In the past, we’ve talked about making story problems real. In other words, when the test gives you a story problem, don’t start making tables and writing equations and figuring out the algebraic solution. Rather, do what you would do in the real world if someone asked you this question: a back-of-the-envelope calculation (involving some math, sure, but not multiple equations with variables).

If you haven’t yet read the article linked in the last paragraph, go do that first. Learn how to use this method, then come back here and test your new skills on the problem below.

This is a GMATPrep® problem from the free exams. Give yourself about 2 minutes. Go!

* “Machines X and Y work at their respective constant rates. How many more hours does it take machine Y, working alone, to fill a production order of a certain size than it takes machine X, working alone?

“(1) Machines X and Y, working together, fill a production order of this size in two-thirds the time that machine X, working alone, does.

“(2) Machine Y, working alone, fills a production order of this size in twice the time that machine X, working alone, does.”

You work in a factory. Your boss just came up to you and asked you this question. What do you do?

In the real world, you’d never whip out a piece of paper and start writing equations. Instead, you’d do something like this:

I need to figure out the difference between how long it takes X alone and how long it takes Y alone.

Okay, statement (1) gives me some info. Hmm, so if machine X takes 1 hour to do the job by itself, then the two machines together would take two-thirds…let’s see, that’s 40 minutes…

Wait, that number is annoying. Let’s say machine X takes 3 hours to do the job alone, so the two machines take 2 hours to do it together.

What next? Oh, right, how long does Y take? If they can do it together in 2 hours, and X takes 3 hours to do the job by itself, then X is doing 2/3 of the job in just 2 hours. So Y has to do the other 1/3 of the job in 2 hours. Continue Reading…

A 780 is a great score, sure—but you don’t need that kind of score. You probably do need something higher than 500, though. How good is good enough?

The short answer to the question is this: a good score is a score that will make you competitive at a particular school. So the first question to ask yourself is where do you want to go?

Then, hit the Inter-web and find out what kinds of scores those schools report. Most schools report both an average score and a “middle 80% score” (the latter gives the score range for the middle 80% of people admitted in that year).

So, if Stanford has an average of 732 (which is what their website says as I write this!), then clearly you need a 750, right?

Wrong. Really wrong, in fact. I was inspired to write this article because of two recent blog posts written by my colleague Jeremy Shinewald, founder of MBA Mission. The posts are fantastic—and they are both linked in this article. They are mandatory reading for all of my students (and not because he mentions me in one of them!).

First, remind me what the word “average” means.

Right…in other words, many of the admitted students scored below 730. In fact, Stanford’s reported scoring range is from 550 to 790. (Yes, someone got into Stanford with a 550! I’m sure that person was absolutely amazing in some other way or ways, and so the admissions committee didn’t care about that one below-average data point.)

I’m not suggesting, of course, that you only need a 550 or 600 to get into Stanford. Ideally, you want to be pretty close to the school’s average. The school is not, however, going to ding you for getting “only” a 700. (You might get dinged for other reasons of course…)

But don’t take my word for it; read what Jeremy has to say on the topic.

## What’s a good quant score? What’s a good verbal score?

Schools do check the Quant and Verbal sub-scores as well as the overall score—and this is another source of anxiety for test-takers. Have you heard about the 80/80? Many years ago (actually, we could be speaking in decades at this point), some people did talk about wanting to see 80th percentile sub-scores for quant and verbal. I haven’t been able to verify whether actual business schools ever said they wanted this, but the topic has been around for a long time.

As of early July 2014, there are now only two Quant scores above the 80th percentile: 50 and 51. Clearly, the top business schools don’t admit only people with 50s and 51s any more than they only admit people with 750 scores. There wouldn’t be enough people to go around!

So what’s going on? Percentiles are a relative ranking; they change over time. The sub-scores themselves are fixed. The skill level that it takes to score 45 today is the same skill level required to get a 45 five years ago, or fifteen!

In 2007, a Quant score of 45 was the 77th percentile; today, a 45 is the 63rd percentile. But the underlying skill needed to reach that score hasn’t changed one bit, and here’s the important part: the schools know this.

They aren’t actually interested in how your percentile ranking stacks up against the rest of the pool of test takers. Their main goal is to make sure that you can handle the rigorous work that will be required of you when you reach b-school. Pay attention to the actual scoring level, which tells you something real. A quant 45 was once “good enough” for schools and nothing has changed: it still is today!

## But seriously…If I just get a 750, I’ll be a shoo-in, right?

Wrong. The schools don’t admit based on GMAT scores. The GMAT is more of a threshold indicator: show me that you can handle my rigorous program, and then I’ll consider the other (more important) parts of your application, such as your work history, your essays, your recommendations…in short, your story. That’s how I’ll actually make my decision about your application.

