Just Chillin’ @ the Bar


When under pressure, do you tend to sit back and assess the situation in a thoughtful way, or do you instead recall everything you know and start jotting down formulae such as W=RT on your scratch paper?gmat bar If you have a tendency for the latter, this blog post is for you.

I’ve recently had a few tutoring students who all suffered from the same issue: they try a problem in a relaxed state and can easily solve it, sometimes without even putting pen to paper… But when they are in the midst of a practice test (and even more so in a real test) they can see the same problem and spend 4 minutes on it, with a lot of messy algebra, and often times they just give up and move on (the right thing to do under that circumstance!).

The Quant section of the GMAT may feel like a math test, but I assure you it is not. It is a cleverly designed assessment of your thinking faculties, and if you turn on ‘autopilot’ you are no longer thinking. In order to succeed on this test, you have to think your way through each problem.

When I take the GMAT, I imagine that I’m hanging out with my buddies at the bar – we’re telling each other jokes and sharing brain teasers. Here’s how it works:  you’re all just out having a good time, there’s no pressure, maybe you’ve had a couple of drinks so you only try to solve those brain teasers that you think you can solve in 2-3 minutes or less. If the brain teaser seems too hard, you just give up (and no-one will think less of you!)

I suspect that your approach to the following problem would be completely different if your mindset is a ‘bar’ mindset vs. an ‘autopilot’ mindset:

I’m driving at a constant speed and it took me 4 hours to finish the first 1/3 of my trip. How long will it take me to complete the rest of the trip if I double my speed?

What would your solution look like if you’re on ‘autopilot’? I would expect to see some equations with some variables, perhaps the formula D=RT would appear prominently on your scratch paper, and you may or may not get the correct answer.

On ‘bar’ mode, I would expect that you do the following thinking: “Avi now has to do twice the work (the remaining distance is twice the distance already covered) but his rate is also doubled, so it should take the exact same time: 4 hours!

Notice that you didn’t need a formula, you didn’t need variables, and you didn’t need algebra. In fact, you didn’t even need a pen!

How would you have approached this problem if it popped up in the middle of your Quant section??


  1. Avoid ‘autopilot’ when practicing GMAT problems at home; instead, try to adopt ‘bar’ mode. You will learn so much more from each problem you solve, and you will be better prepared to avoid ‘autopilot’ on test day.
  2. The GMAT is designed to assess your thinking faculties… so think!
  3. If you give up quickly on problems that seem too hard to solve in 2-3 minutes, you will find that you have plenty of time for the problems that you’ll actually try to solve. This will make it easier for you to feel relaxed and get into ‘bar’ mode.
  1. Rich January 21, 2016 at 4:28 am

    Great article! Thanks for sharing. I will definitely try to adopt the bar mode persona while I study/test day.

  2. Omkar Chandorkar April 9, 2015 at 6:03 pm

    Great point! I am suffering from exact same problem where my quant results in practice sessions are good. However, I am repeating the mistakes in my practice tests. I am joining your session on April 12. Looking forward to getting wiser 🙂

  3. pbangole August 7, 2013 at 9:42 pm

    Good Point Avi, I get into Auto Pilot when I see an equation available but I cringe when I see a Word Problem and have to translate into an equation or Decipher what the Problem is. I am not comfortable until I translate into an equation. But when I am not racing evil clock, I tend to relaxed and solve it faster. But Let me give this an try.