Tag Archives: GMAT

MBA Admissions Tip: Common Recommendation Dilemmas

This MBA admissions tip comes to us from our friends at Clear Admit. For more expert b-school admissions advice, check out their blog or previous Clear Admit posts on our blog.

As many of our readers are aware, letters of recommendation are a central part of the application process.  We would like to take a look at how to handle the snags that often arise for applicants in unique employment situations.

The applicant who is most likely to have trouble finding a suitable recommender is either self-employed or works in his or her family’s business.  First, self-employed entrepreneurs by their very nature do not have a direct supervisor.  Similarly, an applicant who works for the family business may have trouble finding a non-related supervisor, or someone who can offer a truly objective opinion.

Applicants who find themselves in this dilemma should not despair. Some applicants might be in a position to solicit a letter from a client or customer with whom they have worked extensively.  In an ongoing relationship like this one, the applicant is accountable to the client, and in this sense the client may act as a supervisor.  A letter from a client or customer works best, of course, when the relationship has been intensive and ongoing; the writer should be familiar with the applicant’s responsibilities and the way he or she fulfills them, as well as his or her career trajectory.

Another option is to look to former supervisors for a letter of recommendation.  This is a good option for an applicant who has maintained a close relationship with a previous employer. I n this scenario, it is important that the applicant has kept the recommender informed about any developments in his or her career goals.  This way, the letter will be oriented towards the future even if it draws on anecdotes from the past.

For applicants who have pursued extensive community involvement outside of work, yet another recommendation option may exist within a volunteer organization.  Someone who has contributed to a nonprofit for several years and has taken on responsibilities at the organizational level would be in a great position to explore this option.  Again, applicants in this position should look for a recommender who ranks above them in the organization’s hierarchy and has first-hand knowledge of their contributions.

Following these criteria, in conjunction with some of the more general guidelines, applicants can acquire insightful, enthusiastic recommendations that bolster their entire applications.

Critical Reasoning Tip: What’s the Difference Between a Conclusion and an Argument?

Recently, a few of our students had some questions about this Critical Reasoning problem:

Some ecologists claim that forest fires are a natural part of the ecosystem in certain types of forest environments. Botany experts support this claim, citing the fact that some plant species have adapted to survive and even thrive in fires.

Which of the following statements, if true, most strengthens the argument above?

(A) Recent campaigns to eliminate forest fires have saved thousands of plants from burning.

(B) Many forest plants have seeds that do not germinate unless exposed to intense heat and smoke.

(C) One technique used to limit the spread of forest fires is to burn the area surrounding the fire to the ground.

(D)  Despite intense human intervention and innovation, huge forest fires break out every year in the United States.

(E) Some plant species release many potentially toxic chemicals into the atmosphere when burnt.

The conclusion of the statement above is the ecologists’ claim that “forest fires are a natural part of the ecosystem in certain types of forest environments.”  It seems like both B and D strengthen this conclusion; I would certainly argue that this is the case.  B clearly strengthens the conclusion:  if the seeds of some plants cannot germinate without “intense heat and smoke,” it seems like such plant need forest fires to reproduce. D tells us that forest fires continually occur despite human attempts to prevent them: on the assumption that human intervention is not a “natural part of the ecosystem” (a questionable, though, in my opinion, allowable assumption), D also strengthens the conclusion.

So am I saying that this is a flawed question?

Of course not! If you read the question stem carefully, you are asked to strengthen the “argument.” An argument, by definition, is a conclusion supported by at least one premise. Only B strengthens the connection between the premise (that “some plant species have adapted to thrive” in forest fires) with the conclusion. D might strengthen the conclusion, but only B strengthens the argument.

This is an important distinction.  Consider the following:

Some political scientists have concluded that drinking large amounts of alcohol is conducive to achieving success in electoral politics.

There is a conclusion above. But there was no argument. This is an argument:

Some sociologists have concluded that drinking large amounts of alcohol is conducive to achieving success in politics. To support this claim, they cite that Yeltsin, who drank heavily, was one of Russia’s most popular elected leaders, whereas Gorbachev, who rarely drank, never achieved electoral success.

Because the conclusion was supported by at least one premise, we can call the passage above an argument. If we were asked to strengthen the conclusion, a premise such as this would suffice:

Winston Churchill drank large amounts of alcohol, and he was one of Great Britain’s most successful prime ministers.

But the premise above would not strengthen the argument, because it does not strengthen the connection between the evidence and the conclusion. The following premise would strengthen the argument:

The majority of respondents to a recent survey claimed that they trusted Yeltsin more because they knew he was a heavy drinker.

Remember: an argument always contains a conclusion, but is defined by the presence of a conclusion supported by at least one premise.


