Tips and Tricks

  

Since launching our service, we have received requests to start a tip/principle page on our website, so we have decided to do just that. Every 1-2 weeks we post a tip, trick, or principle focused on a topic within either Verbal or Quant. 


Below is an archive of our past tips and tricks. You may already know some of these, but hopefully you will see something new!


Please let us know if you have any questions, comments, or if you would like to become a mentee / mentor.

General - Reducing Test Day Nerves

 Test day is a nervous time. You prepare for hundreds of hours and have to showcase your abilities in a couple hour test window. Everyone is undoubtedly nervous during this time, which is completely understandable. However, we believe there are several approaches to help reduce test day nerves, stress, and any unusual circumstances.


1 - Take practice tests at the same time and day of your real GMAT test

In order to best simulate the actual test day, we recommend taking practice tests at the same day and time of your actual GMAT test. So if your GMAT test is on a Saturday at 4PM, you should take practice tests on Saturday at 4PM as many times as possible. This makes you accustomed to the feeling of taking the test at this exact time on this day of the week, and it feels more routine in your schedule.


2 - Have the same routine on test day

Similar to point 1 above, you want to feel like you have done this before. By keeping the same routine the day of your test, you will feel more natural since these are the same activities you did before. Whether this be going to the gym, going on a run, or reading a book, you want to do the same activities at similar times the day of your test.


3 - Get plenty of sleep the night before

This goes without saying, but you will naturally feel “off” and more nervous if you do not get a lot of sleep the night before your test. Get plenty of sleep and do not do anything particularly abnormal the night before your test.


4 - Eat healthy and familiar foods

There is a lot of science around food related to mental capacity and brain activity. Eat healthy foods the day of and day before your test (greens, salads, fruits, veggies, proteins). Try and avoid any heavy foods. Additionally, keep to foods you are used to and do not try anything new. It would be a shame if you were allergic to a food or your body reacted poorly to something, so eat things that are familiar to you!


We think these points will reduce stress by providing consistency and confidence that you have been here before. Additionally, you minimize any chances of abnormal circumstances arising the day of your test!

General - Time management

This tip was written by one of our mentors and content creators, Kartik.


  

Time management is essential to succeed on the GMAT test. The two sections of quant and verbal are 62 and 65 minutes, respectively. With 31 questions in quant, the candidate gets roughly 120 seconds (2 min) for each question. In verbal, this time reduces to 108 seconds per question. Therefore having a right timing strategy becomes all the more important so that one does not end up hurrying through or missing the final questions in the section.


An approach to manage the time in the sections individually is to divide the overall section into 4 (almost) equal parts, and complete a minimum number of questions in that section so that you are always on target. Please keep in mind that the below breakouts are a suggestion! There are countless times where people spend slightly more or less on each section and need to “catch up” to the average pace. You should use the below breakouts as a guideline, but don’t stress out if you are running over – just stay calm and go quicker, potentially guessing right away on hard problems that you know will take you a while.


Quant is a total of 62 minutes, so the 4 parts are 17min, 15min, 15min and 15min.
(17 + 15 + 15 + 15 = 62 min)

In the first part aim for 7 questions, and 8 questions in each of the next 3 parts.
(7 + 8 + 8 + 8 = 31 questions)


Verbal is a total of 65 minutes, so the 4 parts are 17min, 16min, 16min and 16min.
(17 + 16 + 16 + 16 = 65 min)

In each of the parts aim for 9 questions.
(4 x 9 = 36 questions)


This strategy accounts for the extra time that one normally takes in the beginning to settle into the section. In the first part of Quant the aim should be complete 7 questions instead of 8 in the other sections. On the other hand, first part of Verbal has 1 extra minute than the remaining parts.


If you follow this above strategy, then you can memorize the table on the right and draw it someplace that you can always see, every time before starting a section during practice or in the final test. By following this you can regulate the time that you spend in each of the parts and thus the section. This is a more structured approach to keeping the time under check.

Suggested time table for number of questions completed per time interval

Suggested time table for number of questions completed per time interval

Quant - Brute forcing questions

This tip was written by one of our mentors and content creators, Kailash.


Most GMAT questions can be solved in multiple ways. Sometimes you might come upon a question where you find that you just cannot remember the “math rules” or the formula to solve it. In order to pace yourself in cases like these, the easiest/fastest way could be to just “brute force” the question with lots of little calculations to find the answer.


For example, let us consider the following question:

How many integers from 0 to 50, inclusive, have a remainder of 1 when divided by 3?


