A few Premaster candidates feel their English is already quite good. Thus, they ask, Why study for the Verbal section?
A better question would be, What return can I expect on my study? Is it wise to invest so much time chasing better math scores, when "easy" points are available in English? Don't forget that your overall score is built from both sections... so it would be good to know where the easy points are.
Many times we feel reluctant to disparage other people's work. Usually, they are doing the best they can. However, often they could be doing much better than that. And ultimately, the world needs us all to do great work. We shouldn't kill the cheaters, but we might want to let them go out of business.
The problem is that we tend to blame the supplier of the service. Sure, they might be holding back, like the light bulb cartel did, in the early years of the last century. On the other hand, many companies are doing their best.... only their best is not quite good enough, and sometimes not quite good full stop.
That situation sadly prevails at the great majority of companies which do GMAT prep. And if there were one single reason for this, it would have to be that you, dear client, are that fabled goose that lays golden eggs: the One-Time Buyer.
It isn't uncommon to perform more poorly than expected on the official GMAT. It must actually be a very normal thing, since the online forums are full of posts from people who have experienced even 100-point drops, from simulation to official exam.
There are a number of known factors related to this issue, and without going into it too far, you should of course avoid too little sleep the night before, and too much caffeine on the day of. But beyond the obvious, there are two deeper causes for test-day panic.
Way back in 2005, Kaplan was using a 12TEN mnemonic for Data Sufficiency, to help teachers help students memorise the meaning behind the Data Sufficiency answer choices.
12TEN is still a handy way to memorise those answer choices, which do not change from question to question. Quick recap:
Did you know that the English section counts more towards that total score than does the Math section alone? Would it surprise you to hear that most Dutch students don't study for the English section, or study only 10-12 hours? This is a serious problem for those students, and especially so if they do not know it in advance. There is nothing easy about the English section. It is nothing like similar experiences that you may have had or heard about, such as TOEFL or television or university text. How much more difficult? And what can be done about it? That's what I'll examine in this post.
1. Your Overall Score. First off, know that your out-of-800 score is a weighted average of your quant and verbal scores. The exact weights are not publicly known, but it is certain that a good verbal score is more important that a good quant score. Just to illustrate this, look at the percentile rankings for the verbal section. A score of 45 on the verbal section (out of 51) is enough to put you in the 99th percentile - in other words, you made many mistakes, and yet still in the top 1 percent of the 250 thousand people who take this test each year. Contrast this with rankings on the quant section: a score of 51 - the very highest score possible - puts you in the top 4 percent of test-takers. That gives an indication of how much "easier" is the quant section, and how unwise to discount the verbal.
2. Sentence Correction. The GMAT Verbal section has three questions formats. Of these, Reading Comprehension (RC) is the most familiar. The other two sections are Critical Reasoning (CR) and Sentence Correction (SC). The first point to make is that you may never have seen anything like these two other sections before. Sentence Correction tests your grammar and your pattern recognition speed. You will need to know the rules, and to know the difference between things that sound strange but are legal, against ones that sound good but not are not. The first thing that Dutch students observe, when once they do look closely at this question type, is that they experience much more uncertainty about the rules of Academic English Grammar than they ever imagined. Phrases and formulations that are considered totally okay and understandable in Movie English, Spoken English, and even in much Written English, are just not okay in Sentence Correction English. We teach a four-week, 24-hour course about this question type alone. SC is the most important section, because you cannot advance your overall, out-of-800 score without cracking it. So, do not underestimate Sentence Correction, and know that it certainly can - and should!- be learned
3. Critical Reasoning. The other great-mystery section of the GMAT could better be called The Logic-of-Business-Life Section. It is a test of logical relationships and logical fallacies, but in the context of a business environment. The situations that you will be asked to analyse are drawn from real-world examples that business executives could be called to evaluate. It is perhaps the most educational section of the test and my personal favourite. And I cannot stress enough that one can improve the results here, if only one studies the technique. Untrained intelligence is just only going to get you so far. It may be far enough. But you could go so much farther with technique. Contrast this with Reading Comprehension, where improvements are possible but much more difficult to have.
4. Reading Comprehension. The most familiar format, at least at first glance. This dirty secret of this section is that, in spite of all the books, there is not that much that can be done about it. My recommendation is, Leave it alone for now. Of course, you can run through a few questions, pick up a few new words, but don't invest in a meaningful score improvement here until you've crossed 650. I remember on my last test, I saw a section that I was sworn not to tell about, but I think no harm in saying I was really shocked to see such an obscure academic topic, words I'd never read before, and sentences that did not seem to connect. It was a top-level text - to match my score, okay - but the point is, they managed to shock me. They probably manage that on a regular basis. My short advice is, just accept it. Spend your time improving the sections that can be easily improved, and thereby buy the time to read slowly what will surely be the most difficult reading material you have ever encountered.
Yesterday I was asked to build an online GMAT course for a Vienna-based start-up. I gave the matter some thought, because it's still very tempting to build a live online course. One-on-one tutoring is also not that simple to deliver online, but it is possible and I think even easy to do, compared with a multi-player situation. I thought I'd share a few thoughts on this, as a way to help set expectations for those who are considering live vs online.
1) The Teacher Granted that the Dojo is run by teachers, so you can fairly look-out for some bias in what we think about this topic... and feel free to point it out in the comments below, because one thing a GMAT teacher is trained to hate is a flaw in his argument. That said, I really believe in quality teaching, and it is a fact that there are online and offline schools that do not enforce acceptable standards for teaching. We can debate the standards, but I think at a minimum the teacher needs to have paid his dues by taking the test. In some markets, this standard is not enforced. Companies hire Math students to teach GMAT Quant and English teachers to teach GMAT Verbal. This isn't done with any evil intent; I think they just don't know why it matters. Math is math, and English is English, so what's the issue? Well, the short answer is, Don't take course to find out. When the teacher tells you, in effect, "Trust me, I always wanted to be a doctor..." then you know you're in the wrong place.
