You Play Like You Practice


Editor’s Note: This is the first post by Manhattan GMAT instructor Joe Lucero. Give Joe a warm welcome in the comments section!

Talking to students and instructors over the years, I’ve heard my fair share of horror stories about the GMAT. The I ran out of time students are a dime a dozen, but there are several I was exhausted and couldn’t concentrate at the end of the test and even a few I didn’t realize how short the bathroom breaks are and had to run back to my computer which had already started the next section tales. But my favorites come from students who decided to drastically alter their routines the day of the test, from the student who decided a 5 mile run was going to be good for his nerves (but not for his tired legs, lungs, and brain) to the decaf drinker who decided a few five hour energies would help him stay focused (it didn’t).

Back when I used to coach middle school basketball, our team had a slogan- you play like you practice. When our kids would be goofing around, not paying attention, or being sluggish, they’d hear those words over and over again. And while it’s cliché in the gym, working with students who aren’t performing as high as they would like on the GMAT, I find myself repeating the same pieces of advice.

Slow it Down

Nothing is worse for a basketball player who can’t shoot a layup than telling him or her to move faster. If you’ve been in a course with Manhattan, you know that we love to instill the two-minute mental timer to help students know how long they should be spending on a problem. While this is absolutely true, I think we often leave out an important part- two minutes per problem on the real test. Some of the GMAT problems that have helped me the most have been problems that I spent ten minutes trying to solve. Would I have spent ten minutes on any one problem on the real test? Of course not. But the fact that I spent ten minutes on a problem helped me to identify and work on a concept that I was not yet familiar with. However, making a layup once at slow speed doesn’t mean you’re ready to take on Jeremy Lin.


While our team never won any games by dribbling and passing alone, we would spend entire practices without shooting a ball. Likewise, you will never see twenty triangle questions in a row on the real test, these groups of similar problem types repeated help to develop muscle memory for your brain- aka, regular memory. A productive study session can be you recognizing one problem area and focusing just on getting better at that one item.

Stuck on a tough rate problem? Change up the numbers and see if you can still get an answer, while noticing why the numbers on the real test always seem to work out perfectly. Not great at Critical Reasoning? Go through ten problems and focus on identifying just the conclusion of the argument. Go through the same ten problems the next day and the next day until you barely need to read the first few words of the argument and you already remember what the conclusion is. Key words that you spent precious seconds searching for will begin to stand out to you in future problems and help you see the big picture faster.


If you’re on a blog dedicated to GMAT mastery, you probably either love or have learned to compete. No one walks out of scrimmage happy losing and no one walks out of a practice test with a 510, grinning from ear to ear. A scrimmage isn’t an opportunity to bring home a trophy, but a chance to practice all the different skills you’ve learned at once and see what you need to do differently in a real game. How did I perform? Was I not remembering to do the things that I’ve practiced? Did I get tired at the end? These are questions applicable on the court and at your computer. After a three and a half hour test, you probably remember the forty-first verbal question and not many else. Take a rest, but then come back and look at how you did.

Tests are great assessment tools and tell you how you might score if you took a real test sometime soon, but tests offer us the most value when you learn what you could have done better. How was your timing? Could you have guessed on some questions and gotten more questions right at the end? Did you get any easy questions wrong? At the end of the day, you want to be able to identify two to three things that you want to do differently the next time you take a test.

Game Day

Michael Jordan wasn’t learning any new moves the morning of a Game 7 and neither should you. Memorizing a new equation to learn the number of combinations of Santa’s elves will probably fade by the time you get to question twenty-eight on your test causing you to think about the problem for five minutes before you realize you probably, maybe, definitely couldn’t have used that formula for this particular problem.

Once you leave your belongings in your standard-issued GMAT locker, all you can do is read the questions on the screen and try to answer them one at a time. Sometimes you’ll slam dunk a 700 level question and sometimes the computer will block you with an awful geometry problem. But after 37 rounds of quantitative questions and 41 rounds of verbal questions, you’ll find a score that will reflect how well you were able to rephrase difficult question types and quickly tackle math computations. And if you play like you’ve been practicing, hopefully that score will be good enough to play in either Chicago (at Booth) or New York (at Stern).

Joe Lucero has a GMAT score of 780 and a wingspan of 6’2. If you know of any NBA teams looking for a new head coach, Joe is willing to relocate.

  1. webpage February 11, 2013 at 6:19 am

  2. site February 11, 2013 at 2:52 am

  3. Joe Lucero May 2, 2012 at 10:10 pm


    Our tests currently have the new IR sections included and our Manhattan Student Center has Practice IR problems. Hope this helps!

    Thanks everyone else for the kind words!

  4. Manpreet Singh April 25, 2012 at 12:53 pm

    Nice motivating articles.Absolutely loved it!!

  5. Avinash D’Souza April 24, 2012 at 3:08 am

    Awesome post Joe! This is the stuff of awesome sauce…

  6. LaSonja April 19, 2012 at 10:24 pm

    Great pointers and motivation!

  7. Varun April 14, 2012 at 9:21 am

    Hi.. When would the Manhattan CATs be updated to accomodate the integrated reasoning section? I’ll be writing the GMAT on 12th June. So I need to practice the mocks with the IR section included in. I want to know when should I buy the manhattan test series so that these would have the IR in them.

  8. Vinoth@GMAT Kolaveri April 12, 2012 at 9:19 pm

    A must read for those starting their preparation and those who believe doing more and more problems will increase their accuracy.