Monthly Archives: May 2011

Waiting for the End

Today I finished my last practice test. 3 more days until I write the real thing, and I can probably safely say I am basically done preparing. Before the actual test day, I’m going to do some of the more difficult problems from the Original Guide 12th Edition that I have been saving. Aside from that, my plan is to just review the list of AWA topics, and some probability questions as that is my weakest area.

My test results were not that great in the middle there. I was hoping to consistently hit the 750+ range on my last few, but didn’t quite manage. The encouraging sign is that I was able to get 760+ on all my GMAT Prep tests, which are supposedly the best predictors of actual performance. My weakest scores were on the Princeton Review tests, with my second last test hitting a 670. I didn’t panic with that score because I was sick that day and I knew my concentration was affected. Overall, I think I should be able to hit my goal of 740+ comfortably as long as I don’t spend excessively long on any questions and don’t have some sort of anxiety attack.

I’ll be posting after my exam is done with my results, and again shortly after with a review of the materials I used and some observations on what worked well to prepare for the exam. Here’s hoping that my next post comes with some good news!

 

 

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Lazy Day

Today I didn’t feel like doing anything. I wish I could have kicked my feet up and lounged in my snuggie like Bruno Mars, because that would have been awesome. After a weekend filled with classes and socializing, all I wanted to do was sleep through the day. Unfortunately, Tuesdays are my test days (what with no classes and all).

So I mustered up some energy, dragged myself out of bed and after a quick shower, got to it. I did a Knewton free CAT today. Here are the results:

Q 47 (77%)

V 43 (96%)

Scaled Score: 730

On the quant side, I failed miserably near the end. For the life of me I could not do basic algebra… my mind was not on yet. This led to me spending almost 4 minutes on an absolute value question, which ate into a bit of the cushion I had built up, and another 4 minutes on a simple ratio question. I got the ratio question wrong, and after wasting that time, I had under 2 minutes left for each of the remaining  8 questions – I got 5 of them wrong.

On the verbal side, I only got 4 wrong, but one of them was because I misread the word “exports” as “experts.” I spent 5 minutes on that critical reasoning question, reading and re-reading the argument and all the options. I felt like I was the subject of some cruel prank because none of the options made sense to me. In the end, I selected the option that had the most semblance of rationality to it, and ended up getting it wrong (of course). After all that, I somehow still finished the verbal section with about 8 minutes remaining.

I suppose that all things considered, the test went ok. I was definitely very sluggish while writing, and it showed in the errors I made. I was expecting a 650 ish score when I was done based on how crappy I felt. Luckily I did not write essays before this one – I’m not sure I would have lasted through the CAT if I had, and I’m certain I would have gotten a much lower score had I written the essays. I feel like I skimped out on some practice by not writing the essays, but I plan on making up for it down the line.

This experience definitely showed me that I need to be well-rested in the last couple of days leading up to my actual test date, and I need to be focused and ready to go. I’m also a bit concerned that while I’m consistently getting 700+ scores, I’m not yet consistently hitting my goal of 740. I know these tests are not the best indicators, but with just under 3 weeks left, I’m hoping to see stronger results on the remainder of the practice CATs I intend to take.


Analysis of an Argument Essay

Again, all feedback is appreciated!!Group #1: Analysis of Argument
The following was used as part of an internet advertising company’s appeal to businesses: Furniture Depot employed our internet advertising company to help. Since then its sales increased by 10% over last year’s totals. Furniture Depot’s success demonstrates how using our internet services can increase your profitability.

Describe how well reasoned you find this argument. In the discussion be sure to analyze the line of reasoning and the use of evidence in the argument. For example, you may need to consider what questionable assumptions underlie the thinking and what alternative explanations or counterexamples might weaken the argument’s conclusion. You may also address possible changes in the argument that would make it more logically sound, and what, if anything, would help you better evaluate its conclusion.

Response:

In the statement above, the author argues claims that using his or her internet advertising company’s services can improve profitability for any company. This claim is supported by evidence that one client, Furniture Depot, saw increased sales of 10% after using the author’s advertising services. There are many issues with both the claim the author makes and the evidence used to support it. These issues, which are outlined below, make the author’s argument weak and difficult to accept.

