Thursday, July 31, 2008

Getting into Business School - GMAT Test Taking Strategy

The GMAT is required by most Business Schools. I have outlined below the method that I used to study for the exam. I scored a 650 and 720 (95th percentile) on my first and second sittings respectively. The below process can be very effective if you are a self motivated individual, but it is by no means perfect. If you decide to follow any of my advice and run in to issues, feel free to contact me by e-mail or by commenting…

*It is important to know the score you need to be competitive at your choice Business School before you begin preparation*

1. Start out with a computer practice-test to see where you stand.

2. Practice all quantitative and verbal sections of the exam using the questions in the official guide starting with the easy ones(the questions range in difficulty as they go – question 1 is the easiest). Do every tenth question or so. When they become difficult, start doing clusters of questions (every 3rd or 4th question) at that level until you begin to get them correct. Then resume practicing every tenth question until you start missing again and repeat as before. Do this until you proficient to about the last 20 questions in each section.

*It is important to leave several open questions as you go so that you can do some capstone testing on fresh questions at each level of difficulty at the end of your initial preparation.

3. Once you have some reps on each section and you are getting most of them right, do several mini tests. A mini test should consist of 3 to 5 questions of varying difficulty from each section. It is important to do easy, mid-range, and hard questions during these mini tests because this is what the actual test will do. I found myself sometimes over-thinking the easy and mid-range questions until I had enough practice to recognize the approximate difficulty of the question right away.

4. Once you are getting most of the questions in your mini-tests correct on a consistent basis, take the second computer practice-test. If you are scoring where you want to, go ahead and make your exam appt. and keep mini-testing yourself until the day of the exam. If not, focus in on the areas that are lacking with some more reps. Maybe 10 or 20 questions from the sections you are struggling in. Try and pick questions that are similar to the ones you missed. Once you feel comfortable go ahead and do some more mini tests. This is the hardest part of the prep. I actually did 50 or 60 data sufficiency questions in a row at this stage as I was severely handicapped in this area at first.

5. If you feel comfortable you have two options at this point. The first is to schedule and take the exam. The second is to re-take the first computer practice-test. It should show you very different questions than you saw your first time through since your aptitude will be dramatically increased by this point. If you score in your target range go ahead and schedule the exam and do mini-tests every day to keep your mind sharp. If not, get some more reps and take the computer practice-test 2 again.

This 5 step process is not only cheap, but it is a very effective way to prepare for the GMAT.

If you find yourself at a serious sticking point the best solution may be to search craigslist and find a private individual who has experience taking the test who can help you decipher the questions that are giving you trouble- but stick to the official guide. Some of the other test prep books will help you marginally, but they don’t mimic the style of the test. Again, understanding the way the questions are worded and the style the problems are in will be the hardest part of the exam.

If all of the above doesn’t work for you, then you may want to seek alternative preparation techniques including classes and other resources, but these five steps will be a productive foundation even for those individuals who need more.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Getting into Business School - GMAT Mythology

So lets discuss four popular myths about the GMAT,

1. “The Math is Difficult”.

The truth is the vast majority of the math in the exam are based on concepts that are learned in a basic algebra course or earlier.

With that said, most of us don’t use many basic math concepts on a daily basis, so some brushing up is helpful. I bought a book called Forgotten Algebra and spent about 5-10 hours practicing the concepts throughout the book. I might have done 200 practice questions in total and by the end I was ready to begin test prep.

2. “To get a good score on the GMAT I need to attend an expensive course.”

The truth is that the best test prep for the GMAT is the official guide put out by the GMAC (the writer’s of the exam) - $23. I know, it seems too simple, right? Well, the truth of the matter is that the hardest part of taking the GMAT is the way the questions are worded, not necessarily the concepts. The best way to practice for this is to get some reps on similar questions. The official guide has 800 questions of varying difficulty from past tests.

This book, combined with the FREE online practice tests (available on, is really all you need. The practice tests are amazingly similar to the actual exam (same instructions, same number of questions, computer adaptive, etc.). The practice tests also give you an opportunity to work under time pressure, see which questions you get wrong, and get a score.

