Geometry

The GMAT Quantitative Section is tests your knowledge of basic math concepts, including arithmetic, algebra, and geometry, as well as your analytical abilities (read: there’s a strong logic element in GMAT math). The math section consists of two question types: Data Sufficiency and Problem Solving.

What is Quantitative Data Sufficiency?

Data Sufficiency questions consist of a question and 2 statements of data; they are usually the most unfamiliar looking kind of quantitative question on the exam. On your practice test, it’s your job to determine whether the statements provide sufficient data to answer the question. This question type really requires you to quickly identify what information you would need to know and to efficiently eliminate answer choices.

GMAT Quantitative Problem Solving

You’ve been here before…Problem Solving is the classic standardized test question type. You’ll be presented with a question and 5 possible answer choices. Problem Solving questions test your skills in high school-level math. Simple, right? Well, when’s the last time you tried your hand at high school math questions? If you answered, “high school,” then you’ll want to brush up. The key to success is to clearly understand what the exam question is asking and to avoid quantitative answer traps.

The GMAT Verbal Section

The Basics

  • Time: 75 minutes

  • Format: 41 questions

  • Tests: Reading, Grammar, Analytical Reasoning

The GMAT Verbal Section is tests your command of standard written English, your skills in analyzing arguments, and your ability to read critically. The section consists of 3 question types: Critical Reasoning, Sentence Correction, and Reading Comprehension.

What is Verbal Critical Reasoning?

Critical Reasoning examines your argument skills: how to make them, how to evaluate them, and how to formulate a plan of action. On the practice test, think of critical reasoning questions as an opportunity to put on your lawyer hat.  You will be breaking down a short argument into pieces and answering a question relating to it: sometimes strengthening or weakening the argument, at other times using your critical reasoning lawyer-like skills to identify assumptions or draw inferences from the argument itself.

Succeeding on Critical Reasoning questions requires 4 things:

1. Understand the argument’s structure.

2. Identify the conclusion.

3. Determine what evidence exists to support the conclusion.

4. Determine what assumptions are made to jump from evidence to conclusion.

Most importantly, read carefully. Critical Reasoning questions are notorious for their tricky wording.

GMAT Verbal Reading Comprehension

You have probably become quite familiar with Verbal Reading Comprehension questions over your standardized testing career. These questions test your critical reading skills; more specifically, you will be expected on your practice test to:

  • Summarize the main idea

  • Differentiate between ideas stated specifically and those implied by the author

  • Make inferences based on information in a text

  • Analyze the logical structure of a passage

  • Deduce the author’s tone and attitude about a topic

You will be presented with a reading passage on the topics of business, social science, biological science or physical science and then asked 3-4 questions about that text. The tone is that of a scholarly journal.

The GMAT Integrated Reasoning Section

As of June 5, 2012, the GMAT has been revamped with the inclusion of the new Integrated Reasoning (IR) section, and all GMAT practice tests will also include this section. This version of the GMAT will require more study time and familiarity with new question types to achieve a high score. Kaplan courses include a dedicated session on Integrated Reasoning, and all 9 CATs included in the Kaplan GMAT program—including the Official Test Day Experience—contain a full-length, scored IR section.

The Integrated Reasoning section contains four new, multi-step question types to master on top the five existing types in the Quant and Verbal sections. Integrated Reasoning also carries an additional score on which schools will evaluate candidates.

The GMAT Analytical Writing Assessment Section

The Basics

  • Time: 30 minutes

  • Format: 1 essay

  • Tests: Ability to analyze an argument

The Analytical Writing Assessment on the GMAT helps business schools analyze your writing skills, and on your GMAT practice test you’ll notice it’s scored separately from your 200-800 point score, on a scale from 0-6 in increments of 0.5. Essays are scored by a human grader and a computer grading system, and the 2 scores are averaged for your final score.

Analysis of an Argument

This exam question type presents a brief argument similar to a statement you would find in a verbal critical reasoning question. Your task is to write an essay that critiques the structure of the argument and explains how persuasive or unpersuasive you find it. You should not try to present your own point of view on the topic; instead present a critique of the author’s argument. Consider the following questions:

  • What’s the conclusion?

  • What evidence is used to support the conclusion?

  • What assumptions does the writer make in moving from evidence to conclusion?

  • Is the argument persuasive?

  • What would make it stronger? Weaker?

Good luck on your first GMAT practice test!  As you prepare for the real thing, look back at that first experience with the exam and check out your work on the quantitative and verbal sections, as well as integrated reasoning and analytical writing.  You will be shocked at how far you’ve come in learning different Kaplan strategies and methods for success on the GMAT exam-- both in practice questions and on the real deal.  Let us know if you have any questions or comments below!


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