A few months ago, I wrote a couple of articles targeted toward those students looking for a super-high score (one for quant, one for verbal). I challenged students to answer those questions in much less time than we typically average on test questions.

Well, I’m back with another one in the series. This problem is a bit different though: it’s from our Challenge Problem archive, a question bank consisting of what we call 800+ level problems. (Some might qualify as 750+ but most are harder than anything you’ll ever see on the real test.)

Do you need to be able to answer a question like this in order to score 750+? Absolutely not. (In fact, after my colleague Ron Purewal submitted this question, I tested it out on several of my fellow instructors, all of whom have scored 760+ on the test. Not everyone answered correctly.) Mostly, I’m offering this to stretch your brains, drive you a little crazy, and make one important point (see my second takeaway at the end).

If, however, quant is your strength and you’re hoping to score 51 in that section—you can certainly score 51 without getting this one right, but if you do get this one right in 2 minutes, then you know you’re ready for the quant section.

One more tidbit before we dive in. I chose this question because it is SO very hard. As of right now (as I’m typing this), 254 people have tried this problem and 44 have answered it correctly.

Do a little math here. What percentage of people answered the question correctly?

17%. Random guess position is 20%. Wow.

We invite you to test your GMAT knowledge for a chance to win! Each week, we will post a new Challenge Problem for you to attempt. If you submit the correct answer, you will be entered into that week’s drawing for a free Manhattan GMAT Prep item. Tell your friends to get out their scrap paper and start solving!
Here is this week’s problem:

The octagon in the diagram above is regular: all of its sides are of equal length, and all of its angles are of equal measure. If the octagon’s perimeter is 8 inches, and every other vertex of the octagon is connected to create a square as shown above, what is the area of the square?

One of the hardest parts about becoming an instructor with Manhattan GMAT was relearning how to solve GMAT questions. That sounds absurd, considering I had already scored a 780 on the GMAT when I applied to become an instructor, but it’s true. During the interview process, I went through online and in-person classroom simulations with 99th percentile instructors playing students, testing my ability to explain a question using algebra instead of plugging numbers or using a rate chart instead of adding rates. Over the years, I’ve found that many of our instructors felt the same way: overwhelmed by how hard it is to go along with someone else’s preferred method without skipping a beat. Ultimately, I realized that teaching the GMAT is a hundred times harder than taking the GMAT because every question has several valid ways of being solved.

Which leads to the problem of what solution is the BEST solution. Any student who has worked with me over the years has heard me say the following- “I don’t care what method you use to solve a problem. But I do care that you get great at that method.” It’s the reason why the Official Guide has an explanation for each quant problem and Manhattan has an OG Companion with different explanations, along with online video explanations that will sometimes differ from either of those methods. With so many different ways of solving a question, it’s important to not get bogged down finding the best way to solve a problem, but instead focus on finding the fastest way from start to submit.

So with that said, over the next few months, I’d like to share a few methods that I personally use when solving a few different types of GMAT questions. Some of these methods might click for you, and I hope you practice them. Some of them won’t and I hope you stick with a method that works better for you. So without further ado- let’s take a look at a fairly straightforward GMATPrep® problem and think about how you would attack this question:

A sum of \$200,000 from a certain estate was divided among a spouse and three children. How much of the estate did the youngest child receive?

(1)  The spouse received 1/2 of the sum from the estate, and the oldest child received 1/4 of the remainder.

(2)  Each of the two younger children received \$12,500 more than the oldest child and \$62,500 less than the spouse.

The first two things that I notice about this problem is that it is a word problem, giving us a real-world scenario, and a value Data Sufficiency question, asking us to find a single value for the amount that the youngest child received. And if I wanted to set this up algebraically, I could assign variables (s = spouse, x, y, z = oldest, middle, youngest child), write out several equations (s + x + y + z = 200,000. (1) s = 1/2*200,000; x = 1/4 * (1/2*200,000); y + z = 75,000. (2) y = z; z = x + 12,500; z = s − 62,500), and eventually solve for z using Statement 2: the correct answer is (B). Different students at different levels of comfort with Data Sufficiency will be able to stop at different points after realizing that there either will or will not be a single variable in the equation that they’ve set up.

Here are the free GMAT events we’re holding this week. All times are local unless otherwise specified.

5/20/13- Glendale, CA  - Free Trial Class - 6:30PM- 9:30PM

5/21/13- Online - Free Trial Class - 8:00PM- 11:00PM (EDT)

5/21/13- Online - Assessing Your MBA Profile presented by mbaMission- 9:00PM-10:30PM (EDT)

5/21/13- San Francisco, CA - Free Trial Class-  6:30PM-9:30PM

5/22/13- Santa Monica- Free Trial Class-  6:30PM- 9:30PM

5/22/13- New York, NY -MBA Missions Myths Destroyed presented by mbaMission- 7:30PM- 9:00PM

5/22/13- London- Free Trial Class - 6:30PM- 9:30PM

Looking for more free events? Check out our Free Events Listings Page.

