The holidays are here! I hope you have some time to relax this holiday season, and that you get the chance to spend some quality time with friends and family. It’s time for a much-needed and well-deserved break.

With projects, final exams, work, and internships, you probably haven’t had a chance to give much thought to gifts – for friends, family, or yourself. Luckily, we are here to help.

Browse our list of recommended gifts, and find something unique for each of your friends (and maybe a little something for yourself). If you don’t have the time or budget to shop this year, just remember – a nice card or batch of homemade cookies always does the trick. Always.

Happy Holidays!

A Klean Kanteen Vacuum Insulated 20oz canteen ($29.95), so that your iced drinks and hot beverages stay the right temperature throughout your day of work and lectures.

A Moleskine notebook or planner (from $12.95) for taking notes, keeping appointments, and preserving your handwriting abilities.

This Toast Ceramics Pour-Over Coffee Set ($65) is a stylish and practical gift for all the caffeine addicts in your life.

A new iPad sleeve ($25), because the sentiment is very true.

A subscription to The Economist ($160 for 1 year), because it’s filled with fascinating articles that’ll keep you informed while improving your vocabulary.

Kindle Fire HD (from $114), so that you can keep your reading material in one (incredibly light) place … right next to your email, Skype, and time-wasting app of choice.

A travel eye mask ($14.99), so that you sleep soundly in on the plane ride home, at your parents’ house over the holidays, in between long lectures at school, etc.

littleBits Smart Home Kit ($249), to make your life easier by turning household objects into internet-connected devices … and because I really want one, too!

Shopping for a high schooler? Check out our High School Gift Guide for the perfect gift.

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*These posts take us a little out of our area of expertise (we’re test experts, not admissions consultants) but they provide general answers to questions we hear quite a lot. For answers specific to your applications you might turn to the admissions staff at your target schools, to their representatives at admissions fairs, or to an admissions consultant.*

**When does it make sense to set aside GMAT prep and focus on other parts of your application? **

You may distinguish yourself in other ways.

At the same time that I had that conversation with the admissions guy from East Coast, I was tutoring a student—let’s call him Aarav—who had been denied admission to that very school, his first-choice program. (Maybe that’s why I took the trouble to initiate a conversation with the school’s representative? I don’t remember.) Although they had rejected Aarav’s application, East Coast gave him useful feedback and encouraged him to apply the following year once he’d addressed the deficiencies they saw in his application.

The three deficiencies they identified were (1) Aarav’s dearth of experience managing others, (2) his apparent lack of any life outside work, (3) his GMAT scores.

(1) was surprising, given that Aarav’s job title was something like Engineering Manager, so perhaps he’d done a poor job characterizing his work, or perhaps East Coast was more impressed by applicants who had line authority over other employees than by applicants who coordinated the contributions of their peers. Probably, though, they just wanted to see more growth in Aarav’s responsibilities. (2) was also surprising, because I’d seen many students who were at least as narrowly job-focused as Aarav gain admission to high-ranked programs. I wondered if what (2) really meant was that life outside of work could give Aarav an opportunity demonstrate the leadership he hadn’t shown at work.

What Aarav took from these ambiguities was that he had best focus on the one objective factor East Coast had identified, the GMAT. Aarav had already taken a GMAT class and had improved his score quite a bit before he’d applied to East Coast. He was about fifty points below East Coast’s average GMAT when we started tutoring, and his idea was to claw up to forty points above. He thought that because he had other deficiencies and because he was “just another Indian tech guy” he had to have exceptional scores. (If you lurk in the popular GMAT forums you’ll run into this view all the time, that Indians in tech need to score at some crazy level to be considered.)

Unfortunately, Aarav was already burned out on GMAT study, and in fact resented that he had to “waste more time” on it. I suggested that we work just on performance factors rather than on content. If he could train to perform as well for an entire test as he could for thirty minutes at a time, he’d be right around the average for East Coast. They clearly liked him, and he had other work to do on his other deficiencies.

