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We’re done! Phew! That was a complicated history passage and those questions got pretty tricky at times. (If you’re just joining us for the first time now, follow that link back to part 1 of the series and work your way back here.)
How did you do? More importantly, how can you get better? The whole point of studying is not to see what percentage of things you get right the first time. The main point is to figure out how you can perform better when you see something new (but similar) on the real test.
So in the final installment of the series, we’re going to talk about how to Review Your Work on a history passage in order to improve your GMAT prowess. (And, yes, Review Your Work gets capital letters because it’s such a crucial part of the study process. ☺ If you leave this part out, then you are not maximizing your learning potential.)
Rewrite Your Map
Think about what you know about the main messages of the history passage—now that you’ve actually had to dig in and answer all of those questions. How does it compare to what you understood about the passage before you started?
Do expect to know or understand more now. You did, after all, answer five questions. But did you have any disconnects or misunderstandings on the main picture? Did you think a paragraph was doing one thing when it was actually doing another? Or did you miss any of the main twists and turns entirely?
And let’s get even more particular. Did you not know certain words or expressions in the passage? If you ran across anything that didn’t look familiar, now is the time to look it up and learn it.
Now, look back over your Map. Here’s mine.
If you could do this all over again for the first time, how would you change your Map to make it better?
For instance, I’ve noticed that a lot of students initially miss the fact that, in the third paragraph, the author does acknowledge that Summers may have some valid grounds for her criticism. Their Map, then, might say only that the author agrees with #2 (the editors), with the implication that FN’s achievements were great and her reputation completely deserved.
But the author does, in fact, acknowledge that Summers may have a point (although Nightingale may not have achieved all of her goals during the Crimean War), even as the author asserts that FN generally does deserve her reputation. So if you didn’t already have something in your Map that looks like the last line for paragraph 3 in mine, then you’d want to rewrite your notes to include that line.
Yes, I actually want you to rewrite your Map! Don’t just tell yourself that you should have noticed XYZ. On a Quant problem, you wouldn’t just say, “Oh, I messed up the math on that—don’t do that next time.” You’d try the math again! Ditto here: Practice making your Map what you want it to be next time.
Alternatively, maybe you wrote down too much. What if you’d tried to enumerate every one of those examples in your Map? During your review, you might realize that that was overkill. The passage is always in front of you. In this case, it’s also pretty well-defined: P1 = Summers, P2 = editors, P3 = author. So you can go back to re-read the examples used by each person/group whenever you want. Rewrite your Map to show yourself what you would want the Map to look like the next time you see a similar passage structure.
Review Your Simple Story
Along with the above, review your Simple Story. You generally won’t write this down—it’s just your mental narrative of the flow of the history passage. Was the flow accurate? Did your narrative miss anything important? Did it get too bogged down in the weeds at any point?
Think about your general performance on this and prior RCs, too. Do you tend to be too high-level with the Simple Story and miss important twists? Do you include so much technical detail that it takes a long time to tell yourself the story?
Make it better! Re-state the Simple Story to yourself in whatever way you would want to articulate it next time you see something similar.
Review the General Question(s)
Not all passages will include general questions, but when they do, that’s where you want to start. If you’ve done a good job on the Map and Simple Story, then you have a much better shot at answering any main idea questions correctly.
The most common general type is the Primary Purpose (aka main idea)—it literally asks what the primary purpose of the passage is. If you missed this problem, or struggled with it, then the issue may be in your fundamental understanding of the history passage itself.
In this case, be extra-thorough in your review of your Map and Simple Story. If you can figure out what went wrong there, then you may also fix whatever problem you were having with the main idea question, too.
Finally, analyze the question in the same way that we did in this series. Did you properly identify the question type? Did you know what you were supposed to do with that type of question? Were you able to spot and avoid trap answers or did you fall into a trap? Why? How can you avoid that same type of trap next time?
The “why” and “how” questions are the most important ones. Any time you miss something or make any kind of mistake, don’t be mad. Think, “I’m about to get better!” Then ask yourself, “Why did I make this mistake?” and “How will I avoid making this same kind of mistake next time? What do I need to change about my process or my thinking to avoid that type of mistake?”
In the Nightingale history passage, the third question was the Primary Purpose question (The passage is primarily concerned with evaluating).
The passage also includes another general type: the Paragraph question. These types ask you to describe the role that a certain paragraph plays in the overall passage. In this passage, the first question was a Paragraph question (In the last paragraph, the author is primarily concerned with).
Review the Specific Question(s)
You’ll typically have at least two specific questions per passage—sometimes three or all four. In this history passage, we had three specific questions: a Detail question, an Inference question, and a hybrid general/specific question.
Analyze the specific questions in the same way as the general ones, with one addition: Were you able to find the right part of the detail in the passage to review? Did you understand that material when you reviewed it?
And, in the end, get yourself back to the “Why?” and the “How?” If you didn’t understand the material when you reviewed it, you might realize that it was because the passage used an expression that you misinterpreted—and you can learn how to interpret that expression properly for next time. Or perhaps you didn’t look at the right part of the passage—but you realize now that certain phrasing in the question stem could have pointed you to the right part.
Or perhaps you still don’t understand the material when you review it again—even when you read the explanation. In that case, the solution may be to guess and move on before you use up too much precious time and mental energy. How do you know to make that decision? You may need to do so on the real test, too, so show yourself what that feels like.
Articulate Two (Yes, Only Two!) Big Takeaways
Sadly, you can’t remember every last thing that you study. There’s just too much. So you’re going to have to prioritize. Look back over your review of the passage and think about which takeaways are the most universal—that is, the ones that are most likely to apply to the greatest number of unknown future passages and questions you might see on the real test.
Encode these two Big Takeaways in some kind of Big Takeaway log that you are keeping in a notebook, on flash cards, or in a file on your computer.
It there’s only one Big Takeaway, don’t force yourself to come up with two. You can leave it at one. And if there are really three Big Takeaways this time, and you just can’t decide how to cut one, then you can leave it at three—as long as you aren’t always leaving it at three. Deal? ☺
Skip Off into the Sunset…
…knowing that you just got a little bit better at the GMAT. Yay! 📝
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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.