Thursday, January 12, 2006

Laptop Advice(pt 3)

Notebooks have for some time been performing the functions of a desktop PC and that too just as well. They offer the speed, processing power, hard-disk capacity and expandability of a PC. High-end graphics is one area where they have lagged behind. But, that too is now possible to a certain extent with the workstation-class notebooks. Moreover, notebooks today are coming with additional features—the most exciting new feature being their Wi-Fi capabilities. Having said that, most principles that apply for buying a desktop PC, apply for buying a notebook as well, except for two additional considerations: battery life and weight.

So, the big question is: as an SMB, which notebook should you buy for your staff. The answer is that, as with most things, it depends on what use the notebook will be put to. There are four broad types of notebooks. The all-in-one value notebooks have all the standard specs and cost between Rs 70,000 and a lakh. The second type includes the mainstream notebooks, which you find with most vendors, meant for productivity work. The third are high-end workstation class machines that pack in every imaginable goody. They are quite heavy and are not the ones to be carried around too much; they function more as desktop replacements. Then there are the thin and light portables, weighing less than 2 kg. They achieve lightness by having external drives that can be connected via USB and smaller display and battery. The latest entrants are the tablet PCs.

Once you know what use you want to put the notebook to, you can go ahead and examine the components that various notebooks have. We’ll explain what those components mean.

Processor. Most processors for the desktop come with a mobile version for the notebook. For example, you will have a P4 for a desktop and a P4-M for the notebook. A mobile processor is different from a desktop one as it consumes less power and, therefore, runs cooler and consumes lesser battery. Some notebooks come with the desktop processor, which is not really recommended for reasons we just mentioned. So, check the processor before you buy. Choices in processors include Athlon, P4 and Celeron, and Transmeta Crusoe. If you need to run power-hungry apps, then Athlon or P4 based notebooks would be right, Celeron and Crusoe would be good for regular productivity work. The latest entrant to notebook processors is AMD’s 64-bit mobile Athlon. As the market still lacks 64-bit applications for the end user, you could opt for this as a future investment.

Memory. The amount of memory you need depends on your OS and the applications that you plan to run. Win XP and MacOS X require at least 256 MB of RAM, while other Windows and Mac versions can run with 128 MB. Also, since you can easily upgrade memory, check the number of slots to see how much RAM it can house.

Hard drive. The rule, the more the hard disk space the better, doesn’t apply to notebooks because as you go up in GB space, the price increases dramatically for notebook hard disks. This is because a laptop’s hard disk is smaller, uses less power and is more shock absorbent than a desktop’s hard disk.

For most needs, therefore, a 20 or 30 GB hard disk is sufficient. Go for a 60 GB one only if you really need to—if you work with video or music, for example. Also, look out for the speed of the hard disk—a faster spin rate means better performance.

A speed of 5400 rpm is better than that of 4200 rpm, but, of course, you’ll pay more for it. Recently, 7200 rpm drives have also been introduced, one player here being Hitachi.

Other drives. As DVDs become popular, a DVD drive is what will be required. If you’re planning for the future, a combo drive—a DVD-ROM reader and CD-RW drive—is a good idea. But, if your budget doesn’t permit, then go for a DVD-ROM drive—which can read CD-ROMs and DVD-ROMs, but not burn CDs. You can always upgrade to a combo later. As of now, DVD Writers for notebooks are quite expensive, and not really recommended.
Choose from the available four categories, ie all-in-one, mainstream, high-end machines, and thin and light portables
Go for the configuration that is best suited to your needs, avoiding stuff that you don’t need, such as floppy drive
If you want more backup, consider Centrino-based notebooks

Floppy drives are now passé, so it would be better to buy an external one separately if need be. For those quick transfers of data, instead of a floppy drive, you can use the IrDA port on your notebook or buy a USB storage device. USB storage device are fairly inexpensive and available in capacities of 32, 64, 128, 256 MB and even up to 1 GB.

