Brian is the Vice President of Academics at Veritas Prep and a 99th Percentile scorer on the GMAT. He received a Masters in Education from the University of Michigan and his personal hobbies include the ironman and stand-up comedy. I asked him some questions about the Veritas Prep on Demand Course.
What makes the Veritas Prep On Demand course different from the other GMAT on demand courses?
I think there are two major separators: the curriculum that we cover and the resources that are included. Most GMAT curriculum is very heavy on “what you need to know” – formulas, rules, etc. While we certainly cover a healthy dose of that, we try to focus even more so on “what do you need to do” to be successful on the exam. We want to make the course action-oriented so that people have verbs in mind when they see different problems or concepts tested; almost everyone who takes the GMAT studies exponent rules, for example, but to really master difficult problems you need to know what to do to apply them: find common bases, factor addition and subtraction, etc. We think it’s really important to have action items in mind when you face problems, since often you can have all the necessary knowledge but just blank when a problem looks different from any you’ve seen in practice (and the GMAT is very clever at finding ways to make problems look unique). On top of that, we come back often to the concept “Think Like the Testmaker,” meaning that it’s important to know how the GMAT authors create tempting trap answers and what clues can tell you that you’re about to pick one. That curriculum comes from tens of thousands of hours of teaching and learning what students struggle on and why, and I think it’s a huge advantage for students to learn from the mistakes of others.
All that said, the curriculum is only as valuable as your ability to put it into practice, and the resources that we offer with Veritas Prep On Demand give you not only plenty of opportunities to practice but also lots of instructor-led support and guidance. With our lessons books, practice tests, and online question bank you have thousands of practice problems and assessments to gauge your progress and see dozens of permutations of each concept. And with our Live Online Office Hours you have daily access to an instructor so that you can ask questions and solicit advice for how you can improve. That Office Hours feature can be really instrumental; I got an email from a 700-scorer, VPOD alumnus the other day and she called out by name not just me and Lissette, my co-host, but the three Office Hours instructors that she had interacted with and wanted to thank. On Demand may be classified as “self-study” but there’s a whole team here to support you.
What do you think is the best feature of the Veritas Prep On Demand course?
As one of the hosts I may be too biased to answer this objectively! I’m a firm believer in the curriculum and I think Lissette and I do a pretty good job of delivering it. But as far as the best feature that probably the fewest people know about, I’d say our “Solution Station” interface for solutions to homework problems. The On Demand structure taught us about the power of video, and one of the next things we added to it was the functionality to add video solutions and interactive dialogues to homework problems.
Even GMAC itself has noted that the most common complaint among test-takers is that it’s hard to find helpful solutions to practice problems, and our Solution Station addresses that head on. In addition to the technical, written solution we offer the opportunity for students to ask follow-up questions (“can you explain why you divided by x?”) to which instructors will reply and that will stay as part of the solution so that it can evolve over time. Students can submit their own solutions, too, so that if someone sees a shortcut or different thought process everyone can have access to that. And we have video solutions for lots of problems and continue to add more all the time. So visual learners should be really drawn to On Demand not merely for the lessons themselves, but for all the video support that they’ll receive in their homework and beyond.
How can students best utilize the course?
Set up a schedule and stick to it, and make sure that the schedule includes a steady diet of homework, practice tests, and Office Hours visits. We try to make that easy with standard 30-, 60-, and 90-day study plans that you can choose, but everyone is different. If you’re self-motivated, On Demand is a fantastic resource – lots of us at headquarters say that this is the program that we wish we could have studied with, allowing us to choose how we spent our study time. But with that autonomy comes the potential for procrastination, so I’d heavily advise making yourself accountable. Tell the Office Hours staff that you’ll see them weekly at a certain day/time so that someone is expecting you. Bring your laptop to a coffee shop or library to study so that you’re out of the house and less prone to distraction. Write down your goals for each study session ahead of time and then check at the end of the week to make sure you’ve made that progress. On Demand will give you all the tools you need to be successful on the test, but with a self-guided program it’s up to you to take advantage.
How long has the Veritas Prep Course been around and how many students have completed it?
Veritas Prep launched in 2002 – as part of an MBA course and business plan competition at Yale’s School of Management, actually – and quickly became one of the world leaders (within a year we were running classes not just in the U.S. but in Europe, Asia, and Australia, too). And we’ve kept on growing, adding Live Online classes in 2007, the initial version of the On Demand program shortly thereafter, and this installment of On Demand about two years ago. Our newest Live Online format – all with HD streaming video and some technology that I can best describe a “a teacher’s dream” – launched in the middle of 2014, too. We love that Venn Diagram overlap of education and technology.
