Last gasp for the GMAT: aced the AWA score (6.0)

One final blog on the GMAT: my full report came through today, and at least I got a 6.0 (maximum) for the essay writing section. Obviously I expected a decent score after a decade writing copy for a living, but I was still concerned that my idiosyncratic marketer’s syntax (and the way I realised with 30 seconds to go that I hadn’t written a closing paragraph for one of the essays) might have cost me a point. All that Analysis of an Argument and Analysis of an Issue practice paid off.

How NOT to ace the GMAT in 28 days: the verdict (680)

The figures are in. A disappointing 680, scored at 42Q/41V. In other words, I did a bit worse than expected on the Quant, and rather badly on the Verbal (I think it’s the first time my English performance has dipped below my maths!) But it’s enough to support exploratory applications to the top business schools (the average for the best UK schools is 660, and only a couple of the American ones have average class scores above 700.) So no real harm done, even if it means the last month of effort (cramped by the Black Dog) has added NOTHING AT ALL to my result.

(I got a 680 on the first GMAT practice test I took, from cold, before even deciding to enter for the exam. In other words, a solid month of sweating over textbooks and tests has only compensated for whatever the Black Dog has taken away. The evil creature has stolen a hundred points from me.)

‘If onlys’? I’d have signed up to a Kaplan course a few weeks back, and started exploring MBA schools in March, so I’d have two months rather than one to study for the GMAT. But life’s full of if onlys, and it’s not a big enough factor in life to be worth losing sleep over.

While the average result for the GMAT is just 540, that figure never represented the competition for me; I was gunning for a 750, getting into the One Percent club. As it is, just one more question right would have put me into the 90th percentile (today put me in the 89th.) So…. disappointing. But not disastrous.

What I’ve enjoyed about the last month, though, is the way taxing maths problems and gritty grammar keep your brain alert. So the GMAT’s not going away: I’ve decided to make it part of my life, doing ten questions a day to hone my problem-solving skills and sharpen my formal grammar, keeping an incisive edge on my decisionmaking game. Finally, thanks to everyone who’s commented or emailed on this blog. Bye!

How to ace the GMAT in 28 days: Day 28 (practice, practice, practice)

The last day! Not altogether pleased with how the month’s gone: I do feel I’d be poised for acing the GMAT if I’d had two months of study rather than one, so ultimately I’ve just run out of time. As it stands I’m capable of tackling almost any question given thought and time … but not experienced enough with the formats to make the right judgement calls and snap decisions that’d enable me to approach every question effectively in a two-minute time limit.

To finish off my practice testing, I took the two GMATPrep tests from MBA.com. (Didn’t include them as part of my 28-day programme since they’re renowned for giving an artificially high score.) The two tests gave me a 720 (42Q/48V) and 750 (44Q/51V). So if I don’t stuff up tomorrow, I’m on course for the 650+ any top MBA programme needs in order to consider my application without collapsing in scornful laughter. Mean average score over all the practice tests I’ve done this month, ranging from 560 to 760: 670.

How to ace the GMAT in 28 days: Day 27 (Verbal review)

Another cribsheet: my Verbal notes and a checklist for attacking sentence correction.

Critical reasoning

Always 2-5 sentences giving an argument and question or conclusion. FIRST note down the argument’s premises (bits of evidence) and the conclusion drawn.

- What most weakens or strengthens the argument
- What conclusion can we draw about
- Find the author’s assumptions
- Which of these is most similar to…
- Deductive reasoning, come up with a specific conclusion from general premises
- Inductive reasoning, come up with a general conclusion from specific premises

Deductive question types:
- Cause-and-effect (check if they CORRELATE)
- Drawing analogies (check if they’re similar enough to be VALID)
- Presenting statistics (check if they COMPARABLE)

Throw out answers that are OUTSIDE THE SCOPE of the passage (i.e. those that make broad claims that go beyond the passage’s remit, or refer to info not in the passage)

Numbers and statistics
What are the numbers used to prove? ‘Doubling’ doesn’t necessarily mean high percentages. Rates of change and growth do not mean large absolute figures.

Surveys and studies
Is the conclusion valid? Check demographics different between two groups. Are there extenuating circumstances that make for lopsided data. Was the sample biased in any way, i.e. do the survey participants have some reason for being surveyed that makes the result a foregone conclusion?

Shifts in scope
Does the answerer foil the questioner by expanding/changing his choice of evidence? ‘All expert teachers are unhappy’ answered by ’80% of teachers are perfectly happy’ changes the scope by including non-expert teachers

Look out for types of question:
Assumption
Weaken the argument
Logical flaw
Causation and correlation

Does the question draw a conclusion not supported by the evidence presented?
Look for alternative explanations
“Oh yeah? But…” – does the new argument present another view but fail to rebut the existing view? A piece of evidence can lead to >1 possible conclusion

Explaining a paradox
Solving an apparent discrepancy: shake out the 2-3 basic facts in the passages and note them down, then see which of the answers could explain it.

Odd one out
What is NOT an assumption? What does the argument NOT rely on? Find evidence for the 4 that do support it, and choose the one left over. What the author would agree with, What the subject is most like… AVOID leaps of logic and ALWAYS check an answer’s phrasing is fully supported by the question.

Reading comprehension

First, note down the main point – what is the purpose of the passage?
Second, grok the author’s tone – what’s his view on the subject?
Third, note down the outline – what 3-4 events take places down the paragraphs?

In general, eliminate answer choices that:
- deal in absolutes (“the author would NEVER…”)
- Refer to information not found in the passage
- That contradict the passage’s main theme
- List a counterexample to throw you off (i.e. listing an advantage when you’re looking for a disadvantage)

What is the theme questions
The author is concerned with which of the following?
The author’s primary goal is to do what?
An appropriate title for this passage is:

For these, eliminate answers that refer to one specific point in the passage – it’s looking for an overarching theme or principle.

Finding specific information questions
The passage states that…
According to the passage,
In the passage, the author indicates that…

If the question highlights specific info, it’s asking more than just asking you to repeat that info!
The right answer will paraphrase, not parrot, the passage

Making inferences questions
It can be inferred from the passage that…
The passage suggests that…
The author brings up X to imply which of the following?

Check the evidence for each answer. Is the inference supported neither directly (i.e. it’s not an inference) nor abstractly (i.e. it’s not supported.) An inference is some general conclusion that the author of the passage would agree with.

Think of them as ‘third bullet point’: A happens, B only happens if A happens, so B may be a consequence of A

Assessing the tone questions
The author’s attitude appears to be one of…
With which of these statements would the author agree?
The tone suggests the author is skeptical about…

Determine the tone from the main idea and his attitude to it, not isolated bits within the passage

Sentence correction

Main things: eliminate wrong answers by checking if they:
- DISAGREE in tense and subject/verb
- have MODIFYING PHRASES that modify the wrong thing
- lack PARALLEL CONSTRUCTION in list items

Approach to solving:
Work out the three main parts of the passage: subject, verb, third element or object
(Who’s doing it, what he’s doing, and what he’s doing it to!) LIST these three for any sentence correction question.

Determine first WHAT THE ERROR IS – at least the most important one! Don’t just go ahead and pick what ‘sounds right’

Modifying phrases – look for strange-sounding subsentences set off by a comma; make sure it’s clear what this phrase is modifying and in what sense

Idioms
among/between: between for two things, among for three or more
as verb as it is verb: balance the as’s
better and worse: better and worse to compare two things, best and worst to compare more than two
but: don’t use but after doubt or help
different from (not different than)
effect/affect: effect as a noun, affect as a verb
farther for distance, further for time or quantity
Hopefully: means ‘with hope’, not ‘I hope’
However at the beginning of a sentence: means ‘to whatever extent’
imply means suggest; infer means deduce
in regard to – not ‘regards to’
much/less and many/fewer – much/less for masses, many/fewer for countables
more/less and most/least: more/less to compare two, most/least to compare more than two
loan is a noun, lend is a verb
Try to do it – not ‘try and do it’

Parallel construction: sentences or items in a list must balance. All phrases must joined by conjunctions should be constructed in the same manner

Comparisons
Look for like, unlike, similar to, in contrast to, as compared with: make sure the things being compared are constructed in parallel

Nouns, verb, and adjectives
Check for verb tense agreement and subject-verb agreement. What time is the passage referring to (now, then, dim and distant past, past with relevance to today?) And what subject does the verb belong to? Check it agrees

Adverbs
Adverbs answer ‘where, when, how, why’ with words in front of verbs like gradually, precisely, loosely, extremely)
Make sure the adverb is not separated from the verb it modifies

Pronouns
Pronouns are problems if it’s UNCLEAR what a pronoun in the sentence refers to, or if the WRONG pronoun is used. (The wrong pronoun may be close to a word for which it’s the right pronoun, but it doesn’t refer to that word, so is wrong!)

Personal subjective pronouns (I, you, he, she, it we, they)
Personal objective pronouns (me, you, him, her, it, us, them)
Indefinite pronouns (everyone, someone, anything, each, one, none, no-one)
Relative pronouns (that, which, who)
Check what a pronoun refers to; if it’s unclear, choose another answer that makes it clear

Conjunctions & prepositions
Join elements of a sentence together:
Co-ordinating conjunctions: and, but, for, nor, or, so, yet
Correlative conjunctions: either/or, neither/nor, not only/but also – make sure to use them in pairs!
Subordinating conjunctions: although, because, if, when, while

Prepositions join nouns to the rest of the sentence: about, above, at, for, in, over, to, with

Clauses all contain subject and verb; they’re not sentence fragments
Independent clauses are complete thoughts and can stand alone
Dependent clauses modify a sentence, a ‘sub sentence’ that has an effect on the rest of the sentence
Restrictive clauses alter the whole meaning of the sentence; it lacks vital info without it
Nonrestrictive clauses add info but the sentence makes sense without them

Effective expression
Can an answer express the sentence more effectively? Prefer active voice to passive
Sense changes: does an answer look good grammatically, but change the meaning? Watch out
Best of a bad bunch: even the right answer may be imperfect, so look for the one that’s clearest

Passive not needed
Ellipsis
Participles are adjectives formed from verbs, ie. distracted by, wanting to do. Participles are NOT verbs; if they’re used as verbs in an answer, that answer is WRONG. It will often create sentence fragments, another no-no.

Subordination: emphasise one part of a sentence over another (although, while, since)
Co-ordination: join two parts of a sentence and treat them on equal terms, (and, or, but)

Subjunctive clauses are wishful thinking – “I wish I were you”

Run-on sentences are missing punctuation, that just go on and on, without using the right punctuation, that should have punctuation, but don’t have it, like this one

How to ace the GMAT in 28 days: Day 26 (Quantitative review)

Time to write up my Quantitative cribsheet. Here it is:

Numbers & properties of numbers
Integers: all the whole numbers, -2, -1, 0,
0 is an even integer, but not positive or negative
-8 is LESS than -7
What is true for one odd number is generally true for all odd numbers
Natural numbers: all positive integers, not 0 and not negative

Prime numbers: 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17, 19, 23, 29, 31, 37
Except for 2, all prime numbers are odd. 1 is not a prime
A prime has only TWO factors: itself and 1

Rational numbers: fractions of two integers, eg. 3/8
Irrational numbers: like ∏ or √2 that can’t be written as rational numbers
Imaginary numbers: like √-2 that can’t exist naturally
Real numbers: all integers, fractions, decimals, rational, and irrational numbers
Absolute value: a number without extras like a negative sign (i.e. its magnitude)
Any product of integers will have factors that are combinations of these integers

The last digit of the square of an integer is the same as the last digit of the last digit of the integer squared, i.e 94^2 ends in a 6 because the last digit of 4^2 ends in a 6

All perfect squares have the last digit 0, 1, 4, 5, 6, or 9. No perfect squares ends in 2, 3, 7, or 8.

Adding, subtracting, multiplying, dividing
When you add or subtract two even integers, you get an even integer
When you add or subtract two odd integers, you get an even integer
When you add or subtract an even and an odd integer, you get an odd integer
When you multiply two even integers, you get an even integer
When you multiply an odd and an even integer, you get an even integer
When you multiply two odd integers, you get an odd integer

When you multiply or divide two positive numbers, the result is positive
When you multiply or divide two negative numbers, the result is positive
When you multiply or divide a positive number by a negative number, the result is negative

When you add two positive numbers, the result is positive
When you add two negative numbers, the result is negative
When you subtract a negative number from a negative number, you end up adding that number

Fractions
Multiply 2 fractions by multiplying their denominators AND numerators, i.e. 2/8 * 3/9 = 6/72
Divide a fraction by another by switching numerator and denominator of the divisor and multiplying. i.e. 2/8 divided by 3/9 equals 2/8 x 9/3 = 18/24
When positive fractions between 0 and 1 are squared they get smaller, eg 1/2 * 1/2 = 1/4
0.125 is 1/8.