Battery, backup and recharge time. How long a battery lasts once its charged is one of the most crucial things to know before you buy a notebook. Most batteries last 2.5 to 3 hours depending on how long you use your laptop for a stretch.

Centrino-based notebooks can take battery life up to six hours, while Tablet PCs consume more power.

If you need the battery to last longer—if you take frequent long flights—then keep an extra battery pack and power plug handy. Some laptops come with expansion slots for peripherals, including for a second battery, while some have an attachable base that houses the second battery. Regarding recharge time, obviously, the faster the battery recharges, the better.

Almost all notebooks come with rechargeable Lithium Ion batteries. NiMH and Ni-Cad are old technologies; don’t go for them.

Networking. Wireless is the technology to talk about here. Look for a wireless-ready notebook with built-in antennae and wireless networking with the 802.11b standard. With such a notebook, you just have to plug in a wireless adapter whenever you want to go wireless. Intel’s Centrino technology-based notebooks come with built-in wireless capability. Built-in Ethernet is also standard.

Expansion ports. The standard ports that a notebook comes with are: parallel, serial, VGA and two or more USB ports.

Most notebooks come with at least one PCMCIA slot. But, some could also come with two. Other than that, now notebooks have begun to come with a FireWire port to connect high-speed devices and some even have a TV out port. All notebooks don’t come with IrDA capability, which is useful to wirelessly transfer files from your notebook to another one or to a PDA or cellphone.

If you need still more ports, you can opt for a docking station, which contains ports, slots and drive bays.

Graphics card. The graphics capabilities of a notebook will determine what apps you would use on it. For example, workstation class notebooks come with high-end graphics chipsets with dedicated VRAM (Video RAM), while ordinary notebooks would have shared VRAM. A high-end graphics card should have at least 64 MB of dedicated VRAM (Video RAM) and a good graphics chip from Nvidia or ATI.

Display. Notebook screens come in sizes ranging from 12.1 inches to 17 inches (diagonally). Of course, larger the screen, the better it is.

In terms of the monitor technology also, you have a choice between active-matrix screens— such as TFTs—and passive-matrix—such as HPA (High Performance Array), CSTN (Color Super Twist Nematic) and DSTN (Double Layer Super Twist Nematic). Active-matrix screens can be viewed from a wide angle, but are more expensive. For budget-conscious buyers, a passive screen will do just fine as you will work on your laptop directly facing the screen.

Weight. It’s not just the weight of the notebook that you need to consider, but also that of the carry bag, ac adapter, any extra modules and their cables. Remember, a carry bag may alone weigh almost up to 2 kg.

More Laptop Advice

Every day, more questions arise from our faculty on the topic of laptop computers. We have recently started a program whereby teachers can be reimbursed for half the cost of purchasing their own laptop, as a way of encouraging them to move forward in their use of technology for instruction. (See Desktop or laptop? in this series.) Many teachers, from the kindergarten to the university, are finding that the portable computer enables them to ply their craft in new and interesting ways. The choices of laptops are many, their prices are dropping, and their capabilities expanding. This week's article does not tell you which brand or model is best; rather it describes some of the things you should look for and some of the tradeoffs you'll need to consider as you choose a laptop.

Size and weight

Most of us are drawn to laptops because it's easy to carry them from home to office to classroom. And experienced laptop users will tell you that small is beautiful -- the smaller it is, the more likely you'll take it with you and use it. The factors that make a laptop large, such as wide screens and floppy drives and old-style ports -- are seldom if ever necessary for most teachers. The difference between four and eight pounds may not sound like much, but you'll feel it the first time you have to carry it across town, or use it on an airplane, or fit it onto a crowded desk. In these situations, the smallest, lightest laptop is best.


The screens of laptops are measured in inches as well as pixels. The smallest on the market today are called 12-inch, and contain a 1024 by 768 pixel array. For most teachers, this is perfectly adequate. It may seem small when compared with the standard 15-inch desktop monitor, but remember that the laptop screen will be deployed much closer to your eyes, and thus need not be as big. And the 12-inch display allows smaller overall size, less weight, and longer battery life. And costs less. Larger displays, up to 17 inches, display more pixels, but for most of what teachers do these pixels serve no purpose.


