Category Archives: GMAT

How to Think About the GMAT’s Integrated Reasoning Section

The GMAT’s new Integrated Reasoning section (coming in June, 2012) will go beyond the traditional “pick one of these five answer choices” format. It will ask test takers to assess information in a variety of formats, synthesize the information given, and draw conclusions from the information given. Sounds like the test just got that much harder, right?

Not really. I you have prepared properly, then you should need very little preparation for the new Integrated Reasoning section beyond what you’ve already studied. Answering these new questions will require the same higher-order thinking skills that the GMAT already tests; it just tests them in a new way, taking advantage of the computer-based format for the first time in the test’s history.

By the way, some applicants hear “mini case study” and assume that the questions call for “anything goes” answers. Don’t assume that you’re going to be asked to write a short argument or devise a strategy for the company in the question setup. These new Integrated Reasoning questions certainly will be more open-ended in that you may be asked to select which statements are true given a set of data, and one, two, or even all five statements could possibly be true. In this case, you won’t be tasked with simply converging on THE right answer each time. However, there STILL will be a correct way and an incorrect way to answer a question. You just may need to be more creative in how you get there.

Again, if you have studied for the GMAT properly, this will be a piece of cake. In many ways, replacing an AWA question with the new Integrated Reasoning section actually removes ambiguity from the test, since it replaces a long-form, written response (graded by a computer) with questions with clear-cut right and wrong responses. And, the best part is… This is exactly the type of stuff you’ll be asked to do in many MBA job interviews. So, you may as well get good at it now!

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Try These Integrated Reasoning Questions from the New GMAT

Although the GMAT’s new Integrated Reasoning question type won’t debut until the middle of 2012, you can already get a taste of how the new questions will work. GMAC has released 10 sample Integrated Reasoning questions to get an initial read on test takers’ reactions to them.

Note that these are question formats under consideration, and everything about them is subject to change. Some require you to read short passages, others have you gather information from a small spreadsheet, and others still require you to interpret a scatter plot. One question type even requires that you listen to an audio clip, rather than read a short passage.

Why not make it all words and numbers on a screen, like the rest of the GMAT? True analytical ability means much more than crunching numbers; it means being able to sort through a variety of information (delivered in any kind of format), recognize what’s going on, and pull out the insights that matter most. The more ways the test delivers information, the better it can assess your ability to truly analyze a problem and draw a correct conclusion, rather than your ability to apply a math shortcut or spot the incorrect use of an idiom in a passage. Not all of these question formats may make it to the actual new test that will debut in June, 2012, but we love that GMAC is getting so creative in making use of the computer-delivered testing format.

We really like the new Integrated Reasoning question format. Why? Because it gets right at what the GMAT was designed to test: your ability to process and synthesize information. This is also a skill that MBA admissions officers — and, perhaps more importantly, potential employers — look for in their applicants.

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Five Ways to Improve Your GMAT Prep

A lot of our readers prepare for the GMAT on their own. This approach certainly works for thousands of applicants every year, but it can also lead to a great deal of frustration if you do it without a plan or start off with some bad advice. We do believe that most people can do well on the GMAT by studying on their own, but many students sabotage themselves with bad study habits or a lack of understanding about the GMAT itself. To help you, today we present five tips for those of you who choose to prepare for the GMAT on your own:

Work on Both Your Strengths and Your Weaknesses
We often see students fall into two camps: They either tend to gravitate towards the problems that they like (“Oh good, a distance/rate problem. I can do these.”), or they develop an obsession with what they can’t do well (“I need to find 500 geometry questions NOW.”). The reality is that you will encounter both kinds of questions on test day, and you need to be able to get good at the hard stuff while staying nimble and error-free with the easier stuff. In any one sitting, make sure you cover some of both: Work on the stuff you like as well as the material you hate.

Faithfully Mimic the Real Test’s Conditions
If you encounter problem for which you don’t have an obvious plan of attack (such as knowing an algebraic formula or remembering a grammar rule), DON’T look it up in the moment? Students who are obsessed with pacing (more on that in a minute) especially fall prey to this, since they’re trying to get through problems as quickly as possible. The problem is that you won’t be able to do that on test day. What will you be able to do on the big day? Figure out the problem with what you DO know, even if you don’t know the easiest way to solve the problem. Even if it takes you five minutes during your GMAT practice, you will emerge better prepared in the long run. Afterward, definitely make a note and go back and learn (or re-learn) the thing you may have missed, but in the moment, solve the problem another way.

