This post is part of a series on preparing to get an MBA. To see all the posts, click here.
The GMAT is a great exam. In today’s post, I’ll briefly review the two main sections: the quantitative section (commonly called “the math section”) and the verbal section (commonly called “English”). There are a lot of great resources out there for studying, so I’m not going to talk a lot about specifics. Instead, I’ll tell you what your general strategy should be.
First things first…
The first you’ll want to do for the GMAT is go to mba.com. Take one of the free practice tests. Here’s a link to the specific page. Do this first to experience the test and understand what your starting point is. This will help you choose schools. Also, you’ll see where your weak points are and what you need to work on the most.
The Quantitative Section (Math)
The GMAT’s math section was made by geniuses. It does an excellent job of testing your quantitative skills. Here’s how it works. There are about 100 simple math concepts you need to learn. These are not hard. You probably learned them all before you were 16 years old. They include addition, fractions, basic algebra, and geometry. You might not remember everything, though. So your first step is to learn the concepts. Here’s a good site.
That’s not the smart part. The smart part is that now you need to apply these math concepts in creative ways. You’ll need to take practice tests and study a lot.
The Verbal Section (English)
The GMAT’s English section has three sections. Here’s the basic strategy for each.
Reading: Read the first and last sentence of each paragraph and skim the middle of each paragraph. Do this to get a general idea. Then, identify the question type. If the question type is easy for you, look carefully for the answer. If it’s a hard question type, decide if the question is also hard. If it is, just guess and move on.
Analyze an Argument: The key here is to identify the conclusion and the reasons for that conclusion. The questions are going to be about missing reasons or missing conclusions, so if you understand the argument, then you can decide what’s missing.
Analyze a Sentence: For these questions, you need to learn agreement between nouns and verbs. (When a verb should have an “s” and when it shouldn’t.) This idea will help you eliminate many choices. The next step is to understand the basic ways parts of speech (like adverbs and adjectives) work. After that, you need to study which prepositions go with with words.
Beyond Practice Tests: Vocabulary Questions
Vocabulary questions give you a word and four definitions. You should choose the correct definition. Of course, if you know what the word means, then it’s easy. But, if you don’t know what it means, it’s still possible to guess. The test makers always include hints.
The normal strategy for getting better at vocabulary questions is to learn more words. Books that give lists of vocabulary words for a test are very popular. That’s OK, but you can do more. Here are some strategies for improving at vocabulary questions. Some will help you learn new words and some will just help you guess better.
Guess, guess, guess Read an article and underline all the new words. Without using a dictionary, try to write definitions of the words. Also, include any clues or hints you see. For example, you might write this for the word “hint” in the previous sentence.
Hint: Something that helps with guessing words???
Clues: “Clues” next to hints. You should include them with the definition. “Try to write definitions” means you can’t know for sure, so “hints” should help.
Write Definitions Practice writing definitions for new words you learn. By writing practice definitions you’ll get used to seeing the hints that come with new words.
Write Test Questions After you learn a new word, write a practice test question for it. Can you think of three other words that are related? How are they different?
Thesaurus Are you already really good with vocabulary? For students who want to take their score to the highest level, use a thesaurus to learn all of the words that are related to a new word you’ve learned. Then, learn how they’re different.
Hints When you learn a new word, instead of writing a translation, write three words that will help you guess it. For example, if you learn the word “Ocean”, you might use “Big, blue, waves” instead of a definition or a translation.
Beyond Practice Tests: Inference Questions
Inference questions are hard. You can’t read the answer. You can’t hear the answer. You just have to know it. But how is it possible? How can you know something that no one writes or says?
Well, it’s not so hard as all that. We do it every day. For example, imagine that you’re at a party and the time is 1:00a.m. Your friend says to you, “Wow, I’m so tired. I woke up at 6:00a.m. today and drinking makes me sleepy.” You can guess that your friend wants to go home. You infer that your friend wants to go home.
This is inference. Inference is when you guess something because of other things.
Other things: Your friend is tired. Your friend woke up at 6:00a.m. It’s 1:00a.m. now. Your friend has been drinking.
Inference: Your friend wants to go home.
Let’s look at another example.
Milwaukee is a city in Wisconsin, USA. It’s not a very big city, but there are many activities. There are lots of concerts by the lake in the summer. In the winter, you can enjoy ice-skating downtown. At anytime of year, you’ll find friendly people who will welcome you into bars and restaurants, parks and museums with a friendly smile.
From this reading, we can infer that the author…
The answer is A because the author gives many reasons you might enjoy Milwaukee. It’s not B because the author might have learned these things from just visiting. We don’t know how often the author goes ice skating (C) and the author doesn’t compare Milwaukee to any other cities (D).
Here are seven strategies for studying inference questions:
20 Questions Do this one with a friend. Think of a person, place, or thing. Your friend should ask you questions in order to guess what you’re thinking of. They can ask at most 20 questions. For example:
Is it big or small? It’s medium sized.