Choose a laptop with built-in wireless network capability. All of the educational planners and network architects tell me that this is what schools are installing. Even if your school has yet to provide wireless ethernet, it will soon, and it's easier and less expensive and less cumbersome to have this built-in from the beginning. And until your school comes on board, you can use the wireless at your local Starbucks -- see Wireless Networks in this series. You'll find two wireless connection speeds available, called 802.11b and 802.11g. The latter is faster, but most of us will not notice the difference.

Speakers and Microphone

These, too, are better bought built-in. You may not think you need them, until someone sends you an interactive CD with sound, or until you want to participate in an online multimedia chat, or use voice-over-internet telephony. Even the smallest laptops can be had with built-in microphones andspeakers -- they are tiny, but they work.


Choose nothing less than 256 megabytes of RAM, and if you are a power user buy 512. It's better to get it shipped to you with all the RAM you need, rather than to try to install it yourself later.


Ports have changed recently. The new connectors are USB (Universal Serial Bus), used for mice and digital cameras and printers; and FireWire used for digital video and high-speed drives. Don't buy a laptop unless it has both built-in. Do not be tempted to look for a laptop with the old-fashioned ports, such as parallel and RS-232, unless you have a particular need for these. These make it cost more, weigh more, and add bulk. Not sure what to do with your old parallel printer? A new USB printer can be had for less than the cost of adding a parallel port to a new laptop.

Make sure the laptop also includes a built-in Ethernet connector, and a video-output connector for a projector.

CD and DVD drives

You need at least a CD reader drive built-in, to install software, play music, and read the multimedia projects your students submit. Most laptops come with this capability at the base level. If you want to create your own CD's, move up to a drive that reads and writes CD's, a good thing for a teacher to be able to do. For a few dollars more, you can get a drive that also plays DVD's (for showing Hamlet in the English class); and at the top end you can add the ability to create your own DVD's (for the mediaphiles). Again, it's much easier to get what you need built-in from the start, rather than to add external drives later.

Pointing device

The trackpad seems to be the technology of choice to replace the mouse. Avoid laptops that try to replace the mouse with a little pencil-eraser-like button in the middle of the keyboard. If you are an artist or a power user, or find the trackpad tricky, get a small and inexpensive USB mouse, and you'll be happy.


There's quite a difference in how long laptops last without recharging. Longer is better. Choose a laptop that goes to sleep automatically when closed or idle for more than a few minutes. And wakes up automatically when you open it. Choose one whose screen is easy to dim -- it's the light behind the display that uses most of the battery power. Buy an extra battery if you plan to use the laptop in cars, planes, boats, or places without easily-available electric power.

Disk drives

Forget the floppy drive. They are never necessary, and seldom used anymore. They add bulk, weight, and cost to your laptop. If you ever need to copy something to or from a floppy disk, you can purchase or borrow an external USB floppy drive. Instead get a high-capacity built-in hard drive -- at least 30 gigabytes. And if you need to save, copy, or exchange, use the CD drive.

Operating System

Laptops today come in three possible systems: Windows, Linux, or Mac OS X. The last two are versions of Unix, an industrial-strength operating system that is relatively immune from viruses and hacking, and high on security. All of the common applications that teachers use, such as Web browsers, the Office suite (Word, Excel, PowerPoint), email, multimedia applications, and so forth, are available on all three systems. Documents created in one system can be read by the others. So the choice is more open than it used to be. And I would not dare to make a recommendation here for fear of entering into religious warfare. You'll be OK no matter which you choose.

Built-in Applications

Most laptops come with at least some software applications already installed. If possible, choose a laptop with word-processor, spreadsheet, presentation, email, web browser, database, image-editing, video-editing, and music-playing software included.

How much?

As I write this, prices are dropping. We just purchased a brand-name laptop for the President of our institute, with all the features recommended here plus a CD-burner, wireless, 14-inch display, DVD, and a 60-gigbyte hard drive for less than $1200. A good laptop with the minimum features listed here is selling for less than $900. For most teachers, this level provides all they need.

