Category Archives: GMAT

How the GMAT CAT Works

The Quantitative and Verbal sections of the GMAT both consist of multiple-choice questions that are presented as a computer-adaptive test (CAT). The CAT is designed to dynamically produce exam questions based on your performance on previous questions. These questions, which range in difficulty from low to high, are pulled from a question bank. The result is a unique exam for nearly every test-taker.

The CAT begins by providing a question of moderate difficulty. About half of test takers are expected to get the question correct, and half are expected to get it wrong. If you get the question correct, then a more difficult question is supplied. If you get the question wrong, then an easier question is supplied. By the end of the test, the CAT finds your score based on the number of correct answers given to questions at different levels of difficulty.

As you might imagine, there is a sophisticated algorithm underlying this process, involving knowing how thousands of other test-takers have done on each of the problems you answered. The algorithm decides the appropriate level of difficulty for your next question, the value of that question, and eventually your score. Because your questions are generated based on previous responses, you may not skip a question and return to it, as is possible on some other standardized tests.

Over the years, many myths have come and gone come with regard to how the exam’s adaptive engine works. Perhaps the most pervasive one is the idea that, because the first few questions can cause a wide swing in the whether you receive harder or easier questions (based on whether you get them right or wrong), these questions are by far the most important ones in determining your final score. Many test-takers therefore spend far too much time on these questions, trying to ensure that they get every one right so that the computer puts them in the “smart” bucket, ensuring they will get a higher overall score at the end of the test.

The reality is that the GMAT holds so many data points on every one of the questions you will see that by the end of the test it will know your true level of ability, whether or not you get an early easy question wrong or an early hard question right. It’s also flexible enough to account for “false negatives” and “false positives” (getting a question wrong when you really should have gotten it right, given your ability level, or vice versa). The people behind the test know, for example, that even if you make a pure guess, there’s a 20% chance that you will get a question right. They therefore know that every question helps in determining your final score, but that every question itself may be “wrong” in making that determination. So, they designed the scoring algorithm to stay flexible enough to withhold judgment on your true level until you’ve been presented with every question on the test.

Therefore, you are far more likely to impact your own score by finishing the exam or not. Spend too much time on these first 10 questions and you may risk running out of time at the end of the section. No matter how well you did on the first 10 questions, not answering every question can knock your score down significantly. (The people at GMAC have stated as much publicly.) So, don’t fool yourself into spending precious extra minutes on the first 10 questions… Instead, you should worry about finishing the test on time!

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Veritas Prep Launches New GMAT Question Bank

The real GMAT constantly evolves, adds new questions, retires others, and even introduces entirely new question formats. So no company can sit back and let its practice tests collect dust — if the tests aren’t changing, then they’re not the best in the business.

As part of its ongoing commitment to build the best computer-adaptive GMAT practice tests available anywhere, earlier this month Veritas Prep launched its new GMAT Question Bank, containing hundreds of free practice GMA questions.

So why did Veritas Prep launch this free GMAT resource now? “We’ve created this tool and opened it up to everyone so that we can collect loads of data on our questions,” according to the Veritas Prep Blog. “We’ll use the data we collect to measure and refine our questions, which will then go into new generations of our GMAT practice tests.”

In effect, by answering these questions, students are helping the system learn about its own GMAT questions — which ones are easy, which ones are hard, which ones are confusing and need to be refined, etc. The system also learns about each user, and the result is an iterative process in which it measure users by seeing how they did on certain questions, and assesses those questions by seeing how well certain users performed on those questions.

The number of questions in the system will vary over time as the system validates questions. Once the system deems a question good enough to be in one of Veritas Prep’s 15 GMAT practice tests, it may disappear from the Question Bank and only be available to Veritas Prep GMAT students. But, students can always come back and view their past results at any time.

Right now you will see the five question types that are in the computer-adaptive parts of the GMAT: Critical Reasoning, Sentence Correction, Reading Comprehension, Data Sufficiency, and Problem Solving. There is no Integrated Reaosning in there yet, but according to Veritas Prep, that will change soon.

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Your GMAT Integrated Reasoning Score Will Matter… Just Not Yet

Recently the Stanford GSB admissions team wrote a blog post that gives business school applicants one more reason to calm down about the new Integrated Reasoning section on the GMAT. Simply put, the Stanford admissions team will not take applicant’s Integrated Reasoning scores into account when making their decisions for the 2012-2013 application cycle.

“Wait, why wouldn’t they use it if the people behind the GMAT went through all the trouble to create it?” you may be asking. Don’t take this as a sign that Stanford or any other MBA program does not believe in the new Integrated Reasoning section. Instead, think about how much history MBA admissions officers have with the “old” GMAT… The Stanford admissions team alone looks at thousands and thousand of them every year. Now, a new number shows up on the report, and they need to get comfortable with that number before they can make life-changing decisions based on it.
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Should You be Worried About Integrated Reasoning?