In the end, Aarav gained forty points on the GMAT to put himself just below the school’s average and then promptly stopped thinking about the test. At work, he asked for responsibility over other employees and was given a short-term assignment as head of a team coordinating the launch of an improved product. In other words, pretty much the same work he’d been doing for years, but with temporary line authority over a couple of people. Perhaps most significantly, Aarav started and ran a public-speaking program at a local high school. It sounded a little strange to me, but Aarav made a good case: he was a middle-class Indian guy working with poor American students; he was a socially anxious techie mastering and helping others to master public speaking; he was doing work that really mattered rather than padding an application. He was able to write about that program in a way that made it clear that he was authentic, conscientious, and willing to take uncomfortable risks.

So, Aarav decided that it suited him better to distinguish himself in other ways than to be “just another Indian tech guy” with exceptional GMAT scores. He was accepted to East Coast the following year.

If you’ve been provisionally admitted, the program wants to enroll you.

I’ve worked with a number of students who had been accepted provisionally to top-ten programs. Sometimes these students were told to improve their GMAT scores, or to improve just their quant scores, or to demonstrate quantitative proficiency in some way.

When students are given latitude to demonstrate quantitative proficiency in any of a number of ways, I usually recommend whatever method would actually improve rather than merely demonstrate their math skills. One top program sometimes gives provisionally admitted applicant a choice of improving their GMAT quant score, passing a very different math exam administered by the program, or passing a Business Math class offered by the school’s extension program. I pretty much always recommend the last.

When students are told to improve their GMAT scores we improve their GMAT scores. If they’re given a firm target, that’s what we work toward, but students are often not given a firm target. I’ve had three different students who had been provisionally accepted by the same program on the edge of most top-ten rankings, all of whom were asked to improve their GMAT quant scores and none of whom was given a target score. All three were admitted after retaking the test, including one students whose quant score went up just three points and whose overall GMAT score was still about forty points below the program’s average. I suspect that the provisional acceptance in those cases was mostly a way encourage higher scores in order to protect the school’s rankings.

Take-away: *You should do what the program asks of you, but unless they tell you so you may not need to match their typical GMAT scores.*

Not everyone wants to go to a top-twenty program.

Finally, if your first-choice school isn’t super-competitive you may not need super-high GMAT scores. I’ve had many students in just that situation, especially students who intended to stay with their current employer while enrolled in a part-time program.

For instance, a student I’ll call Chad had enjoyed his time as an undergraduate at local Jesuit university and was working for a small construction firm with family ties to the same university. When his employer asked him to pursue an MBA, he was happy to go back to his alma mater. He did classroom prep rather than tutoring, and got a 670 on his first attempt at the actual exam. He could well have added fifty or more points to that, but there really wasn’t any reason to. Given the rest of his application, he would have been admitted to his first-choice program with a score much lower than 670.

One last example, and for this one I’ll use the school’s real name but change some of the student’s details: A few years back I had a student—let’s call her Helen—who was very bright and hardworking, but not a great candidate for a top program. She had a middling undergraduate GPA, she had very low test scores, and though she was five years out of school she’d spent two of those years doing retail sales before being hired as a buyer and distinguishing herself in that role.

Helen believed that she’d be a much better MBA student than she had been an undergraduate, because she was more mature certainly, but mostly because she liked what she knew of the case-study method and she enjoyed collaborating. She wanted an education, primarily, and a credential only secondarily.

She eventually enrolled at UCSD’s Rady School of Management, just before that very young program was eligible to apply for accreditation. She judged that Rady was a much better school—especially for her needs—than many better-established programs, that she would be admitted there despite her grades and test scores because Rady was still new and unaccredited, and that the value of her credential would grow over time as Rady was accredited and grew in status. It now looks like a very shrewd judgment, as Rady was accredited before she completed her degree and has gained in stature ever since.

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1) In the figure, KLMN is a square, and ÐKJN = 45°. Find the area of figure JKLMN.