The reciprocal of x is 1/x, and the reciprocal of a/b is b/a

You CAN cancel out roots and exponents in a fraction:
(3√2 * 4√5 * 2√3) / (3√3) lets you cancel one 3 and one √3 from the numerator

Roots and exponents
4^3: 4 is the base, 3 is the exponent
4b^2: 4 is the coefficient, b is the base, 2 is the exponent
256^1/4 equals 4th root of 256, ie 4 (4 * 4 * 4 * 4)
8^-2 equals 1/8^2, or 1/64 (a power of -anything equals the reciprocal of anything)
A positive number taken to a even or odd power remains positive (2 * 2 * 2 = 8)
A negative number taken to an odd power remains negative (-2 * -2 * -2 = -8)
A negative number taken to an even power becomes positive, (-2 * -2 = 4)

1/3^8 is the same as 3/3^9 (useful for rearranging fractions to have the same denominator)

64 is the square of both 8 and -8

√3 * √3 = 3, NOT 9 or √9

3^5 * 3^3 = 3^8, NOT 9^8 (add the exponents)
3^5 / 3^3 = 3^2 (subtract the exponents)

3b^5 * 5b^3 = 15b^8, NOT 8b^anything (watch for coefficients and bases)

Anything to the power 0 is 1

6 * 10^2 is 600. 6 * 10^2 * 3 * 10^2 is 18 * 10^4 but should be expressed as 1.8 * 10^5

To simplify an exponent term (i.e. √20) find a square in the radical (20 = 5 x 4, and 4 is a perfect square) and bring the root of the square outside (making 2√5.) I.e. √50 is the same as √(25*2) and therefore simplifies to 5√2

Ratios & proportions
1:4 means ‘in the ration 1 to 4′

Look for similarities in two proportionate figures: e.g 1.919 and 0.1919 may look different, but one is just the other multiplied by 10

Algebra
Monomial: single term expression, such as 4x or ax^2
Polynomial: expressions with more than one term, such as a^2 – b^2 (binomial) or ab^2 +2ac +b (trinomial) or ax^2 +bx +c (quadratic polynomial)

Beware of ‘equations’ that don’t equal anything; they’re just terms and MEANINGLESS without a result or other term equal to them

x^2 – y^2 = (x+y)(x-y)
x^2y^2 = (xy)^2
7x + -10x + 22 is the same as -3x = -22

3x + 4y – 7z plus 2x – 2y +8z can be added to result in 5x +2y + z (like terms can be added or subtracted). This includes exponents, so (4x^2 -6xy -12y^2) – (8x^2 – 12xy +4y^2) is the same as
-4x^2 +6xy -16y^2 (REMEMBER MINUS SIGNS!)

To multiply out expressions, multiply each term: 4x(x-3) = 4x^2 – 12x
To divide expressions, divide each term: (16x^2 +4x) / 4x = 4x +1 (THE ONE IS IMPORTANT!)

When solving two algebraic fractions that equal each other, try to make the numerators addable or subtractable – that means the denominators must be equal. Eg. 2x / (4+2x) = 6x / (8x+6)…. multiply the first fraction by 3/3 to give 6x / (12+6x), which means (12+6x) must be equal to (8x+6).

(x^2 + 2xy + y^2) * (x-y) : just multiply each term in the first part by x then -y
To give first x^3 + 2x^2y +xy^2 and -x^2y -2xy^2 -y^3, then finally add them to get the combined result: x^3 +1x^2y -1xy^2 – y^3

Use FOIL to multiply out a pair of terms in brackets and get a quadratic polynomial: (4x-5)(3x+8) = 12x^2 +32x -15x -40

Factoring polynomials: find a ‘common factor’ like -7 in -14x^3 – 35x^6, remember you’ve taken the minus sign outside too, and make it -7(2x^3 + 5x^6) then do the same with x^3 to get -7x^3(2 +5x^3) remembering x^3 divided by x^3 is 1, not x

Factoring quadratics: x^2 + 5x + 6 and do a reverse FOIL: the first term in each bracket must be x or -x, the outside terms and inside terms have to together equal 5x, and the last terms must equal 6. So the last terms in each bracket will sum to 5 and multiply to 6, they must be 2 and 3. Giving the result in binomial factors, (x +2) (x +3)

There’s a shortcut if both terms in a polynomial are perfect squares and the second one a minus, such as x^2 – 4 or x^2 -16. They’ll always give the factors (x-a)(x+a) where a is the root of the second term.

Linear equations (easy) such as 4x + 10 = -38 , just distribute the numbers to get 4x = -48

Simultaneous equations (hard) come in pairs such as 4x + 5y = 30 and x + y/2 = 10. First solve for y (such as 5y = 30-4x) and substitute it into the second to get x + (30-4x)/2 = 10 which is solvable for x

Quadratic equations (harder): when a quadratic polynomial (i.e. one containing a square) is set equal to zero, such as ax^2 + bx + c = 0. If a quadratic equation can’t be easily factored, use the rearrangement x = -b ± √(b^2-4ac) / 2a to solve it.

(x/2)/2 is the same as x/x – 2/x. and 1 – 2/x. DON’T ‘cancel out’ the 2 and -2; it won’t work

Total distance = speed * time
Total production = work rate * time

Remember (x+y / x) is the same as (x/y + y/y)

Functions: f(x) means ‘f of x’ such as f(x) = 2x^2 +3. For x = 2, just substitute in 2 for x. f(2) = 11. In functions, f(x) does NOT mean f * x.
Eg. for f(x) = (x-2)^2, find f(2x-2)… first substitute 2x-2 where you see x, to get f(2x-2) = (2x-2-2)^2. That’s (2x-4)(2x-4), which is 4x^2 -8x -8x +16, or 4x^2 – 16x +16.

Domain: the set of all numbers that could be an input, or value, of f(x). It’s all possible values of x that are real numbers.
For example, in f(x) = x+4 / x-2, x can’t be 2 since that’d make the denominator 0 (and the number unreal.) So the domain of f(x) ≠ 2.
Conversely, in f(n) = 3 √n+2, the n+2 can’t be negative (because the root of a negative number isn’t real) so n must equal -2 or more. f(n) ≥ -2.

Ranges: |vertical bars mean range| the set of all numbers that could be an output, or result, of f(x). It’s all possible values of f(x).

Range can be expressed as 6 < x < 12 (meaning x is 7, 8, 9, 10, or 11) or 6 ≤ x ≤ 12 (meaning x is 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, or 12)
Read the question carefully – is it asking you to find the range of x or of f(x)? They’re different

Geometry

Angles in a triangle always sum to 180, and in a quadrilateral to 360
Useful right angled triangles:
3:4:5, 5:12:13, 8:15:17, 7:24:25
A 30,60,90 degrees triangle is a right angled triangle that’s half an equilateral
A 30,60,90 triangle has length of sides x, x√3, 2x
A 45,45,90 degrees triangle has sides x, x, x√2 and is half a square with sides x

Area of any triangle is half the base * perpendicular height.

Parallelograms have 2 pairs of parallel sides, and the opposite angles are equal.
Area of any parallelogram is base * perpendicular height

If all you know about a square is the length of its diagonal, the area will be d^2/2.

Trapezoids have four sides, two of which are parallel. Its area is average of the 2 unequal bases * perpendicular height.

When two lines intersect, they form 2 pairs of complementary (equal and opposite) angles

A circle’s circumference is 2∏r, its area is ∏r^2.
A chord cuts across a circle, and the longest possible chord is the diameter.
A cylinder’s volume is ∏r^2h (height) and its surface area is 2∏rh+2∏r^2
A sphere’s surface area is 4∏r^2, and its volume 4/3∏r^3

A triangle CAN intersect a circle at just one point; touching counts as an intersect

Co-ordinates
x is the horizontal axis, y the vertical axis. (0,0) is the origin.
Quadrant I is the top right, II the top left, III the bottom left, and IV the bottom right

Slope is the steepness of a line (postive if rising left to right, negative if falling.) To find slope, divide change in horizontal distance by change in vertical distance of the line. Ie. a line between co-ordinates (0,2) and (4,0) falls 2 down for every 4 across, making the slope -2/4 or -1/2.

A formula like y = mx + b describes the line by showing y as a function of x, where m is the slope and b is the y-intercept, where the line crosses the y-axis.

To recognise if a graph has a function, see if one vertical line can cross the line in more than one place. If it can, the line is not the graph of a function.

Domains and ranges of graphs are the same as domains and ranges of functions. A graph’s domain is all the values of x that can go into the equation as inputs; its range is all the values of x produced as outputs when you work it out,

Sets
set A U set B is the union: the set of all elements in A and B
set A ∩ set B is the intersection: the set of all elements common to both A and B
set A C set B is the subset: all elements in A are also in set B

A = {1,2,3} means that set A is a set of these 3 numbers
|3| means the set has 3 elements (NOT totals 3)

Combinations & permutations
Permutations = number of ways a set of items can be arranged in specific orders
Combinations = number of ways a set of items can be arranged if order doesn’t matter

Factorial = product of all natural numbers in a set, e.g. {5,4,3,2,1} would be 5*4*3*2*1, known as n! (Remember 0! always equals 1.)

So a set of n objects such as {a, b, c) has 6 permutations (3 objects, 3*2*1 or 6). 3! is 6.

With a set of n objects but a different number of slots to fit them into (r) the permutations formula is n! / (n-r)!
Eg. To find how many ways 6 objects can be arranged in 4 slots, 6*5*4*3*2*1 / 4*3*2*1 = 30.

With a set of n objects, a different number of slots to fit them into, but no need for any specific orders, the combinations formula is n!/r!(n-r)!
Eg. To find how many ways 6 objects can fill 4 slots without repeating the same group of 4, it’s 6*5*4*3*2*1 / 4*3*2*1(2*1) or 15.

You can’t simplify factorials: 10!/5! is not 2!

Averages
Mean average is total of the all the values divided by number of values

Median is the middle value if all the values are arranged in order – EVEN IF the middle value is a long way from one end and looks ‘skewed’; this is why nobody uses median much!

Mode is the value that appears most often among the values

Watch out for weighted means, ie. 3 people score 12 and 1 scores 10; the mean is 36+10 / 4, not 22/4.

Range in averages is the largest value minus the smallest value, i.e. values from -4 to 8 have a range of 12.

Standard deviation is how far the values spread out from the mean. A regular Bell Curve will always have 68% of the values within 1 SD, 95% of them within 2 SDs, and 99.7% within 3 SDs.High SD means the values are spread out; small SD means they’re clustered closely around the mean.

SD = √ ((sum of (each number minus the average) ^2 / number of values)

Probability
probability of E for a single event:
P(E) = number of outcomes involving occurence of E / number of possible outcomes

probability for multiple events if both can’t happen at once, like rolling a 5 and 6 with one die:
P(A or B) = P A + P B (add the probabilities of A and B to get the probability of either happening)

probability for multiple events if two or more can happen together or separately, like drawing a playing card that’s either a royal or a Club or both:
P(A or B) = P A + P B – P(A and B)

probability of multiple events happening together, like drawing a card that’s both a royal and a Club:
P (A and B) = P A * P B

probability of multiple events if the second event depends on the first, like pulling another 5p from a bag of coins from which some 5p’s have already been taken:
P (A and B) = P A * P(B given A)

Answering data sufficiency questions
About half the 37 Quant questions are data sufficiency, with this set of answers to apply to two statements:

A Statement (1) ALONE is sufficient, but statement (2) alone is not sufficient.
B Statement (2) ALONE is sufficient, but statement (1) alone is not sufficient.
C BOTH statements TOGETHER are sufficient, but NEITHER statement ALONE is sufficient.
D EACH Statement ALONE is sufficient.
E Statements (1) and (2) TOGETHER are NOT sufficient.

The method for solving:

- First, READ THE QUESTION and note down what information you HAVE
- Then note down what information you NEED to answer the question
- Then see if STATEMENT 1 is sufficient to answer it alone; don’t look at statement 2
- If yes, eliminate B, C and E; the answer will be A or D
- Then see if STATEMENT 2 gives enough missing info to answer it alone; don’t look back
- If yes and so was statement 1, eliminate A; the answer is D.
- If yes but statement 1 did not, the answer is B
- If no, but statement 1 adds enough info to provide the answer, eliminate B; the answer is C
- If no, the answer is A.

WRITE DOWN WHAT YOU NEED – many ds questions hide info that’s easy to skim over, i.e. asking about Tom, Dick, and Harry when the Statements only apply to Tom and Dick, or asking how many things are left over when 2/3 and 1/6 are taken away without telling you how many things you started with.

ALWAYS think about: could the numbers be NEGATIVE (and hence provide two solutions not one), go for SUBSTITUTION to test things out, and substitute MORE THAN ONE set of numbers to check the rule applies in more than one case.

How to ace the GMAT in 28 days: Day 25 (5th CAT test: 660)

Ok, my last ‘proper’ test before the exam. A 38V/44Q corrected score, giving 660, a full hundred points below my best. Oh well. Today’s essay practices:

Analysis of an Issue

“There is only one definition of success — to be able to spend your life in your own way.”

To what extent do you agree or disagree with this definition of success? Support your position by using reasons and examples from your reading, your own experience, or your observation of others.

There’s something admirable about the dropout, the hippy, the boho who hits the road and whose ambitions don’t extend any further than his next meal or park bench. He’s certainly ‘spending his life in his own way’, and has every right to consider himself successful in terms true to himself. But other people people may interpret success as the ability to lead an army, calm an epidemic, or build a political consensus. That’s why I disagree strongly with this statement: there are many definitions of success.

The statement infers that success is simply a personal viewpoint. But we live our lives in groups: families, factions, nations. Any attempt to define ‘success’ objectively can’t be limited to any one person’s inner monologue; plenty of people who bring little value to the world – Kim Jong-il, Osama bin Laden, countless reality TV celebrities – are hardly successes, despite undoubtedly being ‘heroes in their own minds’. This suggests that success is bigger than any individual.

A better definition of success might be: a successful person is one who adds value to the world. This can encompass both a purely personal definition – the hippy traveller who fosters tolerance between cultures as he leaves footprints in the sand – and a broader worldview, such as the software millionaire whose products have enabled further billions in economic growth. ‘Adding value’ takes the selfishness out of the definition – and provides further justification for my belief that the statement above is too self-limiting.

Of course, none of this makes the above statement incorrect. Far from it: it’s a perfectly valid definition of success, within its own strict limits. The silent hermit, the selfish millionaire, even the murderer – all of them have the right to believe themselves ‘successful’. What none of them has is the right to insist on his worldview being the only valid one. A purely personal view of success is unlikely to be shared by more than a small number of people, and the definition of any truly big idea – like democracy, human rights, or ‘success’ – needs broad agreement and acceptance by the majority.