So you’re not going to be able to take the GMAT before it changes next week. After all that you’ve read about how applicants who take the old GMAT will have a distinct advantage over those Next-Generation GMAT victims, do you really think you stand a chance of breaking a 700 on the exam now that you must face the new Integrated Reasoning section?

Contrary to what some might think, the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) didn’t create Integrated Reasoning in a drive to find a more fiendish question type, and no one is out to make your life harder. Integrated Reasoning does represent a new way that GMAC tries to measure your decision-making abilities and analytical skills, but it’s not an entirely new exam.

Here are three reasons you don’t need to stress if you plan on taking the GMAT after June 5:

It will be a year or two before admissions officers put much stock in your Integrated Reasoning score.
Put yourself in admissions officers’ shoes… This fall, when they first see GMAT scores come in containing IR scores, they’re not going to be ready to admit or reject someone based on that single number. What’s a great score? What’s a mediocre score? They will be able to look at percentiles to help them gauge how much better a score of 7 is than a 6, but even those aren’t going to be a sure thing for a while. GMAC has announced that the scoring percentiles will be updated every month for the first six months, so even those normally trustworthy numbers may be in flux. The bottom line? Admissions officers have a lot of learning to do about what looks, smells, walks, and talks like a great IR score. Until they do develop that intuition, you can be sure it will only be a very minor factor in their admissions decision, if any at all.

Integrated Reasoning does not factor into your overall score.
Are you aiming for a 760+ score? Just trying to break 700? Whatever the case may be, how you do on Integrated Reasoning will have no impact on your overall score out of 800. Just like the Analytical Writing Assessment was (and will continued to be) scored, Integrated Reasoning will have its own scoring scale, in this on a 1 to 8 scale.

If you prepare for the GMAT the right way, you don’t need much additional preparation for Integrated Reasoning.
We’ve seen some specious arguments about how taking the Next Generation GMAT will require you to prepare much more for the exam than will the old section. First, this argument assumes that you were going to spend little to no time preparing for the soon-to-be-dropped Analysis of an Issue AWA essay, which is probably not true. Second, it misses a real important point that we have been making all along: If you study for the GMAT the right way, and go beyond memorizing content to actually train yourself in the higher-order thinking skills that business schools want to see, then you won’t find the new IR section to be all that challenging. Veritas Prep students are already realizing this on their own, and many of them have said that they’re in fact glad that they will take the new GMAT, because they “get” Integrated Reasoning and would rather do that section than another drab AWA essay.

So, before you contemplate fleeing the GMAT completely, know that Integrated Reasoning is not all that hard if you’re prepared properly, it doesn’t matter that much if you do in fact do badly on it, and you may even find it to be fun. And if you don’t find analysis to be somewhat enjoyable, then brace yourself for business school!

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How to Prepare for the Integrated Reasoning Section on the New GMAT

The GMAT’s new Integrated Reasoning section is still a few months away from going live, but applicants are already buzzing about this new question type. They want to know what the new Integrated Reasoning section is, and — more importantly — how to prepare for it.

Integrated Reasoning question present students with various data — presented various forms, including words, charts, and tables — and challenges them to pull out key insights to answer multiple questions about what’s going on. The questions vary by type, but they all measure your ability to truly perform analysis, rather than your ability to apply rote rules or memorize content.

With the new Integrated Reasoning section, the GMAT gets closer than ever before to measuring the type of analytical skills that truly matter in business school and beyond. These questions actually look quite similar to the mini-case studies MBA students get when interviewing for management consulting or some finance jobs. This sort of exercise is a great measure of someone’s analytical abilities. So often applicants hear “analytical” and assume this means “quant” or “numbers,” but great analysis actually goes much deeper and is much more challenging than just crunching numbers. That skill is just what many recruiters at top business schools look for, which is why it makes sense for the GMAT to measure it as well as a standardized test can.

So, how do you prepare for Integrated Reasoning questions? The good news is that, if you prepare for the GMAT the right way, that work will already help you succeed on the Integrated Reasoning section. Furthermore, as this section is designed to test your analytical abilities in a business context, your day-to-day activities will help you prepare, and you should note items such as “which data are most relevant to a decision” and “how could this information be displayed graphically to highlight important trends” when you perform professional and personal tasks that involve numbers and decisions.

To get start, we recommend looking at some of the GMAT Integrated Reasoning resources that Veritas Prep has created, including sample questions. Give yourself enough time and approach the Next-Generation GMAT with the right mindset, and you should have no trouble with the new section of the exam.

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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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