Is it hard or soft? It’s hard.
What’s it made of? It can be made of wood or metal.
Is there one in the room now? Yes, there are many in this room.
Is it a chair? Yes, it’s a chair!
20 Hints Just like the 20 Questions, but a little easier. One person just says things until the other person can guess. For example:
It’s usually blue, but it can also be black, red, or gray. It’s really big, and it’s everywhere. The sky!
Pay attention During the day to try to spot things you infer. It’ll keep you practicing all day long. What can you infer from the guy who smiled at you? Your teacher asked you to come answer the question? What can you infer? Why did she ask you?
Lists of Inferences After you read something, make a list of ten inferences and the reasons for them.
Just the first paragraph Read just the first paragraph of something and make a list of inferences/guesses about the rest of the article. Then, finish reading the article and see if you were right.
Scavenger Hunt Think of different beliefs and try to find articles with someone who believes them. For example, try to find an article about someone who believes in aliens, someone who loves France, or someone who likes to swim. You might not find the exact support you want, but can you find good inference material?
Using Practice Test Answers Take a practice test and remember which questions were inference questions. Learn which answers are wrong and write sentences to make them right. What is missing in an article so that you could infer the wrong answers?
For the example above about Milwaukee. (B) would be right if you added “Since I was a young girl, I’ve loved my city.” (C) would be right if you added “Like many people in Milwaukee, I love ice-skating.” (D) would be right if you added “No place in America offers as many nice things as Milwaukee.”
Beyond Practice Tests: Negative Factual Information Questions
On a test like the TOEFL, Negative Factual Information questions ask you to find missing things. You’ll get four choices (A,B,C,D). Three things will be true. One will be false. You should choose the false thing. These are the opposite of Factual Information Questions where one thing is true and three are false. For example:
Steven can’t go to the party because of all the homework he has to do. Plus, he doesn’t even have money to get a bus. And Sarah will be there. He really doesn’t want to see her. So, he’ll stay at home again. Tonight he will do his homework. After that, he’ll watch a movie and go on the internet.
Why can’t Steven go to the party?
What will he do tonight?
Negative Factual Information questions are pretty easy. The thing that you can’t find is the answer. You should find three things and make sure you can’t find one thing.
Here are five study strategies.
Answers First First, make a list of four things. Then write something that uses three of them. For example, if your list was “bread, butter, eggs, sugar”, you might write “I bought bread, eggs, and sugar.” Of course, your answer can be much longer, but you’ll get used to how to create the questions. This will make it easier for you to answer them.
Change Factual Information Questions Look at some “Factual Information” questions on a practice test. Change the factual information questions into negative factual info questions by changing the grammar of the question. For instance, if the question is “How many cars did he buy” and the answer is “two”. You could change the question to “How many cars didn’t he buy”?
Add to Groups You’ll be very good at these questions if you can see groups quickly. You’ll see groups more quickly if you find groups of things that have stuff in common. Then think of things that you could add to the lists. For example, if you found an article that talked about France, Germany, and Spain; you might write Holland, Italy, and Poland. (They’re all European countries.)
Create Groups After reading something, add sentences to it. Add sentences so that there are groups of three things. So, if the text talks about apples and oranges, you could write about bananas to create a group of three.
Three Truths and a Lie Think of people, places, objects and events. Write three true sentences and one false sentence about them. For example, think about New York City. You could write: It’s in the USA. The Statue of Liberty is there. It’s the biggest city in the world. The New York Yankees play there. Three are true. Which one is false?
Beyond Practice Tests: Factual Information Questions
Five ways to study Factual Information questions.
On a test like the TOEFL, Factual Information questions ask you to find an answer that the reading specifically answers. In other words, if you understand the vocabulary and grammar, you should get these questions correct all of the time. Here is a short reading and two simple Factual Information questions:
John went to the store and bought apples. After that, he went to the bank before stopping at the post office to mail some letters. Back home, he just watched some TV and took a nap.
What did John buy?
Why did John go to the post office?
Of course, these are easy examples, but if you study well, real factual information questions will be easy too. How can you study well? Of course, practice tests are very useful. But, what if you don’t have any more practice tests?
Here are five study strategies.
Reading and Writing Read a magazine article. When you’re finished, write down ten things you learned.
How did you know that? After you’ve written ten things you learned from an article, write down the ten sentences from the article that taught you those things.
Make Practice Questions Write practice questions for an article. Include the real answer and three wrong answers. When you choose the wrong answers, try to pick things that you might guess.
Try to know everything Look at sentences. Write down every fact that is in the sentence. For some sentences there might be ten new things that you can learn. Try to find as many as you can.
Be Random Randomly choose ten words, expressions, or sentences from an article. Then, read the article. Finally, create questions that use the things you chose as the answers.