MBA News Roundup: B-Schools Opt Out of Ethics Rankings, Admissions Advice from Stanford GSB Dean, and More

Welcome to another installment of Knewton’s MBA News Roundup! This week, check out articles on why some top b-schools aren’t participating in ethics rankings, the difficulty of molding leaders in MBA programs, and application insights from the Dean of Admissions at Stanford GSB.

1. Top B-Schools Opt Out of Ethics Rankings
Five of the top ten U.S. b-schools decided not to participate in this year’s Aspen Institute ranking of MBA programs’ ethical and environmental impact. What gives?

2. Why MBA Programs Don’t Produce Leaders

This week, check out this Forbes staff writer’s take on why MBA programs aren’t conducive to breeding leaders. Next week, check out a different staff writer’s take on why they do!

3. Ticket to an MBA

Stanford GSB Dean of Admissions Derrick Bolt offers some unlikely advice on what he’s looking for in an application.

4. Business Schools Must Be Wary of Short-Term Myopia

Myopia (Greek: μυωπία, muōpia): lack of imagination, foresight, intellectual insight.

Tuition set at about thirty thousand gypsy tears per year.

The Speedy Road to Insufficiency

Here’s another quick tip for those of you still struggling with the pitfalls of Data Sufficiency.

Let’s take a look at the following Official Guide DS problem:

If p and q are positive integers and pq = 24, what is the value of p?

(1)  q/6 is an integer

(2)  p/2 is an integer

It just so happens that this is a value-based question:  When we’re asked “what is the value of p?”, we’re being asked to provide a single value for p.  If a statement or combination of statements cannot give us a single value, then it must be insufficient.

So, before you go all crazy trying to set up equations, think about what I like to call “The Speedy Road to Insufficiency.”  What does that mean?  Well, in a nutshell, it means that when approaching a statement or combination of statements, you should treat it as “insufficient until proven sufficient.”  In other words, go into it trying to demonstrate insufficiency.  Why?  Well, in short, because it’s faster.  How so?  Well, in order to prove insufficiency, all we have to do is find two different possible values for p that satisfy the statement(s).  If we can quickly locate two such values, we don’t have to do any more work.  We know the statement must be insufficient.

Can we do this for Statement (1)?  Well, if q/6 is an integer and pq = 24, then q could be 6, 12, or 24, and the corresponding values of p would be 4, 2, and 1, respectively.  We just found three possible values of p.  Guess what?  We’re done with Statement (1).  Definitely insufficient.  And in truth, you could have stopped the moment you realized p could be 4 or 2.  Two possible values of p are enough to demonstrate insufficiency.

What about Statement (2)?  Well, if p/2 is an integer and pq = 24, then p could be 2, 4, 6, 8, 12, or 24.  Definitely not just one value of p, so we know Statement (2) is insufficient.

Now, I’ll just give this away and tell you that Statements (1) and (2) are still insufficient when combined.  But before reading the next paragraph, see if you can spot the speediest way to determine that.

Did you find it?  Well, notice that Statements (1) and (2) both say that p could be 2 or 4.  That’s it…don’t do any more work!  You’ve got two possible values of p, and thus you’ve shown insufficiency.

This strategy also works for “Yes/No” questions, which include phrases such as “Is x odd?” or “Is y > 2?”  These questions don’t ask for a specific value but instead ask you to answer “yes” or “no” to a specific question.  But the strategy is the same:  “Insufficient until proven sufficient”.  If you can show quickly that the answer could be either “yes” or “no”, you’ve shown insufficiency and can move on.  See if you can apply the strategy to this official problem:

If x ≠ -y, is (x-y) / (x+y) > 1 ?

(1) x > 0

(2) y < 0

Don’t just post your solution!  Also include the way you made things speedy.

MBA Admissions Tip: Word Limits

This week’s MBA admissions tip comes to us from our friends at Clear Admit. For more expert MBA admissions advice, check out their blog.

With applicants for the round one deadlines putting the finishing touches on their applications, the question of how strictly applicants need to adhere to word limits is perhaps more popular than ever. MBA candidates naturally have a good deal of information they want – and need – to convey in their materials, and getting the important ideas down under restrictive word counts is a difficult task. While it might be tempting to run a bit beyond the guidelines to slip in that one extra thought, it’s important to keep the reasons for word limits in mind.

In addition to being a forum for explaining your goals and sharing your story, the essays also serve as a test of the applicant’s ability to communicate clearly and concisely, not to mention follow directions and answer a question. Because business schools and post-MBA employers place a premium on all of these elements, adhering to word counts ultimately works to the candidate’s advantage.

