Archives For Stacey Koprince

gmat-study-tipsHave you ever worked with someone who inevitably managed to come up with things to do that were a complete waste of time? Maybe it was an insecure boss who was never confident about what he was doing, so he went for the “everything and the kitchen sink” approach to generating deliverables in the last few days before the deadline. Or maybe it was a fellow student on a group project, someone so diligent (cough, cough) that she wanted to turn in a 20-page report when the teacher suggested 10 pages (and actually specified a 12-page limit).

You know who I’m talking about, right? We’ve all run across these situations in our academic or working lives. You want to be polite…but you also want to get your work done and not waste time on activities that don’t really help you reach the overall goal.

The GMAT is trying to waste your time

Okay, the test writers are not literally sitting there cackling and saying, “How can we get them to waste their lives?!?” But the overall sentiment still holds because of the way that the GMAT is constructed. You already know the classic “If you get something right, they give you something harder” pattern, right?

Well, at some point, that “something harder” is going to be something that isn’t worth your time. You’re probably not going to get it right no matter what you do. Even if you do, you’re going to use up valuable time that you could be using on other problems.

Most important of all, you’re going to be using up your finite brain energy on something that probably isn’t going to pay off. How many times in your life have you crashed towards the end of a test or a long day at work because your brain just couldn’t keep going any longer? The GMAT is a “where you end is what you get” test: if you crash before the end of the section, your score will suffer greatly.

This is basically no different than that co-worker who’s trying to get you to build a marketing presentation when the client has specifically requested that you analyze the pros and cons of acquiring a competitor. Tomorrow at the client meeting, it won’t matter how good your intentions were. Your client is going to be mad that you wasted time on something that doesn’t actually help them.

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gmat-official-guideGMAC just released new 2015 editions of its three The Official Guide for GMAT® Review books. Here’s what you need to know as you decide whether to buy these books and how to use them.

What changed?

The three books in question are The Official Guide for GMAT Review 2015 (formerly known as the 13th edition of the Official Guide, or OG), The Official Guide for GMAT Quantitative Review 2015 (formerly known as the 2nd edition of the Quant Review), and The Official Guide for GMAT Verbal Review 2015 (formerly known as the 2nd edition of the Verbal Review). I’ll refer to these throughout this article as OG2015, QR2015, and VR2015, respectively.

The questions (and explanations) contained in all three 2015 versions are the same as the questions (and explanations) in the previous versions. There are no new questions.

The new editions do come with special codes to access an online software program that contains the problems from the books. Now, when you want to do a set of random OG problems, you don’t have to create the sets for yourself—you can have the online software do it for you. (OG2015 also still provides online access to the 50 Integrated Reasoning questions that come with the 13th edition of the book.)

The online software also has some short videos (one for each book) starring the incomparable Dr. Lawrence Rudner, Chief Psychometrician for GMAC, answering frequently asked questions from students.

How does the software work?

The software for all three books gives you the ability to choose Practice mode or Exam mode. In addition, OG2015 offers a Diagnostic test mode that contains the questions from chapter 3 of the printed book.

Certain features are offered in all three modes:

- Question Type, Number, and Difficulty. You can choose from among the different question types (PS, DS, SC, CR, RC), as well as by difficulty bucket (easy, medium, hard, or all). You can also decide how many questions you want to be in the set.

- Timing. The software will keep track of how much time you spend per question, as well as your overall time for that set of questions. (It does not, though, give you a time limit, so you will have to set one for yourself.)

- Bookmarks. You can bookmark problems that you want to remember for some reason—maybe your guesses or the ones that you want to try again before checking the answer or explanation.

- Calculator. Yes, the software offers a calculator, even though you’re not allowed to use a calculator on the quant section of the real test. My recommendation: pretend this button doesn’t exist.

- Pause. You can pause the question set. This is useful if someone suddenly rings your doorbell, but do not pause the software while continuing to work on the problem. Otherwise, your data will be skewed and you won’t really be able to tell what your strengths and weaknesses are.

In the Diagnostic and Exam modes, you can only move forward in the question set (as on the real exam), but in Practice mode, you can move back and forth. If you come back to a problem for the second time, the software will actually remember how much time you spent before and will start counting your time where you left off! I was really impressed with this feature.

I do have to warn you about three other somewhat-faulty features (maybe these will be changed in future). First, when you click to go to the next question, the software does not ask you to confirm. That’s fine in Practice mode, where you’re allowed to go backwards, but in Diagnostic and Exam modes, if you accidentally click “next question,” you will be moved to the next problem even if you have not yet entered an answer—and there is no way to go back.

