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 (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:
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

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

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 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 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
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

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

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


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

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,

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!

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 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.