Seriously, consider who’s telling you that you don’t actually need these crazy high scores. I work for a test prep company; our whole reason for existing (and making money!) is to help people get higher scores. If even I’m telling you that you don’t need a 750 or a 50 or 51 on quant, then believe it!

## But…But…This is the only thing I can control…

Here is the heart of the anxiety around this test. Your GPA is already set. Your work career can’t be substantially changed in a few months; your history is what it is. So you feel as though this is it: the GMAT is how you can give yourself the best possible chance to get in!

You can’t bomb the test, of course, but there are a lot of other things you can be doing with your very valuable time than chasing a 750 (or even a 720). You could actually pick up an extra project at work, try to get yourself into a team leader or mentor role, or work towards a promotion.

Also, don’t underestimate the time and effort required to put together a great application package. Ideally, your package will tell a coherent story, something that fits together across all pieces of the application and jumps off the page so that the admissions committee can really visualize you and get a sense of who you are and why they want to have you at their school. For instance, have you thought about what you want to tell your recommenders to emphasize (in terms of both strengths and weaknesses) so that their recommendations dovetail with your own essays?

I’m not going to give a bunch of application advice because that’s not my area of expertise—but you can control a lot more of your application than the GMAT score. Go read more on Jeremy’s blog to find out how.

(And, all right, fine: if you want to get better at the GMAT, start here!)

Manhattan GMAT

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Have 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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So how is GMAT Interact different? Our on-screen instructors will actually ask you questions, respond to your answers, and tailor your GMAT lessons based on the your answers and the information you input. Like the adaptive nature of the actual GMAT, at times, if you get something right, we’ll take you to a tougher problem. Other times, when you get something wrong, we’ll take you through a detailed lesson. Finally, if you ‘bail’ too quickly from a question, we may push you back to try it again.

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Many 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.

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).

Welcome to the final installment in a series of three articles about meaning and sentence structure in sentence correction. Our first one tested meaning and also covered issues related to having to break the sentence into chunks. In the second, we talked about how to use that chunk idea to strip the sentence down to the core structure vs. the modifiers.

Today, I’ve got a third GMATPrep® problem for you following some of these same themes (I’m not going to tell you which ones till after you’ve tried the problem!).

* “Today’s technology allows manufacturers to make small cars more fuel-efficient now than at any time in their production history.

“(A) small cars more fuel-efficient now than at any time in their

“(B) small cars that are more fuel-efficient than they were at any time in their

“(C) small cars that are more fuel-efficient than those at any other time in

“(D) more fuel-efficient small cars than those at any other time in their

“(E) more fuel-efficient small cars now than at any time in”

The first glance doesn’t indicate a lot this time. The answers change from small cars to more (fuel-efficient small cars), which isn’t much of a clue. Go ahead and read the original sentence.

What did you think? When I first read it, I shrugged and thought, “That sounds okay.” If you can’t come up with something to tackle from the first glance or the first read-through, then compare answers (A) and (B), looking for differences.

Hmm. I see—do we need to say that are more fuel-efficient? Maybe. Answer (C) uses that same structure. Oh, hey, answer (C) tosses in the word other! I know what they’re doing!

If you’ve seen the word other tested within a comparison before, you may know, too. If not, get ready to make a note. Take a look at these two sentences:

Last time, we tried a problem that tested meaning; we also discussed how to compare entire chunks of the answer choices. Today, we’re going to combine those two things into a new skill.

Try this GMATPrep® problem from the free exams and then we’ll talk about it.

* “The striking differences between the semantic organization of Native American languages and that of European languages, in both grammar and vocabulary, have led scholars to think about the degree to which differences in language may be correlated with nonlinguistic differences.

“(A) that of European languages, in both grammar and vocabulary, have

“(B) that of European languages, including grammar and vocabulary, has

“(C) those of European languages, which include grammar and vocabulary, have

“(D) those of European languages, in grammar as well as vocabulary, has

“(E) those of European languages, both in grammar and vocabulary, has”

At first glance, the underline isn’t super long on this one, Glance down the first word of each answer. What does a split between that and those signify?

Both are pronouns, so they’re referring to something else in the sentence. In addition, one is singular and one is plural, so it will be important to find the antecedent (the word to which the pronoun refers).

Next, read the original sentence. What do you think? It isn’t super long but it still manages to pack in some complexity. Learn how to strip it down and you’ll be prepared for even more complex sentence structures.

My first thought was: okay, now I see why they offered that vs. those. Should the pronoun refer to the plural differences or to the singular organization?

It could be easy to get turned around here, so strip down the sentence structure:

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