Guessing Smart on the GMAT

Strategy: Let the answer choices help you.  Here are 5 answer choices for a sample problem from the GMAT. (Note that the actual problem doesn’t matter, we’re going to work directly with the answer choices).

A) 2

B) 2X

C) 2X      correct answer


D) 3X


E)  3X


The answer will usually have the most in common with the other answer choices (choice C).  The answer will usually not look too different than the other answer choices. (eliminate A and E)


Math Tips for the GMAT

-use scrap paper for all questions, number questions on scrap and keep things neat

-write what you’re solving for next to your question number  (1)  2X = ?

-picking numbers (when the answers are in algebraic terms). Pick easy numbers to work with

-backsolving when answers are numbers, as in the example below.

A) 12.5

B) 13

C) 13.5

D) 14

E) 14.5

Try B first, if too big, answer is A, if too small, try D, if too big, answer is C, if too small, answer is E.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Why is it so hard to get into business school?

There is a lot of competition for top business school spots.  In the 20013 admissions cycle, acceptance rates of top schools remained very low, with the Ivies remaining intensely competitive:

  • Stanford accepted a record low of only 7% of its applicants (7,047 students applied for 364 slots).

  • Columbia accepted 11% of its applicants.

  • Wharton, Dartmouth and Harvard accepted 13% of their applicants.

  • Even middle-of-the-road schools are more competitive.  There was a dramatic 25% increase in applicants to Washington University in St. Louis.

  • Both average GPA and average GMAT scores of applicants increased this year.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Why is it so hard to get into med school?

Competition for top med schools spots is tougher than ever, and if you think that it seems like it’s harder to get into med school in recent years – you’re right:

•There are 13% more applicants competing with you for each med school spot than in 2009.

•Your average competitor applied to 13 med schools in 2013, as compared to 11 med schools in 2009.

• In the 2013 admissions cycle, acceptance rates of top schools remained very low, with the Ivies remaining intensely competitive.

• Even middle-of-the-road schools are more competitive.

• Both average GPA and average MCAT scores of applicants increased this year.

• More students are applying to schools in the Caribbean because American schools are so competitive


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

What are admissions committees hoping to get out of a graduate school interview?

Whether they’re applying for Masters and PhD programs, law school, med school or business school, students always ask me what interviewers are trying to accomplish during admissions interviews.

Most interviewers will not have your test scores, transcripts or application in front of them when they are speaking with you.  In fact, they may not have seen any of this material.  The main point of an interview, whether it is done by someone from the admissions committee or by a volunteer alumni, is to see what you’re like as a person.  How well do you express yourself about your interests and ideas?  What are you like socially?  How would you fit in with the rest of the student body?

Most alumni interviewers have a “cheat sheet,” a list of questions they are given by the school to help them interview incoming applicants.  Both alumni and admissions committee interviewers have to write up a report after they speak with you.  Some interviewers put the applicant at ease by having a natural conversation and writing their thoughts down later.  Some disconcertingly take copious notes throughout the interview.  In any case, here are some of the questions they are trying to answer:

  • Would this person fit in well with our university, our program, our department?
  • Would our faculty like this person as a student?
  • Would other students in our program get along well with this person?
  • What is this applicant’s personality like?  Can he/she carry on a conversation?
  • What is this person most concerned about regarding our program?  Do they know why they want to go to our program or are they just applying to a bunch of similar programs?
  • What are this person’s passions or interests?
  • What are this person’s ties to the community?

As someone who has interviewed candidates for Columbia University as an alumna, I can tell you that interviewers are not looking to “weed out” candidates.  They are looking forward to being impressed by someone who is not only concerned academics, but is passionate about other interests as well.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

How do I ace my graduate school /law school /business school/ med school admissions interview?

Some schools make the interview mandatory for all candidates, other schools make the interview optional.  Should you request an interview? Only if you do well on interviews.  If you’re not good at interviews, don’t put yourself through it.  Chances are, the person will wonder why you requested an interview when you’re so miserable during it.

Here are the most often asked interview questions and the kind of answers admissions committees are looking for.  The fact that some of these sound like application essay questions is not a coincidence.  Committees really want to know this information, and your transcripts and test scores can’t answer these questions.

1) Why do you want to go to graduate school?
a.k.a. Why do you want to go to law school, med school, business school, architecture school, etc?  This is your opportunity to wax poetic about your love for the subject matter.

2) What is appealing to you about this program in particular?
Research each school individually so that you have something specific to say.  Find out the difference between this particular program and other programs you’re applying to.

3) What are your long-term and short-term goals?
Some interviewers will also ask how you hope to achieve these goals.  Short-term goals include the type of course-work you’re looking to do in graduate school, the type of additional research you want to do or internship you’d like to get while in school and the kind of school-based groups and organizations you’re interested in joining.  It also includes what you think you’ll do right after you earn your degree and what you think you’ll be doing a couple of years after graduating.