In summary: success is not your private ideology, but is measured by the mark you leave on the world. If success has to be defined at all, perhaps a better definition might be: leave the world a better place than you came into it.

FAULTS: None at all! I’m happy with this one: wrote it feeling just the right mix of nerves, ideas, and energy. And no typos. Note to self though: I’d better not write any sentences starting with ‘and’ or ‘but’ in the exam; my guess is the grammatically strict E-rater will mark them down.

Analysis of an Argument

The following appeared in a memorandum sent by the vice-president of the Nadir company to the company’s human resources department:

“Nadir does not need to adopt to the costly ‘family-friendly’ programs that have been proposed such as part-time work, work from home and jobsharing. When these programs were made available at the Summit Company, the leader in the industry, only a small percentage of the employees participated in them. Rather than adversely affecting our profitability by offering these programs, we should concentrate on offering extensive help that will enable the employees to increase their productivity.”

Discuss how well reasoned you find this argument. In your discussion be sure to analyze the line of reasoning and the use of evidence in the argument. For example, you may need to consider what questionable assumptions underlie the thinking and what alternative explanations or counterexamples might weaken the conclusion. You can also discuss what sort of evidence would strengthen or refute the argument, what changes in the argument would make it more logically sound, and what, if anything, would help you better evaluate its conclusion.

This argument has several flaws in its reasoning. First, it assumes that any program available to all necessarily needs to be used by all. Second, it implies Nadir’s workforce is fixed and constant, unaffected by conditions elsewhere. Third, it suggests such programs are purely costs rather than investments. These views suggest the argument is short-sighted.

On the first point: no company offers flexible working options and expects 100% of its workforce to take advantage of them – they are fringe benefits, designed to improve workers’ lives in certain circumstances. Recent parents may appreciate job sharing and work-from-home options while they get to grips with a new baby, but babies don’t stay babies forever – and when round-the-clock childcare is no longer needed, those parents can return to work, without a total absence or a need for retraining clouding their effectiveness. Keeping your top performers working part-time is a far better choice than losing them altogether. No worker will use the programs all of the time, but many will benefit from that at some point in their careers. Summit Company is simply making a sound business decision: offering such options keeps people motivated and effective.

To take the second point about market conditions: does the Vice-President expect all his staff to stomach Nadir’s policies without grumbling, when recruiters are always on the lookout for effective people and Summit can offer better working conditions to disgruntled Nadirites? A worker with a fractured leg may be able to work from home if he’s with Summit, continuing to earn a salary without the discomfort of hobbling into the office every day; no such chance exists at Nadir. A mother whose daughter has fallen ill will be far happier at work knowing she can work from her kitchen table if needed. Such policies make Summit the employer of choice, and Nadir will face a constant battle to retain talent.

Moving on to the third point, the Nadir VP is looking at human resources with an accountant’s eye alone, not taking into account the extra value a happy and motivated workforce brings to the business. The cost of a few family-friendly programs – which may be used by perhaps half the workforce for a few weeks each year – may look huge as a line item, but tiny compared to total human resource costs: salaries, taxes, insurance, sick cover, staff turnover, and more. If that 10% hike in costs results in workers delivering 15% more effectively, the Summit programs are not just family-friendly; they’re business-friendly too – answering the VP’s concerns about profitability too.

One business guru describes the essence of management as ‘hiring legendary talent’. If family-friendly policies can reduce human resource issues, increase employee satisfaction, and add to the bottom line too, then the VP’s argument is weak. He may be able to support his argument purely in terms of short-term costs, since fresh programs are expensive to set up and run. But if he looks a little more closely at his own argument, he’s likely to see that many of his problems stem not from spending too much on people, but from investing too little in them.

FAULTS: I didn’t explore the other side of the issue enough – about how the cost of family-friendly programs may impede investment in new products and marketing them, making Nadir less competitive. Which would be the difference between a top-rated 6 essay and a 5, no matter how well-structured and well-written this is. So I’ll give myself a 5.

How to ace the GMAT in 28 days: Day 24 (4th CAT test: 600)

A 600, for 38Q/38V corrected scores. Nowhere near. It’s odd that this week’s meltdown into depression is being reported so precisely; I’d never realised quite how debilitating the Black Dog could be. I may just scrape past 600 next week, some 160 points below my best. Still, it’s been an interesting month; pity it won’t lead anywhere. Today’s essay practice:

Analysis of an Issue

“It makes no sense for people with technological skills to go to college if they know they can earn a good salary without a college degree”

To what extent do you agree or disagree with this statement? Support your position by using reasons and examples from your reading, your own experience, or your observation of others.

To a technically skilled young person with excellent employment prospects, going to college may seem like a waste of time. Why spend four years in a classroom, when he could be earning money? And if his ambitions extend no further than performing a trade with competence, he may be right. But the value of a college degree extends beyond anything taught in the lecture theatre; the social networks and personal qualities developed at college will continue adding depth and colour over that person’s entire lifetime. So while I sympathise with the author’s tone, I disagree with his conclusion.

As an example, take a 19-year old computer programmer who learned his trade ‘hacking’ in his bedroom for a decade. He’s skilled, yes – and is capable of doing an excellent job at a software company. A job paying, perhaps, over £100,000 a year. If that’s all he wants, great – but even the most interesting jobs become routine. Perhaps in ten years, as he approaches 30, our programmer will feel restless and apply for promotion… but a requirement of progressing to managerial level is a degree. Like it or not, this is the reality of the employment market, and our 19-year old would do well to remember this maxim.

To go further, how much better could our programmer’s technological skills be if they were given a strong theoretical underpinning by a degree? By implanting in his mind the fundamental structures of his trade, he’ll be capable of learning faster, working harder, and doing better work. The best programmers aren’t merely twice as good as the average: they’re ten, a hundred times better. If our 19-year-old has ambitions to be the next Ray Ozzie, he’d be wise to consider taking a few years out for a degree before starting work.

This principle isn’t limited to professional, white collar trades either. The state of Alberta in Canada has low college enrolment figures despite its excellent educational infrastructure: it’s because young people are sucked up by a people-hungry oil industry, where driving a truck can pay a 17-year old over $60,000 a year. Great money for a teenager – but what happens in five years, when oil prices may be lower and the tar sands lie empty? That teenager may rue the day he decided to take the quick, easy money over the long but rewarding slog of college.

Finally, there are other benefits to college besides a degree certificate. The opportunity to play sports, build social networks, and make lifelong friends are a lot less ephemeral than a monthly paycheck. Being young doesn’t last very long; I believe the time is better spent reading and learning than in a striplit cubicle.

In summary, while I’d defend anyone’s right to take a job over college if they want, I strongly believe they should take that decision only after considering all the facts – not the immediate gratification of earning money, but the lifelong benefits a degree can bring.

FAULTS: howler of a typo in ‘opportunity…are’. Not too happy with this: I spent too long on the first para getting my thoughts straight, and had to rush the rest. Only a 4.

Analysis of an Argument

The following appeared as part of an article in a magazine on lifestyles.

“Two years ago, City L was listed 14th in an annual survey that ranks cities according to the quality of life that can be enjoyed by those living in them. This information will enable people who are moving to the state in which City L is located to confidently identify one place, at least, where schools are good, housing is affordable, people are friendly, the environment is safe, and the arts flourish.”

Discuss how well reasoned you find this argument. In your discussion be sure to analyze the line of reasoning and the use of evidence in the argument. For example, you may need to consider what questionable assumptions underlie the thinking and what alternative explanations or counterexamples might weaken the conclusion. You can also discuss what sort of evidence would strengthen or refute the argument, what changes in the argument would make it more logically sound, and what, if anything, would help you better evaluate its conclusion.

If a town is ranked highly for quality of life, any local council can feel justly proud. But without any context for the lifestyle article, the argument is weak. Anyone considering a move to City L needs more information on the survey’s judging criteria, editorial slant, and sample size.

The judging criteria would be most important. That they covered schools, housing, the locals and the environment is assumed – but not made explicit. Was the lifestyle magazine aimed at (and scored for) young adults, whose current priorities in life may not include a top-ranked junior school nearby? The survey may well have given strong weighting to all the right points, but the argument needs to make this clear.

Secondly, how many cities were included in the survey? Was the poll commissioned for an international magazine, ranking City L against other commonly-cited cities offering a high quality of life such as Vancouver, Copenhagen, and Stockholm? Or did it appear in a local newspaper, comparing City L with the nearby commuter suburbs of Cities A to Z? If so, coming 14th may not represent anything to be proud of.

Further to this, the argument makes no mention of whether other towns in City L’s state are included in the survey…. or if they’re ranked above City L. If even one nearby city is on the list, the author’s claim to be the ‘one place’ in which people moving to the state can have confidence is undermined. If this is the case, the argument is not merely flawed; it is inaccurate.

Finally, the magazine article is two years old… and the survey was presumably conducted several months before that. A lot can happen in two and a half years, and City L may have suffered a budget collapse, natural disaster, or population crunch. We simply don’t know, and by referring to outdated information, the author weakens his argument.

However, with the above caveats, it’s likely that being mentioned in a magazine survey does represent some sort of achievement for City L; the author’s biggest fault is that he doesn’t make the most of the survey. By providing more information about City L’s school situation, social mix, and arts scene, the author could have made his case watertight, especially if City L ranked higher than nearby cities. Accordingly, we must conclude that the author has not made his case effectively. One survey doesn’t make a city great.

FAULTS: This one’s okay, but surprisingly hard to write; anything that makes a decent argument is of course harder. You should have seen the original last para: ‘especially if City L ranked higher than nearby cities not ranked in the survey’ – spotted and edited in the closing seconds, whew. No typos I can see; had five minutes to proofread, much better paced. A 5.

How to ace the GMAT in 28 days: Day 23 (3rd CAT test: 570)

Ok, I’m in trouble. Possible reasons: a) I’m not approaching the CAT tests properly, b) the questions on the CAT are harder than on my paper practice tests, or c) my brain’s turned to mush. The most likely possibility is c), since my brain split apart on Monday and I spent twelve hours staring at the walls. Today’s essays:

Analysis of an Issue

“The safety of consumer goods can best be ensured not by way of government regulation but rather through voluntary efforts of the private businesses that produce those goods.” To what extent do you agree or disagree with the foregoing statement? Use reasons and/or examples from your experience, observation, and/or reading to explain your viewpoint.

Safety costs money, and businesses exist to make money. However good a ‘corporate citizen’, any enterprise subject to market forces has an obligation to maximise profits. This means that unless safety is a selling point of the product (and therefore worth investing in) it will always be treated as a cost to be minimised. Accordingly, I disagree with this statement.

Indeed, there’s plenty of evidence that no business will increase safety unless compelled by law. Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle”, written many decades ago and detailed the appalling conditions in the meatpacking industry, did nothing to shame the meatpackers into improving the safety of the rancid, rotted products they shipped to America’s poor; the changes came when the US government enacted laws protecting food quality. Even today, meatpacking firms are among the biggest contributors to political candidates in meat-producing regions of the USA; they are spending money not on increasing safety voluntarily, but on influencing lawmakers to reduce the legislative burden.

The fact that some health and safety legislation is ludicrous – the European Union’s endless red tape aimed at the motor industry comes to mind – does not affect this basic argument. Selling a car in Europe is hard, yes… but some 80% of the vehicles sold in European showrooms score a ’5′ in crash tests, the safest grade. Whereas in China, where laws are less developed, virtually no model scores above a ’1′. Again, it seems clear that companies are motivated by money, not consumer safety.

Nor does the success of companies like Volvo, known for safe products, provide evidence to the contrary. Volvo’s brand (and hence the premium it can charge consumers) is all about safety; the carmaker treats safety as a brand asset worth investing in. Therefore in maximising the safety of its cars, Volvo is not making some ‘voluntary effort’ out of the goodness of its corporate heart: it is simply making a sound business decision.

In addition, some consumer products are to all practical purposes designed to cause harm, such as those of the alcohol and tobacco companies. It’s fair to say Philip Morris and Budweiser don’t have the best interests of their customers’ lungs and livers foremost in their business plans. The law here at least provides a regulatory framework for such harmful products; if no such standards existed, it’s fair to say cigarettes would be a lot more addictive, and there’d be a lot more blindness-inducing moonshine on the shop shelves.

Of course, none of this is to argue in favour of ever-increasing government legislation. The blunt instrument of the law should only be used where all else fails, as in a situation where the participants have no other obligation to act. But businesses – faceless machines for making money, with no sense of citizenship beyond that of their individual employees – are such a case. While no business plan thrives on causing harm to its buyers, harm caused by neglect can be equally damaging… meaning regulation to protect citizens has every place in a market-driven democracy.

FAULTS: Not my best; this was a hard one! Spent nearly 10 mins just getting past the first sentence to get my plan noted down. I wanted to develop the argument more along the lines that corporations aren’t supposed to be human; this essay makes me look anti-corporate, when I’m simply stating a reasonable fact about the realities of business. And ‘fair to say’ twice? I’m only giving myself a 4.

Analysis of an Argument

(NOTE added 21aug2012: GMAT expert Mark Stewart has asserted his right to be identified as the author of the essay prompt in italics below, and has requested this link to his original source material, which I’m happy to provide.)

The following appeared in a recent report by the Fern County planning commission:

“In light of the increasing percentage of our nation’s population turning to the Internet as a source of reference material, Fern County should close the ancillary branch of its public library, and convert that facility into a computer training center for use by county residents. The converted facility would fill what is certain to be a growing need among Fern residents for computer training. At the same time, since the county library’s main branch already contains more volumes per resident than any other county library in the state, it will adequately serve the needs of Fern County residents. Moreover, Fern residents are sure to support this plan; after all, in nearby Mesa County only a few residents have objected to that county’s plan to close all but one of its public libraries in the near future.”