Laptop Advice

Buying used or refurbished notebooks: The answer to portable connectivity on a shoe string budget
Oct 18 '01

The Bottom Line This is a low cost solution for mobile computing. There are deals out there but as with any computer purchase, buyer beware.

Many people come to me and ask, "Where can I find a laptop computer for simple office tasks and internet access for under $600?" The answer is refurbished or used notebooks. If you need a computer on the road or for school that only needs the ability to run office programs and access the web there is no need for you to spend $1000+ on a new notebook (especially if you don't have the funds). An older notebook with decent specifications will suffice for these situations.

What do you really need?
A student at Lynchburg University recently approached me with a dilemma. She needed a computer for school but couldn't afford a new notebook and had to have a mobile computer for taking notes and printing documents on the move. She also needed access to the school's network for Internet access and the ability to fax abroad. She was under the impression that she would have to take out a loan in order to get what she needed.

I gave her the information on several web sites and local computer shops that sell used or refurbished laptops and she was able to find one that fit her needs for under $500. What she got was a Pentium 166MMX with a 3.2GB hard drive, 24X CDROM, floppy, TFT active matrix 12.2" LCD screen, 56k modem, 2X PCMCIA and 96MB of RAM for $475.00 at a local pawn shop. It also had all the standard ports (parallel, serial and USB) as well as external SVGA monitor, one PS/2 port and a two hour battery. I checked the computer out for her and it was in near factory condition. I found a 10-baseT PCMCIA ethernet adapter for her for only $20.00 on the Internet and she was good to go.

Buyer beware! We are talking "Used & Refurbished"
When you purchase a used or refurbished notebook, keep in mind that these are just that, used and refurbished. Don't buy from anywhere that does not have a return policy or an extremely short period of return. There are places to buy that give you thirty days to return and many places will give you 1 year or more warranty on these notebooks. If you buy a refurbished notebook directly from the manufacturer you may pay a little more than you would elsewhere but manufacturers like Toshiba and Dell will give you the same manufacturers warranty that they do on brand new laptops.

Do not under purchase yourself
Obviously if you need a computer for running CAD programs or Power Point presentations, you would not want a low power computer as described above. When buying refurbished or used notebooks it is the same rule as buying new, know what you need it to do and make sure you get one that fulfills that need. You can find refurbs that have the latest technology if that is what you require. Toshiba sells Pentium III refurbished notebooks running at 700+MHz for a discount price albeit much more than the $475 this college student above paid for hers.

What I found at a local computer show
I was at a computer show in Chantilly, Va. two years ago and found a sweet deal on what was then a fairly recent model laptop. I got a Compaq Presario 1610 notebook with the following specifications for $300.

* Pentium 150MMX
* 1.6GB hard drive
* 96MB RAM
* 56k on-board modem
* Built-in floppy drive
* 13.3" HPA passive matrix LCD screen
* Lithium Ion 2-hour battery
* All the original software and manuals

This was, at the time I purchased it, only about a year old and still works like new to this day. It was the best money I have spent on a computer or computer product.

References on the web
Here are a few web addresses you can check out to find low cost refurbished or used laptop computers.

These are only a few places out of literally thousands on the web that you can find great deals on used or refurbished laptops. Don't forget you can also check local pawnshops and small computer stores for low cost laptops. Keep in mind that most pawnshops and small computer stores do not offer any warranty on older computers so buy with caution and use good sense.

Wharton Advice

Selecting the right MBA

A Wharton MBA for a day

"I arrived at the admissions office before 9am on a Thursday morning and was surprised to see a small group already waiting. A current student came round at 9am with a class list and spoke to each of us about which ones would be best for us to see based on our interest areas. He was remarkably honest about avoiding one class given by a lecturer that wasn't rated highly by other students.