The first and most obvious point of weakness in the author’s argument arises from the evidence provided. The author claims that Furniture Depot experienced a 10% sales increase after employing his or her advertising services, but provides no evidence to establish a causal relationship between the two events. There are numerous other reasons Furniture Depot might have experienced increased sales, and if any of them are true, then the author’s argument is weakened. For example, Furniture Depot might have employed other advertising services or pursued other forms of advertising such as print or TV advertising, which might have contributed to the increase in sales. There could have been company-wide price increases on furniture, or even inflationary pressures on prices, that led to an increase in sales figures. Perhaps Furniture Depot invested heavily in increasing its sales force or
training them better, leading to improved sales. Furniture Depot might also have launched new product lines or entered new markets, thereby encountering new sales from these products. If any such factors exist that might have increased sales for Furniture Depot, then the author’s claim is significantly weakened because the implicit assumption that the 10% rise in sales is attributable to the use of his or her company’s advertising services is rendered invalid.

The second assumption that author makes is that results for companies would be similar regardless of differences in industry, geography or target market. There is no evidence provided that a shoe company or clothing retailer would experience similar sales increases, or that a company operating in a different part of the country than Furniture Depot can expect similar results. Therefore, even if it was proven that the 10% sales increase was directly attributable to the usage of the author’s advertising services, there is still some doubt regarding the effectiveness of the advertising for other types of businesses. If the author had provided some background on how his or her services works to attract customers, or perhaps some additional data for different companies across various industries, then the argument could be strengthened.

A third point of weakness in the author’s argument lies in the claim made that using his or her internet services can increase profitability. Not only has the author failed to establish a causal link between Furniture Depot’s sales increase and its usage of the author’s services, but he or she also failed to state the claim accurately. increased sales do not necessarily lead to increased profitability. If a company were to employ the author and the cost of using the author’s services exceeded the resulting increase in sales, then profitability would actually be lowered. Therefore, even if the author had successfully proven that using his or her services increased sales for Furniture Depot, and that other companies could expect similar results regardless of the business they were in, there is no evidence that profitability in the author’s clients actually increases. This point renders the claim absolutely invalid and makes the author’s argument very weak. Replacing the word ‘profitability’ with ‘sales’, and addressing the other weaknesses outlined above would go a long way to strengthen the author’s argument.

The author claims that Furniture Depot saw an increase in sales because of using his or her internet advertising services, and that any company can experience an increase in profitability by using his or her services. This argument is weak because a causal link between Furniture Depot’s sales increase and its usage of the author’s services is never properly established. In addition, there is no evidence provided that Furniture Depot’s success can be replicated by any company in any industry by using the author’s services.
Lastly, an increase in sales does not always equal an increase in profitability as the author appears to claim. These weaknesses render the author’s claim invalid, and need to be addressed in order to strengthen the author’s case.

 

Analysis of Issue Essay

Any feedback is much appreciated, thanks!!

Group #1: Analysis of Issue
The desire of corporations to maximize profits creates conflict with the general welfare of the nation at large.

Discuss the extent to which you agree or disagree with the opinion stated above. Support your views with reasons and/or examples from your own experience, observations or reading.

Response:

The issue of whether corporations’ objective of maximizing profits benefits society as a whole is very divisive. This issue plays a major role in every political debate around the world today, as governments wrestle with how to treat corporations. On one hand, when corporations maximize profits, there is usually a trickle down effect, with these corporations re-investing their profits thereby creating jobs and providing benefits to society at large. On the other hand, those opposed to this theory argue that profits are hoarded by shareholders and owners of corporations and there is very little benefit received by society from these profits. The desire of corporations to maximize profits creates conflict with the general welfare of the nation at large in numerous ways.

The prevailing argument put forward by economists in favor of helping corporations maximize their profits is the tricke-down theory. President Reagan is credited with implementing a plan to provide corporations with tax breaks and other incentives to carry on with their businesses, and subsequently bolster the economy through increased job creation and investment in new businesses. There have been numerous studies that discredit this hypothesis, and the validity of the claim that corporations are apt to re-invest their profits is questionable. Moreover, there is not strong enough evidence to convincingly prove that the propensity of investors to spend profits remains constant with increasing profits; if this propensity is decreasing as profits rise, then the benefit received by society as a whole as profits are maximized is marginally lower. In today’s economy, with the shift towards a more technology-based and service-based economy, profits can be maximized more efficiently than in the past. Corporations need fewer employees and lower investment to generate higher returns, and as such, even if corporations re-invest their profits, the corresponding benefit to society in today’s economy is lower than it would have been under President Reagan. All of these factors combined indicate that there is not much credit to trickle-down economics or “Reaganomics” as they are often referred to, and that corporations maximizing profits does not necessarily equal increased benefit to society as a whole.

