Author’s Notes

[Excerpted from Ace the GMAT]


Ruminations of a veteran GMAT test-prep instructor and MBA admissions coach.

Necessity is said to be the mother of invention. But so too is invention the mother of necessity. This book is a marriage of both processes. Although there was no initial mandate calling for this book’s creation, once created there was little doubt it was needed. My early GMAT workshops in Hong Kong invited students to ask open-ended questions beyond the course script: “What are the different types of distance-rate-time problems found in math Problem Solving? … Are there any tricks to finding assumptions when writing an argument essay in Analytical Writing? … How do you pick numbers for Data Sufficiency problems? … Is there any special technique for solving math mixture problems? … What are the different kinds of cause-and-effect arguments that appear in Critical Reasoning? Can answer choices in Sentence Correction ever be grammatically correct and still not be the correct answer? … How are Reading Comprehension passages structured?”

The difficulty posed in answering such an array of questions is obvious. It is one thing to field specific questions about the mechanics of a particular problem. It is another thing to compare and contrast problems across a broad spectrum. The latter requires research and reflection. My research included a review of more than a thousand prior-released, official GMAT test questions as well as those materials used by numerous test-prep organizations. In short, my examination encompassed everything that was published and available.

My first discovery was “buckets of problems.” I found that the best way to help students master the GMAT was to group problems by problem types (that is, create buckets of similar problems). The next task was dividing these larger categories into sub-categories. It was then a matter of finding what specific problem-solving principles or techniques bind a given subcategory. “Buckets of problems” is, upon reflection, exactly how sports are practiced. Professional athletes, and inspired amateurs, never practice all tasks at the same time, unless they’re trying to simulate competition. The game of golf provides a classic example. When practicing, a golfer practices one type of shot at a time: drives, long irons, chips, and putts. Only by breaking up the shots into “groups” can a golfer analyze what he or she is really doing en route to achieving a shot-making groove.

This book strikes a balance between representing problem categories and choosing thematic problems. A thematic or value-added problem is one which reveals much about how a particular type of problem works. Whereas representing each and every problem category and subcategory would have certainly resulted in a book of some 500 problems, ensuring that all problems are thematic enabled problem selection to be winnowed down to the 200 problems contained in this book. These “all-star” problems act as a template to represent the underlying math, verbal, writing principles that are likely to reappear on the actual GMAT.

In the same way that a blueprint is prerequisite for building a house, strong theory best precedes rigorous practice. In short, my four-tier recommendation for GMAT study is as follows:

I. Achieve familiarity with the different types of problems on the test (do this book!).
II. Do a sufficient number of additional practice problems.
III. Complete at least two full-length computer adaptive exams.
IV. Take the real GMAT exam.

In terms of familiarizing yourself with the different types of problems, I recommend a two-pronged approach. First, if possible, sign up for a test-prep course. Second, study this book in conjunction with enrolling in a course. Most test-prep courses do a very good job of surveying the various problem types, but a generalizable criticism is that these courses are a little light in terms of content. The analytical approach embodied by Ace the GMAT(as well as the ebook-only editions, Ace the GMAT Math and Ace the GMAT Verbal)makes it an excellent complement and companion guide for anyone enrolled in a test-preparation course.

Whether you decide to take a test-prep course or study on your own, test preparation has three elements: content, structure, and strategy. Content is understanding what kinds of problems are on the exam. Structure is about following a specific plan of study in order to complete study, often within a limited time frame. Strategy refers to the need to find optimal ways to solve problems and understanding how, relative to the test, to maximize your strengths and minimize your weaknesses.

I’m a fan of test-prep courses and believe that every candidate should take one, notwithstanding availability, wherewithal, and the time required to complete a course. In my opinion, test-prep courses get results first and foremost because they provide structure. This should not be underestimated. We all know how difficult it is to motivate ourselves; any serious undertaking requires a schedule backed by commitment. The “best” test-prep courses typically provide live instruction and rely on “good” instructors. An experienced instructor is able to frame course material and add valuable examples and anecdotal information, which may not be part of the formal course offering. Many times the answer to the question “Which company has the best GMAT course?” may very well be the same as asking “Which company has the best GMAT instructor(s)?”

With respect to content, mastering any skill-based endeavor translates to having skills, knowledge, and confidence. As it relates to GMAT study, knowledge means being able to apply specific skills to new but analogous problems. Strategy is everything other than content — understanding the best approach to use to solve a given problem, choosing among different problem-solving techniques, learning how to eliminate answer choices and/or guess on questions (if necessary), adapting to a mix of questions on the test, dealing with time pressure, and maintaining concentration. One caveat: Although strategy is certainly a sexier word than content or structure, only common sense is needed to recognize that strategy alone is not enough to defeat the GMAT.

This book adheres to the philosophy that mastery of exam content is the only real way to conquer GMAT exam. Ace the GMAT is unique in its analytical approach and its ability to reveal how problems work. This “recipe” book is steeped in best practices — those core strategies, techniques, and insights about how to score high on the GMAT, which were discovered, tested, and refined over a multi-year period. Learning is about aha moments and taking “ownership” in the material at hand. It is greatly satisfying knowing that this book can help you beat the GMAT and go to business school. It is also an honor knowing that you invested your time in its review.