I just got back from the biennial GMAC Test Prep Summit. (Quick: what does biennial mean? Just in case you see the word in a question!) We discussed a number of very interesting things. Don’t worry – I won’t totally geek out on you – but some of what we discussed will be useful for you even if you don’t make your career in test prep.
In this article, we’re going to discuss information from the conference that is relevant to everyone taking the test right now (or soon). Most of the key bits were gleaned from the presentations of Dr. Lawrence M. Rudner, Chief Psychometrician of GMAC. All quotes and statistics throughout this article are courtesy of Larry. Keep an eye out for a future article in which we’ll dive a bit more deeply into the Next Generation GMAT, which will launch in June of 2012. (Oh – and “biennial” means “every 2 years.”)
The myths are still myths
The earlier questions are not worth more. Accuracy is not more important than timing. We knew that already. Larry specifically made a point of reiterating these messages and asking for our help in disseminating the information – it really bothers him that the myths are still floating around out there, and it bothers me, too. This misinformation can cause students to receive lower scores than they might have otherwise. The whole point of my job as a teacher is to help people get better scores – so I definitely don’t want to see anyone fall short of a goal because he believed a myth that we could have dispelled.
Also, I know you’ve heard this before, but it bears repeating:
“There is a severe penalty for not completing the GMAT test.”
– Larry Rudner
For those who may not have seen the data before, Larry again showed us real data showing how a 70th percentile test taker would drop if she left the last five questions blank. Assuming that she was at the 70th percentile when she ran out of time, that student would end up with a 55th percentile score – a 15-percentile-point drop! (Note: the magnitude of the drop can change depending upon the scoring level. As a general rule, the higher the score, the more of a drop if you leave questions blank or have a string of wrong answers at the end.)
Sentence Correction is more and more about meaning rather than grammar
We’ve already been speculating about this and other Sentence Correction changes on the forums, and Larry confirmed this one. GMAC has asked ACT (the people who write the actual test questions for GMAC) to emphasize meaning more on SC questions. There are an increasing number of questions in which two or more answer choices are grammatically correct and the key distinction rests upon maintaining the meaning from the question stem. If you’re concentrating solely on the grammar and haven’t learned how to incorporate meaning into your assessment, you’re going to find the real GMAT harder.
If you’d like to see some examples of what I’m talking about, crack open your Official Guide Verbal Supplement 2nd Edition and take a look at question 37. Answer choices B and E are both grammatically correct, but only one maintains the original meaning of the question stem. Which one? (I think this is a great study question for multiple reasons, actually – more on that in a minute.)
While there are several superficial differences between the two answers, the major difference is in the placement of the phrase “last year.” Last year is a modifier that tells us when a specific action or event occurred. What happened last year?
According to the original sentence, the earthquake occurred last year. Do both answer choices B and E maintain that meaning? Nope. Only B does. E says that the buildings had been constructed last year. How do we know that?
“<Last year> some <of the buildings> <that were destroyed or heavily damaged> <in the earthquake> had been constructed…”
The stuff in brackets is all modifiers. The word “some” is the subject and the verb is “had been constructed.” “Of the buildings” modifies “some.” “that were destroyed…” modifies “buildings” and “in the earthquake” modifies “destroyed or damaged.” In other words, the subject “some” has a bunch of modifiers following it, but the modifier “last year” precedes the subject. “Last year” has to modify some kind of an action or event. The subject “some” isn’t an event or action, so “last year” can’t modify that. The next core part of the sentence is “had been constructed,” which is an action, so “last year” modifies that action. Note that, in the original sentence, the modifier “last year” appears as part of the prepositional phrase “in the earthquake last year” – that is, in the original sentence, “last year” is part of the nested modifiers for the subject, while in answer E, “last year” has been sort of pulled “up” to the level of the core sentence. And, voila, the meaning has been changed.
The other reason I really love this problem: it also illustrates a case of when we should change the original meaning of the sentence. Most of the time, we’re going to be maintaining the original meaning… but sometimes there’s something illogical about that meaning. In question 37, the problem says that some buildings “were destroyed and heavily damaged” but that doesn’t actually make sense! A building is either destroyed or heavily damaged, but it can’t be both simultaneously because these are two different states on the same continuum. The correct answer, B, switches that “and” to the more logical “or.” (Note that answers B and E both make this switch – they’re both completely grammatically and logically correct, so this one really does come down to the ability to maintain the original meaning of the sentence.)
Stop stressing about idioms
Note: a few days after this was originally published, GMAC clarified that only American-centric idioms and expressions have been stripped out of the exam. We have edited the below accordingly so as not to leave any misinformation to confuse other students in the future. (30 Sep 2011)
When we asked Larry about the relative importance of idioms on the SC section, he said basically zero! They’ve asked ACT to phase these kinds of idioms out completely and, ideally, there already aren’t any more questions that hinge on knowledge of American-centric idioms. (Though he doesn’t guarantee that, yet – there may still be some.) There are still many “regular” idioms that apply across all variations of the English language, however, and those idioms are still fair game.
That’s really good news, and I applaud GMAC for making this change. The only good reason to test American idioms is when you are specifically trying to test someone’s advanced English-language skills – for a translation or editing job for the American market, for example. Business is international and business schools care about your ability to communicate and make yourself understood, not whether you have 100% perfect American-based grammar.
We’re still parsing through a lot of the data that we received at the Summit; for instance, we’d like to know whether the currently released materials (OG12, etc.) have already been stripped of American-centric language. If so, we can confidently study anything we see in those sources, knowing that we’re not wasting time. As we have more for you, we will definitely share! And, as mentioned at the beginning of the article, we’ll have another article soon with details about the Next Generation GMAT®.
Rudner, Lawrence M. (2011). GMAT Psychometrics. Materials presented at the 2011 GMAC Test Preparation Summit, New York, NY. 15 Sept 2011.
* The text excerpted above from The Official Guide for GMAT Verbal Review 2nd Edition is copyright GMAC (the Graduate Management Admissions Council). The short excerpts are quoted under fair-use statutes for scholarly or journalistic work; use of these excerpts does not imply endorsement of this article by GMAC.