2) In the diagram, HJLM is a square, and GH = 10. Find the area of trapezoid GHJK.

3) In the diagram, BD = 5, CD = 10, and AE = 40. What is the area of the shaded region?

- 175
- 350
- 775
- 1150
- 1575

4) In the figure above, ÐPTQ = ÐQRS = 70º, PT = 4, PR = 12, and the shaded region has an area of 48. What is the length of QW?

Answer will appear at the end of this blog.

Two geometric figures are similar if they have the same shape but are difference sizes. One is a smaller or larger version of the other. Similar figures always have all the same angles, and their sides are proportional. Some previous blog with relevant materials are

1) The GMAT’s Favorite Triangles: the 30-60-90 triangle and the 45-45-90 triangle

2) Similar Shapes, including scale factor

3) Scale Factors and Percent Increase/Decrease

You definitely need to know the two special right triangles in #1, and other blogs contain many time saving hints.

1) Since KN must be perpendicular to JM, we know that JNK must be a 45-45-90 triangle. The legs are equal, and the hypotenuse is the square root of 2 times larger than either leg. Let JN = KN = x. Then

In that work, we rationalized the denominator when we divided by the radical. This number for x is the side of the square, so square KLMN has an area which is this number squared.

That’s part of the area. Now, notice that triangle JKN would be equivalent to a square of the same size cut in half along the diagonal. This triangle must have exactly half the area of the square. Well, the square is 18, so the triangle must be 9, and together, they must have an area of 27.

Answer = **(E)**

2) This entire problem hinges on recognizing that triangles GHM and JKL are 30-60-90 triangles and using the properties of those triangles. First of all, notice that because HJLM is a square, it must be true that HM = JL. This means, the two triangles, GHM and JKL, must be congruent and have all the same sides & angles. GH = JK = 10.

Now, in a 30-60-90 triangle, the smaller leg is half the hypotenuse, so GM = LK = 5. The longer leg is the square root of 3 times the shorter leg, so

This is the side of the square, so we square this to get the area of square HJLM.

That’s part of the area. Now, we need the area of the triangles. One triangle is A = 0.5bh, so two triangles would simply be A = bh

Answer = **(D)**

3) In this problem, we need the crucial fact that the ratio of areas is proportional to scale factor squared.

First of all, side BD in BCD corresponds to side AE in ECA. AE:BD = 40:5 = 8, so the scale factor between the two triangles is 8. Every length in triangle ECA is 8 times bigger than the corresponding length in triangle BCD.

This means that the area of ECA is 8 squared, or 64 times bigger than the area of BCD. Well, it’s easy to calculate that BCD has an area of 25. This means that ECA must have area of

25*64 = 50*32 = 100*16 = 1600

Notice, we used the doubling and halving trick in that problem to simplify the multiplication. That’s the area of ECA. Well, the shaded area doesn’t include BCD, so

shaded = (triangle ECA) – (triangle BCD) = 1600 – 25 = 1575

Answer = **(E)**

4) We know the larger and smaller triangles are similar, because they share the angle at P, and one other angle in each is 70º. What’s tricky is that they have different orientations, so that side PT actually corresponds to side PR. We know PR:PT = 3, so that’s the scale fact. Every length in triangle PRS is three times more than the corresponding side in triangle PTQ. If lengths are multiplied by 3, area is multiplied by 3 squared, or 9. Let’s say that the area of triangle PTQ is A. Then the area of triangle PRS is 9A. The shaded area is the difference of the two triangle areas, or 8A. If 8A = 48, this means A = 6, and that’s the area of triangle PTQ.

Well, PT = 4 is a base of PTQ, and QW is a corresponding altitude: call its length h.

A = 0.5bh

6 = 0.5(4)h

6 = 2h

3 = h

The length of QW is 3.