We’ve invited mbaMission to share their Business School Essays Analyses as they’re released for the 2013-2014 application season. Here is their first analysis, for Columbia Business School.

Introductory Note: Typically, Harvard Business School launches the MBA application season and then other business schools quickly follow suit. Earlier this week, HBS admissions director, Dee Leopold, announced that HBS would be releasing its essays during the final week of May. Meanwhile, Columbia Business School’s Admissions Director, Amanda Carlson, sent a message that she waits for no one. CBS officially released its essay questions today – you will find the questions and our analysis below.

This year, Columbia Business School (CBS) continues a trend that has developed over the past three seasons, once again reducing the number of words applicants can use to tell their story. Last year, CBS allowed applicants 200 characters with which to respond to its short-answer question and 1,250 words total for its three essays—not much room to showcase one’s strongest attributes and set oneself apart from the pack. Now, CBS candidates have a mere 100 characters for the short-answer question and 1,000 words for the three essays.

Unfortunately, this reduced word count does not make your task as an applicant any easier—especially when you have only one essay (Essay 3) in which to discuss something outside the professional/academic realm and reveal your more personal side. Hopefully, our essay analysis can help you strategize…

Short Answer Question: What is your immediate post-MBA professional goal? (100 characters maximum)

Do not pretend to be anything you are not. Reveal honest, ambitious goals that are also realistic.

Essay 1: Given your individual background, why are you pursuing a Columbia MBA at this time? (Maximum 500 words)

Catch up on some business school news and tips with a few of this week’s top stories:

Great Problem to Have: I’m In…Now What? (Poets & Quants)

After getting into business school, you enter a unique phase of your life. Here’s how one accepted MBA student spent the 7 months prior to the start of b-school.

Brian Kane, who holds a BBA and an MBA in marketing, shares some valuable “real world” skills that he didn’t learn in business school.

The results from a recent survey deliver an overwhelming message that the MBA itself is a considerable source of happiness.

Joseph Stiglitz on What Business Schools Teach That’s Wrong (The Motley Fool)

Nobel Prize-winning economist answers the question, “What is something that is taught in the modern business school that gives a flawed sense of how risk and financial markets work?”

Did we miss your favorite article from the week? Let us know what you have been reading in the comments below or tweet @ManhattanGMAT

I’ve talked to a ton of students recently who were surprised by some detail of test day—and that detail affected their performance. In most of these cases, the “surprising” detail was actually exactly what should have happened, according to the official rules. So let’s talk about what’s going to happen when you finally get in there to take the test.

## When you arrive

There will be some kind of outer waiting area, followed by an inner office containing the biometric equipment and finally the “inner sanctum”: the testing room.

When you first arrive, you’ll be asked to read (and digitally sign) a bunch of legalese. Basically, you’ll promise not to share anything that you see with anyone else and you affirm that you’re only taking the test for the purposes of applying to business school. You have to sign this document or you won’t be allowed to take the test.

You’ll also be asked for your ID. Check the guidelines to determine what kind of ID you must bring. Further, when you’re registering for the test, make sure that the name and birthdate you enter into the registration system match exactly what’s written on the piece of ID you’ll use to enter the test center.

But wait! You’re not done with security yet. They’ll take a digital photo of you. You’ll also have the veins in your palm digitally scanned—turns out our palm veins are even more unique than fingerprints. Who knew?

## Starting the test

Imagine two friends, Gina and Tina, who are going to a speed-dating event. Gina really, really wants a boyfriend. Tina is just going because Gina dragged her there, and she’s only willing to date someone who is perfect for her.

At the event, Gina finds herself liking every guy that she meets: “Guy #1 is smart and successful, so it makes sense that he’s proud of his accomplishments. Guy #2 is really funny and clever. The waiter just didn’t understand his jokes.” Tina, on the other hand, has a very different impression of these guys: “Guy 1 has been bragging about himself the whole time, and seems arrogant. Guy 2 thinks he’s funny, but he’s actually being cruel and making fun of people.”

At the end of the event, Gina can’t decide which of the guys she likes best, because she’s found reasons to like all of them… and she’s overlooked any reasons not to like them. Tina, however, was looking for reasons not to date these guys, so she noticed the dealbreaker flaws. She manages to whittle the list down to one guy whose personality matched hers.

Of course, dating is subjective, and what might be a dealbreaker for one person might be fine for someone else. On the GMAT, though, there are definitive right and wrong answers, and we have to learn how to spot the wrong ones.

## Look for Dealbreakers

When it comes to Reading Comprehension on the GMAT, you want to act like Tina, not Gina! You will often be presented with questions whose answer choices all seem to have appealing qualities. If you’re looking for what makes an answer right, you may overlook certain critical flaws, and talk yourself into a wrong answer. If you’re looking for what makes an answer wrong, though, you’re a lot more likely to notice those deal-breaking flaws!