When to Use the Bathroom, and When to Get out of Dodge!

Ed. Note: Taking the GMAT is an essential part of a good GMAT instructor’s job because it gives us a whole new perspective when advising students. Bell Curves requires all teachers to regularly take the actual GMAT in order to hone their skills in the actual setting of the test, discover new trends, and report back experiences that can benefit students. On an unseasonably warm Monday the third week of November, three members of Bell Curves GMAT development team took the GMAT in order to experience the new Integrated Reasoning (IR) questions first hand in the real setting. This is Jason C.’s experience on that particular day. To see reports of that same day from Akil or Ajani click either of their respective names. Keep an eye on this blog for an upcoming post about those aforementioned IR questions, as well as novel insights on cigarettes and the GMAT, and why NOT to sweat the AWA.  We love to hear from you about any questions you have about this experience or the GMAT in general .


Recently, GMAC gave us a chance to beta test the new Integrated Reasoning section that it will be rolling out in 2012. Being the standardized test geeks all of us at Bell Curves are, we could not resist and found ourselves at a testing center two days before Thanksgiving. We wanted to preview the new section as well as test the continued effectiveness of our strategies. Unfortunately for me, we had scheduled a time at which I’m normally not functioning very effectively, cognitively speaking, and there were no stores carrying Red Bulls anywhere near the testing center (Ed. Note: The test time was 12:30…PM. We’ll go out on a very thick limb and say Jason’s a bit of a night owl, and would have preferred a 4PM slot). I ended up drinking lots of cold water to wake me up.

During my GMAT, I highly regretted my mind-waking methods and learned an important lesson applicable to every testing situation: make sure to use the bathroom before beginning the test! What can I say? It’d been about a year since I last took a real GMAT, and had forgotten that the machinations of one’s excretory system trumps just about all else when taking a standardized test. On a more serious note, little distractions like your bladder’s constant nagging or the clickity-clack of other testers’ keyboards can affect your concentration and your performance. During my test experience, all of these little noises and distractions became a screaming buzz under the high-stress conditions. I realized my practice tests to get back in my GMAT groove, taken in the cozy comfort of my own room with music playing and long breaks between sections, were hardly realistic. The distractions I did not anticipate made it difficult for me to concentrate, and eventually contributed to my inability to stick to my pacing plan.

To make matters worse, I was also faced with some rather trying, and potentially time-consuming, parts of the Verbal. During my verbal section, I had three passages, two that were quite pleasant but one, a Business-related passage, that seemed to be written in a foreign language. After my initial pass-through the text was still reading like the graffiti plastered all over the place in the bathroom of a dingy Lower East Side bar. I’ve seen hundreds of RC passages, and rocked my RC the last time I took the GMAT, but on this particular passage I had no idea what was going on. Some of the things that made the passage tough were the really long convoluted sentences with many lists and modifiers and business-specific terminology. What really helped me was creating a map and understanding bits and pieces of the passage. I didn’t really need to know the nitty-gritty details of the policies the passage was describing. I just needed to know enough to answer the questions. What you are trying to accomplish with a map is understanding the gist of the passage and create a legend to point to where you can find specific information a question asks for. It allows you to focus your understanding on key points and give yourself time to break those sentences into manageable pieces of information. Overall, this helped me better pace myself through the Verbal than I did in the Quant, and using a map helped me maximize my RC points, such that I was able to score a 44 (97%) on the Verbal.

Similar potential pitfalls presented in the Quant section as well, where I found myself having a hard time letting go of particular questions. Every time a question came up I could not answer, I obsessed over it and spent way more time than I should have. For example, I received a question in my quant section that was similar to the following:

220 759(2n  1) = 10n

What is the value of n ?

(A) 6

(B) 7

(C) 8

(D) 10

(E) 20

At first glance, I absolutely refused to try to figure out what 220 was, and coming from a math background I tried all sort of manipulations to solve for n. It became a lost cause on my third retry of this problem and 7 minutes had passed. I eventually took another approach and estimated and came to the correct answer.

220 can be broken up into 25(25)(25)(25).

25 = 32 thus 25(25) = 32(32) = 1024

So 25(25)(25)(25) = 1,024(1,024), or roughly (1,000)(1,000) = 1,000,000

Thus n should be 6, since 106 = 1,000,000

It is important to learn your own tendencies and limitations. If a question has completely stumped you for 5 minutes, it is neither prudent nor constructive to spend another 5 on it – get out of Dodge! Put another way, estimating and making a guess instead of going at it again for another 5 minutes is a good strategy.

On another note, the content that showed up on my test and my colleagues tests were in the proportions that we anticipated. During my entire quant section, I was asked only one statistics question, a Combinations-Permutations one. Across all three of our tests, we received 4-5 statistics questions. It seems that some people are spreading the misinformation that if you don’t receive a lot of questions testing these perceived hard topics on your test, you will not get a good score. Yet, I received a 49 for my quant score and my colleagues scored similarly. What this means in terms of your studying is don’t fixate on the rare stuff that freaks everyone out. There are much bigger fish to fry, namely Geometry, Algebra, and Arithmetic.

Here a few takeaways from my experience that may help you as you prepare for and take the GMAT:

1. Take practice tests under realistic conditions.

When practicing, make sure to mimic a testing situation as much as you can. In other words: turn off the TV; don’t answer your phone; don’t take 1 hour, or even full day, breaks between sections. Also know that if noise is a distracter for you, do something about it. Wear earplugs during your practice tests and ask for some when you go in for the actual test.

2. Know when to Get out of Dodge!

No single question will make or break your score. If you don’t get this one, you can get the next few to make it up. Don’t let a few questions ruin your pacing and end up having 2 minutes left for 10 remaining questions. In situations where you are not getting something you should guess, but guess intelligently. There are a variety of ways to estimate or eliminate a few wrong answers to make guessing pay off.

3. Don’t obsess over rare topics.

Statistics is rare for a reason, that being the definition of being rare. A little circular logic there, but the point is that rare topics are neither intrinsically hard nor tied to a good score based on their frequency. Easy, medium, and hard questions exist for all topics types, and there are many other topics besides statistics that make up a majority of the test. Focus more of your studying on understanding and fixing your approaches with these first.

4. Learn how to manage tough reading passages.

Reading comprehension can get pretty difficult when the passage becomes indecipherable. However, there are tools we can use to get past these road blocks. Instead of mulling over the passage a sentence at a time and trying to refer to a rosetta stone every step of the way, view the passage as a whole. Find the main points, which can usually be found at the beginning of each paragraph, and extract the necessary information to understand what the passage is discussing. This will create a map with which you can use to attack the questions.

That was my GMAT. I hope these insights help you with your studying. Good luck, and remember to use the bathroom before it all starts!


Jason C.

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