August 11 Chat Recap

August 12, 2010

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Last night, I held the first GMAT Hacks live question-and-answer session. Thanks to those of you who stopped by, and thanks especially to those of you who asked questions.

What follows is the transcript of last night's chat.

First off, thanks for reading.

This is really an experiment -- I've been doing the GMAT Hacks website for about four years now, but this is the first live chat.

It looks like there have been a handful of questions submitted already, so we've got some to get the ball rolling. Please, if you're reading, I'd love to hear from you. Questions, suggestions, etc.

One thing I'm curious about, too, since we've got some people here. I can only take the GMAT so often. Anybody out there taken the exam recently? Let me know your experiences -- what was just like you expected, what was a surprise, etc.

Ok, here goes...

[Comment From MWM316]
I have six weeks to study for the GMAT, and I'm thinking of taking a prep course (Kaplan). Good idea? Thanks Jeff.

That's tricky. The traditional prep course is 8-10 weeks, meeting once per week; there are also some 'crash-course' versions that push it down to 4 weeks or less. Presumably that's what you're talking about.

The definite benefit of the prep course is that is keeps you on track -- the social aspect can make a big difference for you, especially if you don't know if you could motivate yourself without a tutor or course.

But ... given you've got such a short time frame, you'll be hustling through a lot of materials (Kaplan gives a ton of homework, and the twice-a-week classes make it tougher), and you won't have much time after the course is over to let it sink in, focus on problem areas, take practice tests, etc.

Without knowing you better, I can't give you a yes-or-no answer. But those are the things to think about.

[Comment From J. Lomax]
Wondering about verbal. Every time I take a practice test, I finish the verbal section with like 30 minutes left. Crazy, right? I'm doing ok and improving a little, but should I be worried about finishing so early?

This is actually something I hear about quite a bit. It's my experience -- ever since the first time I took a practice GMAT, I got through the Verbal section with 25 minutes to go.

So it's not necessarily a bad thing. Some people just read/process that fast. The question is whether you think you're scoring as high as you should. If you're getting, say, 1/2 of RC questions wrong ... then it seems like slowing down would be a good idea.

It also should give you some ideas to incorporate into your practice. Set a timer at 4 minutes and force yourself to spend that much time on a RC passage (before you do the questions) and see what happens. Same with critical reasoning -- force yourself to read slower, use up 2 minutes per question, and see if your results change.

[Comment From Josh]
I took the GMAT about 2 weeks ago. My Verbal score was about the average of my 2 GMATPrep practice exams, but my Quant was drastically lower than even my worst practice exam. I felt I had a great exam and was very confident, however, Quant is by far my weaker area.

Probably doesn't make you feel any better, but your experience is typical -- people who are disappointed on test day seem to be more likely to be disappointed with the quant score than the verbal.

It's impossible to know for sure, but I hear stories like yours quite a bit, and I suspect it happens because you're not totally zeroed in from the first quant question. Lots of quant questions are not really hard, but they do have some subtle twists to them. If you're a little stressed, maybe not 100% focused, you'll miss the twists.

So what happens, I think, is you miss a couple early ones, that means you see easier questions -- and hence the confidence. Those easier questions ARE easy, you have reason to be confident. But if you keep missing the subtleties every 3 or 4 questions, it keeps you from moving up.

[Comment From B K]
Im taking the GMAT at 8am. What is the best thing to eat before the test?

Good question. First priority is to drink some water. Beyond that, try to stick with your usual routine as much as possible. If you start work at 9am every morning, and that means you wake up at 7, eat at 730, then if you want to be ready to go for the GMAT, move that schedule back an hour. Treat the 8am start time like the beginning of your workday.

If you want specifics, eggs are generally a safe bet. But really, the safest bet is whatever you do on other days. I eat the same type of protein bar every morning within about 30 minutes of getting out of bed ... it may or may not be the best thing for me, but if I do anything else, I'm a little off for the next few hours. So consistency is #1.

[Comment From MAHMUD]
what's the diff between total gmat math and the 1,800 quant questions, do they overlap or what? thx

The 1,800 questions are just questions and explanations. You can buy the sets individually -- 100 questions each -- or in bigger groups of multiple sets.

Total GMAT Math has 300 gmat-like practice questions, plus explanations. They don't overlap. The big difference is that Total GMAT Math has chapters for each type of content -- for instance, a chapter explaining how to do overlapping sets problems. Then there are a handful (usually 5 - 10) practice questions on that subject.