Answer = **(B)**

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*These posts take us a little beyond our specific area of expertise (we’re test experts, not admissions consultants) but they provide general answers to questions we hear quite a lot. For answers specific to your applications you might turn to the admissions staff at your target schools, to their representatives at admissions fairs, or to an admissions consultant.*

**When does it make sense to set aside GMAT prep and focus on other parts of your application? **

Here are a few of reasons that improvements above 700 might still matter.

First, schools like to admit high-scoring students not only because those students have demonstrated some sort of aptitude, but also because schools actively manage their rankings. All other things being equal, higher GMAT scores mean higher rankings.

You can see evidence of this in comparisons between average GRE scores and average GMAT scores among students accepted to the same MBA programs. Many very competitive programs seem to have much lower standards for GRE scores (which are not generally considered in rankings) than for GMAT scores (which are).

Anecdotes I’ve heard first-hand from admissions staff support this. For instance, several years ago an admission officer for a school on the periphery of the top twenty—let’s call that school East Coast Business School—told me at an MBA fair that his staff gave greatest weight to the GMAT once they’d already “admitted everybody we’re crazy about” and were “filling out the class.” He reported that an exceptionally high GMAT score sometimes meant acceptance for a student who was otherwise unexceptional and who had no serious black marks against him.

My take-away is that if a reasonable amount of work could take you from a 700 to a 740 then that work might be worthwhile. Yes, the difference between 660 and 700 is typically much more important than the difference 700 and 740. Yes, once you hit 700 you’ve probably done most of what you can with the GMAT and most of what matters. But an otherwise borderline applicant who happens to be really good at standardized tests might profit from further work even after that magic score is within reach.

(I should add that I know of no evidence that people admitted in later rounds, or later in a given round, have higher GMAT scores on average than do people admitted earlier, so even if the East Coast practice is common to many programs, GMAT scores probably don’t have a much greater impact for many students in later rounds or later in a round than they do for all other applicants.)

Hansoo Lee, co-founder and former CEO of Magoosh, and one my closest friends, passed away nearly 2 years ago after a battle with non-smoker’s lung cancer. Hansoo was 35. In Hansoo’s honor, Wendy (Hansoo’s fiancée), Pejman (a fellow Magoosh co-founder), and I created the Hansoo Lee Fellowship with support from UC Berkeley and many others.

Through this fellowship, we provide mentorship and a $5,000 stipend to each of the 1–2 highly qualified Berkeley-Haas MBA students selected as fellows. These are MBA students who opt to pursue their personal ventures, as Hansoo and I did with Magoosh, in lieu of a traditional summer internship.

I’m excited to announce that Wendy Lim, Hansoo’s fiancée, has committed $5,000, and Magoosh has committed $10,000, towards a challenge match for the Hansoo Lee Fellowship.

**Any donation given to the fellowship by the end of the year, up to the $15,000 total, will be matched dollar-for-dollar. **To date, we’ve raised a little over $200,000. If we reach our goal of $250,000, the fellowship will be self-sustaining and able to support aspiring entrepreneurs for many years to come.

To donate, click here.

Last summer’s fellows are back at Haas for their 2nd year and both have continued to pursue their ventures.

**Johannes Koeppel (MBA’15) of Wetravel** reports the following: “In the last three months, we successfully released the beta version of Wetravel. Since then, we have organized 20 trips and currently have more than 250 paying customers.” Wetravel has raised $55,000 from startup competitions and other investments and plans to raise their seed round in mid-2015.

Wetravel is at the UC Berkeley’s Skydeck Accelerator and has grown its team, recently adding a designer to provide independent tour organizers with the best possible platform to facilitate their small group tours. In addition to perfecting their product, Wetravel will spend the coming months actively onboarding tour organizers on its platform.

**Alastair Trueger (MBA’15) of Teaman & Company** informed us that the company “has been going incredibly well. After graduating from 500 Startups, we moved back to Berkeley and into the Skydeck Accelerator. We have focused on building out the three pillars of our business: fantastic jewelry, our web and service experience and our 3-D printing sample kit.”