Discuss how logically convincing you find this argument. In your discussion, you should analyze the argument’s line of reasoning and use of evidence. It may be appropriate in your critique to call into question certain assumptions underlying the argument and/or to indicate what evidence might weaken or strengthen the argument. It may also be appropriate to discuss how you would alter the argument to make it more convincing and/or discuss what additional evidence, if any, would aid in evaluating the argument.

My answer:

This argument seems well-meant, but short-sighted. Computer training may well be useful for the denizens of Fern County… but libraries are more than stockhouses for books. The commission relies on evidence that seems little better than guesswork, and uses evidence selectively to support its specific viewpoint. Accordingly, the commission’s case for closure is unsupportable without further evidence.

The commission’s report assumes that Fern County residents are representative of the country as a whole. Is this true? If Fern contains a great many older people with time on their hands, they may strongly oppose the closure of a library, regarding a library as a social focus as well as a place of learning. In addition, the ‘increasing percentage’ quoted for the country as a whole does not include a base figure; even if the percentage turning to the Internet has doubled in the last year, that might mean 2% increasing to 4%. New technologies are often adopted first by specific demographics, such as the young; to strengthen its argument, the commission needs to demonstrate that Fern County represents a slice of society for which closing a library carries more benefits than disadvantages.

Furthermore, by mentioning the county library, the commission displays fuzzy logic – it seeks to close the local library since people are turning to the Internet, yet sees a continued need for the larger establishment. To present its case logically (pro- or con- library) the commission should present a unified view. The uncharitable view of this argument, of course, is that the main motive for closing the library may not be to respect a sea change in citizens’ learning styles, and is more about cost-cutting. If so, the commission should make this clear.

The commission cites another county’s library-closing plans as evidence, but again fails to give any information regarding the demographic makeup of Mesa County. Is Fern County a retirement community and Mesa County full of college students? The ‘few complaints’ from Mesa residents do not necessarily indicate support for the closure; there may be a silent majority of people who simply don’t know about the closure plans.

Nor has the commission made its case that this is an ‘either/or’ situation. Is there a need for both a library and a computer training facility? If computer training would be valuable to the community, it deserves to be considered on its own merits, not solely in conjunction with the loss of a library.

Of course, the need for computer training has not been established in any case. If a ‘growing percentage’ of citizens are turning to the Internet, doesn’t that suggest the nation’s computer skills are already quite strong? The commission does not make a strong business case for setting up a computer training facility, and again this makes the argument too fuzzy to be convincing.

In summary, while there may be a perfectly justifiable case for closing the local library, the commission’s report suggests Fern County should try the new at the expense of the old – when the library closure and the proposed computer training facility should each be considered separately. Libraries are not shops or warehouses; they are an ancient and respected part of a nation’s intellectual and social fabric, dating back to the establishment of democracy itself in the Greek public square, and the case for closing such an important civic institution must be made with greater depth than the argument achieves.

FAULTS: Too wordy, but I think this is ok; although it doesn’t 100% answer the issue of whether Fern commissioners have a reasonable case in wanting to open a training centre. I’ll give myself a 5.

How to ace the GMAT in 28 days: Day 22 (2nd CAT test: 560)

Ok, my second CAT practice hit an all-time low of 560, with raws of 36V/32Q, barely above average. With a week before the test to make up a sudden 200-point drop in my simulated score, this is serious. Do I have time to recover?

Analysis of an Issue

“In any large business organization, teamwork is the ultimate key to the organization’s success.”

In your view, how accurate is the foregoing statement? Use reasons and/or examples from your experience, observation, and/or reading to explain your viewpoint.

Any large business is a mix of hard and soft skills: solid technical competence in its area of work, combined with the web of relationships between its people. That’s why I agree that teamwork is the ultimate key to business success: I believe that spirit of co-operation between people is the key to effective delivery. Why?

It’s because effective delivery means an effective business. Even the greatest products will languish in the lab without a motivated sales team to get them into the market. Of course, the most motivated sales executives will be those who have a relationship with the white-coated R&D people, who genuinely care about their company’s products and want them to be successful. Contrast this with the situation IBM found itself in during the 1980s: terrific products, yet a train-wreck of a balance sheet, largely due to a dysfunctional culture, sequestered in departmental silos, that didn’t value selling or engagement with the market. As one commentator wrote, “At IBM, products don’t get launched; they escape.”

So what’s the corollary? For the answer, just look inside any government office. An organisation where people’s loyalties are to their pension entitlements and a quiet life, rather than driving themselves and their team forward to greater achievement. In a environment of high job security and little excitement, subject to the whims of politicians who bear no loyalty to them, it’s hardly surprising that government offices are low on teamwork. This shows up in the lack of success shown by many government departments – which are among the largest organisations of all.

To add yet more evidence: over half of large mergers and acquisitions fail, despite some of the world’s top financial brains working on them to make sure every business case and budget allocation makes sense. It’s reasonable to assume that these experts haven’t made many mistakes in their costings or forecasts. So perhaps these mega-mergers fail because the people don’t feel part of a team. Newly merged divisions don’t co-operate, new managers don’t build relationships with their staff, and morale nosedives, leading to a wave of resignations by the company’s top workers.

In sum, teamwork matters because it’s fundamentally about taking responsibility: understanding that you have an obligation to others, that people are counting on you. These bonds matter, and they’re key not just to large businesses, but to every structure involving groups of human beings: family, tribe, village. Teamwork is the mechanism by which knowledge and skills ‘make it to market’, the tacit understanding and mutual trust that let products and services move from the basement lab to the bottom line.

It may not appear on any balance sheet, but strong teamwork is the most valuable asset any business can own, because in the end, any business is just the sum of its people.

FAULTS: I started slow on this one: one of those prompts that you know is important, but can’t immediately imagine how to articulate. Despite this, it’s a worthwhile effort, and follows a good structure. A 5/6.

Analysis of an Argument

(NOTE added 21aug2012: GMAT expert Mark Stewart has asserted his right to be identified as the author of the essay prompt in italics below, and has requested this link to his original source material, which I’m happy to provide.)

The following appeared in a memo from the sales director of Aura Cosmetics Company:
“The best way to reverse Aura Cosmetic’s recent decline in profitability is to require each new employee in Aura’s sales division to enroll in the popular SureSale seminar. Last year, the software company TechAide began incorporating SureSale’s week-long seminar into its training program for all new sales employees, and since that time TechAide’s total sales have increased dramatically. Also, according to a recent article in a reputable business magazine, the SureSale sales system has been widely adopted among the nation’s twenty largest companies, and the employee turnover rate at these companies is lower today than five years ago. Therefore, by enrolling Aura sales employees in the SureSale seminar Aura will also retain its highest caliber salespeople.”

Discuss how logically convincing you find this argument. In your discussion, you should analyze the argument’s line of reasoning and use of evidence. It may be appropriate in your critique to call into question certain assumptions underlying the argument and/or to indicate what evidence might weaken or strengthen the argument. It may also be appropriate to discuss how you would alter the argument to make it more convincing and/or discuss what additional evidence, if any, would aid in evaluating the argument.

My answer:

The Sales Director makes a reasonable assumption: that sales training for sales staff will increase their effectiveness. He backs up his assertion with evidence, citing SureSale’s track record in boosting sales and reducing staff turnover. However, by supporting his argument with examples of first a software vendor and then the top 20 blue-chips, he may be making unwarranted assumptions about whether the same approach will work for a cosmetics company – while his conclusion about retaining the highest calibre salespeople seems totally unsupported.

In the context of Aura’s decline in profitability, the Director’s argument seems strong. If the SureSale system has been effective for a software company, it may well be effective for a cosmetics group. However, it’s unclear whether Aura’s sales force (or, indeed, the software company) sells principally business-to-business, or directly to consumers. Is Aura’s sales department a squad of housewives selling to their friends at sponsored parties? This isn’t how software is sold, so the Director needs to produce evidence that the sales model of SureSale (not necessarily the products it has sold) is a good fit for Aura.

In addition, the Director talks about ‘profitability’, not ‘sales’. Have Aura’s sales actually risen, and the decline in profits is due to lower margins? If so, the problem may not lie in the sales department at all: perhaps the boffins in R&D need to use cheaper raw materials, or Marketing may need to examine its pricing model. To support his argument, the Director needs to back it up with a balance sheet as well as sales forecasts.

Furthermore, relying on a magazine article to support a major change in departmental strategy is a weak support for the argument. The article may have been advertorial (sponsored space) or have been placed by a PR firm, rather than being the output of a dispassionate journalist. The source of the article – and the evidence it contains – needs to be checked if the Director wishes to strengthen his case.

Finally, his conclusion about retaining his top sales staff seems illogical. A week-long seminar for all staff may lead to some improvement across the board, but five days won’t turn mediocrities into sales stars. Nor will it lead to any improvement in the people who matter most – the top sales people. In addition the prospect of a large number of newly-trained sales people all chasing the same leads may reduce opportunities for these top performers. Top sales people are motivated by having a thick stack of hot prospects to sell to, and the adoption of SureSale may demotivate the stars.

However, none of the above means the adoption of SureSale is definitely a bad idea. Indeed, the director may already have answers to all these issues. SureSale may be perfect for Aura’s business model, the magazine article may be a shining example of unbiased journalism, and the market for Aura’s products may be so huge that even a hundred better-trained sales staff would not exhaust its opportunities. The Director’s argument deserves further consideration. But approval of his plans must be tempered by a realistic evaluation of SureSale and Aura’s current finances, since desperation is not a great sales strategy.

FAULTS: Not bad: I’m now comfortable writing these. But this was a bit rushed towards the end: I only noticed the ‘profitability vs. sales’ point with a couple of minutes to spare, so the paragraph was hastily inserted. I’ll score myself a 5.

How to ace the GMAT in 28 days: Day 21 (1st CAT test 590)

First time trying a practice GMAT onscreen, rather than on paper. As expected, a throwaway result: 33V/39Q giving 590. The problem: rushing. Doing it on a PC creates less tension when you’re choosing an answer, so I finished the Verbal section with over 30mins left, making 11 errors of the 41. On quant, I finished with 15mins plus left, and got 14 out of 37 wrong. Lesson learned: pace better.

Today’s essay practice:

Analysis of an Issue

“Graduate business courses with a technical component, such as accounting, marketing, or economics, should teach factual information and skills and should leave ethics to designated business ethics courses.”

Discuss whether you agree or disagree with the opinion above. Provide supporting evidence for your views and use reasons and/or examples from your own experiences, observations, or reading.

Ethics is an important subject, and should be part of every professional manager’s set of skills. But business ethics come into play during the application of knowledge, not the acquisition of it. That’s why I agree with this opinion. The learning of facts and methods is neither ethical nor unethical, since the manager has yet to apply them them to real situations … making ethics irrelevant.

Take accounting. A student working on a cost-benefit problem may face a situation where the figures support only one conclusion: that a factory must be closed for the business to remain profitable. In real life, many factors would contribute to a closure decision: public relations, market conditions, and simple human decency in wanting to help 400 workers keep their livelihoods. But in the trammelled world of the test paper, all the student needs is a Pass, and the correct answer is to close the factory doors. Applying ethics to this artificial situation clouds the issue.

In addition, including ethics in every course with a technical component – teaching the same values, repeatedly across courses – is a waste of resources. Accounting 101 should be about the hard facts of credits and debits, not a cocktail mixing numbers with the soft guidelines of business ethics. There are no ethics in addition and subtraction, and teaching time is too scarce a commodity to wander into other subject areas during a class on Macroeconomic Trends.

Furthermore, by teaching business ethics in a course of its own, it won’t be treated as an adjunct. Ethics 101 demonstrates that business ethic is a subject worthy of study in itself. And by making that course mandatory (as many colleges do) that course can give managers a broad base of ethical knowledge, applicable across all areas of their lives, not in a narrow context of a single subject.

In summary, I believe ethics should not be mixed into other courses … but not because the subject lacks importance; quite the opposite. Business Ethics deserves a course of its own, and stirring it into the curriculum as footnotes to other courses reduces its value. There is a time for acquiring knowledge, and a time for applying it, and ethics only become important at the application stage. Teach students the raw technical principles of each subject they study in detail, and they’ll be better equipped to apply business ethics at all times in their future careers, when the subjects they deal with are not on test papers, but are real people with real problems.

FAULTS: Typo in paragraph 4, but overall I think this is a pretty good essay. It makes an insightful point (application versus acquisition) and is well structured, with a nice balance between beginning and end. I’ll give myself a 6.

Analysis of an Argument

The following appeared as part of a letter to the editor in a local newspaper:

“The growth of radio, television, movies, and other forms of mass media has led to the loss of intellectual creativity and curiosity among average Americans. A few writers now tell stories to tens of millions of Americans through songs played on the radio, television shows, and popular movies. Where one hundred years ago average Americans used to actively tell their own stories to countless small audiences, most Americans are now passive members of a much greater audience, all mesmerized by the same mass media offerings and reduced to commenting on the quality of various movies, sporting events, pop songs, and reality TV shows.”

Examine this argument and present your judgement on how well reasoned it is. In your discussion, analyse the author’s position and how well the author uses evidence to support the argument. For example, you may need to question the author’s underlying assumptions or consider alternative explanations that may weaken the conclusion. You can also provide additional support for or arguments against the author’s position, describe how stating the argument differently may make it more reasonable, and discuss what provisions may equip you to evaluate its thesis.