A. 15
B. 16
C. 17
D. 18
E. 19


Now there are math rules you can use to solve this question. There is an algebraic solution to this question. Maybe you could even try to estimate the answer.


In times like this, I’m a strong advocate of EmpowerGMAT’s approach to using “brute force” to solve this question. Sometimes we just need to get in there and start throwing punches. Another thing to note is that the answers are extremely close to each other, so make sure you’re writing everything down on the pad to ensure that the work you do is precise.


To start, let’s write down the smallest integer from 0 to 50 that gives us a reminder of 1 when divided by 3. (Remember 0 is a multiple of every integer!)


Therefore, the smallest and 1st integer would be 1. Now, we simply find the next number by adding 3 to this. In this case: 1+3 = 4. 4/3 again gives us a reminder of 1. 


So let’s continue listing integers in this pattern until we hit 50. The integers are:


1,4,7,10,13,16,19,22,25,28,31,34,37,40,43,46 and 49.

Total Number = 17

C is the correct answer.


Looking at this question, all we did was a couple of simple calculations to arrive at this answer. All in all, the time taken to look at the question and start listing integers wouldn’t have taken more than 2 minutes of basic calculations to arrive at the correct answer.


This just shows that you don’t necessarily have to know all the “math rules” behind every question the GMAT throws at you. Using a little bit of logic, flexibility and pattern-matching skills you could be out of this question in less than 1 and a half minutes.


The key is to understand that this question is susceptible to “brute force.” The lowest answer choice (or number of solutions) is 15 and the highest is 19. How difficult could it be to find them all between the integers of 0 and 50? Knowing the limited choices, brute force is a logical option here.

General - Test booklet management

 

If you do not already know, you are not allowed to bring your own paper or pen to the GMAT testing center. When you arrive and check in, the test administrator will provide you with a booklet of noteboards. What we want to talk about are ways you can best utilize your noteboard to maximize efficiency and minimize any potential for wasted time:


Always replace your noteboard between sections. Even if you only used one page on the verbal section and you are going into the quant section, you never know how much space you may need. You are allowed to change out your noteboard during every break period, and we highly suggest doing so


We believe that the Verbal section is where you can really utilize your paper to save time! Since the verbal section is ultimately about eliminating the wrong answers to get to the correct answer, we suggest setting up your paper to make that process easy and simplified.

  • Our suggestion is to draw 5 columns on each side of your noteboard. Label the columns  (A,B,C,D,E). As you go through each question, you can put an X under the column where you are eliminating that answer choice. Then, draw one horizontal line to move onto the new question and have a fresh area to again mark the incorrect answers.
  • You should set up your paper in-between sections or during the initial “instruction” time if verbal is your first section, which is the first 1-2 minutes when they explain the section. This is before you get to the actual questions so you save time by setting things up beforehand!


During the Quant section, clearly section off each question after you finish answering it. You do not want to confuse work between questions, so drawing a line or border around each question can be helpful.

  • One additional tip is specific for the data sufficiency section. We find it very helpful to clearly separate your work between the first and second statements. You do not want to get confused and accidentally use information from the first statement in your work for the second statement. 

It is a good idea to practice this principle of noteboard management. We highly suggest to buy the noteboard and marker and use them while you prep and take practice tests. Below is an example of where to find these on Amazon.

https://www.amazon.com/Manhattan-GMAT-Simulation-Booklet-Marker/dp/0979017580 

Suggested verbal noteboard setup (can extend down entire length of paper)

Suggested verbal noteboard setup (can extend down entire length of paper)

General - Learn to Guess and Move On

 


This is one of the key pieces of advice that drove my score up from the low 700’s to 750. And I am not alone: if you search GMAT forums for stories of improvement, almost universally you will find guessing strategies played a pivotal role. Even 99%ile test-takers guess anywhere from 3-7 times (!) per section.


This advice might seem obvious, but in truth it isn’t. All too often, a student will get bogged down on a question, spend 3+ minutes working it through, then get it wrong anyway. This is absolutely killer. You will need every second you can get on the GMAT, in any section.


Every second above two minutes (for quant) you spend on a question is taking valuable time away from a question you are more likely to get right. Typically within 30 seconds of reading a GMAT question, you will know whether or not you have the tools to answer it. Sometimes, it will take you a little longer: maybe that realization comes after more than a minute. But any time spent above two minutes working conceptually on a problem is wasted. If you haven’t figured out how to answer the question within 2 minutes, the likelihood of you actually finding that “how” is close to zero. And best-case scenario, say you actually do figure out how to answer the question after two minutes. Can you then find the answer in good time? Will you actually get it right? Unlikely, seeing as you struggled so hard to figure out how to answer it in the first place.