Teaman & Company has expanded its team, adding a jewelry sourcing and manufacturing expert and a sales manager with years of enterprise sales experience, and is in the process of hiring a creative director. Sales at Teaman continue to grow, and they recently closed a large $20,000 sale. Teaman has also opened its round of funding and has already closed $20,000 (with more to come).

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Hello!

Looking for more idiom practice? Look no further than this week’s GMAT Tuesday! We’ll be learning how to correctly use the words “amid” and “among” today.

Here’s the board work for this week:

And, if you have comments or questions about this video or anything related to the GMAT, feel free to leave them in the comment box below!

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Is a Chicago Booth MBA in your future? Concerned about the thousands of other qualified applicants also applying to Chicago Booth?

If you’re seeking expert tips on how to get accepted to Chicago Booth or another top-ranked MBA program, then you’ll want to attend Accepted’s upcoming webinar, Get Accepted to Chicago Booth. During the webinar, you will learn how to reveal your qualifications for Chicago Booth, articulate why you want an MBA from Booth and how you will use it and more!

The live webinar is taking place on Wednesday, December 17th at 10 AM PT/1PM ET so reserve your spot now. If you can’t attend the live webinar, be sure to register to receive a link of the recording.

**Giveaway alert!** Linda will be giving away a few copies of *MBA Admission for Smarties: The No-Nonsense Guide to Acceptance at Top Business Schools* during the webinar – attend the event for your chance to win!

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*These posts take us a little out of our area of expertise (we’re test experts, not admissions consultants) but they provide general answers to questions we hear quite a lot. For answers specific to your applications, you might turn to the admissions staff at your target schools, to their representatives at admissions fairs, or to an admissions consultant.*

**When does it make sense to set aside GMAT prep and focus on other parts of your application? **

One standard answer is that once you’ve reached some apparently arbitrary score you can safely move on. I say “apparently arbitrary” because the magic score varies a little (it’s usually given as 700 for applicants to the most competitive programs, but I’ve also seen 680 and 690 cited), and because it rarely explained.

If you rank MBA programs just on the basis of competitiveness, accepted applicants at the top two U.S. MBA programs have median GMAT scores of about 730, and accepted applicants at programs at the edge of the top-ten have median GMAT scores of about 700. It’s hard to be precise, since median scores so high are a new phenomenon, but a school with a median GMAT score of 730 would likely have a first-decile score in the mid- to high-600s and a first quartile score of about 700 (I don’t know of a source for this year’s numbers, so these values are extrapolated from historic self-reporting by institutions). So one way to look at the magic-number answer is that a score of 700 is at the average for some top-ten schools and still in the fat part of the curve for even the most competitive.

(GMAC reports that the GMAT has a standard error of measurement of 30 points. So another way to look at the magic-number answer is that a score of 700 is at the average for some top-ten schools and within the measurement error for even the most competitive. That may be just coincidence.)

One trouble with the magic-score answer, though, is its generality. I’ve done booth duty at a number of MBA fairs, and so have had a chance to talk to representatives from a number of top programs and a number of admissions consulting firms. Every one had stories about the applicant with an 800 score who couldn’t get in anywhere (though my hunch is that “anywhere” just meant any very competitive school) and the applicant with a score lower than 550 who was admitted to multiple top schools.

(That’s not where the smart money is though. As The Economist noted about these applicants, “every year a handful of exceptional students might be admitted with sub-standard scores. But they are exceptional in both senses of the world.” You can check out this Poets & Quants post for a slightly more sanguine view.

One test-prep tutor here in the San Francisco Bay Area used to advertise that if you spent $5000 on his services you’d recoup that in the first five months of your post-MBA employment. His reasoning? He expected a twenty-odd-point improvement in your GMAT score with his help, he argued that such an improvement was associated with admission to a significantly higher-ranked MBA program, and that completing that higher-ranked program was worth an extra $12,000/year in starting salary, on average.

More recently a couple of national test-prep firms have made similar, if slightly more modest claims. One firm argued that every point increase on the GMAT was associated with $325 increase in post-MBA starting salary; another argued that a decrease of 10 points on your GMAT would cost you about $3000 in starting salary, a scarier way to make the same point.