Quality Matters Most, Not Quantity
We often see students boasting in public forums about how many Official Guide problems they complete every week, or how they have run out of questions to do because they’re just on fire with their GMAT prep. Unfortunately, many of them focus on the wrong thing — while you’re studying, it’s not a question of how many problems you can do (or how quickly you can do them), but rather what you’re learning with each question. If you hit a sticking point with a problem, take a step back and ask yourself, “What are they testing here? What in my toolkit will help me answer this question?” and make a note of what your GMAT toolkit may be missing. That’s a far more effective approach to preparation than burning through problem after problem, possibly reinforcing bad habits along the way.

Pacing Matters
Yes, we’ve already made point here of not obsessing over pacing too much in your GMAT studies. However, you do need to make sure that you’re setting yourself up to finish each section of the exam, and the best way to do that is with regular “check ins” to see how you’re doing on pacing. While some students do 2,000+ practice problems and then take a couple of timed tests just before sitting for the real exam, we advise timing yourself earlier and more often. After you have mastered the basics, get in the habit of timing yourself once a week. It doesn’t need to be a full practice test every time — trying to do 30 problems in 60 minutes is more than enough — but it should be enough to get a feel for how you’re tracking. Don’t save this until right before the test, because if you find that you’re working too slowly, it may be too late to fix it. You don’t need to be obsessed with pacing at every turn, but time yourself from time to time.

Save Verbal for Last
Why does this matter? Because that’s how you will do it on the real exam. The GMAT will throw meaty Reading Comprehension questions and tricky Sentence Correction problems at you after you have already been working for three hours… Don’t let mental fatigue get in the way at that point. When you’re about ready to hang it up for the night after a couple hours of studying, force yourself to do a few more verbal questions, and practice the skill of staying focused on them when you’re starting to get tired.

Need a little more guidance but not sure if you need a seven-week prep course? Our friends at Veritas Prep have recently introduced a new GMAT course format, the Essentials Course. It’s the perfect way to start your GMAT preparation! Enrollment costs just $700 for in-person courses and only $550 for live online.

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Should I Retake the GMAT?

We receive that question from a lot of business school applicants every year. Of course, the answer ultimately depends on what your current GMAT score is, but let’s make things interesting. Let’s throw out the obvious “Yes!” and “No!” scenarios and assume you scored a 680, with no particular weakness in either the quant or verbal half of the exam. You’re targeting no less than the five highest MBA programs in the rankings. While you’re comfortably in the middle-80% range for each school, you have a nagging fear that your GMAT score might contribute to a ding in a few months. What do you do?

In general, especially when you still have time, we recommend retaking the GMAT. Why? Here are three reasons:

First, business schools take your highest GMAT score. Don’t believe it? It’s what admissions officers at nearly every top MBA program have told us. Still skeptical? Ask yourself this: When U.S. News asks each business school to report its student body’s mean GMAT scores for MBA ranking purposes, which scores do you think the schools submit? Each student’s lowest score? Heck no… If you have a 660 and a 700, they’ll gladly report the latter.

So, if you are worried about taking the test again and scoring lower, you shouldn’t be. The worst you’ll do is get a lower score, which schools will ignore. If you’re still worried, you can decline to send your score to any schools the day you take the test, and later ask GMAC to send an updated score report to your target schools, after you know how you did. There’s truly no downside here.

Second, on average, test takers boost their scores by 31 points on their second GMAT sitting. None other than GMAC, the people behind the GMAT, reported this a few years ago (see page 5 in the PDF) that the average score gain from the first to second sitting is 31 points. Now, before all of you statistics buffs jump on us for not reporting the whole story, we urge you to read the whole report. Of course, that’s just an average, and your score could in fact go down. But, as GMAC notes on page 9 of the report, “The observed gains for repeat test-takers are greater than the gains one would expect solely based on measurement error.” So, even if you don’t do much additional test prep before taking the test again, on average, odds are that you will do better.