For decades, economists and philosophers have argued that when corporations are successful, there is less scarcity of resources and thus the success of corporations is directly correlated to increased benefits for society. There is a popular theory, called the “Boiler Room Theory”, which refutes this argument. The theory analogizes corporations maximizing profits to a boiler room operator. The goal of the boiler room operator is to maintain the temperature of a given building within a specific range. This temperature is measured by the gauge on the boiler. If the boiler room operator is judged solely on the gauge, then he can accomplish great results by simply breaking the gauge so it is always within the specified range, and not have to deal with the consequences. Similarly, if corporations are judged solely on their profits, which are merely a gauge of performance and not indicative of the entire story, then they can work outside the system to inflate profits while not necessarily creating benefits for all their stakeholders. This phenomenon has occurred numerous times in history, through accounting and financial frauds, and other types of white collar crime. Therefore, judging corporations solely on their profits can lead to conflict with the general welfare of the nation at large.

Another example of how corporations maximizing profits can lead to conflict with the welfare of society is seen with the rise of corporate lobbying. Often, these lobbyists are able to corral the support needed to quell the passage of bills that would be detrimental to profits of the companies paying them. This phenomenon is seen with tobacco and oil lobbyists in particular, who have a history of being able to beat bills which would pass stricter environmental regulations that would eat into the profits received by their respective industries. Clearly, in such instances, the power of these lobbyists is an advantage for the corporations, and their success comes at the expense of laws that would benefit society as a whole.

The existing economy and legal structure creates an environment where the desire of corporations to maximize profits creates conflict with the general welfare of the nation at large. There are ways in which profits can be re-invested in today’s economy which would negate the impact of trickle-down economics. Profits are merely a gauge on which corporations can be judged and do not reflect the big picture; as such, judging corporations on profits alone can lead to perceptions of success while creating little benefit for society. Lastly, the rise of corporate lobbying in government has lead to an environment where regulations that might benefit society at the expense of corporate profits are regularly defeated. All of these factors demonstrate that the desire of corporations to maximize profits creates conflict with the general welfare of the nation at large in today’s American economy.


These Words

I just started seriously preparing for the AWA section of the GMAT. Until a week or so ago, I had no idea what was involved in the Analytical Writing Assessment. After reading a few different sample essays and some preliminary prep material, I devised a basic approach.

Intro to the AWA

The AWA includes 2 essays: an analysis of an issue and an analysis of an argument. The time allotted for each essay is 30 minutes. Each essay is graded on a scale of 1-6 by multiple markers, and the average of these marks is what you are awarded. The average is rounded up to the nearest multiple of 0.5. A score of 5 or 6 would be a good score to achieve.

The analysis of an issue is your standard five-paragraph opinion essay. You are given a topic and you are expected to choose a side on the issue and make arguments to support your position. Generally, 2-3 arguments with some supporting examples drawn from history, literature or personal experience are more than enough for a strong essay. As with any essay, a strong introduction/conclusion stating your thesis is required.

The analysis of an argument essay is like an extension of the critical reasoning questions from the verbal section. You are given an argument: “when i taught middle school the grades of my students went up x%. When I was fired and someone else took over, grades fell x%. Therefore I should get my job back.” Based on such an argument, you are to discuss how well-reasoned the argument is. In every case, the best bet is to say that the argument is poor or flawed, and provide reasons why. Invariably, the reasons are that the author’s premise and assumptions are not well supported. The authors of these arguments usually do not provide any evidence to support their claims, and implicit to their arguments are assumptions that establishe causal links between two events. Breaking 2-3 of these assumptions down should be enough for a strong essay.

How to Approach the AWA

If you are comfortable with your writing skills, the best way to prepare for the AWA is to practice. Most of the time, you would want to allot 5 minutes to outline your essay and come up with your main points, spend 20 minutes writing, and the last 5 minutes proof-reading the essay. So if you are a strong writer, the best way to tackle these essays is to visit mba.com (http://www.mba.com/the-gmat/test-structure-and-overview/analytical-writing-assessment-section.aspx) and download the official list of topics, and then just write as many timed essays as you can before the test day.