Second, in any of the three modes, you’ll be able to go to a results screen when done with a question set. For both Exam and Practice modes, these question sets will be saved and you’ll be able to review them at any time in the future. In Diagnostic mode, however, you can only see the results screen right after you have finished the problem set. Once you close out of that area (or out of the software entirely), that data will disappear, so make sure you take screen shots of the results screen before you leave that area of the program. (In fact, I recommend taking the screen shots immediately after finishing a Diagnostic set. I accidentally clicked something that took me out of that part of the program and lost all of my data before I could review it.)

Third, in both Practice and Exam modes, the RC questions are offered one at a time, not in sets of 3 or 4 (as on the real test). For this reason, I recommend doing RC questions out of the physical book. Reading an entire passage only to answer a single question is not a good use of study time.

I was also excited to see that the Practice mode offered a “notes” feature, where you can actually type notes to yourself while working on the problem. I was disappointed that those notes seemed to disappear afterwards. When I was reviewing the results screen and the problem explanations, I couldn’t find any way to access my notes again.

How do I get the most out of these new books?

If you already have the previous incarnations of these books (OG13, VR2, and QR2), then I don’t actually recommend buying the new editions unless money is not a concern for you. The most important thing is to have access to the questions themselves. While the new software does make it much easier to set up problem sets, many people probably aren’t going to pay $46 just for that.

If you don’t yet have these books, though, then of course you’ll want to get the 2015 editions. In that case, here’s how I would use the new features:

1. In the first week or two of your study, take the Diagnostic mode tests. I would do these in 5 separate sittings, one for each question type. You don’t need to set yourself a hard overall time limit, but do pay attention to that clock and be honest with yourself when a problem just isn’t happening. Guess and move on. (Note: if you’re taking our class, then you can dispense with this step and save the problems for review later in your studies.)

2. As you work through whatever material you’re using to learn all about the math, grammar, and question types tested on the GMAT, you will initially try just a couple of OG problems that directly test whatever you recently studied. In this case, you won’t be using the OG software because the software doesn’t let you select by topic.

After you get at least halfway through your study material though (e.g., about 3 of our 5 quant books, or halfway through the chapters in the SC book), you can start to set up random sets of questions for yourself using the software’s Practice mode. When you’re offered a question on a topic you haven’t studied yet, just do your best; this will help you to have an idea of your strengths and weaknesses so that you know how much time to spend when you do get to that topic.

Whether you want to do random sets of problems or choose specific topics, here are some guidelines for creating your own OG problem sets.

3. Save Exam mode for a bit later in your studies, after you’ve been through all of your main study material once. Both Practice and Exam modes are pulling from the same pool of questions, but Exam mode imposes some additional restrictions that make your practice closer to the real test (for example, you can’t go back to questions that you’ve already completed).

In sum

Everyone should be studying with the Official Guide materials—nothing is better than the real thing! If you already have the 13th edition or 2nd edition books, don’t feel that you must buy the 2015 editions, but if you don’t, then certainly get the latest versions and take advantage of the new online problem set program.

Happy studying!

cancel-gmat-scoreHave you heard? GMAC® just announced that, as of 27 June, we’ll be allowed to decide whether to keep or cancel our scores after we find out how we did. Exciting news!

What just changed?
I’ll summarize the details, but you can also read the full press release yourself here: Score Preview Added to GMAT.

Here’s what will happen when you get in there. You’ll take the test and, when you’re done, you’ll be shown your scores for everything but the essay. You will then have 2 minutes to decide whether to accept your scores.

You must actively accept them; if you do nothing, the scores will be canceled.

If you do cancel, you will then have 60 days to decide whether to reinstate the scores—for a fee of USD100. (Also, if you cancel, the schools will still see that you sat for the exam, as always.)

Okay, so what is the significance of this new feature?
Technically, this new feature shouldn’t really change anything because business schools really do use only your highest score. It’s hard, though, to remember that while the clock is ticking. The single biggest value here is peace of mind.

Of course you don’t want to become ill or have a panic attack or mess up your timing so badly that you don’t finish a section of the test. If any of those things happen, though, then you can cancel your score. (Just as you could before, actually—though you wouldn’t have known your score when making the decision.)

The overall message is the same as always: if you don’t hit your goal score, you can always take the test again, so just do your best and see what happens.