"I picked a class on Internet Marketing and went and sat in a comfortable lecture theatre with about 40 other students (the class is smaller than in previous years - not as much interest in things dot-com). The material was interesting and I could imagine myself spending 2 years exploring these issues in more depth. To emphasise the open and friendly atmosphere I'd experienced on campus the lecturer introduced himself at the end of the class and spent about 10 minutes answering my questions about work and study expectations.

"You can fit in three classes in a day so I skipped the next lesson and spent some time walking around the campus. It's nothing special and is shared with undergraduate students which makes it very busy. To prove the point the final class I went to was on investment finance, one of the things Wharton is known for. This class was in a normal classroom rather than a lecture theatre and was standing room only for the more than 70 people trying to cram in. My head was swimming as the lecturer covered 3 months of my undergrad finance degree in 30 minutes. Funny thing was I understood more of it - the guy was very, very good. I wouldn't have believed someone could get so passionate about investment finance unless I'd seen it for myself. Looking over the shoulders of people in front I noticed there was a massive amount of reading for the class and a lot of assumed knowledge.

"Curious about the class I was told to avoid I poked my head in the door and was reminded of the many lectures I attended at uni. It didn't seem that bad but you can understand why students enjoy the more lively and passionate lectures I'd attended earlier.

"There is an organised information session at 2.30pm which allows you to talk to current students and admissions staff and if you attend on Thursday you can go along to the pub evening which starts at 4pm to meet even more students.

"During this time I found out that there is a new building being built which will increase substantially the amount of room available to the business school. It's due to open in 2002 and will improve the facilities to the level you'd expect of a world class business school."

Visiting or obtaining more information about Wharton

Information sessions are a great help and run from 2.30pm Monday to Friday. You can attend classes Monday to Thursday. To review a class list go to the Admissions Office just before 9am.

Funny blog:

Advice from Experts

Test Day Strategies from GMAT Experts

Comprehensive preparation is crucial to GMAT success for most students, but it is not the only factor. Consequently, Veritas Prep is pioneering research on the other ingredients required for a high GMAT score.

While this research continues, Veritas Prep thought they could share additional insight from a few members of their renowned GMAT faculty. Each Veritas Prep Instructor scored in the 99th percentile on an actual GMAT exam and has experience helping others duplicate their success.

No one suggestion is universal. Each student should consider a suggestion, practice it, and decide whether or not to incorporate it into his or her own test-taking regimen. The Veritas Prep experts recommend:

* “I highly recommend that students create a ‘workback schedule’. Working back from the exam, the week before, the students should plan to do a full run through of the exam, including nutrition and test day schedule (if your exam is at 4pm, then take your practice exam at 4pm). Working back from this run through, one week before they should do ANOTHER complete run through with the exact same conditions. Why complete two? It's similar to the theater, with a full run through and a dress rehearsal. The first session is to get a sense of what 3.5 hours is really like, to understand looking at the screen for that long a period of time, getting limited bathroom breaks, etc. Students typically think they can perform on little sleep and that nutrition doesn't matter, etc. The full run through often reveals the error of their thinking, as well as revealing other areas that need review. The second run through is to rebuild confidence. Since confidence is so important in exam success, students should avoid going into the exam worried (as most typically are after the first run through). I repeat this mantra to my students often.”

Kevin Richardson, Chicago-based Veritas Prep GMAT Instructor and Veritas MBA Admissions Consultant (Stanford Graduate School of Business)

* “My advice to students is to finish their full-time preparation three days before the test. In other words, don’t plan on learning anything new in those three days. Just spend a few hours a day reviewing and refreshing what is in your head at that point. The GMAT is as much an endurance game as anything. I encourage students to sleep normally for them. Anything other than their normal sleep routine would be disruptive. If their sleep routine is not optimal, however, I encourage them from the beginning of their preparation to adopt a new one well in advance so that it becomes normal for them by the time they take the test. I encourage people to listen to their rhythms when they schedule their test – morning people schedule in the morning, night owls in the afternoon. Most people have a good sense of when their brains are at optimal function and endurance. And for nutrition, I have a few tips: high-protein for breakfast a few hours before the test, something with carbs and protein just before, a power bar or high-calorie protein drink at the first break, and something like fruit (somewhat complex sugars) for the second break. The idea here is endurance, and having the right kinds of energy available at every stop. In terms of exercise, again, I don’t recommend any changes from established routine. If the routine is sub-optimal, it has to be modified well in advance. The idea here is that on test day, you should not have to deal with anything that will make your brain say ‘That’s a new feeling’ and distract you from the test. Sore muscles, weird sleep effects, or gastro-intestinal problems tend to do that.”

