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Jasonly

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  1. Jasonly

    Early game in GMAT Verbal and Quant.

    If you're considering taking the GMAT and have taken the time to look at strategy for the test, you've almost certainly heard this little nugget before: "The questions toward the beginning of a section are worth more points!" So, is it really true? Sort of. Actually, you have to dispense with the idea of questions being “worth points” at all to make sense of how this works. What’s happening as you answer questions is that the GMAT is honing in on the difficulty level that corresponds to your skill level. The scoring algorithm estimates what your score will be, based on your past responses and the difficulty levels of those questions. After each response you make, the estimate is updated, with the results of all previous responses taken into account. The next question that appears is one that the algorithm has selected as the "best" to confirm the machine's suspicions about your predicted result. Oh, and another thing: the aptness of the next question is determined not only by question difficulty but also by question type and skill type. In other words, you will be sure to get a blend of questions that covers all kinds of GMAT test concepts at the appropriate difficulty level. At the start of a multiple-choice section, you are given a problem in the middle of the difficulty scale. At this early stage, the difficulty adjustments are dramatic: correct answers cause the questions to get harder quite quickly, while wrong answers quickly make things easier. The idea here is that you should get see some questions that are way too easy for you as well as some that are way too hard, and progress to slightly too easy and slightly too hard. At the end of a section, where you land on that spectrum of difficulty is what decides your score. It's not the quantity of questions you got correct, but the quality (difficulty) you have achieved. So should I dump all of my time into the front end of a section? Well, yes and no. You shouldn't do this TOO much as it can easily backfire. You see, there are a couple of things to keep in mind that make such a strategy a double-edged sword. Firstly, the penalties for not finishing the section tend to be steep, so you should always find a way to finish, and to do so without having to make a huge number of guesses in the final stretch. Secondly, if you invest too heavily timewise into, say, the first ten or fifteen questions and this strategy succeeds- i.e. you get all of them right- you will end up facing extremely difficult questions early on. These questions will be huge time sponges practically by definition, so again you'll be setting yourself up for the possibility of a disaster brought on by not finishing. On the other hand, making a significant number of errors in the early game will set you in bad stride, causing you to have to fight your way back uphill the whole way. It’s all about knowing what level you’re capable of achieving, and striking a balance regarding time distribution. More to come soon. We still have to talk about what it means for a question to be "difficult" to begin with. Join us in class!
  2. A not infrequently discussed topic in my own GRE classes is that of what are known as structural signposts, referred to in the Princeton Review's Cracking the GRE and other places as "triggers." These discussions are for the most part related to establishing values for the blanks in Text Completion tasks, but understanding and keeping your eyes peeled for them in Reading tasks can also be quite important. They are essentially the "mechanical" components of a sentence, indicating relations between specific items of content, i.e. various clauses, subjects, and objects. They come in two basic flavors, best or at least most simply represented by words such as "so" for the "straight arrow" relationship between content items, and "but" for the "curved arrow." What do I mean? By "straight arrow," I mean that this sort of trigger does not change the values between specific content items. For example, "Good thing" ---> "so" ---> "other good thing." Positive to positive. Vice versa for "but." Those sorts are "hard" triggers, meaning that they are purely mechanical. If you look up the word "so" in the dictionary, you'll certainly find a definition there- a great many definitions, in fact. But you could almost say that the word has more of a function than a definition. Contrast that to the word "antediluvian." Through a very particular set of etymological derivations, you end up with a very specific definition: "before The Flood" aka "old-fashioned." This is a specific content item, as contrasted to a trigger. So what is a "soft trigger?" A soft trigger is a word of phrase that gets the same result as a hard trigger, but is not so mechanical. You might think for example of phrases such as "based on" (straight arrow) or "far from" (curved arrow). "Far from being an intelligent, rational human being, the giant orange snowflake had fallen soufflé for a brain." It tends to be the case that these are harder to spot, especially for non-native speakers (the vast majority of my students are Serbian), and even more so when those students are dealing with idiomatic meaning in a soft trigger phrase (that last bit is a topic for another day). Get the picture? Good, because now it gets interesting. Blindness, deception, and error are what you came for, and I'm here to oblige! A further very sneaky set of soft triggers comes in a much subtler form: words and phrases that indicate things hidden, unknown, or mistaken. These triggers are exclusively in the "curved arrow" category, for reasons that will soon become evident. Think about this: what does it mean when someone uses the words "actually" or "seems" or "assumption?" Consider the following Text Completion example from an official GRE exercise- "The name of the Sloane Matthew Library has long been ________; even longtime city residents assume it is a run-of-the-mill library, never suspecting what art treasures it contains." We won't bother with the answer choices for now, but bonus points for anyone who correctly inserts a word of their own. The point here is to illustrate the fact there is a hidden contrast at work. Another way to phrase this might be "Despite (hard trigger) being called a library, SML contains great works of art." A frequent offender in this group is the transitive verb "belie." This is a word that we've seen show up both as a context clue AND as an answer choice. Well, not at the same time of course. That would just be confusing. It's a word that has even occasionally flummoxed my native English speaking preppers. It can mean "to reveal something as false" or "to cover something up" or simply "to contrast or contradict." "His soft words were belied by his brutal actions." So there you have it! Deceit and treachery can send you careening in the direction of a bad analysis, leading to misidentified blanks, dismal test scores, grey skies, and closed doors. Come join us in February for our next GRE course, or sign up for some of our private classes, if you'd like to develop the tools to avoid such pitfalls.
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