Finally, if you are applying soon, your GMAT score is one of the few things in your application that you can still change significantly. We actually think the most important idea for you to consider. Almost all of those things are in your past and can’t be changed: your undergraduate transcript, your work experience, your community involvement, etc. Assuming you will apply soon, from today going forward, the only things you still control are: your GMAT score, your essays, your letters of recommendation, maybe additional college coursework, and your admissions interview.

Yes, how you present all of those backward-looking things will significantly impact your chances (and that’s what our MBA admissions consultants do), but what would you rather do — submit a 660 GMAT score along with a terrific optional essay explaining that you really can cut it at Stanford GSB, or a 700 with no explanation needed? Very few applicants are perfect, and admissions officers accept applicants with blemishes all the time, but why have that one additional blemish (or, at least, something that’s not a strength) on your application when you still have a chance to improve on it?

The question gets more interesting as you approach the admissions deadlines. With just two weeks to go before the Round 1 deadline, do you go full steam ahead with your 670 GMAT score, or do you try to take the GMAT again while you’re cramming on your essays and closely managing your recommendation writers? (Or do you take a breath, spend some more time on getting the GMAT score you can really achieve, and apply in Round 2? We normally recommend that approach.) What about if you’re faced with that decision right before the Round 2 deadline? What about Round 3?

It’s more a complex discussion in those cases, to be sure, but if you’re still two months away from your target deadlines, the answer is clear: Your GMAT score is still one of the few things you can significantly impact before you apply… Why not make take advantage of one more chance to improve it?

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U.S. News to Gather GRE Data for MBA Rankings

Recently, on his Morse Code Blog, U.S. News Director of Data Research Robert Morse announced that this fall’s U.S. News survey will ask admissions offices detailed questions on GRE test scores and the number and the percentage Class of 2012 students who submitted them.

While Morse did not say that U.S. News’s 2012 MBA rankings will be based on any GRE data, he did say U.S. News “is considering changing its ranking methodology for the 2012 edition of the America’s Best Business Schools rankings… to include both the GMAT and GRE test scores of all M.B.A. students entering in fall 2010.”

In his blog post Morse points out that nearly 27% of the graduate business schools that U.S. News last surveyed are currently accepting GRE scores for admissions. Assuming that U.S. News does eventually decide to include GRE data in its rankings, it will be interesting to see how it manages it given that the majority of top schools still do not accept the GRE. Will it blend GRE and GMAT data by looking just at percentile scores? Will they only include GRE numbers when school report them, and ignore them otherwise? Could some schools try to game the system by deliberately withholding GRE data if it helps their U.S. News business school rankings? Time will tell.

There’s no denying that ETS has made impressive strides this past year in promoting the GRE as an alternative to the GMAT, although we still think the GMAT is the best measure of your academic potential in business school. If you’re an applicant, the question to ask is, “What do I want?” If you’re considering a variety of graduate program options (including business school), then the GRE may make sense. If you’re certain you really want to pursue an MBA, though, we still believe the GMAT makes more sense for you.

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GMAT Volume Flat Overall in 2009

Earlier this week the Graduate Management Admission Council released its official tally for the number of GMAT exams taken in 2009, and it came out to be 267,000, narrowly surpassing last year’s record of 264,700. While it’s good to see the number continuing to rise (and GMAC’s press release goes out of its way to emphasize that the 2009 number is its highest ever), the main headline we see is that the number of tests taken grew less than 1% in 2009.

GMAT Tests Taken by Year(Note that this number represents the number of tests taken, not the the number of people who took the test. When people talk about these numbers they tend to use those two figures interchangeably, but here GMAC did not release any official data about the number of people who took the GMAT in 2009.)

Aside from the headline growth numbers, there are some interesting tidbits in the release regarding the GMAT’s increasingly international flavor:

Beyond growing larger, the GMAT testing pool is becoming more international and increasingly diverse. According to analyses of the most recent GMAT testing year, which ran from July 1, 2008 to June 30, 2009, approximately 51 percent of the people who took the GMAT during the period were non-U.S. citizens—the first time since the exam’s creation in 1954 that test takers who were citizens of nations other than the United States outnumbered Americans.