The other consideration is the reader’s time. Because of high application volume and the need to give every applicant fair and thorough consideration, schools are forced to limit the amount of information in each file. If you consistently extend your answers beyond the suggested limits, you are essentially asking the reader to give you more time than they are devoting to the other applicants. In other words, if you were to ignore the word limits and overshoot by 30% throughout, this might imply that you consider yourself to be 20% more interesting than everyone else who applied.

That being said, there is some leeway. For the vast majority of programs, it’s generally acceptable to exceed the word limit by 10%. There are, of course, a few exceptions:

Caveat #1: If a school gives you a range (e.g. 250-750 words), you should ideally stay within that range.
Caveat #2: If a school gives you a page limit (e.g. 2 pages), you should stay within that limit – without excessive margin manipulation or font size reduction.

In terms of the other end of the length issue, it is likely unwise to consistently fall more than 10% below the word limits, as this is valuable room in which to share further information about your candidacy (and might signal a lack of effort, experience, or accomplishments).

Best of luck to all those working on their application essays!

MBA News Roundup: Wharton’s Global Engagement Series in Mumbai, Non-Traditional MBA Career Paths, and More

Welcome to another installment of Knewton’s MBA News Roundup! This week, check out articles on Wharton’s new program in India, non-traditional MBA career paths, and how students are using social media to figure out b-schools.

Wharton b-school is launching a Global Engagement series in Mumbai, designed to meet the needs of high-potential business leaders in India.

“The Roots, Rituals and Rhetorics of Change: North American Business Schools After the Second World War,” describes the revolution in business education that took place in the 1950s and 1960s.

Business degrees becoming increasingly popular with circus performers and other members of the social fringe.

Eighty-five percent of potential students worldwide use social media to research schools, a survey by the MBA Tour reports.

The Idiot’s Guide to GMAT Idioms

You may have heard that the GMAT is no longer testing idioms. You also may have heard that the first 10 questions on the GMAT are the most important. You also may have heard that Lindsey Lohan is great at Data Sufficiency.

Why do you believe everything you hear?

Dr. Lawrence Rudner is the Vice President of Research and Development at the Graduate Management Admission Council. In other words, he is The Man with regards to the GMAT. Here is what he has to say on the matter: “Some Sentence Correction items continue to pose reasoning tasks that incorporate English-language, NOT American, idioms. These are not intended to test specialized knowledge of colloquialisms and regionalisms.”

In other words, the GMAT will continue to require you to understand which of the two following sentences is correct.

I am capable of acing the GMAT.

I am capable to ace the GMAT.

You should know that the adjective “capable” is always followed by the preposition “of” and a gerund. There is no need to memorize hundreds of idioms: your Knewton core work, the practice on the freely available GMAT Prep software, and (if you still need more questions) the GMAT Official Guides should be sufficient to learn all the commonly tested idioms.

The idioms you do not need to learn are those that are specific to American, or any other, culture. For example, Americans sometimes use the phrase “He’s gone bananas” to mean that someone has gone a little crazy. This phrase, however, would not necessarily suggest that meaning in other cultures.

There are also some rumors out there that Sentence Correction is changing. Once again, I’ll defer to the estimable Dr. Rudner: “In recent years, GMAT item writers have been concentrating on the reasoning aspects rather than the purely grammatical aspects of Sentence Correction skills…. This means that whereas two sentences may both be grammatically appropriate, the correct answer is the sentence that is most ‘effective’ ─ the sentence that better expresses the idea.”

So there is no change, just a continuation of a policy that has existed for at least a few years: clarity of expression, as well as grammar, is tested in Sentence Correction. This should come as no surprise to Knewton students. Our lessons emphasize that the SC sections tests meaning and clarity as well as grammar.  So there may be two grammatically correct answer choices, but only one will clearly express the meaning implied by the question prompt.

As I close this blog post, I want to give a special thanks to GMAC’s Director of Field Marketing, Joanna Graham, who responded to an email in 5 minutes on a Saturday night. Why we are both working at 8:45 on a Saturday…  well, that’s an issue for another post.

You can see the full text of Dr. Rudner’s post here.


MBA News Roundup: Lunch with Dean of HBS, Evolution of the MBA Infographic, Stanford Leads in Green MBAs

Welcome to another installment of Knewton’s MBA News Roundup! This week, check out articles on the HBS Dean’s take on changing business education, an illustrated history of the MBA program, and another list of b-school rankings, this time the theme is “greenest.”

1. Dose of Humility with a Harvard MBA

Dean of HBS Nitin Nohria sits down with some Wall Street Journal reporters to discuss his curriculum overhaul and character-building in the context of business school.