So if you need more grounding in the basics, or you want very targeted practice, Total GMAT Math is the way to go. If you feel like you've mastered the content, and you just need a lot of practice, get some or all of the problem sets.

And while we're at it ... looks like one more q on a similar subject

[Comment From rajeev]
hey, just wondering, with your problem sets, should i be doing fundamentals or challenge? last practice test, 42q, want at least 47q.

Looks like you're ready for the challenge sets. The one use you might have for a fundamentals set is if there's a specific topic that you're really struggling with. Most people seem to have one or two areas on quant that really give them trouble.

General advice for everybody, regarding the problem sets --

The relevant thing is not how you WANT to score, but how you ARE scoring. If you are scoring 32q and want a 47q, you have a TON of work to do before you're ready to start looking at 45-47q level questions. The first order of business is to get yourself up toward the 38-40 range. You can't do it all at once by hammering the really hard questions.

Trust me, I've seen people try! It isn't pretty.

[Comment From BKap]
Jeff: I bought Total GMAT Math last month and am getting a lot out of it. DS is still killin me. choosing (C) way too often. what should I do?

Yeah, that happens with a lot of people. It's great that you've recognized it.

It's actually the subject of one of the chapters in GMAT 111 -- choosing (C) too much.

What tends to happen is that, on tougher questions, you try to evaluate (1) and (2) too quickly on their own. If the question is complicated, you might not spend enough time simplifying the question, or simplifying the statements ... or the content might just be a little bit over your head.

So usually what happens is you skip past those first two steps (is (1) sufficient? is (2) sufficient) for whatever reason, then the next step is to try to combine them. If (1) or (2) was suff on its own, then of course you'll think they are sufficient combined -- you do have enough information!

But of course, (C) is the wrong answer.

So if you find yourself picking (C) on a question that is on the tough side, go back, spend a few seconds thinking about whether you really needed both statements.

speaking of DS...

[Comment From abc123]
loving the videos, keep up the good work! can you do a video on data sufficiency strategy?

Yep, a DS strategy/introduction video is near the top of my list. Thanks for the kind words -- I'm having fun making the videos. There are many more to come.

Has anybody else been watching my videos? I'm curious what you think ... if you have any suggestions for topics or anything else.

switching over to verbal for a bit...

[Comment From SHANKAR]
any advise on how to study sentence correction?

Anything I say now is going to be on the short side ... for lots more, I would suggest going here.

That link shows you all of the articles I've written with SC tips.

In general, I recommend you start by doing practice problems, ideally from the OG or the OG-Verbal Review book.

As you do those, you'll get some wrong. Really analyze the ones you get wrong. Sometimes you'll read the explanation and get it right away -- maybe you forgot a grammar rule, or you misread the sentence, or whatever.

But even on the ones where you 'get it' straight off, pay close attention to what you're getting wrong. Study those. Let the practice questions tell you what you need to study. It's good advice for any type of question, but I think it's particularly true for SC, because so many people spend a lot of time on things that aren't relevant -- long lists of idioms, etc.

[Comment From federico]
Hey Jeff, I took the test last weekend and got a 590. Big disappointment after scoring 680 and 710 on the gmat prep tests. What do you think is going on? Any tips for me?

You can scroll up to earlier in the chat -- we discussed that already, to some extent.

But in general, a few things to remember.

(1) the GMAT Prep tests are great practice, but they are a bit too easy. If you score a 680/710, the odds are against you doing that well on the real thing. It's possible, but if 10 people with those practice scores take the test, I'll bet 7 or 8 of them do worse on the actual GMAT.

(2) people tend to underestimate how much stress affects them on test day. especially the first time taking the GMAT. For some people, you just can't avoid that. It's unfamiliar, it's high-stakes ... you can't get rid of that stuff. But you can retake ... and generally, the stress level is lower the second time.

[Comment From mesmets]
Hey man, sat for the exam recently and got a 670. Not sure whether to retake. Am probably only applying to top 5 schools. Should I retake?

Really depends on the rest of your application. A 670 is going to be below average for a top 5 program, but it's not so low that it's going to knock you out of contention.

If you have a strong application -- or you can spend the time to create a strong application -- a 670 isn't going to stop anybody from admitting you. If you aren't going to have a particularly strong application otherwise, a 670 certainly isn't going to make up the difference.

Remember the balance -- time spent on studying for and retaking the test is time you don't spend making your application better. And many people with scores that high spend a lot of time studying to retake ... and then improve very little, or don't improve at all.

Looks like there are only a few other questions in the queue ... if you've got something on your mind, send it in...

[Comment From Helen Ross]
I keep doing more practice questions, but still taking way too long on quant. Any suggestions for speeding up? Appreciate it.

Treat the questions that are taking too long as questions you are getting wrong. You might be getting to the right answer in the end, but if you're taking 4-5 minutes to get there, obviously that isn't going to work for you on test day.

So when you take too long on a question, look over the explanation, see if your method was the right method. If it wasn't -- learn the right method! Do the question again the next day, or the day after.

If your method was the right method, try to figure out where the bottleneck was. Did you not know what to do to start? Did you get stuck in a middle step? Wherever the bottleneck was, try to figure out what you should've recognized the first time around.

This approach means you're not going to get through as many practice questions, but it will mean you are ready for more questions you see on test day.

Also remember that you can and should guess on the too-tough / take-too-long questions on test day. If you can get your average time down to 2.5/3m, you can guess on every 3-5 questions, and still do reasonably well.

[Comment From j_culbertson]
Jeff --- thanks for doing this! My friend gave me his MGMAT books. I know I need to do a lot to get my math skills back ... should I buy your stuff too? How does it compare to the MGMAT books? Thanks.

The Manhattan GMAT books are fairly comprehensive ... I know that many people swear by the Sentence Correction guide in particular.

Many students find my math book (Total GMAT Math) to be more in-depth ... more focused on mastering the underlying content. There's also a lot more realistic practice in my books -- the MGMAT books use the Official Guide questions for practice. You should definitely be using the Official Guide, but most people who need a lot of time to get their math skills back end up needing more realistic material to practice with.

[Comment From Katie]
I've already done both of the GMAT Prep tests twice. Any suggestions for more good practice tests?

In a perfect world, you don't need any more practice tests. There's only so much to be gained by spending 3-4 hours doing a practice test, and in many cases you could get more benefit by spending the same amount of time working through realistic practice problems.

But ... if you must, I think the best ones on the market are the MGMAT practice tests. They are the only ones I've seen with questions that are very representative of what you should expect on the actual GMAT.

[Comment From Juan]
do you sell your books in print (hard copy) versions, or just pdfs?

At the moment, just PDFs. (You can print them out, though I realize that takes some time and printer ink.)

I'm glad you asked, though, since I'm working on getting at least some materials into print versions.

You might have noticed that GMAT 111 is available on Kindle (not print, I know, but it's a start).

And I'm hoping that in the next month or so, I'll be selling a hard copy version of Total GMAT Math. I'd like to get everything else in print as well, but there's a lot involved in the process, so it's going to take some time.

[Comment From e-m-c]
Hi Jeff: In doing almost all the problems in the OG, I feel pretty comfortable with everything, but some of the probability questions I see online freak me out. Are there really questions on the GMAT that are that hard? And if there are, what can I do to get ready for them? I don't feel like I'm seeing very many like that in the OG. Thank you.

Some of the toughest questions on the test involve probability, and it's only natural that some of them freak you out. They are legitimately hard.

That said, some of the probability questions floating around on the internet are not realistic. They might have been cribbed from a probability/statistics textbook by an overzealous gmat prepper, or made up by someone who didn't know enough about what the gmat does and does not test.

If you can handle all the probability q's in the Official Guide, you're in good shape. If it's important that you get up in the high 40's in quant, you might want to check out a couple of my tougher problem sets, like Extreme Challenge, which have some probability questions beyond the level of the Official Guide. They are a little daunting, but within reach.

Looks like that exhausts all the questions that have come in.

Thanks for coming -- thanks for the questions/comments.



About the author: Jeff Sackmann has written many GMAT preparation books, including the popular Total GMAT Math, Total GMAT Verbal, and GMAT 111. He has also created explanations for problems in The Official Guide, as well as 1,800 practice GMAT math questions.

Total GMAT Math

The comprehensive guide to the GMAT Quant section. It's "far and away the best study material available," including over 300 realistic practice questions and more than 500 exercises!
Click to read more.