Jason Goes GMAT

Instructor: Jason Chan

Location: 500 Fifth Ave (at 42nd street), New York, NY

[Editor’s note: Bell Curves instructors are required to have taken the GMAT and scored above the 98th percentile before they were invited to train with Bell Curves. After successfully completing training, our teachers take the test at least once a year so they can stay current with the GMAT experience and provide feedback that will allow us to continually improve our teachers and materials. In the interest of research, Jason was asked to go into the test and be the “obsessive methodical student.” He was required to spend an inordinate amount of time on any question he thought would be tricky to an above average, yet not stellar, test-taker. The intent was to get a score in the 600 range and see what types of questions and content showed up most frequently in that range.]

So it’s a random Tuesday and here I am taking the GMAT. Yay me!

Anyways.  So I show up to the testing center at around 11:45am EST for my 12:15pm test.  I’m instructed to take a number by a woman who looks like everyone’s favorite grandma.  I grab #8, place my things in a locker (keeping my ID with me) and sit down.  Just then, another tester comes out of the testing room to gather his things from his locker so he can get the heck out of dodge.  Another victim walks in to get his testing underway.  He sits down next to me and I just KNOW he’s there to take the GMAT.  Not sure why, but he just reeked of an “I’m going to bust out a 750 and off to Stanford I go” vibe.  Just as I’m sizing him up, the syrupy sweet lady behind the counter calls, “Number 8!” with the warmest smile you’ve ever seen. You’d think she had freshly baked cookies waiting for you behind the desk or something.

So I walk up to the counter and the criminal treatment begins.  I take my mug shot [a digital picture is required of all test takers] and get my finger print is scanned [for identification purposes all test takers have their fingerprints scanned each time they leave or enter the testing room, though most testing centers recently switched to an even more ridiculous Palm Vein Reader for security and identification purposes].  Just then, Grandma switches shifts with a Latina lady and the proctor comes out to greet me (I felt like a VIP).  She cracks some joke about me being all dressed up (since when is a button down and khakis considered “all dressed up”?) and cackles hysterically.  I smile to the best of my ability as she and her proctor-sister lead me to the testing room. We arrive at her station, which looks into the testing room, she checks my ID again, rescans my fingerprint, gives me my erasable noteboard and then finally takes me to my station. She tells me if I need anything, from using the bathroom to getting another noteboard, I’ll have to raise my hand and wait for her. I was not allowed to leave my seat without an escort. It’s Kindergarten all over again!

So they put me at a testing station in a corner and I’m thinking, dang, I thought they liked me!  But I am actually very happy at the thought of feeling somewhat secluded from the rest of the room as I take my exam.

So they give me the spiels about the breaks and how time will keep on ticking if I go longer than my break…let her know if I need to break…cameras are rolling…blah blah blah.

Then it’s off to the races I go!  Yay GMAT!

So here come the essays:

Analysis of an Issue

So first I’m asked to discuss whether our fast-paced world calls for employers to go with the new and fresh ideas of their whipper-snapper employees rather than the wisdom and experience of their old heads.

I really wanted to play the fence and write a kumbaya essay about needing both to create a happy workplace.  Instead, I chose to agree with the statement and went on a little rant about the computer industry. [To see a copy of the full essay click here]

Analysis of an Argument
Next, they ask me to talk about the validity of an argument from this cereal company’s CEO. Said cereal has 20% more vitamin K than other leading cereals, and on a recent survey 75% more regular consumers of cereal  products prefer the taste of said cereal over other leading brands. Despite those two facts, sales decreased (or was it that they did not increase…hmmmm?)  So the cereal company decided they would redesign their box to include those two fun facts in order to increase sales.

True to our [Bell Curves] essay template, I disagreed with the merits of the argument and went on to point out and tear down 2 of the assumptions this argument makes. I went on a spiel about how consumers who care about taste may not care about health benefits and vice versa, thus the redesign of the box may not necessarily produce the desired results.  I spoke about things like target marketing and distributing the cereal to stores where health-conscious consumers are likely to shop….blah blah blah…basically whatever came to mind ’cause by this time, the fun of taking the GMAT again has totally worn off and the only thing that’s keeping me going is the information I’m gathering for the BC team and our students. [To see a full copy of the essay click here]

Turns out my on again, that my writing talents combined with Bell Curves essay template landed me a 5.5…go me!

Coolness, done with the essays. I signal to homegirl that I’m ready for a break.  I go to the restroom.  Say some GMAT prayers and then go back at it again…

Next up is the Quant.  Awww yeah!

Now, let’s see what I can recall for you GMAT’ers out there. My memory is good, but mostly with things of little consequence, which is why I have to write everything down…but hopefully I’ve got enough gems stored to be of some use to you. So here goes…

Quant Overview

[Editor’s note: Jason’s assignment was to simulate your typical Tortoise 570- 620 scoring test-taker. The characteristics we find in those scoring in this range are (1) above average content-based knowledge and (2) average efficiency and test-taking savvy.] So basically, I went in, mostly applied Bell Curves strategies, took painstaking amounts of time on questions when the the difficulty level went up a notch, got to Question 23 or so, ended up with maybe 5 minutes left, and guessed like a banshee on the last 13 or so. Questions went like 5 problem solving, maybe 4 DS in a row…more problem solving…and I swear out of the last 13 or so that I blazed through, maybe 8-10 were DS…

The first question was your standard Problem Solving Inequality that involved switching the sign. Many of the questions I saw seemed to be close variations of problems in the OG [Official Guide 11th edition] or the Bell Curves database.

Here are some Bell Curves questions that were every very close to the ones I saw on the test. If you can solve these you should have no problem with the ones I saw on the GMAT.

Question ID numbers: 4991, 1856, 1858, 108, 7489, and 7484

Here are some OG 11th Ed. (12th Ed. where applicable) questions that are very very similar to the ones I was presented:

Pg 22 #19 (same)

Pg 161 #69

Pg 163 # 91

Pg 173 #159

Pg 174 #162

Pg 176 #179 (Pg. 177 #178)

A few of the more notable questions that I can’t find close versions of are [Editor’s note: None of the questions below are exact replicas of the questions on the test, since that would be a violation of the terms of the GMAT, not to mention illegal. Rather, the following questions provide you with an example of the concept as it was presented to our teacher.]:

Profit and Money

Random person Q spent $467 on text books and $600 on all other books. Tax only applies to non-textbooks. If the amount of tax paid was 3% of the total price, including tax, how much tax did Random person Q pay?


A couple went out to eat. If they had a choice of soup or salad for an appetizer, chicken, fish or steak for the entrée and pie, cake or ice cream for dessert, how many meals are there where steak and pie are not included?

Profit and Money

I think this was my favorite question, they got funky with a profit question…loads of fun!

Storeowner X sells random item Y. Production costs total $300. He sold 80% of item Y at 50% above per item production cost. Remaining items were sold at 2/5 of production costs. What was his net profit? [Most GMAT exams will contain a profit and money question.]


x is the sum of first 8 consecutive integers greater than y. If p is the sum of the first 8 consecutive integers greater than y + 9, then p – y =?

DS Groups

Voters vote yes or no on a two question ballot. 100 folks vote yes on both questions, 50 vote no on both. How many voters were there?

(1) (One group or the other voted Yes.)

(2) (One group or the other voted Yes.)

DS Averages

What is the average of p + q + r?

(1) 3p + 3q + 3r = 124

(2) 5p + 6q + 7r = 345


Sentence Correction

Sentence correction questions were your standard fare. I had maybe 1 or 2 idioms questions and the rest of the distribution of SC types was as expected, with modifiers being the majority of the questions. SC comprised slightly more than a third of the verbal questions, as expected and reflected in GMATPrep and Bell Curves practice tests. The slightly surprising things were that the first 8 questions didn’t contain any SC while the last 5 or 6 on the exam were all SC.

A few interesting decisions I was forced to make:

(1 ) as little as one change in a million versus as little as one in a million

(2) Noun, modifier, verb, and seemingly this causes versus Noun, modifier, verb, seemingly causing.

(3) it had to be carefully counted versus accountants had to count it carefully

(4) each of them versus each of which. (Click here for answer) The them is plural while which is can be either singular or plural.

(5) discovered and explaining versus discovered and it explains. This one was interesting because I thought it would present a significant challenge to many students. All the choices looked like the list was not parallel since the first verb was past and the second was present. A couple of the choices offered the typical GMAT alternative of changing the list to a modifier and one offered the opportunity to change the list to present and present. [O5]

Critical Reasoning

Question distribution was what anyone who has done GMATPrep, PowerPrep, or Bell Curves tests would expect. Assumption-based questions beat out Content-based almost 2 to 1 it seemed, with weaken and identify the assumption leading the way. The typical logical patterns showed up, with causal and harm/benefit logic dominating the assumption-based questions.

The only things that I purposefully recalled were the following:

(1) In a slight adaption of the most common causal reasoning an argument presented something like: there was a claim that x was copied from y. The correct answer was that both x and y were based on z which was older than both of them.

(2) A couple of the weaken questions presented tricky choices that altered the language of the argument so subtly that it took me a minute to see how it was different from another choice. For example:

Option A is carries a risk of harm, option B carries a greater risk. Therefore to minimize risk we should choose option A.

Which of the following would weaken the argument above?

(A) Option B can be altered to engender less risk.

(B) Option B causes greater harm if the risk actualizes.

Reading Comprehension

A better spy would remember the topics, but alas, I do not. I just know one was very interesting, the other was not at all and the other two were as bland as white rice.

I got four passages. Of the four passages, 2 were in the first 15 questions, 1 passage came about 25 questions in, and the last came in the 30s. I did have the one expected science passage, though it escapes me what it was about. The other 3 passages were about business related topics. I had no tone questions (which makes me sad cause I love – did I say love, yeah love – those). Two of the 4 passages had one general question each.

Final Results and Summary


The content of the GMAT is exactly what it has been for the past few years. While the distribution of question types has changed a bit, the style, content, and difficulty is pretty consistent. One important note is that the difficulty levels of the GMATFocus and GMATPrep are more consistent with the real exam than is the Official Guide or the Official Guide Supplements (a lot of this has to do with the adaptive nature of the product and question type distribution).

A student who thoroughly reviews the content of the Bell Curves site, takes a course, or receives tutoring, should expect that their performance will be accurately reflected on the real GMAT.


Since I was aiming for a 600 and was playing the role of the obsessed student, I got to most of the questions with a good deal of confidence that I got them right in the first half. In the second half of each section I intentionally picked up speed and allowed my accuracy to suffer. I assume that I got 80 – 90% of the first half right and 50 – 60% of the second part of the test correct. As has been the trend for years, the timing and pacing was more important in quant than it was in verbal, and my score seemed to support this.

What we can learn from this is that it isn’t essential to answer all the questions for a pretty good score. If you’re someone who generally gets most questions you do right but just need a little more time on some of them, you may only need to tweak your pacing a bit so that you don’t get sooooo bogged down in certain questions. Ultimately, you do need to answer (and answer correctly) a certain number of questions to get a certain score. There are many ways to do this, but one of them is to be a methodical test-taker.

So I get up from my testing station and go to the front desk to get my score print out. The Latina lady goes, “Oh you did well!” I’m thinking, hmmm, what constitutes “well” to you. But anyway…

Turns out the haphazard strategy landed me a cool 38 on quant and 41 on Verbal, for a lovely 650, whooo-hoo! Yay me!

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