I’m probably a bad person to ask about the total number of students served – I think I’ve heard marketing folks say it was over 50,000 and that may have been a year ago or more. What I like is the prevailing sentiment among our instructors that no matter how many students you’ve taught, each student is the most important student you’ve ever had. When I talk to even our most-experienced instructors – me, Chris Kane, Ravi Sreerama, Megan Kucik – we all get a little nervous before our first meeting with a new class or student. It’s like the old Michael Jordan line that “every game I play, someone is watching me play for the first time and I owe them my best.” Veritas Prep is well into the tens if not hundreds of thousands of students served, but we know that each one of those students is critically important.
How has the course changed or adapted since it was first created?
We’re on the third major version of our curriculum, our evolution has really included two major components. The first is evolving more and more toward what really helps students succeed. And by that I mean that, like many of the solutions you’d read in the Official Guide or the GMAT forums, every company or author starts with content – trying as best as possible to teach the algebra and grammar and probability of the test as thoroughly and helpfully as possible. Which is great. But over time we’ve evolved more and more beyond the “WHAT” (you need to know) to include as much as possible of the “HOW” (you solve problems and avoid traps) and “WHY” (the flexible knowledge not just of a rule, but why it’s tested and why it holds true so that you have more agile knowledge and ability). The GMAT is a test of higher-order thinking, which is defined in educational theory as everything you do with knowledge beyond remembering it and understanding it – it’s about application and analysis. Over a dozen years and tens of thousands of students we’ve come to really understand that and get better and better at helping students really harness their knowledge and turn it into higher-order thinking.
The other critical evolution is that we’ve evolved along with the test. The test has changed substantially since 2002. A lot of practice material and strategic guidance from the late 1990s and early 2000s is obsolete. On the quantitative section, for example, the test has evolved more and more toward the use of abstraction and huge numbers, where it’s important to be able to think in terms of pattern recognition and number properties. On the verbal section, the test has gotten away from idioms and diction and focuses more on logical meaning when it comes to sentence correction. Fortunately we have a really good relationship with the Graduate Management Admissions Council and we keep a very close eye on what’s happening on the test itself and all of GMAC’s most-recently released practice material so that we can make sure we’re teaching students the test that they will take, not the test that might have appeared years prior.
What advice would you give to students who are trying to decide which prep course to chose?
Do your homework and choose the course that’s most likely to help you achieve your goals. You’re a pre-MBA and the GMAT prep marketplace is a great marketing lesson – everyone draws the winner’s circle around themselves, boasting that they have “the most practice problems” or “the highest paid instructors” or “the smallest class sizes.” And any of those might be decent tools, but you’ll need to exercise critical thinking to assess what’s really important for you and what will actually lead to success.
The good news is that the competitive landscape in GMAT prep gives you plenty of time to do that homework. Most companies offer free seminars, free sample lessons, and other free resources to give you a taste of what they have to offer you. So take advantage! At www.veritasprep.com you can access a free On Demand lesson, a free download of our Data Sufficiency lesson, and our live online free seminar.
What do you wish you had known about the GMAT before you started studying?
That the GMAT is a test of how well you apply facts and formulas, now about how well you know them. I think it’s pretty common to spend tons of time memorizing rules and formulas and then get to a practice test or homework set and not really know how to get started. It takes flexible knowledge of the content and some comfort with uncertainty as you try to make an unfamiliar-looking problem look like something you’ve seen before. I was like a lot of students at first, frustrated that the problems I saw on the test didn’t look exactly like the problems I had practiced, but fortunately I was confident (maybe just naïve) enough to take a deep breath and test a couple strategies until I found one that worked.
And I think that’s what makes the GMAT a valid assessment for business school applicants. It’s not a cookie-cutter, memorize-and-regurgitate test, in large part because business schools don’t need proof that applicants can do that. If you’ve made it through high school and college you’ve already proven that you can learn a process and repeat it again; business schools need to know that you can solve problems that no one has ever seen before. There wasn’t a direct blueprint for Mark Zuckerberg to run a social media empire or for Jeff Bezos to revolutionize the way we shop. They certainly relied on strategies that had worked in the Industrial Revolution and beyond, but they had to fit those frameworks to new problems and opportunities. The GMAT is a lot like that; if you train yourself to think more in terms of frameworks and strategies and not just in terms of rules and formulas, you’ll be able to apply those frameworks to the most challenging problems on the test. That’s what keeps the GMAT engaging for so many of us at Veritas Prep even a dozen years in, and what we love helping students see, too.