The author raises a valid concern: that modern mass media has led to a decline in participation and creative interaction among Americans, substituting the shared experiences of a top-rated TV show for the private experiences of a few good friends. But his argument appears driven by emotion, not logic, and for this reason has several weaknesses.

For example, he argues that ‘average Americans used to actively tell their own stories’ – where is his evidence? It’s possible that the images we have of storytelling Americans – cowboys singing ballads around a campfire, travelling preachers, settlers of the Old West – seem ubiquitous because they are the most memorable, not the most common. A majority of Americans a century ago may well have demonstrated no deeper intellectual curiosity than most Americans today; working for a living, falling asleep at home, then repeating the cycle. The author’s romantic images of a bygone age may have involved far fewer people than he assumes, which weakens his main argument.

In addition, the author says nothing about new forms of media that have taken storytelling and personal experience to a new level: blogging on the Web, texting on mobile phones, telephone chatlines. Normal people are still telling their stories, and they have many more options for doing so; however, the author makes no comparisons and gives no evidence. It’s possible that intellectual curiosity – the desire to know how the world works -is, on average, even greater today than it was one hundred years ago.

Finally, the author assumes that the explosion of ‘pop culture’ – TV shows, pop music, movies – reduces the opportunity for the sharing of personal experience. This is questionable, on two counts. First, large-scale ‘media events’ may provide a platform for shared experience in a fragmented world – a platform that enables the telling of fresh stories, as people connect over the Web to discuss their experiences of last night’s stadium concert. Second, being a ‘passive member’ of one audience doesn’t preclude anyone from being an active member of another. Tom Trailer-Park may spend eight hours on Sunday watching SuperBowl reruns, but on Saturdays he may be the star of a barbecue cookout, swapping stories with dozens of friends. The author implies one activity makes the other less likely to happen, which is not a conclusion that can be easily drawn from available evidence.

Despite these weaknesses, the argument remains a valid concern, since if everyone spent eight hours a night watching TV from the sofa, today’s society would indeed be the poor relation of yesteryear the author envisages. But without hard data – from both today’s society and that of a century ago – his argument lacks solidity. In fact, the onslaught of mass media and shared experience may well make the average American’s life broader and more creative than ever before. Being part of one big audience doesn’t stop you also being part of many smaller ones, and when it’s unclear how many Americans ever participated in the constant intellectual exchanges the author imagines, his argument does not hold water.

FAULTS: A bit wordy – I think this is my longest practice essay! But again it makes some good points, and I think it’s worth a 6. One caveat: running away with evidence against the argument makes for long paragraphs that repeat things, and also less time for proofing at the end, although I can’t see any typos. But overall I’d be happy if I submitted this essay during the GMAT.

How to ace the GMAT in 28 days: ideal structure for Analysis of an Argument

Here’s my model for the 30-minute Analysis of an Argument question, arranged in the same five-paragraph structure I tend to use.

(Update 01 June 2007: I scored perfect 6′s for both my GMAT essays, which suggests these plans work!)

Write a topic sentence that sums up what the author is saying in a few words. State whether the argument is strong or weak, and state the main strength or weakness of the argument in plain simple language.

In the second paragraph, explore the strong side of the argument (if you think it’s strong) or the weak side (if you think it’s weak.) State the assumptions he makes, and whether it’s reasonable or not reasonable to draw his conclusion from these assumptions.

In the third paragraph, explore the use of evidence. State whether each piece of evidence directly supports, indirectly supports, or does not support the argument. Give counterexamples: could this evidence be used to support the opposite conclusion?

In the fourth paragraph, switch your viewpoint and explore the other side of the argument. How it could be stronger (if you think it’s weak) or what might make it weaker (if you think it’s strong.) State whether these reasons affect the ultimate strength or weakness of the argument and admit there’s room for doubt.

In the concluding paragraph, sum up why the argument is strong or weak. Finish with a pithy phrase, such as ‘beliefs are not evidence’, that sums up the main strength or weakness of the argument.

How to ace the GMAT in 28 days: ideal structure for Analysis of an Issue

Here’s my model for the 30-minute Analysis of an Issue question, arranged in the same five-paragraph structure I tend to use.

(Update 01 June 2007: I scored perfect 6′s for both my GMAT essays, which suggests these plans work!)

Write a topic sentence that states the general premise of the issue and whether you agree with it. State an example in plain concrete language that demonstrates WHY you take this side, in a context that links one of the author’s example with your own experience. Finish with a transitional sentence that introduces the main body of the essay: 3 paragraphs that build your case, explore the other side, and lead to a conclusion.

In the second paragraph, restate the author’s main example. Then add an example from your own experience that supports it (if you agree) or refutes it (if you disagree.)

In the third paragraph, explore the other side of the issue. State why the author’s viewpoint may be valid, and what situations or evidence might strengthen it. Then either state that this alone isn’t enough (if you disagree) or that it proves your point (if you agree). Add an anecdote from real life.

In the fourth paragraph, state the author’s assumptions and whether they’re valid (if you agree) or invalid (if you disagree.) Add a persuasive example of your own from real life.

In the summary paragraph, conclude that the reasons above are WHY you agree or disagree. Make one concession to the author, such as how his issue would be reasonable IF he did one thing. Finish with a pithy statement, such as ‘correlation is not causation’, that sums up your reason for supporting or refuting the issue.

How to ace the GMAT in 28 days: 20-day review

With a third of the programme left, it’s time to see how things are going.

The basic method – doing a practice paper, then reviewing what I got wrong the next day, and trying to learn one new thing that’ll stop me making ONE of those mistakes on the following test – has taken me from a simulated score of 640 to 760. It’s let me break down my GMAT study into a series of manageable subgoals and tasks with actions (i.e. ‘learn combinations and permutations’) that fit into less than a day.

It’s now time to make a change: switch from paper-based practice tests to computer-based tests that simulate the experience of the GMAT exam more closely. I’ll also be doing one a day instead of one every two days, trying to keep the question-answering structures in my head without allowing them to fade overnight. I expect to suffer a drop in performance as I get used to doing it onscreen.

Monday 21 to Friday 25 May are booked for five computer-based sessions. Analysis will switch from actual questions to broader topics, so that next Saturday I’ll have a single document of revision notes that I can do a weekend blitz on before a calm day of putting it all together next Monday.

How to ace the GMAT in 28 days: Day 20 (analysing 740)

Ok, time to analyse my errors in that 740. 108 questions, giving me corrected raws of 51V/42Q.

Quant

A flat triangular cornfield has the dimensions shown in the figure above. If y^2 = 2, what is the area of the field in square miles?

(A) 1/4
(B) √3 / 4
(C) 1/2
(D) √3 / 2
(E) 1

I chose C. Under the right-angle-triangle rule, the square of the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides, so the length of the base is √2^2 – (√2/2)^2, which is 2 – 1/2. The square of the base is 1.5. The area of a triangle is half the base times the height, so √1.5 * 1.5 * y/2. 1.5√2/2, which is 0.75√2/2, which is √3/4. The answer is B.

A Statement (1) ALONE is sufficient, but statement (2) alone is not sufficient.
B Statement (2) ALONE is sufficient, but statement (1) alone is not sufficient.
C BOTH statements TOGETHER are sufficient, but NEITHER statement ALONE is sufficient.
D EACH Statement ALONE is sufficient.
E Statements (1) and (2) TOGETHER are NOT sufficient.

Does nm =40?
(1) 10/n = m/4
(2) 5n = 20 and 8m = 80

I chose B. But of course, 10/n and m=4 gives the answer, as does statement 2. It’s D.

Is the value of x^2 + xy equal to 0?

(1) x = 0
(2) y = 0

I chose D, falling into the trap. It’s okay for x to equal 0, since that would make both x^2 and xy equal to 0, giving us enough info to answer the question. But y=0 would let x be any number we like, and the answer wouldn’t be 0. It’s A.

If a + b= 200 and a c + d?
(1) c + d < 200
(2) b + c + d = 300

I chose A, since obviously statement 1 is enough; a+b = 200 and c+d < 200 makes it easy. But Statement 2 works as well, since b must be at least 1 more than a, or 101 if a+b=200 is to hold. So c+d can't be more than 199, giving us enough info again. It's D.

Between 3:00 am. and 3:00 p.m. of the same day, the minute hand of a properly operating clock, indicated by the figure above, will turn through how many degrees?

(A) 0
(B) 1,200
(C) 2,160
(D) 4,320
(E) 8,640

I guessed E. This question foxed me. Between 3am and 3pm are 12 hours; the minute hand goes around 60 x 12 times, which is 720; there are 360 degrees in a circle, so the minute hand has traversed the 360 degrees 720 times. Which is a lot more than any of the options.

The question is ‘wrong’ due to an inconsistency in English usage: many people would call the minute hand the ‘hour hand’. The hand that marks off the hours turns 12 times, 12 times 360, which is D. With a moment’s thought I’d have seen my mistake.

If n is a positive integer, the sum of the integers from 1 to n, inclusive, equals n(n+1) / 2. Which of the following equals the sum of the integers from 1 to 2n, inclusive?

(A) n(n+1)
(B) n(2n+1) / 2
(C) n(2n+1)
(D) 2n(n+1)
(E) 2n (2n+1)

Was all at sea with this one, choosing B. The clue is in the 2: you’ve got to double the n(n+1)/2, giving n(n+1), but since it’s a range you’ve got to separately double the extent of the range, which is the n in brackets. It’s C.

If x is the average (arithmetic mean) of 5 consecutive even integers, which of the following must be true?

I. x is an even integer.
II. x is a nonzero integer.
III. x is a multiple of 5.

(A) I only
(B) III only
(C) I and II only
(D) I and III only
(E) I, II, and III

I (stupidly) chose E. But of course II can’t be right: it doesn’t have to be nonzero, or even an integer; the numbers could be -4, -2, 0, 2, 4. Following on, III can’t be right either, since zero isn’t divisible by 5. Only I can hold, and if all the terms are even, the average must be even too. It’s A.

Verbal

A United States manufacturer of farm equipment reported a 1988 third-quarter net income of $32 million, compared with $25.5 million in the third quarter of 1987. This increase was realized despite a drop in United States retail sales of farm equipment toward the end of the third quarter of 1988 as a result of a drought.

Which of the following, if true, would contribute most to an explanation of the increase in the manufacturer’s net income?

(A) During the third quarter of 1988, the manufacturer announced that it would add irrigation systems to its line of products.
(B) In the third quarter of 1988, the manufacturer paid no wages during a six-week strike, but stocks on hand were adequate to supply dealers.
(C) Sales in the United States of farm equipment made and sold by foreign companies were higher in the third quarter of 1988 than in any previous quarter.
(D) Official dealers of the manufacturer had low supplies of farm equipment during the third quarter of 1988.
(E) Eligible United States farmers benefited from a federal drought-relief fund late in the third quarter of 1988.

I chose D. This is an inference question, among the hardest. The clue is in ‘net revenues’; if sales dropped, something happened to take some costs out of the equation. The only answer that reduces costs (hence increasing net revenues) is B.

During the nineteenth century, occupational information about women that was provided by the United States census—a population count conducted each decade— became more detailed and precise in response to social changes. Through 1840, simple enumeration by household mirrored a home-based agricultural economy and hierarchical social order: the head of the household (presumed male or absent) was specified by name, whereas other household members were only indicated by the total number of persons counted in various categories, including occupational categories. Like farms, most enterprises were family run, so that the census measured economic activity as an attribute of the entire household, rather than of individuals.
The 1850 census, partly responding to antislavery and women’s rights movements, initiated the collection of specific information about each individual in a household. Not until 1870 was occupational information analyzed by gender: the census superintendent reported 1.8 million women employed outside the home in “gainful and reputable occupations.” In addition, he arbitrarily attributed to each family one woman “keeping house.” Overlap between the two groups was not calculated until 1890, when the rapid entry of women into the paid labor force and social issues arising from industrialization were causing women’s advocates and women statisticians to press for more thorough and accurate accounting of women’s occupations and wages.

It can be inferred from the passage that the 1840 United States census provided a count of which of the following?

(A) Women who worked exclusively in the home
(B) People engaged in nonfarming occupations
(C) People engaged in social movements
(D) Women engaged in family-run enterprises
(E) Men engaged in agriculture

I chose E, since it’s the only one stated explicitly (the census counted male heads of household, and differentiated farmers from other workers.) But that doesn’t go far enough: it counted all workers engaged in agriculture, but didn’t define them as male if they weren’t heads of households. The other answers fail on the same criterion. It’s B.

Contrary to the scholarly wisdom of the 1950’s and early 1960’s that predicted the processes of modernization and rationalization would gradually undermine it, ethnicity is a worldwide phenomenon of increasing importance.

(A) would gradually undermine it
(B) to be a gradual undermining of it
(C) would be a gradual undermining of ethnicity
(D) to gradually undermine ethnicity
(E) gradually undermining it

Another of those ‘standard grammar’ questions, which as a copywriter (we write the way people speak) I’m surprisingly poor at. I chose E, but the only one that fits the sense correctly is A.

Tektites, which may have been propelled to Earth from lunar volcanoes, are much like the volcanic glass obsidian, but their chemical composition is different than any terrestrial lava; they contain far less water than obsidian does and none of its characteristic microcrystals.

(A) is different than any terrestrial lava; they contain
(B) is different than any terrestrial lava’s, containing
(C) is different from that of any terrestrial lava; they contain
(D) differs from any terrestrial lava in containing
(E) differs from that of any terrestrial lava’s, containing

I chose E. A and B are out, since the ‘than any’ makes the comparison between the composition and the lava, not the composition of the tektites and the composition of lava. D and E work grammatically but fall down later on with the obsidian ‘does’. It’s C.