Long term goals look at least 5 years into the future.  What do you see as your career path?  Where do you dream of ending up (thanks to your graduate degree)?

4) How do you work under pressure? What are your strengths and weaknesses?
This is a trick question, because you don’t actually want to say something negative, like – “I’m too shy” or “I tend to procrastinate under pressure.”  But saying “I’m a perfectionist” when asked about your weakness has been done to death.  Of course you work well under pressure, and you’ve learned so much from your weaknesses.  My favorite answer when asked to name a weakness: “I tend to assign credit to others.”

5) What are your outside interests?
Schools are impressed with high GPAs and test scores, but don’t want a class composed of joyless grinds. To which of your non-academic activities are you most committed? Think of your hobbies, sports, volunteer activities, part-time work if you’re a graduating college senior.  You may be asked “How has commitment to these activities affected your work?”

6) How would your closest friends describe you?
Business schools may also ask “How would the people you supervise describe you?”  This is your chance to brag and attribute it to your friends.  Or you could just ask your friends.

The best way to prepare for interviews is to have a good idea of what you’re going to say beforehand.  Writing down the answers to the above questions and reading your answers aloud is a good start.  Having someone do a “mock interview” with you is even better.  Many colleges do these type of interviews through their Career Services or Student Centers.  You can also have a friend ask you the questions.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Why is the Harvard Law School interview only 10 minutes and how do I ace it?

Harvard Law has one of the shortest interview processes of any school: 10 minutes over the phone.  Why is that, and what can they learn about you in 10 minutes?  It may be a stereotype, but law students in general, and Harvard Law students in particular, are known for being less than amiable.  OK, they have a reputation for being obnoxious, know-it-alls.  Harvard Law has its pick of talented applicants with great test scores, excellent grades and glowing references.  What’s more difficult is finding law students who can get along with professors and fellow students without being confrontational, who are good listeners, and who are, well…nice.  In ten minutes, the interviewer can tell whether you are a jerk or not.  The admissions committee already has all of the other parts of your application.  This is the niceness test.

Now if you are already an amiable person, you should have no problem during the interview.  If you’re not, here’s how to fake it. During the call, the interviewer may throw out something mildly confrontational.  They may unfairly disagree with something you innocently said.  They may pretend to have the wrong information about some part of your application.  You may be asked your opinion about something you have extremely strong opinions about, like politics.  Express yourself mildly.  Do not confront the interviewer.  Be polite.  If there is an error in your application, gently correct the mistake.  If it’s anything else, let it go.  If the interviewer persists – let it go anyway.  This is the key to doing well on the Harvard Law interview.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

How do I answer Harvard Business School’s essay questions?

How do I answer graduate school essay questions asking me to describe my weaknesses, mistakes and regrets?

Harvard Business School asks two essay questions: “What do you feel you have done well?” and “What do you feel you could have done better?”  The first questions is easy for most applicants, the second feels almost impossible to answer.  Type A, over-achievers have the most trouble with this question and HBS is smart to ask it, since it receives applications mostly from Type A, over-achievers who have trouble admitting they are ever wrong.  Other graduate programs phrase this question as “Describe a difficult situation you have faced and how you handled it.”  Questions about what you consider your weaknesses are often asked at the interview.

It is difficult to be forced to admit weaknesses, mistakes and regrets when you are trying to impress an admissions committee.  It is even more difficult to write about these subjects while still casting yourself in a positive light and answering the committee’s unwritten question: “What makes you an ideal applicant for this particular school?” Oh, and you usually have less than 500 words to do it in.

The best way to answer “What do you feel you could have done better?” is to think of a situation where you learned from your mistakes.  Now is not the time to explain poor grades and test scores or to complain about the unfairness of “the system.”  The best answers to this question mention difficulties at work, in entrepreneurial ventures, or in life where you could have been more successful if you had the right tools (i.e. an MBA from HBS).  Failure made you realize that you need more education, a wider network of professional contacts, etc. that only business school can provide.  Remember that the thesis of the essay is what you could have done better, so most of your essay should be about that, but mentioning the other things will make your application stand out.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

How Do I Choose a Law School?

1. Where do you want to work once you graduate?  

Most law school graduates spend the first 3 years of their post-graduate careers in the city where their school is located.  This is because you will (hopefully) make contacts while in school that will get you a job later on.
2. Are you OK with being a small fish in a big pond?

Class rank is very important to future employers, but so is the quality of your school.  If you want to be at the top of your class, you may want to opt for a lesser-ranked school.  Students in lesser-ranked schools are more supportive of each other.  On the other hand, if you want a fancy diploma, you may have to settle for scraping by at the bottom of a very competitive class.
3. Do you want a large or small program?