ob Stringham, Salt Lake City and New York-based Veritas Prep GMAT Instructor

* “The week of the test, I think the best strategy is for students to not deviate too much from their typical routine. I find that the students that do the best are the ones that are the most comfortable and relaxed going into the test, so whatever they can do to make themselves feel comfortable is what I'd recommend. And a lot of that comfort zone comes from taking the test in stride, and not changing their lives to make it a bigger deal than it has to be – that just causes more pressure. If students are used to exercising regularly, the worst thing they can do is to eliminate that the week of the test to cram in more prep time. By altering their routine, they'll feel more pressure, and their energy levels will drop due to the lack of activity. But if they don't exercise regularly, they'll only add strain and pressure by trying to start up just for the test.”

Brian Galvin, Detroit-based Veritas Prep GMAT Instructor

* “On the day of the test, mental repeat that one formula you have trouble remembering before you walk into the test center – imagine a TV Detective repeating a license plate over and over to memorize it. Once you receive your scratch paper (or erasable workboard) at the start of the quantitative section, you can jot it down and have access to it during the test.”

Kevin Richardson, Chicago-based Veritas Prep GMAT Instructor and Veritas MBA Admissions Consultant(Stanford Graduate School of Business)

* “Psychologically, I talk to my students about acquiring the ‘tight-rope walkers’ mentality. A tight-rope walker can never start thinking ‘What will I do if I fall?’ In order to contemplate it, they have to envision themselves falling – making that a more plausible reality. For this reason, I make my students commit to NOT retaking the test. (If a student does poorly, I would, of course, let them out of the commitment, but that hasn’t been an issue yet). I tell them, instead, to become comfortable with an educated sense of the range of test score they want to achieve, the consequences of scoring inside that range, and then commit to achieving and accepting those results. This removes the safety net of the “if I do poorly this time, I can always retake it” mentality, which saps the motivation to succeed.”

Rob Stringham, Salt Lake City and New York-based Veritas Prep GMAT Instructor

* “I remind my students that ETS has designed the entire experience in order to throw people off and make them uncomfortable. From the security procedures when students arrive, to the overly formal and eerily quiet testing centers, to the way questions are posed, everything is designed to make students doubt themselves and feel undue pressure. My advice is to know going in that there will be opportunities to feel pressure or doubt, and to recognize (and even laugh at) those occasions when they arise. I tell my students to remember that 99% of what will be tested is material that they learned in high school; if they remain calm and confident, and pay attention to the tricks that ETS uses to make familiar topics look extremely unfamiliar, they should be able to interpret and succeed on any question.”

Brian Galvin, Detroit-based Veritas Prep GMAT Instructor

* “Take your 5 minute breaks, whether you think you need them or not. I analogize it to swimming in a lap pool. Sometimes, you've done several laps and you think, ‘I should stop at the wall to take a breath, but I'm feeling really strong. I think I'll just go on’ – and, oops, it’s the middle of the pool and now you really need that rest. The inevitable outcome is the second half of that lap is messy, ugly, and slow. If you start to panic, you could even start swallowing water and then things really spiral downward. Now you're wishing you had taken that break when you had the chance. Since you cannot take a break during GMAT sections, it is advantageous, perhaps imperative, to take the rest when it is offered. Similarly, when you encounter a Reading Comprehension passage, put your pencil down and take a 5 second breather, clearing your mind before you dive into the passage. Remember, you want to complete the entire set of questions relating to that passage without having to go back and reread the entire passage. That 5 second moment of zen can save you 2-3 minutes once you start the passage.” Kevin Richardson,

Chicago-based Veritas Prep GMAT Instructor and Veritas MBA Admissions Consultant(Stanford Graduate School of Business)

Our instructors inspire confidence in their students. That confidence, combined with Veritas Prep’s proven methods and strategies, yields spectacular results. Veritas Prep, an acknowledged expert at producing high GMAT scores, offers intensive live instruction in more than 50 leading world cities and the finest private tutoring available anywhere.