The figures show that China and India have played a particularly large role in the globalization of management education. The number of GMAT exams taken by Chinese citizens rose 35 percent in testing year 2009 compared with the year before, to 23,550; the number is up 181 percent since 2005, when it was 8,393. Tests taken by citizens of India were up 7 percent in testing year 2009, to 30,633, capping a 128 percent increase during the past five years.

The number of GMAT exams taken by women hit a record 104,880 during testing year 2009, an increase of 36 percent during the past five years and the first time female test takers have exceeded 100,000 in a single testing year. The number of GMAT test takers under 24 grew to 79,577 in 2009, a 132 percent increase from 2005.

That last fact is particularly interesting: In 2005, the number of GMAT test takers under the age of 24 must have been around 34,000. Now, it’s nearly 80,000. With top business schools like Harvard making a public push to attract younger applicants, we wonder: Which is the cause and which is the effect? No matter which factor is the driver of this growth, we expect this trend to continue in the coming years.

Whether or Not to Cancel Your GMAT Score

If you’re preparing for the GMAT, at some point the question will probably run through your head: “If I finish the GMAT and feel that I did terribly, should I just cancel my score on the spot?” Of course, on test day you will be faced with this question before you see your score (I write “of course,” but many applicants actually don’t realize this!), so your decision about whether or not to cancel will be a blind bet on how well you think you did.

Our advice is this: Unless you’re certain that you bombed the test and scored well below your intended score, you should NOT cancel your score. Why not? Well, for one, you won’t know how you did if you cancel your score. Many applicants have finished the test and felt certain that they did poorly, only to find out (after deciding to report their scores) that they did even better than their target score! This is entirely possible because of the computer-adaptive nature of the test, and its ability to home in on your true level of ability — getting lots of questions that you couldn’t easily solve may simply mean that test test had taken you to the edge of your ability, and so you were struggling with the questions more than you ever did on practice tests. Even if you got more wrong than usual, you may end up with a good score.

In terms of knowing your score, the score report won’t give you a detailed diagnosis of how you did, but you will be able to see your quantitative and verbal score breakdown, so you will at least know (or confirm, if you already knew) where you need to focus your time and energy when you hit the books again.

Also, if you cancel your score, business schools will see this on your official report. This isn’t a horrible “black mark” on your report, but it’s there, and doesn’t necessarily look any better than a low score. So, keeping a possibly low score away from MBA admissions officers won’t keep them completely in the dark — they’ll still know that you took the test and probably didn’t do very well.

If you’re worried about how a low score will look on your record, know that admissions officers are forgiving of low scores, and will generally only look at your highest score. If you don’t believe that, consider this: When submitting data to the major publications for their annual business school rankings, it’s in each school’s best interest to only submit its students’ highest scores (to keep the school’s mean/median GMAT score as high as possible). Even with a low score or two on your report, admissions officers will look at your best one.

So, as much as it may pain you to click “submit” and risk sending a terrible score to your target business schools, the pros heavily outweigh the cons. You’re not gaining much by withholding your score, and you’re missing out on a shot that your score was better than you thought!

For more GMAT prep news and analysis, be sure to follow us on Twitter to get up-to-the minute news and advice about the GMAT!

How Much Do Corporate Recruiters Rely on the GMAT?

Earlier this week BusinessWeek ran an article about corporate recruiters using business school students’ GMAT scores as a way to select candidates for job interviews. While this is nothing new, the article included some interesting quotes from business school career office administrators who have advised some students to retake the GMAT to improve their chances of landing job interviews with top-tier consulting firms and investment banks.

In this tough job climate, especially, no MBA student wants to give recruiters any reason to drop his resume into the discard pile. While they may have ignored the advice to retake the GMAT a few years ago, now they’re much more willing to listen when someone suggests they should retake the GMAT, particularly when it comes from the career services office. And some schools, particularly those that may struggle to keep top-tier firms coming back to campus in this economy, have even offered their students school-run GMAT courses to help their students boost their scores.

Balancing out the seemingly increased importance of the GMAT in the hiring process, the article quotes a director of recruiting at Bain & Co., who explains that most candidates that the company would consider tend to have high GMAT scores, anyway, so the test itself doesn’t end up being a big differentiating factor in the hiring process. He even went on to say that Bain’s own research shows that there’s virtually no correlation between a new hire’s GMAT score and that person’s success on the job at Bain.

One interesting notion is that business schools’ own pass-fail systems and grade non-disclosure policies may contribute to companies’ tendency to rely more on the GMAT. These policies are in place to discourage cut-throat competition and to encourage students to focus on learning, but they also take away what is an important hiring criterion for some companies. As a result, these companies grab for the next best data they can find, which are a student’s GMAT score and undergraduate GPA. In this way, schools have shifted some of the competitiveness from the classroom to things that students must do before they even set foot in a classroom.

What does this mean for you? Honestly, if you’re going to a top-ten business school, hiring companies are more likely to assume you “have what it takes,” and will rely less on your GMAT score (although they will still ask for it) in deciding whether or not to interview you. If you’re at a lower-ranked school where top-tier firms only hire a handful of students each year, you’re more likely to need every advantage you can get to stand out vs. your peers. In this case, if your score isn’t high enough, you may want to consider retaking the GMAT.

If you’re in business school and are considering retaking the GMAT to help your chances of landing a lucrative job, consider the GMAT prep classes that Veritas Prep offers. And, as always, be sure to follow MBA Game Plan on Twitter!

GMAT vs. GRE: GMAC Pokes Holes in the GRE Comparison Tool

ETS has made some significant inroads into the GMAT’s market share with its own GRE over the past year, but GMAC is now hitting back with a new article on its site that questions teh validity of ETS’s GRE Comparison Tool for Business Schools.

“This GRE comparison tool is not as precise at it may appear, and using it is not as straightforward as presented. The comparison tool is about averages. Admission decisions are about individuals,” argues GMAC in the article on its site.

GMAC’s argument against the tool was primarily a statistical one:

“As a specific example, for a GRE verbal score of 660 and quantitative score of 670, the tool would predict a GMAT Total score of 650. In this case, 1 in 4 people with this predicted score would actually earn 600 or below if they were to take the GMAT exam. In addition to prediction error, there is also measurement error in both the verbal and quantitative GRE scores, so the chance that this individual would actually score something close to 650 is extremely thin.”

Going further, GMAC then raises the question of whether comparing students with actual GMAT scores to those with predicted scores is fair: “To use predicted GMAT scores along with actual ones unfairly penalizes both sets of test takers, because applicants with valid GMAT scores could be displaced by applicants with predicted scores that are much too high.”

Interestingly, ETS launched the GRE Comparison Tool GRE® Comparison Tool at www.ets.org/gre/comparison about a year ago, but now that web address redirects to a promotion encouraging business schools to start accepting the GRE. Maybe GMAC was able to apply enough pressure to get ETS to remove the tool? Maybe ETS decided it needs to go back to the drawing board?

While we expect that the GRE is here to stay in the graduate management education admissions business, we agree with GMAC that the GMAT is still the most proven measure of the skills an MBA applicant needs to succeed in the classroom. If you’re thinking about grad degrees and general and are only somewhat interested in earning an MBA< then perhaps the GRE is the better place to start. If you are certain that a top-tier MBA is what you want, however, the GMAT is still your best bet.

Business Schools That Accept the GRE or GMAT

After the recent news that NYU Stern will start accepting the GRE as well as the GMAT for MBA admissions, it’s clear that ETS has made impressive strides this past year in promoting the GRE General Test as an alternative to the GMAT.

We have created a list of the top business schools that accept the GRE General Test. This list is not meant to be exhaustive (ETS’s exhaustive list is here). Rather, these are the top business schools that have taken the plunge and started accepting the GRE.

Top MBA Programs That Accept the GRE:

  • Harvard Business School
  • MIT Sloan School of Management
  • NYU Stern School of Business
  • Stanford Graduate School of Business
  • University of Virginia (Darden)
  • Yale School of Management

Also, Wharton will accept the GRE starting in Fall 2010.

For more information about the GMAT, take a look at Veritas Prep. Also, be sure to follow us on Twitter!