Smaller programs will have smaller class sizes, so you’ll get more individual attention.  On the other hand, if you’re not getting along with a professor, he/she may be the only faculty member teaching that particular course, so you’d be stuck.  Larger programs are more impersonal, but you have more choice regrading which professors to take and what subjects to concentrate in.
4. Visit the schools you’re considering if you can and talk to students who currently attend and those who have graduated.  What has their experience been like?  Used LinkedIn to find these connections.  If you’re not on, it’s really worth your while to get on it.  It will help you in your professional career.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

What’s the best way to study for the GMAT?

If you’re just getting started, here are some tips to get you going:
1. Register for the test.
Register 2-3 months in advance.  Once you’ve paid to take the test, you’ll be more motivated to study in a systematic manner.  Two to three months is enough time to prep if you do it on a daily basis.  You can’t study for the GMAT in less than 2 months, especially if you’ve never taken it before.  Studying for more than 3 months will give you diminishing returns and you will risk burning out.
2. Make a study plan.
Like any long-term project, the GMAT is a marathon, not a sprint.  Clear your calendar.  At the beginning of each week, see how much time you’ll have every day and schedule a specific section to study that day.  For example: Monday, 6pm-7pm, Do Sentence Correction practice drills.
3. Make index cards.  
Many companies sell GMAT study cards, but the act of creating your own index cards will help you memorize and understand concepts better.  To make effective math cards, write the formula on one side of the card and a brief explanation on the other side.  Make sure that you are not just memorizing the name of the formula (for example, Pythagorean Theorem: A squared + B squared = C squared).  Instead, make a note on the index card that will prompt you to remember how this formula is used to find the hypotenuse and legs of a right triangle.  Test yourself until you have memorized both sides of your index cards.  Shuffle your index cards, so that you are not remembering them in order and get rid of cards you’ve mastered.
Unless you are memorizing formulas, learning grammar rules or teaching yourself math concepts, you should be doing actual GMAT questions under timed conditions.  You can review mistakes you made afterwards, but it is useless to do GMAT questions untimed.  It will give you a false sense of security if you can answer a difficult question after half an hour when you’ll only have 2 minutes on the actual test. Learning timing strategies is almost as important as learning Math and Verbal strategies.  Look at the clock every couple of questions to see where you stand.  If you’re not practicing a whole section, time yourself for the number of questions you plan to do.  For example, give yourself 10 minutes for 5 Reading Comprehension questions or 5 minutes for 5 Sentence Correction questions.
5. Use actual GMAT questions.  
The best way to raise your GMAT score is to practice GMAT questions.  Doing math or grammar drills where you are asked to write in the answer is not as effective.  You will be given actual questions on the test, so you should practice on actual questions.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

How do I study for the MCAT Verbal section?

Students who get decent scores on the Physical and Biological Science sections of the MCAT often ask me how to “study” for the Verbal section.  The short answer is: there’s nothing to study.  That’s actually good news.  The Verbal section is not content based – it’s not testing your knowledge of English the way the Science sections test your knowledge of Bio, Chem and Physics.  That means students can actually pick up the most points on Verbal by using test-taking tricks.

Here’s my MCAT Verbal Strategy.  It will save you an enormous amount of time and doesn’t require that you make notes on the passage or even comprehend the passage fully.  After all, the MCAT isn’t asking for comprehension – it’s asking for you to pick answer choices.

How to immediately increase your MCAT Verbal score in 5 steps:

1. Do the passages as they appear.  Don’t try to find an “easy” essay to do first.  Read all of the questions first.  Do not read the passage first.  Do not look at any of the answer choices.
2. Do the questions in order – easiest to hardest.

    • Easiest: Specific Detail questions (tell you exactly where the answer is located in the passage)
    • Easy: Main Idea, then Primary Purpose questions
    • Medium: General Detail questions (ask you general things about the passage)
    • Hard: Inference questions (ask you to infer about things the passage “suggests”)
    • Hardest: Except and Roman Numeral questions

3. Once you’ve decided on a question to tackle, read the question again. Don’t look at the answer choices.  Go to the part of the passage where you think the answer will be located.  Read only in the area where you think the answer is located.  Do not read the passage from the beginning.
Where to look?

    • Specific Detail questions point you to a specific place in the passage, or a give you wordor phrase in italics or quotes to search for
    • Main Idea questions – the answer is in the first two sentences of the passage.
    • Primary Purpose questions – read the first two sentences, then the first sentence of each subsequent paragraph.
    • All other questions – skim the passage for key words from the question stem.

4. Once you’ve read enough to get an idea for an answer, do not read the answer choices.  Instead, frame your own answer in your mind.  Make it short and to the point.
5. Match up your own answer to the answer choices, if you see a match, that’s proof you got the question right.  If you don’t see a match, cross out answer choices that don’t make sense.

What if I can’t decide between answer choices?

If you are between answer choices, go back to the passage and read a little more around the specific area where you think the answer will be.  Repeat the strategy, framing another answer in your mind.  Now you only need to match it up to the answer choices left.  Then choose an answer and move on to the next question.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment