Making Test Day a Breeze

Editor’s Note: Bell Curves periodically enlists our teachers to take the official GMAT to keep themselves sharp, help them better inform their students about current testing trends and procedures, and provide additional insight for materials development and instruction. Sometimes, we have gung-ho teachers that just want to take the test for fun. To which we say, Rock On! Today’s post comes from Andrew Geller, one of our NYC-based instructors. Below, he provides some insights on making your test day as stress free as possible.


 

Test day can be stressful but the more you know about the logistics of the test center the better you will feel on your big day.  As we all know: feeling comfortable = better performance.

So what can you do to make the test day easier?  Plan in advance!

The Night Before

The night before, pick out your clothes, know what you will have for breakfast, pack your snack pack, pick out 5-10 quantitative questions as warm-ups (I like to pick ones from my error log that are challenging but that I have reviewed at least once), and know the route to the test center.

The Morning Before

Arrive early to your exam. A half hour or so should suffice.  It helps to arrive early because you get to check in first and end up waiting less.  The test center provides lockers where you must store all of your personal belongings.  You can only enter the testing room with the clothes on your back (you are allowed an extra sweater) and your ID.  No watches.  No bracelets.  No lucky coins.  You will be asked to empty out your pockets for inspection.  If you have forgotten to store an item before checking in you may be sent to the back of the line.  This happened to three people on my test day.

During the Test

Scratchwork – At your cubicle you will be provided with one ten page plastic notepad, one marker, ear plugs, and over-the-ear headphones.  I tried on the headphones but did not like the feeling of being in a sensory deprivation chamber.  I could see them being useful if another test taker were making a racket. Test your marker BEFORE the section begins.  If you need another notepad during a section you have to raise your hand and wait for the proctor to retrieve your pad and replace it with a fresh one.  During each break you can get a fresh pad, however.  My recommendation is to only get a new pad between sections.  It is a waste of time to get a new pad mid-section.  If you must get a new pad then signal for one BEFORE your old pad is full so that you have the least disruption possible.  A quick tip to get the most out of your pad:  you can use the cover page for notes.

Snacks and Breaks – The test is long so the snack pack is important.  Your snack pack should have a caffeine beverage, water, and a sugary snack (I like Cliff Bars and Snickers).  I brought some dark chocolate as well.  Be aware that you can only access your personal items during the eight-minute break between sections and that the timer is running while you sign in and out.  If you are late getting back the time is deducted from the section.  The proctor had issues with the computer while I was signing in so I was late getting back to my cubicle.  Luckily, the proctor reset my timer.  Do not expect this to happen if you are late getting back from a bathroom break.  You have time for a gulp of coffee, a bite of Snickers, a quick bathroom stop, and a quick stretch (this helps!).

The Testing Room – Whenever you need anything you must raise your hand.  You are not allowed to get up from your cubicle without an escort.  Even after the test is over, you will be ushered back to the waiting room and given a printout of your score report.

Tackling the GMAT – Performing well on the GMAT is dependent on many factors.  Some of these factors have nothing to do with the content but with your state of mind.  A couple of things that can help during the test:  First, we all can get a bit dazed during a section.  I like to take a moment every once in a while (2-3 times per section) to reset myself – disengage from the screen, stretch my legs, roll my neck, refocus.  Second, after you confirm an answer choice that question is over, MOVE ON!

The GMAT is an arduous undertaking in the best of circumstances, but as we can see there are steps you can take to make test day go a little more smoothly. The biggest piece of advice: plan ahead. Know where your test center is, how to get there, especially if you are taking public transportation which may experience delays and construction re-routes. Know the testing procedures, and the ins and outs of the test center. Know what you can and cannot bring, and what you can and cannot do. Know how you’re going to approach the test, and know that once a question has been answered that question is finished. One great way to plan ahead is to practice as you expect the test to go. When doing your practice tests, try however much as possible to mimic what you’ll be doing on test day. That’s right, put together a snack pack for your 8-minute breaks. Rush through your break rituals when you’re doing your practice test, and by all means stick to the 8-minute break on your practice tests as well. Following these helpful tips will help you make the best of your countless hours of preparation come test day. Good luck!

Admissions Spotlight: Timelines & Planning

‘Tis that time of year again. No, not the time when most of the well-intended New Years Resolutions begin the long limp to failure, but rather a new crop of b-school hopefuls gearing up to make a run at their choice programs. To help prospective b-school candidates get a jump on their preparation and make the most of their efforts, we thought we’d share some guidance on how best to plan for the upcoming application year.

Between the GMAT, the essays, the recommendations, and everything else, it is easy to feel overwhelmed when trying to apply to b-school. Your best asset when starting this process is a timeline. Include events and deliverables including GMAT practice tests and courses, application essays, scholarship applications, recommendations, and school visits. Once you figure out what needs to be done first, your priorities begin to align themselves!

Below we’ve included a standard timeline that outlines the bigger picture events you should plan for:

The road to the promised land of GMAT and application glory is long and arduous. To help you retain your sanity, and make this the rare resolution that comes to fruition, keep in mind a few key tips:

  • Start Early – As the timeline indicates, prudent planning should provide six months to prep for the GMAT. If you knock the GMAT out early, great! If not, this allows you time to deal with unexpected interruptions to your prep (they almost always happen) or setbacks, or simply the need for more time to get the score you want. The plan also provides time to focus squarely on applications instead of having to split time two ways (and usually more if you consider most people have full-time employment to deal with, not to mention family and other obligations that come with having some semblance of a life). The bottom line: budget room to have more time, not less, to make your prep a less stressful endeavor.
  • Have a Plan…but be Flexible – As we mentioned above, unanticipated events always arise. Having a plan does wonders for streamlining prep and staying on task, but don’t become too beholden to any one path. Don’t limit yourself to a single approach, a single mode to prepare for the GMAT, or an arbitrary deadline for achieving scores you need on the GMAT. Have a plan and modify as needed. Just think about the “plans” you had for yourself in high school. Have those plan manifested themselves? For most people the plans change. This realm is no exception.
  • Be Tenacious - Your goals are imminently achievable. The path is winding, it is difficult, but it has an end, and it’s the end you want. But to reach that end, you have to stick to your goals. Don’t be dissuaded by setbacks or delays. Don’t let your expectations undermine your commitment or motivation. If you want it, it’s there for the taking. All that’s needed is dedication and prudent preparation.

Happy New Year and best of luck with your GMAT preparation and b-school applications!

For more on how Bell Curves could help you improve your preparation, visit us at gmat.bellcurves.com. Sign up for a free Bell Curves demo account to practice with computer-based materials. Join us for a GMAT Sample Class to experience our fantastic teachers, materials, and approaches to the GMAT, and see firsthand how Bell Curves could help you Get Ahead of the Curve today!

You’ve Taken the PSAT, Now What?

Thanksgiving marks not only the start of the Christmas season but also the beginning of the college process in earnest for many Juniors. Before December brings Santa down your chimney, it will bring PSAT results back to your high schools. The College Board will be sending your score reports back to your schools in the first couple weeks of December, which means you should have your scores in your hand just in time to put them under the Christmas tree. In this post, we’ll break down what the PSAT tells you about the SAT and if it impacts your future SAT score. (You should also check out “What Is The PSAT?” to learn more about what the test is and how it’s used. )

Christmas Miracle

This message was originally posted in 2009, but alas is still relevant today!


Every year about this time I get a few “Christmas Miracle” phone calls. The callers don’t see it that way, but that’s in essence what the calls are. These calls (or sometimes emails) usually start rolling in around mid-December, when people are nearing crunch time for second round b-school application cycles and frantic that their GMAT scores haven’t progressed to a point they feel will give them a reasonable shot at their schools of interest. Let’s take a look at the particulars of a couple such cases from this month.

So, how do you get started preparing for the LSAT?

The good news about the LSAT is it can be prepared for. It can be prepared for effectively and scores can be increased significantly. The catch is that it takes time and effort, hard work and analysis. It might even take money, and it certainly takes resilience. Michael Jor­dan said it best “I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life, and that is why I succeed.”

Here is a quick pre-LSAT training camp plan:

October 2012 PSAT Vocabulary

Check out this great word cloud using words from the October 2012 PSAT. If you click a word it will take you to the definition. Give it a moment or two to load!

 

Enjoy

GMAT and B-school Volume Up Big

GMAC recently released GMAT testing volume data for the 2012 testing year (July 1 2011 to June 30 2012) that shows significant increases in both the number GMAT tests taken and the number of score reports sent to graduate management schools. Some of the key figures:

  • The 2012 testing year saw more than 286,000 GMAT tests taken, up nearly 11 percent from 2011.
  • About 831,000 GMAT score reports, a historic number, were sent to almost 5,300 programs in 2012.
  • Testing numbers outside the U.S. continue to skyrocket, with the number of tests up 19 percent from 2011 and comprising 59% of all tests taken.
  • The percentage of tests taken by women has jumped to a new record as well, comprising nearly 43% of all tests taken.

October 2012 SAT: Something to Do on a Saturday

To make sure we can keep you informed about the impact of the security changes and test day experiences we send our teachers in periodically to take the actual SAT. This report was filed by Bell Curves’ own Aimee Slater, resident Jeopardy champ (in our hearts), office redhead, and SAT teacher.


Background – In a few years you won’t remember and no one will care

I took the SAT several years ago (20 still counts as “several,” right?).  I was trying to remember my test day experience and my clearest memory about the test is “My high school made me take it 3 times.”  (Editor’s note: Aimee attended Haverford College on a  generous scholarship and doesn’t remember her SAT scores, but says they were just a bit better than average). I asked some high school friends what they remember, and that was their strongest memory too.  My other memory is of the word “nadir.”  I didn’t know what it meant,  I wrote it on the label of my shirt so that I could look up the definition later (Editor’s note: these days, writing on your clothes might get you kicked out… don’t do it!).

So armed with fuzzy memories and the teaching experience I have obtained through Bell Curves, I sat down to take a modern day SAT on October 6th.  I joined a few dozen area teens very early on a Saturday morning to take the test in Brooklyn.


Registration: Longer and More Annoying than You Think

Before I talk about test day, let me say a word about registration.  Registering for the exam is at least a 25 minute process wherein you pretty much lay bare anything and everything you have been, currently are and will ever be.  I had to upload a picture for my test ticket, which I had to carry with me on test day (even to the loo). The system, it turns out, is really picky about the photos it’ll accept, in fact, I had two perfectly lovely photos rejected before it accepted one I had a colleague take.  The photo is not currently a requirement, but will be required starting with the Jan 2013 test.  I also had to answer questions about my ethnicity, GPA, class ranking, parents’ level of education, indicate my college preferences (size, location single-sex, programs).  It was 3+ pages of questions, many of which are optional, but they are mixed in with the required ones so it’s not immediately obvious which are which.   It’s worth noting that “I don’t wish to respond” is one of the choices for all required questions, but still that’s a lot of work on my part without much in return.  College Board will then sell my information to schools or publish it in studies.  You’re welcome, College Board.  You should send me a piece of that financial pie.


Test Day

I dutifully showed up by 7:45am, number 2 lead pencils in hand and calculator (TI-86 was my calculator of choice) at the ready.  I was assigned a seat in a classroom with the 19 or so other kids who have R-Z last names.

Here’s some stuff I noticed:

  • No one cared that I was old and taking the test.   I didn’t even get a double take.
  • Three, 5-minutes breaks are not nearly enough.  Powering through that last 1 hour and 4 minutes (sections 7-10) is rough .
  • Kids were eating candy and drinking Red Bull early in the AM and at breaks.  This lead to a lot of crashing in the middle or toward the end.
  • A girl fell asleep, twice (probably due to a Red Bull crash).  The proctor was nice enough to wake her up, but I think that was above and beyond what’s listed as duties in the proctor guidelines, and some proctors would have just let her sleep through the test.
  • I am still not a fan of coordinate plane geometry but as usual there were about 5 questions.
  • No section asks 40 questions, and yet each section on the answer sheet has 40 bubbles.  I find this vexing.
  • I miss analogies.  The College Board removed them in 2005, and in doing so, took away the fun portion of the test (if there is such a thing).
  • I did not have to write an essay the first time around, and was excited to do it this time around.  I went in knowing that I was going to use The League of Nations and Game of Thrones.  As we tell our students – the question hardly matters.  Pick a position, have some examples at the ready, and write!

I know some old timers have gone back and taken the test in recent times and had negative experiences.  I’m less negative about having to take a test, than about what it’s actually testing.  Sitting through long exams is something I had to do in college (3 hour finals!) so I don’t think taking a test is too much to ask of students who want to go to college.  The content of the test?  Well, let’s just say that I have some disagreement with what and how things are asked.  But that’s for a different blog post.  For now, this is the system we have, and if our kids want to go to college, we need to work within this system to ensure as many of them as possible are prepared for the test, the admissions process, and college success.

I admit that my stakes are relatively low; I don’t have my admissions decisions or financial aid riding on my 2012 performance, although the College Board will be sending my scores to my high school guidance counselor so that person, whomever it is now, can go over them with me (I didn’t have an option to opt-out).  I’m looking forward to that phone call.   It was a long day, but most students seemed to sail through (aside from Red Bull Crash Girl.  Airheads candy is not the breakfast of champions, chica!), and I think that anyone preparing for the November or December administrations should remember to

  • review the content – get comfortable with how questions are asked and what information they are looking for
  • take practice tests under real-test conditions (timed, with only the breaks given on the real test)

For test day:

  • for Math, strategies like plugging in were still awesome and time-saving and helped me avoid mistakes on at least 7 problems
  • for the Critical Reading, remember to answer the questions (all the questions) in your own words first (Click here to read up on how to Avoid Looking at the Elephant)
  • bring brain-food snacks like trail mix, carrots, peanut butter crackers etc.  Avoid caffeine highs which can lead to crashes, and go for hydration – water, seltzer water etc.
  • UPDATE: check out this list of vocab words from the October 2012 SAT

Good luck!

850+ Test Optional Colleges: A Closer Look at the Famous List

As a 20 year veteran of test preparation, I’ve been enamored with the FairTest list of SAT/ACT optional schools for what seems like a decade now. I am sure many of you as parents, educators and students have also been impressed with such a list; it’s seemingly a harbinger of a radical shift in admission policy that will minimize the impact of standardized tests which have historically put low income and minority students at a disadvantage. I’ve seen the good and bad of testing for years and find it commendable that a school would be brave enough to defy convention when it comes to standardized test scores, forgoing both the benefits and the drawbacks, to weigh students on their broader merits.

Sweet Deal! Taking Advantage of College Visits

 

 

Visiting colleges and universities in person is one of the most important – and fun – parts of the admissions process. At this step in the process you don’t have to study for exams, write essays or do paperwork.  You simply get to visit a beautiful campus, talk to faculty, eat in the dining hall with students, and learn more about a college and your place in it.

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