2. Evolution of the MBA [Infographic]

Did you know that in 1950 the University of Western Ontario became the first school in Canada to offer an MBA program, almost a full century after the University of Pennsylvania became the first American school to do so in 1881?

3. The Pros and Cons of Going Abroad for your MBA

Considering a business education with a more global slant? Check out these veritable overseas instituations for an MBA with more international zest. Ole!

4. Aspen Institute Releases List of Top Green MBAs

Stanford students deemed the most concerned with both types of green.

MBA Admissions Tip: MBA Application Data Form

This MBA admissions tip comes to us from our friends at Clear Admit. For more expert MBA admission advice, check out their blog.

With MBA programs’ Round One deadlines just around the corner, we wanted to offer some words of advice about an often overlooked element of one’s file: the application data forms. All too often, we see candidates leave these online application forms for the last minute, even rushing to enter all the required information from work on “deadline day.” The truth is that a weak effort on these forms can do serious harm to one’s candidacy, as it might reflect poorly on the applicant’s professional polish or commitment to the application process. This being the case, here are a few tips for those who are in the midst of completing this component of the application:

1) Don’t be lazy. We know that many applicants feel “burned out” from their essays and that it’s tempting to zip through the application forms and provide a bare minimum of information. While it’s fine to use your resume as a starting point, make sure that you think beyond this ready-made content and consider other information that might be of interest. In many cases, the forms are a great opportunity for you to list outside activities in depth, offer a quick explanation of a bad semester, share the significance of some professional awards you’ve received, and so on. In fact, your application forms will often be the starting point for the admissions officer’s review of your file, so it’s important to put your best foot forward.

2) Follow instructions. If a school asks you to list activities in order of importance to you, then do not list them chronologically (as you may have done for another school). If the school asks for a contact person, title or the number of hours/week, do not leave these fields blank. As attention to detail is very important, spell checking another important step in this process. In fact, many admissions officers have stated that they use the application forms as a way to see whether or not candidates have the ability to follow instructions and show attention to detail.

3) Make everything clear. The last thing you want is for your reader to have to play detective in understanding your career progression, making sense of gaps in employment, or evaluating your undergraduate performance. If your listings are not clear, the reader may assume you are hiding something – a conclusion that could seriously damage your chances. By the same token, you should avoid using industry jargon and be sure that all of your statements will make sense to a reader who is not familiar with your industry or function. Given the level of competition in the applicant pool, the admissions office can afford to dismiss files that are confusing or difficult to follow.

4) Don’t go overboard. Admissions officers typically review several files in a sitting – devoting much less time than you might imagine to each file. With this in mind, avoid listing 18 activities, 22 awards and 17 publications – especially if some of those items date back to high school (or are more than 10 years old). Stay focused on the elements of your background that are most relevant, while following the instructions that have been outlined. Remember that the application process is an exercise in marketing, and that the schools appreciate applicants who are discerning about what details to share and know how to present themselves most effectively.

As always, best of luck to those of you who are applying!

More on the Integrated Reasoning Section

Last time I blogged about what I learned at the GMAC Test Prep Summit and I briefly mentioned the new Integrated Reasoning section that will begin to appear on the GMAT in June 2012. On its website GMAC has made available some sample questions that you can find here.

Here’s a quick breakdown of the new section:

The Table Analysis prompt requires you to analyze and sort data in a spreadsheet-like document. The Graphics Interpretation prompt requires that you understand concepts like slope and lines of regression (otherwise known as “lines of best fit”). I wouldn’t be surprised if other kinds of graphic representation, such as pie charts and Venn diagrams, will appear as well.

The Multi-Source Reasoning prompt is like a Critical Reasoning inference question with three distinct but related passages. Finally, the Two-Part Analysis Prompt gives you two components to a solution and requires you to provide your answer in a table format. Both the Multi-Source Reasoning and Two-Part Analysis prompt involve some simple math, and the Multi-Source question requires some basic knowledge of probability. Full disclosure: at first I found the Two-Part Analysis prompt very difficult, because I foolishly assumed that the third column referred to a percentage, and not just to the actual increase of members per year. I constructed a complicated exponential equation when all that was really required was a simple linear equation!

Once I realized my mistake, my impression of these problems was that they were pretty easy. I’m not sure if the math will get much harder; how very nice of the GMAT to provide a calculator for the easiest math problems and then take it away for the Quant section!

But remember, you will see 12 of these prompts, and have to answer one or more questions about each in 30 minutes. In April 2012, GMAC will release new GMAT Prep software (which, by the way, will be Mac-compatible!), as well as the 13th Edition of the Official Guide. Once we see more sample questions, we will have a better sense of how difficult the section is and how it will be scored.