It is always correct to assume that you will have a higher probability of getting the next question right when you are struggling with a question. This is why guessing is so important. The test time is finite; the less you spend on a specific question you can’t figure out, the more you save for the ones that you can. I remember two questions on my quant section that I took one glance at, checked my time, chose a random answer and pressed next. I knew I couldn’t figure them out fast enough. Why put the remaining questions on my test at risk?


Here’s a few practical tips for guessing:

  1. Never spend more than 3 minutes on a question; never spend more than 2 minutes on a question you don’t know how to answer. As soon as the clock crosses the 3-minute mark, make your best guess and move on immediately (unless you are at the very end of your test). If the clock crosses the 2-minute mark, and you are well on your way to answering the question (you have figured out the “how”), you can stick with it for another minute. Otherwise, guess and move on.
  2. Know your strengths and weaknesses. If you come across a difficult question in a weak category of yours, and you are doubtful you’ll be able to come to the correct answer, don’t be afraid to punt it immediately if you are behind on time.
  3. Minimize your blind guesses. Do whatever you can to improve your probability of getting it right. Specific categories have specific guessing strategies, which are usually outlined in textbooks. Learn the variable counting method for DS. Try at the very least to split your SC answers. Eliminate whatever answers that you know not to be true.

Like anything else in the GMAT, the best way to improve is to build good guessing and time habits. If you have time problems, you should be fixing them in your practice, not on your test day.

Quant - Estimation

To set the stage on why estimation is an essential component of quant questions, it is important to understand that the GMAT will never expect you to do complex calculations in your head. If you ever find yourself feeling like you need to do calculations with very large numbers, take a second and think about how you can use estimation to solve the problem.


In general, rounding to easily manipulated numbers is the key way to use estimation. If you see 9.5^2 , you should immediately realize, this is between 81 and 100, but should not immediately care what the exact number is. How exact you need to understand any number will of course vary by question, but the general use of estimation is ALWAYS useful for quick solutions.


One good example where estimation is essential is shown below:


Question:

The product of all prime numbers less than 20 is closest to which of the following powers of 10?


Answer choices:

  • 10^9
  • 10^8
  • 10^7
  • 10^6
  • 10^5

As you can imagine, the first step to answer this question is to list all of the prime numbers:

2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17, 19


This is where the question gets difficult. You could multiple all of the numbers exactly as they are to see the result; however, this would take a lot of calculations and time. The GMAT would never expect you to multiple all of these numbers together to get the exact result, this just takes too much time. 


So instead of multiplying each number as they are, we should look for combinations of numbers that are close to 10. Lets use estimation to get combinations of 10:

  • 2*5 = 10 (no estimation needed)
  • 3*7 ~=2*10 
  • 11~=10 
  • 13~=10
  • 17 ~=2*10
  • 19~=2*10

Now 13 and 17 are slight stretches in this context, however the fact that we overestimate 17 and underestimated 13 makes this feel okay, and ultimately we are looking for orders of magnitude of 10, which this estimation does not violate.


Okay, so now we have 10^6 * 2^3. 2^3 is equal to 8, which can be estimated to equal 10. Therefore, 10^7 is the final answer!


Using estimation you can answer this question in less than a minute and feel confident in your answer without taking a ton of time to do detailed calculations.

Verbal - Reading Comprehension Strategy

Many GMAT students find the RC section difficult due to the sheer volume of words, sentences, and paragraphs that they need to read through and understand, all within the span of a couple of minutes. This can be very daunting. Thus, any effective RC strategy will seek to reduce the amount of information you need to remember in order to understand the passage. Reducing the information contained within the passage to its essence will allow you to condense your understanding of the passage, make inferences more easily, and allow you to increase the speed of your reading and answering.


What does this look like in practice? I am a strong advocate of what the Manhattan books teach, which is to write down a summary of the passage as you go along. As you read a paragraph, distinguish what is key, and what is irrelevant. After you have read the paragraph, pause for a moment, then summarize it in 4-5 words. What role is this paragraph playing in the context of the passage? What is its point, and why is it making it? Then, back that one-line summary up with ONLY the key supporting points you identified as you are reading. 