Hmmm… a few silly mistakes, meaning that if I stay sharp on test day I’m on course for 750. A week of practice beckons; time to take it up a notch.

How to ace the GMAT in 28 days: Day 19 (result: 740)

A 740. Not bad. If I can maintain this orbitting around the 750 level I’ll be happy. 108 questions, 56V and 52Q, and 11 wrong leading to corrected scores of 51V/42Q. Here are today’s practice essays.

ANALYSIS OF AN ISSUE
Time—30 minutes
Directions: In this section, you will need to analyze the issue presented below and explain your views on it. The question has no “correct” answer. Instead, you should consider various perspectives as you develop your own position on the issue.

“Companies should not try to improve employees’ performance by giving incentives—for example, awards or gifts. Incentives encourage negative kinds of behavior instead of encouraging a genuine interest in doing the work well.”
Discuss the extent to which you agree or disagree with the opinion stated above. Support your views with reasons and/or examples from your own experience, observations, or reading.

In the author’s imagination, every employee is capable of taking such deep delight in his job that he needs nothing further, sitting in a cubicle under harsh fluorescent striplights for the sheer joy of it. That rose-tinted world doesn’t exist, which is why I strongly disagree with this statement. Incentives – everything from sales commission to an employee-of-the-month certificate – can add meaning and purpose to a worker’s life, and are a legitimate means of fostering workforce enthusiasm.

The statement assumes that the desire to do a good job and the desire to be rewarded with an incentive are mutually exclusive. They’re not. If a sales executive has spent a month of evenings sweating over a complex proposal, giving up his own time and family life to contribute to the success of his employer, what’s wrong with that employer rewarding him for it? A week at a Hawaii Beach Resort in return for landing a £1m customer isn’t a carrot dangled cynically over the salesman’s head; it’s a reason for him to work hard. And, thus rewarded, the employee will feel closer to his employer. The right incentives make an employee more enthusiastic about his job, not less.

In addition, incentives aren’t given in isolation; they’re a means of keeping score. A fast-food restaurant handing over an occasional £10 voucher to its Employee-of-the-Month creates a desire among its other staff to try harder, to make that voucher theirs next time around. And how will they try harder? By going the extra mile, serving customers with a smile, making their employer’s business more successful. Particularly in low-income professions – for example, cleaning toilets or flipping burgers – a small incentive can make an unpleasant job just a little more bearable.

From burger chefs to bankers, the principle of employee incentives applies across all business sectors. It was Napoleon who said on creating a new medal, ‘By such baubles are men led’. His outlook might have been cynical, but its effects – millions of men prepared to die for him – were positive. (At least from Napoleon’s viewpoint.) Few workers take so much delight in their work that they never need praise, acknowledgement, or a reason to keep doing it.

In summary: the author of this statement needs to live in the real world. Incentives do not, as he supposes, have a negative effect on the ‘genuine interest in doing the work well’; they complement this genuine interest. A worker may enjoy his work and provide an excellent service, but incentives can provide the frisson of happiness that makes his career meaningful. Which, of course, provides the most basic justification to hand out incentives in any case: happier workers deliver better work.

FAULTS: An okay essay, but I felt I repeated myself a bit. I’ll score myself a 5.

ANALYSIS OF AN ARGUMENT
Time—30 minutes
Directions: In this section you will he asked to write a critique of the argument presented below. You are NOT being asked to present your own views on the subject. Read the argument and the instructions that follow it, and then make any notes in your test booklet that will help you plan your response.

The following appeared as part of a recommendation from the business manager of a department store.
“Local clothing stores reported that their profits decreased, on average, for the three-month period between August 1 and October 31. Stores that sell products for the home reported that, on average, their profits increased during this same period. Clearly, customers are choosing to buy products for their homes instead of clothing. To take advantage of this trend, we should reduce the size of our clothing departments and enlarge our home furnishings and household products departments.”

Discuss how well reasoned you find this argument. In you discussion be sure to analyze the line of reasoning and the use of evidence in the argument. For example, you may need to consider what questionable assumptions underlie the thinking and what alternative explanations or counterexamples might weaken the conclusion. You can also discuss what sort of evidence would strengthen or refute the argument, what changes in the argument would make it more logically sound, and what, if anything, would help you better evaluate its conclusion.

The store manager appears to be ignoring a factor of vital importance to any retail business: the effect of seasonal variations on buying patterns. In addition, it is unclear whether he plans to refit his store as a permanent fixture, or for temporary advantage. His argument is weak, and unless he can supply further information, will remain so.

The first information we need relates to historical sales patterns. Does he have the sales data of local clothing and home products stores for previous years… and year-round, not limited to one Autumn quarter? A boost in furniture sales and a blip in clothing may be seasonal trends that happen every year. In which case, clothing sales may be about to surge as Winter approaches, and his argument for refitting his store is invalid.

Information about the current profile of his own store would also help. Is his store famous for clothing, or for furnishings, or for something else entirely? Many businesses have ‘star performers’: departments which produce 80% of the store’s total profits. If clothing is his store’s strength, the manager’s move into home products may again be unsupportable.

Furthermore, the manager must define what he means by ‘products for the home’. Fitted kitchens, carpets, expensive white goods and cheap wallpaper all appear in this category, and many such products are sold in a variety of stores, from hardware shops to furniture showrooms. The argument does not even specify whether these stores sell home products exclusively; plenty of 7-11 stores sell wine glasses and tablemats.

Finally, there’s a question mark over audience and timing. It’s perfectly possible that the manager is speaking to an audience of retail experts – who perhaps know that a store manager, in this context, would only ever be referring to a seasonal refit. This context simply isn’t clear. Nor do we know the date he’s putting this argument forward – perhaps his recommendation is dated June or July, and the store refit is planned for the upcoming August-October quarter, in which case his argument may be perfectly reasonable.

The store manager may be making an excellent case – but too much information is missing for us to judge. Until this further information is available, we must treat the argument as unsupportable. The manager, after all, should know that ‘retail is detail’.

FAULTS: Not a bad essay – but it’s easy in these types of essay to treat the one obvious point, about seasonal variations, as the only point worth making. The main hole in the argument is the context in which the manager’s speaking, not necessarily his apparent ignorance of the seasons. Finished the last sentence a scant second before timeout, so no time for proofing, but I can’t see any typos. A 6 I think.

How to ace the GMAT in 28 days: mid-programme review

With 10 days of the programme left, it’s time to see how things are going.

The basic method – doing a practice paper, then reviewing what I got wrong the next day, and trying to learn one new thing that’ll stop me making ONE of those mistakes on the following test – seems to be working. It’s let me break down my GMAT study into a series of manageable subgoals and tasks with actions (i.e. ‘learn combinations and permutations’) that fit into less than a day.

The next 10 days I’ll make a change: switch from paper-based practice tests to computer-based tests that simulate the experience of the GMAT exam more closely. I’ll also be doing one a day instead of one every two days, trying to keep the question-answering structures in my head without allowing them to fade overnight. I expect to suffer a drop in performance at first; hope I can make it up before the 29th.

How to ace the GMAT in 28 days: Day 18 (analysing 760)

So: a big leap in performance; perhaps the several 690s in a row were some sort of latent-heat period and this programme of GMAT study’s now undergoing a phase transition. A score of 760, from corrected raws of 44Q/50V. Here are the ones I got wrong.

Quant

If (x^2 +6x + 9) + 6(x + 3) + 9 = 0, then x=

(A) -6
(B) -3
(C) 0
(D) 3
(E) 6

I chose A. Multiplying out, x^2 + 6x + 9 + 6x + 18 + 9 = 0 is the same as x^2 + 12x + 35 = 0, so x^2 + 12x = -35 and 12x must be bigger than 35 and negative. That means the answer is A or B, the only negative options. With B, this is where my error lay: 9 -36 ≠ 0, so B is wrong. Putting A in place to get 36 -72 +35 = 0 works. It’s A. Annoying since getting this right would have meant a 770 simulated GMAT score, but I can hardly complain on the day I passed the 99th percentile.

Three musical notes have frequencies x, y, and z, respectively. If x, y, and z are positive, x/y = y/z, and 2x = z, what is y in terms of z?

(A) 2x
(B) (√2)x
(C) (1/√2) x
(D) (1/2) x
(E) (√2/3) x

I got this right, but wanted to fix the structure in my head, so I’m making sure here. The first thing to do is recast the z as 2x, to get x/y = y/2x. Move the 2x term across by multiplying both sides by 2x, and you get 2x^2/y = y, then doing the same to get rid of that y on the left gives you 2x^2 = y^2. So the square root of y^2 (i.e. what we want) is the square root of 2x^2, which (since you can take the x out of the term; it’s squared already) is √2 x, or B.


According to the incomplete table above, if each of the 6 teams in the league played each of the other teams exactly twice and there were no ties, how many games did team X win? (Only 2 teams play in a game.)

(A) 4
(B) 5
(C) 6
(D) 8
(E) 10

A permutations and combinations question. I chose A. First thing to do is work out how many games were played in total, so use the ‘permutations’ equation n!/(n-r)! where n is the number of teams and r is the number of teams pulled out for each game, i.e. 6 and 2. That’s 6*5*4*3*2*1 / 4*3*2*1, or 720 / 24, or 30. Each team played every other team TWICE, so double it – 60 games in total. All games were won, which means there were 30 possible wins and 30 losses, and 24 of the games were won by A-E, so team X must have won 6. The answer is C.

(Addition: A comment below adds there was an easier way of doing this in your head: with each of 6 teams playing the other 5 teams twice, that makes ten games per team, so that 60 figure is more easily get-attable.)

A Statement (1) ALONE is sufficient, but statement (2) alone is not sufficient.
B Statement (2) ALONE is sufficient, but statement (1) alone is not sufficient.
C BOTH statements (1) and (2) TOGETHER are sufficient, but NEITHER statement ALONE is sufficient.
D EACH statement ALONE is sufficient.
E Statements (1) and (2) TOGETHER are NOT sufficient.


Of the four numbers represented on the number line above, is r closest to zero?

(1) q = -s
(2) –t < q

I chose D. Oooh, kicking myself. Assume the number line is a simple -1, 0, 1, 2. That’d make q equal to -1 according to statement 1, and with r in between, r would be closest to zero. Statement 1 is sufficient. I thought Statement 2 was, too, but knowing -2 was less than q could mean q was -1, or 0, or… making it impossible to say with certainty that r is closest to zero. Good question. The answer is A.

If Carmen had 12 more tapes, she would have twice as many tapes as Rafael. Does Carmen have fewer tapes than Rafael?

(1) Rafael has more than 5 tapes.
(2) Carmen has fewer than 12 tapes.

I chose E. If Rafael has a minimum 6 tapes, then Carmen needs all 12 to double his collection, so she’s certainly got fewer tapes now. But if Rafael had 20 tapes now, Carmen would have 28 already, more than him. You can’t tell from Statement A.

Conversely, let’s say (as in Statement 2) that Carmen has 11 tapes. Giving her 12 leads to 23 tapes… so Rafael must have 11.5 tapes, more than her (even if one doesn’t work because he’s lost half of it!) If she’s got 10 now, an extra 12 gives her 22, meaning Rafael’s got 11. If she’s got 9, then Rafael’s got 10.5 tapes, still more than her. Statement 2 is enough. B is correct.

In the figure above, how many of the points on line segment PQ have coordinates that are both integers?

(A) 5
(B) 8
(C) 10
(D) 11
(E) 20

I guessed B. One of the few problems I don’t know how to approach yet. It’s a slopes question, but I’m not sure how the slopes equations would help… let’s think….

There are a maximum 50 values of x that are integers. And a maximum 30 values of y that are integers. So a maximum of 30 points where both x and y are integers, and probably a lot less than that in reality. There’ll be one at (0,30) of course, another at (5, 27), and more at (10,24), (15,21), (20,18), (25,15), (30,12), (35,9), (40,6), (45,3), and (50, 0). Eleven of them, answer D.

(Addition: a comment below suggests an easy way to do this: find the largest number that goes into both 30 and 50, which is 10, then add one to account for the zero co-ordinate. Faster!)

A group of 12 people plan to rent a van and agree to share equally the total cost of the rental, which is Edollars. If n of the people decide not to participate at the last minute, by how many dollars will each remaining person’s share of the total cost increase?

(A) E / 12-n
(B) 12-n / E
(C) E / 12(12-n)
(D) nE / 12(12-n)
(E) (12-n)E / 12n

I chose E. Let’s write down what I think it should look like: they planned to spend $E, so it would have been E/12 each. However, a few people haven’t turned up, so the cost is now $E / (12-n) each. The difference between the two is (E / (12-n)) – (E/12), which means the common denominator (so we can perform the minus) must be 12(12-n) (so the answer must be C or D, the only answers with this denominator) and the numerator 12E-E(12-n). No need to go further; the numerator must have an n in it. It’s D.

Verbal

Until quite recently, American presidents lived in a world in which the public and private realms of their lives were largely separate, and the press cooperated in maintaining the distinction, and Americans judged national leaders without receiving, or expecting, intimate information about them.

(A) and the press cooperated in maintaining the distinction, and
(B) where the press cooperated in maintaining the distinction, and where
(C) for the press cooperated to maintain the distinction and
(D) the press cooperated to maintain the distinction, for
(E) in which the press cooperated in maintaining the distinction, and in which

I chose B. But the ‘where’ doesn’t match the ‘in which’ used previously. It can’t be A, because the ‘and’ doesn’t place the press co-operation as subordinate to the American President’s world, nor C or D, for the same reason: both change the sense of the sentence, not making the press and the American citizens examples of the world as it was. It must be E. Anyway, E looks right for another reason: all those ‘in which’es keep it grammatically pure.