More Advice from others

GMAT Strategies

What Is It?

Did you really think that life would be easy once you got a killer score in the SAT? Too bad! If you want to get into the business school of your choice, the Graduate Management Aptitude Test is something you'll have to go through. The GMAT is an aptitude test (yeah, yeah, just like the SAT). Somewhat similar to the SAT, the GMAT tests a student's skills in math, English, and logic to determine his or her aptitude for business school.

The question is: how well does the GMAT measure aptitude for business school? The GMAT's ability to predict performance in school is just as poor as the SAT's. This is to be expected since the tests are designed by the same company (ETS) and the problems are quite similar.

What Does It Test?

Don't worry; the test won't ask you questions on accounting, management, or about running a business! It's a test of aptitude for B-school and not of business know-how. Just like the SAT, the creators of the GMAT insist that the test is meant to evaluate skills and abilities which have been developed over a long period of time. The GMAT does not test specific knowledge obtained in college course work, and neither does it seek to measure achievements in any specific areas of study.

The math and English sections of the test are very similar to the SAT, even though the format of some questions is different. The logical section of the GMAT includes two types of questions that the SAT does not: Arguments and Data Sufficiency. Many students find these question difficult since the pattern and format are something which they have never encountered in school. However, these questions are not inherently hard, and with sufficient preparation and practice you can raise your performance on these questions significantly.

What Is the Format of the Test?

The GMAT is a three-and-one-half hour computer adaptive test (CAT), which means that you will give the test on a computer. No more lead pencils and filling in small circles... yippee! There are four sections in the test.

The writing sections always begin the test. You will type your essay on the computer, using a very basic word processor.

Each question must be answered before you can go to the next question. Unlike the paper-based SAT, the computer will not allow you to return to a question once you go to the next one.

About one quarter of the questions are experimental, and are not graded. The experimental questions can be standard math, data sufficiency, reading comprehension, arguments, or sentence correction. The purpose of this experimental section is to gauge how students perform on different types of questions so that the difficulty level for future tests can be kept consistent. Even though you won't know which questions are experimental, the experimental section is generally more confusing and difficult than the rest of the test.

This brings up an ethical issue: How many students have run into experimental questions early in the test and have been confused and discouraged by them? Crestfallen by having done poorly on a few experimental questions, they lose confidence and perform below their ability on the other parts of the test. Whether or not this section should be there is a separate debate. All you have to keep in mind is that you should never allow a few difficult questions in a test to discourage you or affect performance on the rest of the test... it might just be the experimental section!

The CAT and the Paper-Based Test

The computerized GMAT uses the same type of questions as did the Paper & Pencil Test. The only thing that has changed is the medium, that is, the way the questions are presented. There are advantages and disadvantages to the CAT. Probably the biggest advantages are that you can take the CAT just about any time and you can take it in a small room with just a few other people -- instead of in a large auditorium with hundreds of other stressed people. One the other hand, you cannot return to previous questions, it is easier to misread a computer screen than it is to misread printed material, and it can be distracting looking back and forth from the computer screen to your scratch paper. But isn't it just great not to be worried about a circle not being filled properly since you were in a hurry?!

Registering for the GMAT

The GMAT is now available year-round at test centers around the world. Consider the admissions deadlines of the schools to which you're applying, then call early to increase your chances of getting your preferred test date at the center most convenient to you. The registration fee for the GMAT is $190 worldwide. The best way to register and make an appointment for the test is by using a phone and credit card. Remember, weekends book quickly!