Here’s a quick example:


P1) V.Roy Butterfly -> similar 2 monarch bfly

* Orange + black colours

* Same wing shape + pattern


P2) Ex. of Mullerian Mimicry

* Mull. mim. = copy other species

* Both = gross 2 predators


This technique works well for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it will give you a point of reference when answering your questions. For example, if you need to answer something specific but forget where it is in the passage, you can refer to your summary and find the information quickly. Secondly, and more importantly, writing the summary allows you to condense the passage information, think about what it is saying, and reinforce it in your memory. This will let you answer the broader RC questions very quickly, giving you more time to answer specific RC questions that demand a second look over the passage.


Other than this summary technique, there is no fast and easy strategy advice I can offer for RC. Ultimately the quickest way to get better is to practice. RC and CR more than any other section require practice because they don’t involve as many “rules” as SC or quant, implying that repetition is by far the primary means to improvement, rather than textbook reading.


Useful link: https://gmatclub.com/forum/gmat-club-s-reading-comprehension-strategy-guide-83101.html

Quant - Equations with large exponents


This weeks tip focuses on the quick way to solve large exponent equations. Ultimately, it all comes down to prime factors and cancelling out like prime factors. This is best shown through example:


Question: If (⅕)^m*(¼)^18= 1/(2*10^35), then m= 

Answer choices: 17, 18, 34, 35, 36


In order to solve this, you should automatically think “base prime numbers”. In doing that, you breakdown all numbers to their simplest prime factor form. It is also helpful to make all denominators in the numerator:


5^(-m)*2^(-18)*2^(-18)=2^(-1)*5^(-35)*2^(-35)


Now it is easier to cancel out similar prime factors, which in this case cancels out all of the 2s in the equation, since 2^(-36) is on each side.


The result is 5^(-m)=5^(-35) so m=35. This is a good example of how to break down any equation with large exponents. The GMAT will never make you calculate a large exponent. Whenever you see a large exponent, always think 1) break down to prime factors and 2) cancel out similar prime factors to reduce the exponent.


Verbal - Critical Reasoning Strategy

This week's Verbal tip was written by one of our mentors and content creators MacGregor. 

 

CR is the purest application of logic on the GMAT. Each passage will present a position, argument, and/or supporting premises, and force you to construct, improve, critique, or analyze the related syllogism.

Because every single question will involve a syllogism, the best strategy for CR is to literally write out the syllogism piece by piece as you read the passage. I prefer to start with the conclusion, and then identify which sentences in the passage serve as supporting premises to the conclusion. Note that the conclusion will not always be at the end of the passage, nor will it necessarily be the first position that the passage is arguing for.


The GMAT question writers love to be tricky on the CR section. Because of this, you have to be very, very careful at every stage of the question. When you are reading the passage and writing your syllogism pay attention to key words that indicate what role the sentence plays (see first useful link below). Double check that those indicator words are really what they appear to be: some of the trickiest CR questions will involve multiple “conclusions” by using misleading language, when the passage really only supports one. When reviewing answers, consider all the options. What tricks could the test writers be playing?


Every word in the passage matters. Entire questions will sometimes hinge on one word that, if overlooked, will cost you the entire question. As a consequence, once you have chosen your answer (and assuming you have enough time), quickly glance over the passage or your syllogism to see if it fits. Perhaps you will notice a word or item that you didn’t before, which will change your answer entirely.


The best way to improve at CR above all is to practice. There isn’t very much “theory” to the section. Sure, there are traps you ought to know and identify (see links below), but truly the best way to improve is to do as many questions as possible to get a feel for syllogism construction, and the style of CR passage that the GMAT likes to use.


Useful links:

https://gmatclub.com/forum/bold-face-questions-the-cue-words-that-can-expose-the-rela-162488.html  

https://gmatclub.com/forum/critical-reasoning-megathread-145178.html

https://gmatclub.com/forum/an-introduction-to-gmat-critical-reasoning-by-brian-mcelroy-256291.html 

Quant - Terminating Decimals

 

This weeks tip focuses on terminating decimals, a concept that is easy to learn but often overlooked and forgotten on the test. I myself took too long to get this question wrong the first time it was asked, but once I learned this trick I was able to get it correct in less than a minute every time. 

The answer is very simple - A fraction in its lowest term can be expressed as a terminating decimal if and only if the denominator has powers of only 2 and/or 5 after breaking down the fraction into its simplest prime factors.

Simple example:

  • 1/10 is terminating because this breaks down to 1/(2*5) , however 1/9 is not terminating because it breaks down to 1/(3*3).

Taking a look at a harder example - the fraction 6/124

  • The first step is to breakdown the fraction into its simplest prime factor form. One way to do this is to break this down into prime factors (2 * 3) / (2 * 2 * 31) = 3 / (2* 31). 