If your writing skills need some brushing up, there are numerous resources providing tips and templates/outlines that you could memorize to make life easier. These can be found at Beat the GMAT.com (http://www.beatthegmat.com/mba/resources#linkcat-68). After reviewing these tips and formulating an approach that works for you, go back and practice, practice, practice.

My Prep Plan

Given that I like to write, I decided that the best way to practice for me was to write timed essays along with my practice CATs. I might occasionally write a couple of timed essays when I have a free 30 minutes as well. I’ll post my latest essays separately in case anyone’s interested in seeing a sample or providing feedback.

I plan on reviewing the official topics and making sure I don’t see anything too difficult. If I see topics I might be unfamiliar with, I will probably try to set aside time to write them. My goal is to write between 10-15 of each type of essay between now and June 4th.

Last Words

The AWA does not test whether someone is an amazing writer. The goal of these tests is to assess whether someone is a competent business writer, and can think analytically about an issue and critically about an argument presented to them. So the goal is not to spend hours polishing writing skills and achieving the quality one might need to be an author, but rather to understand how to formulate an argument, develop each point fully but concisely, and present an essay with minimal grammatical and spelling errors. This is a much easier goal, and should be achievable for everyone comfortable with the English language.

Hope that provides some encouragement to anyone who might be dreading the AWA portion of the GMAT. Happy writing!


Walk This Way

Time for an update on how my prep is going. Over the past 3 weeks or so, I have completed about 35 hours of prep. This time includes 5 practice tests. With the remaining time, I went through the Princeton Review guides, attempted a few questions from their bins before deciding that it might not be very useful, reviewed some concepts from the Manhattan GMAT strategy guides, and done some preliminary work on the AWA. Here are the results from my tests so far:

Notes on the scores:

  • Since my first GMAT prep test, I have been writing AWAs before I start the actual test. This has helped me realize that the extra hour takes its toll on stamina and I’m hoping that through enough practice, I will have developed the endurance to stay focused on the verbal section before my test day. I’m already seeing results on this front.
  • On the first Princeton Review CAT I took, I scored only a 700. From everything I read, these tests were more likely to overstate scores than understate them, and so I got a bit worried. I attributed the lower score on the first test to the fact that I wrote it at 7 p.m. after a long day. I was also rushing to write it so I could head out to meet friends – I had about 30 minutes left on my verbal section when I was finished. This test was also the first time I had tried to do the AWA before the actual sections, and that impacted my focus on the last stretch.
  • Looking back now, I’m not fully sold that the Princeton Review tests are a good tool. The algorithm seems off when compared to both the Kaplan test and the first GMAT Prep test, and the questions seem to have a different style as well. I was able to identify a couple of patterns, and picked up on a couple of key things through these tests, but overall, I think I might have made a mistake paying for theses and perhaps I should have paid for access to the Manhattan GMAT CATs instead.
  • The one benefit PR offered is the chance to have a couple of AWA attempts graded. I’m saving my last test for a date closer to my actual test date to evaluate my AWA writing again then.
  • The Kaplan test I wrote today felt good. Not as good as some of the PR tests (all the more reason I believe that those tests are flawed), but still fairly good. The score on these tests are supposed to understate expected results on the actual test, so I’m feeling ok after that one. Familiar patterns that I saw after my first GMAT prep test, but which seemed to not be the case after my PR tests re-emerged, suggesting that either I worked on these weaknesses but am slipping back into old habits, or that the Princeton tests are flawed. Either way, I have a clearer picture on where I need to improve.
Plan going forward:
I’ve mentioned some patterns I’ve observed and some things I need to work on. Here they are, along with steps I’m going to be taking to address these:
  • While I am fairly confident with sentence correction, it remains my weakest area. I have not built up the familiarity with all the question types and although I am confident I can do well with idioms, there are some on whose usage I am still not 100% comfortable. So over the next couple of days I will be going through the MGMAT SC guide and working through some of the advanced material to get up to speed.
  • I still tend to speed through questions, especially data sufficiency questions. The answer is almost always not ‘E’, and I tend to miss minor details in the question which alter my answer. There was a question today where I thought to myself: “If they gave me this piece of data, then I could solve using statement (II), and B would be the answer, but since I don’t have it…” Turns out the info I needed was in the question the whole time. I absolutely need to avoid mistakes like this as I would just be wasting away easy points. Gonna be doing a whole whack of DS questions from the OG after I work on SC questions and see positive results.
  • I am still writing AWAs, and even wrote one with the Kaplan test today. I just have no way of really assessing my work except for comparing with other essays online. Overall, I think my argument essays are fairly strong and I am able to identify flaws and convey my arguments in a concise manner. With the issue essays though, I have difficulty keeping my thoughts brief and still developing them fully. I find myself overwhelmed with ideas and points I want to make, and I invariably end up flitting through too many points without giving any of them the full time they deserve. So that’s what I’ll be working on going forward.
Overall, looks like things are going according to plan. No reasons to panic yet, but no real reason to celebrate either. As long as I am able to achieve some measure of improvement on my SC questions and learn to take my time with DS questions, I should see consistently strong results. Here’s hoping the next few practice tests bring me the consistency I seek.