Advice from Others

GMAT Test Day Advice

Try to Relax

Yes, this is easier said than done – even for admissions consultants who have already taken the exam, and even graduated from business school. Nonetheless, worrying and stressing over the GMAT will do nothing to boost your confidence or increase your ability to answer the questions correctly.

Keep in mind that the GMAT exam is only one component of your total application package. Admissions committees at the most selective business schools normally give your academic qualifications, including grades and other non-GMAT components a weighting of between 30% and 40%. That means that you may still be a very competitive applicant, even if your GMAT score falls somewhat below the median of those applicants historically accepted to your top-choice schools.

Get Adequate Sleep the Night Before

If you have spent any significant amount of time preparing for the GMAT CAT, then you will know that your score will benefit more from some extra sleep than it will be from a few last-minute cram preparations.
Dress in Layers

You can never be sure whether the test center will be warm or cold, so it is always a good idea to wear layers of clothes that you can easily add and remove. The GMAT test site is not a fashion show, so dress comfortably. If that means old jeans and sneakers for you, then that, by all means, that is what you should wear!
Make Sure You are Comfortable with the Computer Tutorial

The GMAT CAT will begin with a tutorial on using the computer. We do not recommend rushing through it. If you have adequately prepared yourself for the GMAT, you will suffer no short-term memory loss in the few minutes it takes to complete this tutorial. You do not want to find that, having rushed through this tutorial, you panic when the timed test begins and you're suddenly not sure how to scroll through the long passages in the verbal section. Finally, this tutorial provides an excellent way for most test-takers to calm their nerves before delving into the actual GMAT test questions.

Become Familiar with the Testing Facility

Find out where the nearest bathroom and water fountain are located before you begin the test. You are allotted only two 5 minute breaks during the GMAT, and will want to be able to locate those facilities when you need them. It is also not a bad idea to figure out ahead of time how to get to the test center and to arrive there well before your scheduled time on test day.
Request Scrap Paper and Use it Freely

Scrap paper will come in handy for both the verbal and the quantitative sections of the test. There is no need to feel self conscious if you happen to have a few more sheets of scrap paper than other test takers do. After all, you do not want to waste valuable test-taking time requesting additional paper if you run out of it during the middle of a section.
Speak Up if Your Working Conditions are Less than Optimal

If your carrel is too small or if you are having difficulty with your mouse, keyboard, or any other part of your computer, do not hesitate to speak up. These problems, on the rare occasions that they arise, are usually quite easily remedied.

Don't Waste Time

This advice probably seems self-evident, but we mention it because we've had clients tell us how they wasted time by revisiting the help screen or requesting extra scrap paper after they had already begun their test. These activities, if undertaken once the section has begun, will only take valuable time away from working on the questions.
Pace Yourself

You want to spend a judicious amount of time on the first 5 questions of every section. (See the GMAT Preparation Tips and Advice page for more information on this strategy.) However, after completing these first 5 questions, you may need to pick up the pace a bit in order to stay on track and have the opportunity to answer each question in the section. The GMAT CAT's software will display the amount of test time you have left in each section. If you prepared yourself by taking some simulated practice tests in the computer-adaptive format, you should have become proficient at managing your time during the exam.

Think Very Carefully Before Doing Any of These

Before you cancel your score or quit the exam, ask yourself whether you are sure this is what you really want to do. It has been our experience that most test takers who cancel their scores or quit the exam do so irrationally. You probably know from your previous test experiences that you often turn out to have done better on an exam than you thought you would while you were taking it.

It is human psychology to dwell more heavily on the questions you believe you answered incorrectly rather than on the (hopefully) more numerous questions you probably answered correctly. Try to keep this in mind when the GMAT CAT asks if you want to cancel your scores or see them immediately. It is our frank advice that, unless you felt deathly ill during the exam, you should not cancel your scores.


I recently graduated from university and I plan on applying to MBA programs in a few years. Since work isn't too taxing at the moment I decided to "Kill the GMAT". In the end I ended up with a 750. My name is :), this is my story of how I killed the GMAT.