Obviously these claims are self-serving. Those making the claims hope that you’ll feel justified in paying them thousands of dollars to help you improve your score. But even self-serving claims might be true, right?

The basis for all these claims is that MBA programs that have higher mean GMAT scores also have higher median post-MBA starting salaries. All of those annual ratings of U.S. and international MBA programs—U.S. News, Business Week, Wall Street Journal, Economist, Financial Times—share the same raw data, and year after year the results are the same. There’s a near perfect correlation between mean GMAT score and median salary of new graduates, and in fact a near linear relationship between those pairs of values.

The alleged mechanism by which your increased score leads to an increased salary is pretty simple. (1) A higher GMAT score allow you to enroll in a school that has higher post-MBA starting salaries. In turn, (2) enrolling in such a school allows you to earn more post-MBA.* To make the mechanism more vivid, let’s compare Stanford (where the mean GMAT score last year was 732) with Tepper (where the mean GMAT score last year was 692).

Would the student who enrolled at Tepper with a 690 have been admitted to Stanford if only he or she had earned a 730? Probably not. Most Stanford applicants with scores of 730 are rejected, as are most with scores of 760, or even 800. The typical student at a top-5 MBA program doesn’t have just a higher MBA score than does the typical student at a 20-25 MBA program, he or she is more qualified in a number of ways. One indication of this is that the average Stanford MBA student earned about 55% more than did the average Tepper student before either began his or her MBA studies despite a year less post-college work experience.

Yes, a higher MBA score can mean the difference between a school ranked 20-25 and a school ranked school first or second, but only for the student who is otherwise exceptional. (Oh, and someone was admitted to Stanford with a 550 this year.)

Another obvious problem is that a simple comparison of GMAT scores and starting salaries tells us nothing about what value, if any, the MBA program added. Maybe students who enroll at were already on a higher trajectory than were students who enrolled at Tepper. In fact, as I mentioned above, Stanford MBA students earned about 55% more than did Tepper students before either group began their MBA studies despite having on average a year less post-college work experience. So even if we assume that an increase of forty points on the GMAT would vault a student from Tepper to Stanford, it’s not clear that particular student would go on to earn as much as his or her Stanford peers. Further, Stanford MBA students earned only about 12% more in their first year after completing their MBA studies than did Tepper students.

Tomorrow I’ll discuss some representative students and colleagues I’ve worked with over the years, and how they decided just how important the GMAT was for their applications.

*Some researchers have found that that higher GMAT scores are directly correlated with higher future earnings. For instance, this report from way back when the GMAT was known as the Admission Test for Graduate Study in Business (ATGSB) found that the test predicted all sorts of things, including future earning. But such findings were generally viewed as evidence that the ATSGB (and later the GMAT) indicated some underlying capacity or characteristic important to future success, which capacity or characteristic would presumably not be improved by test prep. These direct correlations are not the basis for the increasing your GMAT score will affect your salary.

Between December and February, Magoosh is advertising inside BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) trains, all around the San Francisco Bay Area.

To celebrate, we are throwing a fun contest for fellow members of our hometown. Ready to win some Magoosh swag?

Here’s how you enter the contest:

**1) **Find a Magoosh BART ad.

(Hint: They look like this. —>)

**2) **Take a picture of (or with!) the ad.

**3) **Share the picture on Twitter, Facebook, and/or Instagram, with the tag:

**@magoosh #enjoytheride**

For example: “Studying with my @Magoosh flashcard app on the way to work! #enjoytheride”

**4) **We’ll send you a Magoosh t-shirt! (Plus some bonus mystery swag if you take a picture of yourself *with* our BART ad.)

The search is on! We can’t wait to see your photos. Good luck!

*Note: When you submit an entry, we will private message you asking for your address so that we can mail you an awesome new t-shirt. Questions/Concerns? Leave a comment below.*

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