This is probably the shortest—and most important—article I’ve written in a year. It’s just a little story, but it’s the story of a crucial epiphany one of my students (and I) just had.
Last night, at the end of a class I was teaching, one of my students began asking questions about timing and guessing on the GMAT. He’s really struggling with the idea that he has to let some questions go and that he’s going to get a decent number of questions wrong. I told him he’s not alone; most students have significant difficulty accepting this idea—and those who can’t accept it almost never reach their goal scores.
As we discussed the boring details of how the GMAT works, he acknowledged that he knew he had to do what I said (because I’m the expert 😊), but he was having a tough time because, normally, he’s in it to win it.
(For those who aren’t familiar with that expression, it means that, if you’re playing a game, you’re always going for it and trying to win.)
When he said that, a light bulb went off in my head, and I then said something to him that made a light bulb go off in his head. I said:
Yes, but are you playing the right game?
You see, he’s been playing the game he was taught to play in school—there, getting things right is more important than the length of time spent. In school, grades are almost always based on percentage correct. The best students expect to get everything right.
But we’re not playing that game anymore. This is a new game with different rules. If you play by school rules, you’re not going to get the best score that you’re capable of getting.
My student got really excited (as did the few other students who’d stuck around after class—it pays off to listen even if you don’t have any questions yourself!). He had what we call an “Aha!” moment: he realized that this was not about making himself give up or be less competitive by accepting that he was going to give up on some questions. He realized that, instead, he needed to learn how to excel at this new game, and that all these things we’ve been telling him are basically the new rules of the game.
In other words, sticking to your timing, learning to make educated guesses, cutting yourself off on too-hard questions and making educated guesses instead—all of these habits ARE the habits of someone who is In It To Win It! You’re not giving up when you do those things. You’re playing the game like an expert.
I’ve been saying the above in various ways in many articles for a long time, but never as clearly and succinctly as this. (At least, I hope it’s clear. Let me know in the comments!)
Here are some additional resources to solidify this new mindset and do what you need to do to win the game.
Scoring: Read the Scoring section of Manhattan Prep’s free e-book The GMAT Uncovered Guide. If you have an account with us (even a free account), the Guide is already sitting in the Downloads section of your Student Center. (Note: it’s in the Downloads section as of the date of publication of this article; it could move over time.)
Timing: Read this article on Time Management and start doing what it says.
Educated Guessing: The above article on Time Management contains links to two other articles on educated guessing (one each for Quant and Verbal).
Key Takeaways for Being In It to Win It
(1) Don’t play the game you were taught to play in school. The GMAT is a different game. Learn how to play it.
(2) Your goal is NOT to get all of the questions right—that was the School game, not the GMAT game. You will be given questions that are too hard for you (I get them, too!). You will most likely get them wrong, of course, because they are too hard. The only choice you have is whether you take too long to get them wrong and thereby hurt yourself on other questions later in the section.
(3) You will get roughly 60% of the questions in a section right and roughly 40% wrong. (This does change at the highest and lowest scoring levels, but the vast majority of scorers will be in this 60/40 range.) You can score a 700 and still get only 60% of the questions right. Expect to get stuff wrong. Tell the computer Nice shot! and move on, mentally and literally. 📝
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Stacey Koprince is a Manhattan Prep instructor based in Montreal, Canada and Los Angeles, California. Stacey has been teaching the GMAT, GRE, and LSAT for more than 15 years and is one of the most well-known instructors in the industry. Stacey loves to teach and is absolutely fascinated by standardized tests. Check out Stacey’s upcoming GMAT courses here.