2) The Material Here there is also a jungle to navigate. As a former editor for 800 Score, I can give you first-person feedback on the issue facing even the best 3rd party content providers: Quality Control. 3rd party content is not tested enough. It is checked by the writers, sometimes by editor-teachers, but never by any significant population of students. So there are rarely any outright mistakes, but there are legions of ambiguities and idiosyncratic phrases, and far fewer subtle tricks. Most companies don't have the resources to invest in creating good materials, and - critically - no company has the yearly volume of student feedback on which to test-out their materials. The GMAC sees 250 thousand test-takers each year, with perfect feedback about each and every wrong answer, even every mouse-hover. Furthermore they have the Phd power to analyse this mega data bank. Unfortunately for the students, this issue is not easy to resolve. The best solution in my view, is for a course to build itself on the official materials from GMAC. These materials are not all that expensive. The key is to use them well, not to burn them. We have a post about what to do and not to do, which goes further into this.
3) The Technology Skype, Zoom, and Webex are the platforms used to teach online. For me - they are also the reason I don't yet have an online course. You may never have seen someone scribbling on a PowerPoint slide before.... but it's a slow and messy process. A good online course should use a digital blackboard with a custom pen. But you still need to see how they handle communication in a virtual room. Bandwidth is an issue for a home-based teacher. Asking questions can also be a factor, though one which can be mitigated by using an assistant teacher to manage the chat room. Still, and sadly, teaching online just is not yet a solved problem. At this time of writing, a video lecture is a better alternative to an in-person course. My recommendation is the free Khan Academy. They do a breakdown for each problem in the Official Guide. It is Math-only, and the solutions are straight math, opposed to battlefield ready math. Still, it's a great asset to use in the middle stages of GMAT test prep.
What's Next? I'm still very interested in the concept of an online course. Anything you have seen done well or done not so well would be more than welcomed if you shared it in the comments. And I'd be happy to give you my feedback on it, in case you're having a problem with what's discussed, or how.
Bas found us after registering for a GMAT boot-camp run by... somebody else. Afterwards, he compared scores with three of his classmates.
For your own protection in the matter, when once you've begun to study GMAT, here are a few of my favourite things to look out for.
1. Don't start late: a 10% score improvement can takes 5 hours of coaching and perhaps 2 weeks to sink in. This is a test of skill, and training cannot be crammed. Many students start to study in the last 2-3 weeks, and they needlessly cap their scores far below potential. Give yourself a margin for error, and plan 2-3 months ahead.
2. Don't Burn Questions: Real GMAT questions are profoundly interesting, ad ntake months to write, edit, test, and polish. There is Phd staff of Mathematicians, Logicians, and Statisticians, dedicated to creating a pool of airtight questions, without errors or ambiguities or idiosyncratic phrases. They run these questions against hundreds of thousands of test-takers, to iron out the wrinkles in a way 3rd party materials just cannot afford. That makes such questions still very rare. 3rd party materials, though many have value, still cannot significantly replace the GMAC-made materials. That is why it is not wise to use those official questions naively, for example to practice basic ideas of grammar and math. Resist the temptation to engage with the professional materials until you understand exactly what is to be done with them. There are several considerations, but the main one is Beware, these questions are not like candy. Talk it over with an expert, and accept guidance, so that you do not end up having used all the good stuff, still need to practice, but nowhere else to go.
3. Hire Many Experts: So many students start out by taking a GMAT course, or by signing up for a package of private lessons. These are big decisions, involving a commitment of much money and even more precious time. In Amsterdam, there are, by luck, several inexpensive GMAT courses, but that doesn't mean you won't waste time and money on the wrong program. Read our ideas about how to select a good online course, ideas that apply to in-person courses also. Even more importantly, try to set yourself up with multiple inputs. Don't tie yourself down to just one channel. It will take several weeks before you realise the real value of what you bought. In the best case, you find a real guru of GMAT. Or maybe he is a guru, but not your guru. Why have only one guru? Is your guru such a baby that he can't handle it when you learn from someone else? We are sure that we offer by far the best in-person course of GMAT in the Netherlands: nobody else beats us on hours, money, or value-for-money. But there are also several great resources online, and some are even free. Khan Academy, for example, goes over each math question in the Official Guide, and that would be a very valuable companion in the middle stages of study.
If you want to study for a Business degree in the Netherlands, take the GMAT. It's accepted by all the business schools, and in most cases it's also required.
Those of you going overseas have a choice, because all the best programs accept both GMAT and GRE. The question then becomes, Which test plays to your strengths?
What's the GMAT about?
The GMAT is the more interesting and educational test. It's hardcore logic-based, and you'll learn so much from it that you can really use in a business/political environment or where decisions get made.
The main difference in the GRE
The GRE got a major face-lift in 2011, and now looks more like the GMAT, in many ways. The math section has caught up to GMAT. And the Reading Comprehension has as well. But the major bummer about the GRE is still its ornery focus on vocabulary lists. No doubt those juicy words do liven up a memo, but so does good solid grammar —which the GRE doesn't test. For us, the nail in the coffin is that many of those GRE words are just not relevant in a business context. And yet the new Sentence Completion questions straight up require you know the definitions.
I love this quote from perhaps the most famous American writer of the 19th century. You can almost learn everything about GMAT grammar, just from reading his quotes.