We now immediately know that this fraction is NOT terminating since there are not JUST 2 and 5s in the denominator of the fraction.

Verbal - Sentence Correction

This week's Verbal tip was written by one of our mentors and content creators MacGregor. 


SC questions involve a great deal of strategy. If you find yourself reading the original sentence multiple times per question, you are doing it wrong. It is extremely time-consuming to compare each of the four other answers to the original, as it will involve endless reading, re-reading, and comparing, and will likely just lead to more confusion. Use the split method (see link below). Divide questions up into groups of 2 or 3 based on common themes, then compare and eliminate groups. This is an absolutely essential strategy for SC at all levels.


A key thing to remember about SC questions is that, yes, they are still designed to test logic. Frequently answers will be set up to appear correct grammatically, but incorrect logically. The sentences still need to make sense. This is called “logical predication”. You must be sure that the answer you are choosing flows grammatically, as well as logically.


Lastly, one of the best pieces of advice I can give is this: go with your gut. Very frequently, I would go through the splitting process, and still be torn between two answers. At that point, it is better to make a decision between the two by trusting your own ear than by trying to recall a rule of GMAT grammar that you aren’t certain applies in this instance. Correct SC answers are written to reduce awkwardness and ambiguity. This means that often times you can trust your ear. If something doesn’t sound right to you, it usually isn’t. This won’t always be the case, but when you need to choose between two answers it’s a useful strategy.

 

Useful links:

https://magoosh.com/gmat/2013/using-splits-on-sentence-correction/

https://magoosh.com/gmat/2013/logical-predication-on-the-gmat-sentence-correction/

https://gmatclub.com/forum/download-and-read-this-wonderful-gmat-idiom-list-if-you-143307.html

Quant - Absolute values in inequalities

 

A lot of people can get overwhelmed and confused when faced with absolute values within inequalities in data sufficiency. Point "1" listed below outlines the key way to breakdown absolute values in inequalities, and point "2" is an example for combining two statements which contain absolute value inequalities.


  1. Write the absolute value as two scenarios, 1 positive and 1 negative, as in the below example. Breaking down the equalities in this way will allow you to quickly and simply understand the values of X. Remember, you want to get through problems as quickly and efficiency as possible, while being confident you are getting the right answer.
    1. |x-5|<4 can be broken into “x-5<4” and “-x+5<4”
      1. “x-5<4” then becomes x<9
      2. “-x+5<4” then becomes 1<x 
    2. Combining the two segments we get 1<x<9
  2. Using the breakdown done in point 1 above, you can quickly and more confidently figure out the answer to a data sufficiency problem with absolute values and inequalities
    1. Question: Is |x-6|>2?
    2. Statement 1: |x-4|>3
    3. Statement 2: |x-8|>1
      1. Evaluating the question
        1. (x-6)>2 results in x>8
        2. -x+6>2 results in 4>x
        3. This means that x is either greater than 8 or less than 4
      2. Evaluating statement 1: 
        1. (x-4)>3 results in x>7
        2. -x+4>3 results in 1>x
        3. This means that x is either greater than 7 or less than 1. When you try 7.5 and 10, you quickly see that statement 1 is not sufficient (i.e., 7.5 the answer is no, 10 answer is yes)
      3. Evaluating statement 2:
        1. (x-8)>1 results in x>9
        2. -x+8>1 results in 7>x
        3. This means x can either be greater than 9 or less than 7. Again, you can use 5 and 10 to quickly see this doesn't work (i.e., 5 results in no, 10 results in yes)
      4. Evaluating the statements combined
        1. We now understand from statement 1 that X>7 and 1>x
        2. From statement 2 we understand that X>9 and 7>x
        3. When you combine statements, use the more limiting inequality for each direction X can go (i.e., use X>9 because less large values of X can be used, and use 1>x because less small values can be used)
        4. This results in X>9 and 1>x, which now answers yes to the question in every scenario - the answer is C

Verbal - Sentence Correction: Focus on the verbs

 

Focus on the verbs. One of the most common ways to split up the absolutely incorrect answer choices and the potentially correct answer choices is to focus on the verbs. Oftentimes SC answer choices share a common verb that may be used differently. The most obvious is the tense of the verb. If the correct tense for the verb should be past, but 3 of the answer choices have a present tense verb, then you can quickly eliminate 3 answer choices. 


Another aspect of verbs is to look at Subject-Verb agreement. Compare the verb with the subject that it is associated with. If the subject is singular, then the verb must be for a singular subject. Making note of this will allow you to easily eliminate answer choices.