In my next post I will detail the 720 score strategy I used for preparation using the official guide and the free test prep software.

3. “You should only take the GMAT once because MBA programs average your scores”

The truth is most people take the GMAT more than twice and 99.9% of Business Schools take the scores from the test with your higher overall score.

4. “I need to devote several hours of practice time for the essay portion of the exam”

Actually, few Business Schools really care about your essay score especially since a computer is now grading them. Admissions committees will actually tell you this at the information sessions if you attend one. However, bombing this portion might make them wonder. So read some of the sample essays in the official guide and practice once or twice, but don’t sweat it.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Getting into Business School - The Big Hairy GMAT

The first step towards the illusive MBA is the GMAT (Graduate Management Aptitude Test). There are a lot of myths out there about this test and some unwarranted fears as a result. Also, as with any standardized test, there are several companies ready to help you “crack” the exam for a few thousand bucks. I hope to demystify what is a mostly straightforward exam process and give some insight from my own experience over the next few posts.

So lets start with basic information about the GMAT:

-The test has three sections: Essay (Analytical Writing Assessment), Quantitative, and Verbal

-The AWA portion requires two types of essays: analysis of an issue & analysis of an argument

-Quantitative has two subsections: Data Sufficiency and Problem Solving

-Verbal has three subsections: Critical Reasoning, Sentence Correction, and Reading Comprehension

- Scores are based on an 800-point scale (530 is the median score). The scores are always multiples of 10 (630, 640, 650, etc.).

- There are an 37 questions in the quantitative section and 41 in the verbal

- It is a Computer Adaptive Test

My Experience

I began to study for the GMAT in early January of this year (2008) and took the test in March and again in April. My preparation included a math refresher and some self-directed test prep. My first score was a 650 and my second was a 720. My percentiles for the higher score were 81 and 95 in Quantitative and Verbal respectively – Overall percentile was 95. To give you an idea of where this score measures up consider that the median GMAT score of the current Harvard Business School class is a 710. I am not telling you this to brag, but so you know that what I am sharing with you is battle tested.

I will have some more posts soon about GMAT myths, interpreting scores, test taking strategy, what the actual test day is like, and more.

Stay tuned.

Back to Business School


My name is Reuben. As of July 15, 2008 I am your new blogger extraordinaire. I am in my late 20’s, married, and a resident of the west coast. I graduated with a B.S. in Business Admin. in 2003 and have been working for a European supply chain company for the last 4 years. I enjoy fresh mozzarella, traffic free commuting, and long walks on the beach. I recently received a letter of acceptance from a prominent Business School and am excited to be writing for you.

My primary intent is to share an actual Business School experience with you. This will include pieces of the curriculum, campus life, club experiences, and the internship/job search. I will also focus some posts on current business events, cutting edge and classic business reading material, and other stuff that is worth talking about.

While I can’t divulge exactly which Business School I will be attending, I can tell you that it is a top 50 AACSB School. The University is public and has about 300 students in their MBA program. My official start date is at the end of September 2008. Between now and then I will be writing about some of the things I learned while selecting a school, studying for/taking the GMAT, the application, and getting in.

Please comment often and feel free to contact me directly via e-mail if you have any questions, arguments, or new ideas.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

What is Forensic Accounting Anyway?

The other day a friend asked me "what is forensic accounting?" Honestly, it is a good question considering how morbid it sounds. When people hear the term "forensic," they automatically expect it to relate to something out of CSI. Though that's not always what forensic means, it turns out that becoming a forensic accountant is not too far from the mystery and intrigue of CSI.

A forensic accountant's job is to analyze all aspects of someone's finances, down to every little detail. The job isn't nearly as "redundant" as typical careers in accounting would be. I use the term "redundant" because that's what my friend had said in our conversation the other day. When I was pursuing my online accounting degree, I learned quite quickly that the day to day activities are anything but dull. Regardless, if I were a forensic accountant, something tells me that things would be even more exciting.

What do you think? Numbers can always be a puzzle (or mystery), but are they more fun when attached to something like Enron?