Bob Wilber became Sidney Bechet’s student and protégé when he was nineteen and, for a few years in the 1940’s, came as close to being a carbon copy of the jazz virtuoso in performance as anyone has ever come.

(A) as anyone has ever come
(B) as anyone ever had been
(C) as anyone ever had done
(D) that anyone ever did
(E) that anyone ever came

An idiom question. Not realising this, I chose B. But the phrase is idiomatic, ‘as close as it ever comes’, and only A and E use it. It isn’t E, because ‘ever came’ suggests that nobody is able to try now or in the future, and other people are welcome to have a go if they want… making A the answer.

Despite its attractiveness, investing abroad can still pose big risks, ranging from the potential for political instability in some countries to the shortage of regulations to protect investors and a serious lack of information about investments in others.

(A) to the shortage of regulations to protect investors and a serious lack of information about investments in others
(B) to the shortage of regulations to protect investors and in others a serious lack of information about investments
(C) and the shortage of regulations to protect investors and a serious lack of information about investments in others
(D) and the shortage of regulations to protect investors to a serious lack of information about investments in others
(E) to the shortage of regulations to protect investors in others and a serious lack of information about investments

Hard one. I chose D. The pivot is that ‘ranging from… to’ and where the ‘to’ should go. The answer suggests that the GMAT doesn’t like any excess verbiage between the from and the to, making the only option A.

That the new managing editor rose from the publication’s “soft” new sections to a leadership position is more of a landmark in the industry than her being a woman.

(A) her being a woman
(B) being a woman is
(C) her womanhood
(D) that she was a woman
(E) that she is a woman

I chose A. The clue is the first ‘That’ in the sentence: it suggests the corrected sentence must also have a ‘that’ near the woman bit, meaning the answer must be D or E. D doesn’t make sense, so it’s E.

Of all the wild animals in their area, none was more useful to the Delaware tribes than the Virginia white-tailed deer: it was a source of meat, and its hide was used for clothing, its antlers and bones for tools, and its sinews and gut for bindings and glue.

(A) deer: it was a source of meat, and its hide was used for clothing, its antlers and bones for tools, and its sinews and gut
(B) deer: it was a source of meat, and its hide used for clothing, with its antlers and bones for tools, and its sinews and gut used
(C) deer, which was a source of meat, with its hide used for clothing, antlers and bones for tools, as well as its sinews and gut used
(D) deer, which, as well as being a source of meat, its hide was used for clothing, its antlers and bones for tools, and its sinews and gut were
(E) deer, with, as well as being a source of meat, its hide used for clothing, its antlers and bones for tools, and its sinews and gut

I put E. The clue is in the colon: the sense of the sentence is of introducing a list, for which we use colons. B doesn’t list the list items correctly (‘and its hide’ is incorrect) so it’s A.

Well, I was pleased with my result – don’t expect to better it tomorrow; I’d expect to spend the next couple of tests going downhill, especially since I’m doing my last paper-based practice test on Saturday and next week’s practices will all be proper GMAT style, on-the-screen jobs.

One thing I have noticed, though, is my weakness in sentence correction: the GMAT demands use of standard written English, and copywriters don’t write standard; we write the way people speak. I’m not sure I’m going to beat this weakness into submission with 15 years of writing conversationally behind me. I bet 760 is as high as I can go.

How to ace the GMAT in 28 days: Day 17 (result: 760)

A 760 on today’s practice test. I think that’s called a ‘result’: comfortably past the 99th percentile (i.e. beating 99% of the people who take this test). 108 questions, 52Q and 56V, with 11 errors giving me corrected raw scores of 44Q/50V, despite getting 5 wrong near the end of one section. Analysis tomorrow; here are the essays…

What this suggests is I’m starting to internalise the underlying formats and structures of many GMAT questions, hardwiring my brain to recognise which methods I need to use to solve each question.

ANALYSIS OF AN ARGUMENT

Time—30 minutes
Directions: In this section, you will be asked to write a critique of the argument presented below. You are NOT being asked to present your own views on the subject. Read the argument and the instructions that follow it, and then make any notes in your test booklet that will help you plan your response.

The following appeared in a memorandum to the planning department of an investment firm.

“Costs have begun dropping for several types of equipment currently used to convert solar energy into electricity. Moreover, some exciting new technologies for converting solar energy are now being researched and developed. Hence we can expect that solar energy will soon become more cost efficient and attractive than coal or oil as a source of electrical power. We should, therefore, encourage investment in Solario, a new manufacturer of solar-powered products. After all, Solario’s chief executive was once on the financial planning team for Ready-to-Ware, a software engineering firm that has shown remarkable growth since its recent incorporation.”

Discuss how well reasoned you find this argument. In your discussion be sure to analyze the line of reasoning and the use of evidence in the argument. For example, you may need to consider what questionable assumptions underlie the thinking and what alternative explanations or counterexamples might weaken the conclusion. You can also discuss what sort of evidence would strengthen or refute the argument, what changes in the argument would make it more logically sound, and what, if anything, would help you better evaluate its conclusion.

The writer makes a reasonable business case for investing in Sontario, given the space limits of a memo. But – as with any investment – the planning department would need to conduct further research to confirm the validity of the proposal.

The writer reasons that the positive trends in the solar energy sector – falling equipment costs, exciting new technology – demonstrate the attractiveness of the sector as a whole. This broad-brush claim needs analysing first. Are equipment costs falling because of improved business methods and better process engineering, or something not driven by the industry itself, such as a short-term drop in the price of raw materials? Without a clear causal link with the ingenuity of the industry, the falling costs alone don’t constitute a reason to invest.

In addition, the memo uses the attractiveness of the solar energy industry as a whole to support investing in Solario in particular. Is this justified? Solario doesn’t make solar panels; it makes products powered by solar energy, which isn’t the same activity. This suggests that Solario’s success will be dependent on the success of the solar industry, rather than Solario itself being a key driver of the industry. Solario appears to be a second-tier player rather than a prime mover, and the investment team needs to look closely at how dependent the company is on the success of others.

Furthermore, the investment team needs to look beyond the solar energy industry and to the energy sector in general. Do the falling costs driving adoption of solar energy over fossil fuels represent a trend or a blip? If oil prices have been rising and are likely to continue doing so, then solar energy companies (and perhaps Solario in particular) may well be a good investment. Investment is about good timing, and if one major oil discovery is the difference between an investment’s success and failure, the investors may benefit from a cautious approach.

Narrowing down, the Chief Executive’s former role in a software company is not as negative as it first appears. Environmentally friendly firms have a reputation for being run on philosophical lines rather than sound financial sense, and Ready-to-Ware’s success in the market may well be a plus point for the competence of the CEO. His experience, albeit in a different industry, is on balance a plus point for the argument – with the caveat that his involvement with Ready-to-Ware ended some time ago.

In summary, the memo’s argument presents a reasonable case for investing in the solar industry – but not necessarily in Solario itself. The memo’s author conflates the potential of an entire industry with the potential of a single player within it… and this weakens the argument. The investment team parks its money not in industries, but in individual companies. It must make its decision based on Solario’s balance sheet and market potential, not on the basis of a good idea.

FAULTS: pleased with this one, finished just seconds before the 30min limit. But a monster typos – why did I write ‘Sontario’??? At least I picked up on something many GMAT takers will miss: Solario makes products, not panels. And I shouldn’t have repeated ‘reasonable business case’ at the beginning and end, especially since I don’t use them to make the same point. Probably a 5 for this essay.

ANALYSIS OF AN ISSUE

Time—30 minutes
Directions: In this section, you will need to analyze the issue presented below and explain your views on it. The question has no “correct” answer. Instead, you should consider various perspectives as you develop your own position on the issue. Read the statement and the instructions that follow it, and then make any notes in your test booklet that will help you plan your response.

“The best strategy for managing a business, or any enterprise, is to find the most capable people and give them as much authority as possible.”

Discuss the extent to which you agree or disagree with the opinion stated above. Support your views with reasons and/or examples from your own experience, observations, or reading.

In business, people are everything, and capable people are the biggest asset any business can have. That’s why I agree strongly with the statement – with a single caveat: giving out authority in such measure must be accompanied by some fundamental ground rules.

To function as a coherent unit, an organisation’s people must work together. (However capable they are!) If Fred in R&D reasons that ten new hires would add £1m to billings, but Rebecca in HR needs to lose 20% of headcount – each having full authority to act – then the net result may not be positive for the company. Authority should be given out in well-defined chunks, and reporting lines made clear. Authority within each employee’s departmental function is a terrific idea; authority across-the-board, with overlapping opinions, leads to conflict and wasted resources.

In addition, a company’s board must remember that competency in one area doesn’t reflect expertise in another. For example, many world-class programmers are extremely poor at managing people; an expert coder given authority over hiring and firing may not have the skills to recognise the right balance of technical skills and team spirit needed for any large project. When giving people authority, it should be on the basis of what they’re best at, so they can wield that authority with confidence and gravitas.

Furthermore, with authority must go responsibility. If people are given the authority to take decisions, they must be aware that they are responsible for the consequences. An organisation where everyone takes responsibility for their actions is a strong organisation, because its people know they can trust each other not to ‘pass the buck’.

Finally, when granting authority, it’s important to remember that power is of little use without direction. People with authority to act still need leaders; the handing out of authority does not lessen the importance of managers and the CEO. Employees need to know what goals their authority is supposed to support, and the setting of those goals (company strategy) is a job for leaders.

Despite these points, giving people as much authority as possible remains an excellent idea which I fully agree with. Because my points above don’t diminish the power of authority; they enhance it. People will, I believe, be much happier accepting their authoritative powers if the rules are made clear first. Even when constrained by functional competency and departmental reach, there’s plenty of authority to go around.

FAULTS: finished this one early, but it’s no worse for it. I feel I’m getting stronger at ‘focussing on the question’, without going off on tangents. Can I award myself a 6 for this?

How to ace the GMAT in 28 days: Day 16 (analysing day 15)

Okay, time to analyse my first 700 score. (Or 90th percentile, which means I’m beating 9 out of 10 people who take the GMAT.) 107 questions, corrected raw scores of 50V/40Q: 3 sentence correction, 1 critical reasoning, and 0 reading comprehension errors, and 7 problem solving quants, and 3 data sufficiency questions wrong. I’m getting the hang of those data sufficiency things.

Quant

Harry started a 6-mile hike with a full 10-cup canteen of water and finished the hike in 2 hours with 1 cup of water remaining in the canteen. If the canteen leaked at the rate of 1 cup per hour and Harry drank 3 cups of water during the last mile, how many cups did he drink per mile during the first 5 miles of the hike?

(A) 4/5
(B) 5/6
(C) 1
(D) 6/5
(E) 5/4

I chose C. Well, if Harry started with 10c, spilled 2c, and drank 3c we know of, then there are 5 cups left in the flask to last 5 miles… which is where my mistake occurred. He doesn’t drink it all; there’s a cupful left, so he only drank 4 cups in 5 miles. Answer: A.

If y is an integer, then the least possible value of | 23-5y | is

(A) 1
(B) 2
(C) 3
(D) 4
(E) 5

I chose C. (This is a |range| question: number of values that satisfy, not the value any y produces.) To produce a minimum value for range 23-5y of 5 you’d need y to equal 18/5 – not an integer, so discount E; the value can’t be 5. D doesn’t work either (y would have to be 19/5, again not an integer). Why not C? y=4 works, so C is possible. Is it the lowest? Let’s try substituting y=3; the value of 23-5y would be 8, higher than B, and for lower values of y the numbers get bigger. There can only be 2 possible values of the range |23-5y|, so it’s B.

The volume of a sphere with radius r is 4/3 ∏r^3 and the surface area is 4 ∏r^3. If a spherical balloon has a volume of 972∏ cubic centimeters, what is the surface area of the balloon in square centimeters?

(A) 324
(B) 729
(C) 243∏
(D) 324∏
(E) 729∏

I guessed A. Close, but not close enough. The question contains a very subtle misdirection. Did you think it was being kind telling you the formulae for calculating volume and surface area of a sphere? It’s not. Those expressions represent the surface and volume of this specific sphere, not as general formulae. Clever.

If the general expressions for surface area and volume were 4 ∏r^3 and 4/3 ∏r^3, that means the figure for surface area (in square cm) would always be several times bigger than the figure for volume (in cubic cm). This is wrong: the formula for finding surface area of a sphere is 4/3 ∏r^2, not 4/3 ∏r^3. Which means the surface area figure in square cm is a lot smaller than the volume in cubic cm. The answer is a third of the figure amount (to turn 4 into 4/3, i.e reducing it to the third of its value) and dividing by r (to compensate the r^3 value that ‘should’ be r^2). It’s around 300∏ , which is D.

If the perimeter of square region S and the perimeter of circular region C are equal, then the ratio of the area of S to the area of C is closest to

(A) 3/2
(B) 4/3
(C) 3/4
(D) 2/3
(E) 1/2

I chose B. First off, we need to confirm which of them has the bigger area, so do a quick substitution, assuming r is one unit in length. If the perimeter of the circle is 2∏r, then the perimeter of the square is 4 x 1/4 (2∏r) . (Because a square has four equal sides, each a quarter of 2∏r long.) The area of the square will be 1/2 ∏r times 1/2 ∏r, roughly 1.6 times 1.6, which is 2.6 or so.

The area of the circle is ∏r^2, roughly 3.14. So the circle’s area is bigger, ratio S to C must be small to big, so the answer is C, D, or E. The ratio 2.6 : 3.14 is about 5:6, which is closest to answer C.

If n and k are integers whose product is 400, which of the following statements must be true?

(A) n + k > 0
(B) n ≠ k
(C) Either n or k is a multiple of 10.
(D) If n is even, then k is odd.
(E) If n is odd, then k is even.

