Breaking GMAT Study Barriers: Content vs. Process


Manhattan Prep GMAT Blog - Breaking GMAT Study Barriers: Content vs. Process by James Brock

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You’ve been engaged in GMAT study for a while, maybe taken a course, maybe just done a lot of studying on your own, done lots of OG questions, taken several practice tests, and your score just seems stuck. You feel like you know a lot more than you used to, and when you look at the answer explanations they make sense, but your score just won’t go up. You look at your assessment reports from your practice exams and practice more questions in the areas of weakness, but your score still stays stuck. Sound familiar?

It can be a frustrating place to be, but one that many GMAT students are in. Sometimes to break through the GMAT study barrier, you need to be able to think in different categories. Most students think in terms of types of problems: Fractions vs. Exponents vs. Ratios, etc. If your improvement has stalled, consider thinking in terms of content vs. process.

Content is the raw facts that you need to know for the GMAT: the rules of exponents, the formulas of geometry, the concepts of rates, and much more.

Process is the way that you approach problems: proving insufficient on Data Sufficiency, taking time to understand and plan on Problem Solving, crossing off answers on Sentence Correction, etc.

Armed with those categories, you can gain new insight as you review problems. As you look over a problem that you got wrong, you can categorize your mistake as a content error or a process error (or both!).

  • Forgot an exponent rule – content error
  • Thought I could add √+ √5 and get √9 – content error
  • Thought it was fine to say “I ran to the store, which made me sweaty” – content error
  • Chose B on SC without actually eliminating E – process error
  • Concluded that a statement was insufficient because I couldn’t solve the equation – process error
  • Made an unsure decision about a split in SC without looking for other options – process error

Once you’ve identified the error as process or content, you are in a better position to work on improving, because you work on fixing these errors in different ways.

Content issues can be improved through creating flashcards of the content, reviewing chapters in the strategy guide, and practicing applying the content on other problems that test the same content.

Process issues require you to explicitly identify the issue and recognize it as a problem. Then you need to make a concrete commitment to doing something differently and practice the different way of doing it. For example, if you have a habit of choosing a Sentence Correction answer without fully considering the others, you need to put in place a concrete practice of writing down ABCDE and physically crossing off 4 wrong answers. Practice that first by re-doing wrong ones and then make a commitment that you will do so every time.

Once you start to think in these terms, hopefully it will open up new areas of improvement and you’ll see your score take another jump up! 📝

Want some more amazing GMAT tips from James? Attend the first session of one of his upcoming GMAT courses absolutely free, no strings attached. Seriously.

James Brock is a Manhattan Prep instructor based in Atlanta, Georgia. He holds a B.A. in mathematics and a Master of Divinity from Covenant Seminary. James has taught and tutored everything from calculus to chess, and his 780 GMAT score allows him to share his love of teaching and standardized tests with MPrep students. You can check out James’s upcoming GMAT courses here.

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