Know what you’re going to do before you get in there
2 minutes to decide? That just ADDS stress!

It could, yes, but you will already have decided what you’re going to do if faced with various scenarios.

Scenario #1: Goal score 720. Actual score 670.

Do NOT cancel this score. Sure, it’s below your goal, but it’s still a good score—and you don’t know for sure that you’ll hit 720 next time. In fact, some students score lower on their second test. Do not lose this score.

Scenario #2: Goal score 650. Actual score 450.

Most people will want to cancel this score. Several of my fellow teachers argued that we should tell everyone not to cancel anything, since the schools really do take the highest score. Still, realistically, I think most people will want to cancel a score 200 points below their goal. (But you really could leave it—the schools won’t care!)

Where does the line flip? How far below your goal score do you need to be in order to consider canceling?

I’ve been polling my colleagues since the news was announced yesterday afternoon and, while opinions vary, we all agree that anyone within 100 points of their goal score should definitely keep that score.

I’d go a little further. I think you should keep (or consider keeping) the score if you’re within 150 points of your goal. If you score 600+, keep the score even if your goal is 750.

Scenario #3: First official test Q 61st percentile, V 93rd percentile. Second official test, Q 76th percentile, V 84th percentile.

Even though the Verbal score went down on the second test, the Quant score went from a not-very-competitive score to one that is acceptable to all schools, so keep that score! This is true even if your overall score went down.

I canceled but now I’m thinking I should reinstate the score…
Come and talk to us on the forums. We can help you plan what to do before you get in there and we can also advise you after the fact. Post in the General Strategy folder in the Ask An Instructor section of the forums.

In sum
Definitely keep the score if you are within 100 points of your goal. Strongly consider keeping the score if you are within 150 points. (Pick a specific cut-off point for yourself before test day.) If you are more than 150 points below a reasonable* goal, then go ahead and cancel the score.

*Anything above 750 is not a reasonable goal, unless your real goal is not business school but teaching for us. :)

Studying for the GMAT? Take a free GMAT practice exam, or sign up for a free GMAT preview class, running all the time near you, or online. And, be sure to find us on FacebookGoogle+, LinkedIn, and follow us on Twitter!

gmat-self-studyYou’ve been thinking for a while now about going back to business school. You’ll go sometime in the future…but you haven’t started to do much about it yet.

Well, break out your pencils* and get ready to take advantage of your new membership in the GMAT Exercise Club! We’re going to set up a custom program for you to get the score you need by summer’s end—and then you can decide whether to apply this fall or to wait a year or two.

*Okay, okay, you don’t use pencils for this test anymore, nor is there an actual GMAT Exercise Club, and I can’t really give each and every one of you a completely customized, individual study program. But I can tell you what to start doing today to get yourself ready to take the GMAT by the end of the summer, as long as you make the commitment to get your brain in gear, do a little bit every day, and conquer Mount Everest…er, the GMAT.

This article will assume that you plan to study on your own. If you are still deciding whether to study on your own, take a class, or work with a tutor, the following article discusses the pros and cons of each approach: How to Choose an Approach: Self-study, Class, or Tutor.

Here’s how to develop a study plan that’s appropriate for you.

Week 1: Take a CAT

Your first step is to take a practice CAT under official testing conditions (including all 4 sections: essay, IR, quant, verbal).

It’s best to use a test-prep company CAT for this, not GMATPrep (the official practice test from the makers of the GMAT), as the purpose for taking this practice CAT is to gain insight into your strengths and weaknesses. While GMATPrep is the closest thing to the real test, it provides no data with which to evaluate your performance. Save GMATPrep for later in your study.

Right now, you might be protesting: but I haven’t studied anything yet! That’s okay. In fact, that’s the point! You need to determine what you do already know or understand and what you don’t so that you can set up an effective study plan for yourself. Don’t stress about your first score—use it as a study tool.

It is smart, though, to make sure that you learn a little bit about one particular question type before you take that test. Unless you’ve studied for the GMAT before, you probably haven’t seen anything like Data Sufficiency, so review that question type before your first CAT.

If you take an MGMAT CAT, use this two-part article to analyze your results: Evaluating Your Practice Tests. (The link given here is to the first part of the article; you can find the link to the second part at the end of the first part.)

Week 1: Choose Your Materials or Program

Next, you need a study plan. To start, figure out what materials you’ll use to study. At the least, you will need two things:

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gmat-self-study-classLast time, we talked about how to decide whether to study on your own, take a class, or work with a tutor. If you choose either of the latter two options, then you’ll want to make sure that you’re picking the best program and instructor for you—GMAT prep is too expensive to suffer through a bad program.

How to choose a particular class (including instructor!)

Most companies offer some kind of free event designed to allow you to check out their program before you commit. Take advantage of anything free to help you make your decision.

First, do your homework before you show up for that free event. Take a practice test and try to diagnose your own strengths and weaknesses. Most companies offer a free practice test. (Don’t use up one of your two free GMATPrep tests—the official practice test made by the test makers. Save those for later in your study.)

Research some business school programs and determine what you think your goal score needs to be. Talk to friends who took a course or worked with a tutor and ask whether they would recommend that course or tutor and why. (The “and why” is critically important—it may be that your friend liked a particular class for some reason that doesn’t matter at all to you!) Develop a list of questions that you would like to ask of any teacher an program you consider.

Next, develop a “short list” of companies or even specific teachers and then take advantage of whatever free offerings you can. Many companies will host free information sessions. Some (such as Manhattan GMAT) will allow students to attend one class of a course for free. Ideally, you want to see your instructor in action, so look for any free live or taped event that features the instructor in the class that you’d potentially attend.

One caveat: if the class sells out, you won’t be able to get a seat. Before the first class, call up the company to ask how many seats are still left; if it’s close to selling out, they’ll tell you! Alternatively, get ahead of the game by observing potential instructors a couple of months before you want to start. Then, you can sign up for a later course with the same instructor at your leisure.

Arrive for class early and, if the teacher is free, chat a bit to get a feel for his or her personality and approachability. (Don’t be offended if she or he needs to get ready for class and asks you to wait until after class to talk.) Feel free to ask about his or her credentials, teaching style, and so forth. Give the teacher a short summary of your situation (current scoring level, goal, any deadlines) and see what the teacher has to say.

Then take some notes. Was the instructor approachable? Did you feel comfortable asking questions and was the instructor happy to answer your questions? Did the instructor answer thoughtfully and even ask you some additional questions in order to clarify your situation? Did the instructor’s teaching style work for you? Do you feel you could learn well from this person for the duration of the course? Would you look forward to this teacher’s class?

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gmat-self-study-classSummer is here again, along with the GMAT busy season. Application deadlines are just a few short months away! It’s time to get your GMAT study into gear.

I’ve been getting a lot of questions lately about how to study overall. Students ask whether they should study on their own or whether they should take a class or work with a tutor.

In the first part of this 2-part series, we’ll discuss the benefits and drawbacks of the three primary study approaches; in the second part, we’ll examine how to choose the best program and instructor for you (if you decide to take a class or work with a tutor).

How to study: self-study, class, or tutor?

There are plenty of study materials and programs available from which to choose; the question is what is right for you.

Expect to spend between 50 and 100 hours total spread over approximately 2 to 4 months, depending upon your starting point and goal score. You’ll need to cover a wide range of material and strategies for the four sections of the test. In fact, this is why so many people do choose to take a class (though there are plenty of self-studiers out there, too!).

There are three primary approaches: working on your own (possibly with friends, but without the help of a professional), taking a GMAT class, or working with a private GMAT tutor. No one method is universally the best method. There are benefits and drawbacks to each situation, so deciding which one is best for you will depend upon your specific learning style, goals, needs, and preferences.

Regardless of study method, there are certain aspects that everyone must have. You will need materials that teach you the content tested on the exam, as well as techniques and methodologies for answering the different kinds of questions on the GMAT. You will also need practice materials, both individual practice problems (which can also be grouped into practice sets) and full, adaptive practice CATs.

You will also need some kind of plan—an outline of what to study and when. If you work with a company, that company should provide a syllabus and materials for you. If you work on your own, you will have to determine your own syllabus and decide what materials to use.

Self-Study

Studying on your own is typically the least expensive option and allows you to work on your own schedule. You also have to develop your own study program, which some people view as a benefit and some view as a drawback.

Developing your own plan can be a benefit if you have past experience with developing study plans, including diagnosing your strengths and weaknesses, choosing the best books and online materials to address your particular issues, planning your time wisely, sticking to a schedule, and, most importantly, teaching yourself. A lot of free resources are available to help you with these steps; for example, here’s an article that will help you Develop a Study Plan.

Some companies offer more complete self-study programs. For example, Manhattan GMAT offers an interactive digital learning platform called Interact. GMAT Interact for Integrated Reasoning™ is already available and a full GMAT Interact program will be available in about two weeks.

You can also choose to work just from books; the Developing a Study Plan article linked above talks more about the kinds of materials you’ll need. The basic books might cost you about $250 to $350, while a more advanced interactive learning program might set you back about $500 to $1,000.

You are going to have to be your own taskmaster. If you know from past experience that you’ll find it hard to stay home on Saturdays to study, especially when the sunshine is beckoning, then you may want to consider taking a course with regular class sessions and assigned homework. The last thing you want to do is reach mid-August and realize that you’ve barely cracked the books.

If you have generally done well on standardized tests in the past, are disciplined, and aren’t looking for an extra-large (200+ points) score increase, then self-study may be the option for you.

Class

Taking a GMAT class is more expensive than studying on your own but less expensive than tutoring. On average, a class might cost you $1,000 to $2,000. It will also, of course, provide you with a study schedule (though you will still have to have the discipline to follow it!).

A GMAT course will provide you with a comprehensive set of effective materials and a syllabus to follow. Using a class syllabus will be somewhat less flexible than developing your own (with or without the help of a tutor), but you also won’t have to sit down and figure out what to study on your own. You can (and should!) prioritize the standard syllabus according to your own strengths and weaknesses, spending additional time in weaker areas and moving on more quickly to advanced material in stronger areas.

A good instructor will be able to address different learning styles in the classroom. You will also be able to ask questions and discuss the finer points of GMAT problems with a real, live person; your teacher will become familiar with your strengths and weaknesses over the length of the course and will be better able to assist you as a result.

If you’re going for a large score increase (200+ points) or a very high score (700+), then this option might be the one for you. The cost is mid-range between the other two, and you gain access to a tried-and-tested program and an instructor who can help guide you through your studies. (Plus, the incremental cost over a self-study plan is negligible compared to the opportunities that will open up if you can hit your ambitious goal score.)

Tutoring

Tutoring is the most flexible and customized option, but also the most expensive—so much so that cost is the primary drawback to tutoring. Expect to spend a minimum of $3,000 (and quite possibly more).

A tutoring package will provide you with a comprehensive set of effective materials and a tutor should customize a syllabus based upon your particular learning style, goals, strengths, and weaknesses. You will also have the flexibility to set your own schedule and to concentrate on the areas that are most problematic for you. Further, because the expert is working with you one-on-one, she or he will quickly learn what your needs are and customize the lessons accordingly. As a result, tutoring is typically the most efficient study method (though you will pay for that efficiency!).

If cost is no object or if you know that self-study and classroom approaches won’t work well for you, then tutoring may be the best path. You might also use a hybrid approach in which you study on your own or take a class, and then do only a small number of hours of tutoring for more targeted help.

For options two and three, the right instructor makes all the difference. In the second part of this two-part series, we’ll talk about how to choose a particular instructor who matches your learning style, motivates you to attend class, and effectively conveys how best to think and work as the best GMAT test-takers do.

Related Article: Read How to Choose: GMAT Self-Study, Class or Tutor? (Part 2).

Studying for the GMAT? Take a free GMAT practice exam or sign up for a free GMAT trial class, online or near you. Be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, LinkedIn, and follow us on Twitter!

gmat-vs-gre-for-business-schoolMany business schools now accept either the GRE or the GMAT, so students now have a decision to make: which test should you take? We’ve written on the topic before but this discussion deserves an update now that some changes to the GMAT are gaining more traction.

Both tests made some significant changes in the past couple of years. These changes were designed to make the test results more attractive to their customers—not you, but the business schools.

The conventional wisdom has been that the math is easier on the GRE. Though many schools do accept the GRE, rumors abound that students who take this test are at a bit of a disadvantage because they are expected to do better on the (easier) quant section. Anecdotally, we have heard some admissions officers admit that they do think about this (strictly off the record, of course). Other admissions officers, though, have said this doesn’t matter to them at all.

Recently, Bloomberg Businessweek reported that Bain & Co, a well-respected management consulting firm, is considering using Integrated Reasoning scores in its hiring process. Most banks and consulting firms already ask for the “regular” GMAT score when recruiting MBA candidates (and sometimes they even ask for your SAT scores!). If these companies begin to require IR, then someone who took the GRE could find themselves at a disadvantage during the hiring process—or even scrambling to take the GMAT during the second year of b-school while going through recruiting. Yikes!

So this question of whether to take the GMAT or the GRE has become a much more complicated calculus of a decision. There is no one-size-fits-all answer, but here are some guidelines to consider as you figure out the right decision for you.

Your Performance

Do you actually exhibit a markedly different performance level on the two exams? Most people have pretty similar results.

To figure this out, you’re going to take two practice tests (one of each). Before you do that, learn about the different question formats on both exams.

GMAT

Quant: about half of the questions are your standard multiple choice. The other half are a weird type called Data Sufficiency. You’ll definitely want to learn how those work before you take a practice test (your next task).
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gmat-quant-tipsMemorize what? I’m not going to tell you yet. Try this problem from the GMATPrep® free practice tests first and see whether you can spot the most efficient solution.

Screen Shot 2014-05-29 at 2.40.57 PM

All right, have you got an answer? How satisfied are you with your solution? If you did get an answer but you don’t feel as though you found an elegant solution, take some time to review the problem yourself before you keep reading.

Step 1: Glance Read Jot

Take a quick glance; what have you got? PS. A given equation, xy = 1. A seriously ugly-looking equation. Some fairly “nice” numbers in the answers. Hmm, maybe you should work backwards from the answers?

Jot the given info on the scrap paper.

Step 2: Reflect Organize

Oh, wait. Working backwards isn’t going to work—the answers don’t stand for just a simple variable.

Okay, what’s plan B? Does anything else jump out from the question stem?

Hey, those ugly exponents…there is one way in which they’re kind of nice. They’re both one of the three common special products. In general, when you see a special product, try rewriting the problem usually the other form of the special product.

Step 3: Work

Here’s the original expression again:

Screen Shot 2014-05-29 at 2.31.24 PM

Let’s see.

Screen Shot 2014-05-29 at 2.32.25 PM

Interesting. I like that for two reasons. First of all, a couple of those terms incorporate xy and the question stem told me that xy = 1, so maybe I’m heading in the right direction. Here’s what I’ve got now:

Screen Shot 2014-05-29 at 2.33.22 PM

And that takes me to the second reason I like this: the two sets of exponents look awfully similar now, and they gave me a fraction to start. In general, we’re supposed to try to simplify fractions, and we do that by dividing stuff out.

Screen Shot 2014-05-29 at 2.34.28 PM

How else can I write this to try to divide the similar stuff out? Wait, I’ve got it:

The numerator: Screen Shot 2014-05-29 at 2.35.25 PM

The denominator: Screen Shot 2014-05-29 at 2.36.02 PM

They’re almost identical! Both of the Screen Shot 2014-05-29 at 2.37.06 PMterms cancel out, as do the Screen Shot 2014-05-29 at 2.37.41 PMterms, leaving me with:

Screen Shot 2014-05-29 at 2.38.29 PM

I like that a lot better than the crazy thing they started me with. Okay, how do I deal with this last step?

First, be really careful. Fractions + negative exponents = messy. In order to get rid of the negative exponent, take the reciprocal of the base:

Screen Shot 2014-05-29 at 2.39.05 PM

Next, dividing by 1/2 is the same as multiplying by 2:

Screen Shot 2014-05-29 at 2.39.54 PM

That multiplies to 16, so the correct answer is (D).

Key Takeaways: Special Products

(1) Your math skills have to be solid. If you don’t know how to manipulate exponents or how to simplify fractions, you’re going to get this problem wrong. If you struggle to remember any of the rules, start building and drilling flash cards. If you know the rules but make careless mistakes as you work, start writing down every step and pausing to think about where you’re going before you go there. Don’t just run through everything without thinking!

(2) You need to memorize the special products and you also need to know when and how to use them. The test writers LOVE to use special products to create a seemingly impossible question with a very elegant solution. Whenever you spot any form of a special product, write the problem down using both the original form and the other form. If you’re not sure which one will lead to the answer, try the other form first, the one they didn’t give you; this is more likely to lead to the correct answer (though not always).

(3) You may not see your way to the end after just the first step. That’s okay. Look for clues that indicate that you may be on the right track, such as xy being part of the other form. If you take a few steps and come up with something totally crazy or ridiculously hard, go back to the beginning and try the other path. Often, though, you’ll find the problem simplifying itself as you get several steps in.

* GMATPrep® questions courtesy of the Graduate Management Admissions Council. Usage of this question does not imply endorsement by GMAC.