Oooooh, sneaky! I chose A after some thought, but it’s wrong. n and k could both be -20, which would give 400. B’s wrong too, since we’ve just realised n and k can be equal. D’s wrong, because n and k could be 16 and 25 for example, neither divisible by 10. But D and E seem to be saying the same thing. Hmmm.

D can’t work, because we know both numbers can be even. (20 * 20.) So the answer’s E. When you’ve eliminated the possible, what remains, however impossible, must be true.

If x < 12, then it must be true that

(A) –x < -12
(B) –x – 2 < 14
(C) –x + 2 < – 10
(D) x + 2 < 10
(E) x – 2 < 11

D was my answer. A is wrong, because x could be -20 for example, and 20 is more than -12. B and C have the same problem. D is less wrong, but still wrong, since x could be 10, and 12 is more than 10. It must be E.

What is the difference between the sixth and the fifth terms of the sequence 2, 4, 7, … whose nth term is n + 2n-1 ?

(A) 2
(B) 3
(C) 6
(D) 16
(E) 17

Great question. I chose D, having spent too long on the sequence. Let’s see… every n’th number is n+2 to the power of n-1, and the power of n-1 means the number preceding it in the sequence.

Applying this to the bit of the sequence we know we get: 4 equals 2 plus 2 to the power 1 (correct), 7 equals 3 plus 2 to the power 2 (correct), so the 4th number equals 4 plus 2 to the power 3, i.e. 12, the 5th number equals 5 plus 2 to the power 4, i.e 21, and the 6th number equals 6 plus 2 to the power 5, i.e. 38. So the difference between the 5th and 6th is 17, or E.

Which of the following could be the sum of the reciprocals of two different prime numbers?

(A) 7/13
(B) 10/21
(C) 11/30
(D) 23/50
(E) 19/77

I chose E. Let’s substitute a few reciprocals. 1/3 and 1/7? Sum to 10/21; well, that’s in the list, so I didn’t need to look far. Stop at B.

Verbal

Selling several hundred thousand copies in six months, the publication of “Maple Leaf Rag” in 1899 was an instant hit, helping to establish Scott Joplin as the preeminent ragtime composer.

(A) Selling several hundred thousand copies in six months, the publication of “Maple Leaf Rag” in 1899 was an instant hit, helping to establish Scott Joplin as the preeminent ragtime composer.
(B) The publication in 1899 of “Maple Leaf Rag” was an instant hit; in six months they sold several hundred thousand copies and it helped establish Scott Joplin as the preeminent ragtime composer.
(C) Helping to establish Scott Joplin as the preeminent ragtime composer was the publication of “Maple Leaf Rag” in 1899, which was an instant hit; it sold several hundred thousand copies in six months.
(D) “Maple Leaf Rag” was an instant hit; it helped establish Scott Joplin as the preeminent ragtime composer, published in 1899 and selling several hundred thousand copies in six months.
(E) Published in 1899, “Maple Leaf Rag” was an instant hit, selling several hundred thousand copies in six months; it helped establish Scott Joplin as the preeminent ragtime composer.

I chose C. Well A’s wrong, because it suggests the publication date was a hit, not the song. B’s wrong too, since ‘they’ is used without specifying who ‘they’ are. C is okay grammatically, just clumsily constructed. D is a complete dog, ‘published in 1999′ floating aimlessly in the middle of the sentence. E must be correct, and is.

Migraine, the most debilitating common form of headache, afflicts perhaps 18 million Americans, who collectively lose 64 million workdays a year, and they cost the nation $50 billion in medical expenses and lost work time.

(A) year, and they cost the nation $50 billion in medical expenses and lost
(B) year and thus cost the nation $50 billion in medical expenses and lost
(C) year, so as to cost the nation $50 billion in medical expenses and lost
(D) year that costs the nation $50 billion in lost medical expenses and
(E) year, which thus cost the nation $50 billion in lost medical expenses and

I chose E, unsure. A’s wrong because ‘they cost’ would refer to the workdays rather than the migraines or the Americans. C suggests the migraines are doing it deliberately. D and E sort of work, but the ‘lost’ should refer to work time, not medical expenses. B is correct.

Sales of United States manufactured goods to nonindustrialized countries rose to $167 billion in 1992, which is 14 percent more than the previous year and largely offsets weak demand from Europe and Japan.

(A) which is 14 percent more than the previous year
(B) which is 14 percent higher than it was the previous year
(C) 14 percent higher than the previous year’s figure
(D) an amount that is 14 percent more than the previous year was
(E) an amount that is 14 percent higher than the previous year’s figure

I chose C, because it’s grammatically correct. We can get rid of those ‘more’ ones first (A and D) since $167bn and 14% are countable numbers, where we should use ‘higher’. B is subtly wrong: we’re talking many years from 1992, and the ‘is 14 percent higher’ should be ‘was 14 percent higher’. C doesn’t work since it destroys the agreement with ‘offsets’ later on. E is left over, which is grammatically correct and gets the sense right, so it must be E.

Local residents claim that San Antonio, Texas, has more good Mexican American restaurants than any city does in the United States.

(A) any city does
(B) does any other city
(C) other cities do
(D) any city
(E) other cities

I chose D. Deceptively hard question. A and C add an extra ‘do’, so do not work. E would mean San Antonio’s stuffed so full of burrito joints that the total’s higher than all other US cities added together, so is wrong. D is written usage but not standard written; we all know what it means, but there should be an ‘other’ or equivalent in there to complete the comparative sentence. B is left over, and must be correct.

Unlike other arachnids, which have their nerve cells evenly distributed along their bodies, the scorpion’s nerve cells are clustered in its head, like a mammal’s

(A) bodies, the scorpion’s nerve cells are clustered in its head, like a mammal’s
(B) bodies, the scorpion’s head has a cluster of nerve cells, as a mammal does
(C) body, the scorpion has a cluster of nerve cells in its head, as a mammal does
(D) body, nerve cells are clustered in the scorpion’s head, like a mammal’s
(E) body, a cluster of nerve cells is in the scorpion’s head, like a mammal’s

A looks ok, which is why I chose it. B doesn’t complete the comparison, since it implies mammals could have body clusters, too; D and E have similar issues. So it’s A or C. C pins down where the nerve cells are, uses ‘clustered’ to balance ‘distributed’, and uses ‘body’ to denote the use of a singular (arachnid the species) although the usage is plural (arachnids the individual creepy crawlies). It’s C, but this is a hard one.

Over the last century, paleontologists have used small differences between fossil specimens to classify triceratops into sixteen species. This classification is unjustified, however, since the specimens used to distinguish eleven of the species come from animals that lived in the same area at the same time.

Which of the following, if true, would enable the conclusion of the argument to be properly drawn?

(A) Not every species that lived in a given area is preserved as a fossil.
(B) At least one individual of every true species of triceratops has been discovered as a fossil specimen.
(C) No geographical area ever supports more than three similar species at the same time.
(D) In many species, individuals display quite marked variation.
(E) Differences between fossil specimens of triceratops that came from the same area are no less distinctive than differences between specimens that came from different areas.

I chose E after much thought (a luxury, having several minutes at the end to ponder.) So: we’re looking for something that makes classifying fossils from the same area a valid technique. A, B, and D are irrelevant, since we’re talking specifically about different known species of a single type of creature. It’s C or E. But E doesn’t specify what kind of differences or whether they’re important. C, however, gives us a hard fact, and if eleven Triceratop ‘species’ came from one area, the established fact that no one area can support more than three would allow the right conclusion (those eleven can’t all be different species) to be drawn. It’s C.

Lessons learned today: I need to concentrate more on elimination for ‘hard’ verbal questions; most of these aren’t a simple right or wrong, just whatever the best choice is. Eliminate, eliminate.

How to ace the GMAT in 28 days: Day 15 (result: 700)

ALmost back on track: 700/800. Should have hit 710 today to be fully on track. But from here on in it’s going to get really hard. 107 practice questions, with raw scores of 51/55V and 42/52Q, correcting to 50 and 40 for a total corrected raw score of 90. Here are the essays…

ANALYSIS OF AN ISSUE

Directions: In this section, you will need to analyze the issue presented below and explain your views on it. The question has no “correct” answer. Instead, you should consider various perspectives as you develop your own position on the issue. Read the statement and the instructions that follow it, and then make any notes in your test booklet that will help you plan your response.

“Employees should keep their private lives and personal activities as separate as possible from the workplace.”

Discuss the extent to which you agree or disagree with the opinion stated above. Support your views with reasons and/or examples from your own experience, observations, or reading.

Every boss must have moments where he wishes his employees were faceless robots with no existence beyond the cubicle wall. They’d be easier to deal with. But the tasks of real business – messy, ill-defined, nuanced – need human skills. That’s why I disagree with the opinion above: the most effective companies are staffed by real people with real lives, and if you want an effective business, you need to take the messiness of real people into account.

To take one example, Internet search engine Google has staff laundries, an onsite medical clinic, play areas and free food for its staff. By making such ‘non-work’ facilities available at the office, it’s explicitly recognising that it can get the best out of its people by letting them bring their home lives into the office. As a result Google, along with many companies in Silicon Valley, is widely regarded as a buzzy and vibrant place to work: each of its employees contributes, on average, over $1m to the bottom line.

Conversely, look at any organisation that tries to deny the realities of human life. Banning personal relationships between employees, infantilising adults with speech codes and behaviour guides, trying to drive a wedge between the working day and the rest of life with endless red tape and rules. The best example comes easily to mind: any government office. And government offices, as anyone who deals regularly with one knows, tend to be staffed by unhelpful, one-dimensional, more-than-my-jobs-worth worker drones. By denying people lives, they attract employees who have no lives. Organisations that deny there’s a life beyond 6pm are unhappy, dysfunctional places.

By recognising that people have private lives, full of ideas and dreams, any manager will find that the hardest job of all – finding great people – becomes easier. Because with this understanding he can attract talent from a deep and varied pool. People who aren’t willing to check their private lives at the office door have ambition and drive and intellect, valuable qualities to any employer. And by letting them bring those lives into work – at least partially – they’ll start to treat the company as part of their lives, too. And people who share that sense of ownership are the best employees any manager can have.

FAULTS: Whew, harder than it looks: such an interesting and emotive topic brings the problem of too many ideas, so I was struggling to pare them down to the few points I could make in 30 minutes. And argh! That ‘and government offices’ in the third para; why is the ‘and’ there? And there’s And there again, starting the last two sentences of the last para! I think this is a great essay; but if I’d only had one more minute to tidy up that last bit. I’ll score myself a 5.

ANALYSIS OF AN ARGUMENT

Directions: In this section, you will be asked to write a critique of the argument presented below. You are NOT being asked to present your own views on the subject. Read the argument and the instructions that follow it, and then make any notes in your test booklet that will help you plan your response.

The following appeared as part of a recommendation by one of the directors of the Beta Company.

“The Alpha Company has just reduced its workforce by laying off fifteen percent of its employees in all divisions and at all levels, and it is encouraging early retirement for other employees. As you know, the Beta Company manufactures some products similar to Alpha’s, but our profits have fallen over the last few years. To improve Beta’s competitive position, we should try to hire a significant number of Alpha’s former workers, since these experienced workers can provide valuable information about Alpha’s successful methods, will require little training, and will be particularly motivated to compete against Alpha.”

Discuss how well reasoned you find this argument. In your discussion be sure to analyze the line of reasoning and the use of evidence in the argument. For example, you may need to consider what questionable assumptions underlie the thinking and what alternative explanations or counterexamples might weaken the conclusion. You can also discuss what sort of evidence would strengthen or refute the argument, what changes in the argument would make it more logically sound, and what, if anything, would help you better evaluate its conclusion.

The director’s plan will bring some motivated and knowledgeable staff into the Beta company. So the argument may put forward a reasonable strategy for Beta – but further research would be useful before putting it into action.

First, what market are the two companies in? ‘In all divisions and at all levels’ suggest Alpha’s problem is not localised, and that its entire market may be shrinking. If Beta Company is in the same sector, then adding headcount may not be a good idea: rather than improve Beta’s competitive position it may make it worse, since the Beta directors would be increasing their costs at the same time as the Alpha directors are cutting theirs! To support his argument, the director needs to demonstrate reasonable growth potential in the market space where his company competes with Alpha.

Second, how much commonality is there between the two companies’ product lines? ‘Some products’ does not mean ‘all products’. The director needs to state which products in Beta Company’s portfolio would become more profitable with the input of ex-Alpha employees, and whether the market potential justifies the new hiring costs. If the products in this category are not a major part of Beta’s revenues – or worse, are lossmakers – the director’s argument is weakened.

Third, is there some deeper problem in Company Alpha causing these layoffs – perhaps a general attitude problem on the part of its workers? When starting at a new company, employees often bring their emotional baggage with them; the director cannot assume ex-Alpha workers with a grudge will become star performers at Beta. And as for their ‘successful methods’ – Alpha’s plan to cut 15% out of its workforce hardly suggests its ‘success’ is unquestioned.

Finally, since Beta Company’s profits have been declining too, indulging in a hiring frenzy is hardly likely to help these profits recover in time for the next earnings report. The director assumes that people will bring profits – which can’t be assumed. Even the most motivated employees won’t add to Beta’s bottom line unless the products they create are profitable.

To sum up, the director’s argument contains too much hope and not enough evidence. He needs to demonstrate a clear business case for hiring ex-Alpha workers, based on the market potential, the product portfolio, and Beta’s own financial position. Beta Company may well be looking at a great opportunity – but the best-run businesses look at the numbers first.

FAULTS: Seemed an easier essay to write, but I keep repeating myself; I’m not sure this is more than a 5/6. At least I got the structure quickly, which left me six minutes at the end to proof read and cut a bit.