Destination Unknown

I bought Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson a few weeks ago. I finally got around to reading some of it recently, and I realized that I probably read at a lower level now than when I was 10. I remember reading this classic as a kid, and enjoying it immensely. Now, while it is still a good read, I don’t find myself getting through the book as easily as I would have imagined. I have to get back to reading at a higher level, if for no other reason than to satisfy my ego.

As a young boy, I wasn’t a big fan of video games or toys, but if you gave me a good book, I would get drawn in for hours. I used to love opening up a book and getting lost in its pages. I would come home from school, spend some time playing with friends, have some dinner, and invariably spend a few hours reading before bed. Yes, school work and studying took a back seat; in fact, my appetite for reading is probably what caused me to develop my propensity for procrastination and my willingness to prioritize my hobbies ahead of my work.

Armed with a membership to the local library, I devoured hundreds of books. My usual fare tended to be mystery novels and thrillers – an enthralling narrative tended to capture my imagination better than eloquent prose. I moved quickly from the Hardy Boys and Agatha Christie to Robert Ludlum and Tom Clancy. Doesn’t sound like the highest quality of books or the most challenging to read, but this was between the ages of 6/7 – 10/11. Along the way, I read some of the classics like Great Expectations or the aforementioned Treasure Island.

I was also a sucker for series which created vivid universes and a diverse set of characters. One such series was the Animorphs by K.A. Applegate. Those familiar with the series will agree that the books were fairly poor in the quality of writing, but were strangely addictive because of the plot. Each book was formulaic, and built up to a fast-paced climax. I would blaze through each of them in a couple of hours, and I would eagerly await my next opportunity to get my hands on another book from the series. My parents spent a fair chunk of change on these books, ordering them off those Scholastic lists we would get at school. Each time, my dad would roll his eyes and tell me how I was wasting my time reading something so bad, but he would never stop me from buying them.

I guess it was always my dad who encouraged me to read. I virtually had a library at home growing up because of all the books he had read and collected over the years. Whether it was through buying me any book I wanted, from Tintin and Asterix comics, to World book Encyclopaedias and the Childcraft series, or through giving me recommendations for more advanced reading, he developed my love of reading. For that, I have to say thanks.

I used to average about 40-50 books a year in my preteens, and that is probably grossly understating it. Granted, some of these were comic books, but they all count in my opinion. Over the past 5 years, during my university career, my average is probably 10-15 a year. Life gets in the way too often. The point of this post before I went on a completely unrelated tangent, was that I need to get back to reading. To that end, here is a list of books I plan on reading in the next few weeks, all loaded up on my Kindle and ready to go:

  1. Bossypants – Tina Fey
  2. Treasure Island – R.L. Stevenson
  3. The Dark Tower Series – Stephen King (mostly to see if it lives up to whatever hype it gets…)
  4. 1984 – George Orwell (for some reason I never finished this book my first time through)
  5. The Name of the Wind – Patrick Rothfuss
  6. Gulliver’s Travels – Jonathan Swift (don’t think I ever read the entire original)
  7. Moby Dick – Herman Melville (haven’t read this either… man I’ve skipped out on a lot of classics)
Other recommendations welcome!

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