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What is the GMAT Really Testing?
The GMAT is not an academic test. I know it feels like it, but you don’t take the GMAT to get into a math Ph.D. program (or even a literature or writing program).
Business schools want to know how good you are at analyzing data, asking questions, thinking flexibly, and making decisions about potential opportunities. In other words, the GMAT is really testing your business skills (what learning scientists call executive reasoning skills).
That time pressure the test writers put you under? They’re doing that on purpose. You literally cannot do it all, no matter how much you study; they’ll just keep making the test harder and harder. They want to see how you react to a situation that is forcing you to make hard decisions. Try to do it all, and you’ll fail—as a business person would in real life.
Just as you have limited time and mental energy on the GMAT, an investor has only so much money. How do you decide which opportunities to fund and which ones to kill off?
Scenario: The Bad Investor
Imagine an investor who will give money to anyone who asks. This investor never says no to a request for money.
He invests more money upon hearing that the company has spent all of the previously-invested money and its prototype doesn’t work (or similarly disastrous: the product is obsolete; a competitor produces a better product for half the price; etc.).
Do you want this guy running your portfolio?
Old School vs. No School
Of course not. It’s obvious, right?
But that may be how you’re approaching the GMAT. On an academic test (Old School), you start the test assuming that you are going to try everything and you are going to try to answer as much as possible correctly. (And, at least at first, this is how almost everyone approaches the GMAT.)
But you’d never go into an investment situation assuming that you are going to hand over your money unless you discover a good reason not to invest. Quite the opposite! You assume that you’ll give the opportunity a good, hard look but that the company in question has to earn your investment. Unless you give me a really good reason, I am not opening up my checkbook. (No School! Just common sense.)
When a new question pops up on the screen on the GMAT, assume the same thing: you’re on the fence. You’re willing to listen to the pitch but you haven’t already decided to move forward; instead, you’re looking for clues to help you decide which way to jump off of that fence.
How Do I Know Which Way to Jump?
For the first 30-60 seconds (roughly), you’re evaluating the pitch. Do I understand what this guy is talking about? Is there a good plan to move forward? If so—in other words, if I think there’s a good chance I can do this problem with a reasonable expenditure of time and mental energy—then I’m in. Here’s my investment of another minute or so (depending on problem type, of course).
If, on the other hand, I discover that it’s something I hate (combinatorics, ugh) or something that is too annoying (a roman numeral inference question on the hardest paragraph of the RC passage), I’m not about to waste my precious time and energy on that investment. It has terrible potential.
Let’s say that I do understand the question and that I do have what I think is a decent plan to get to the answer. I execute my plan.
Things don’t pan out, unfortunately: the plan doesn’t work the way that I thought it would. It doesn’t matter why. It doesn’t matter that I just studied another problem like this last week, if I could just remember…I should be able to figure this out! All that matters is that my plan isn’t panning out right now, while the clock is ticking.
Okay, so I should invest more money in this dying company, right? I mean, I know their first product totally failed, but they’re telling me that they think they should be able to figure it out if I’ll just give them another million…
Yeah, I didn’t think you’d fall for that. 😊 So don’t fall for it on the GMAT, either.
If you don’t understand the problem or don’t have a good plan, stop.
If you do understand and you’ve tried your plan but it didn’t work, stop. Don’t try to come up with a second plan. Apple has already moved in and taken over this market. Cut your losses and get out now.
If there’s a way to make an educated guess (a way that won’t take all that long), feel free. But make your guess and move on before very much longer.
Make this mindset switch from Old School to No School. Don’t do a question just because the GMAT tosses it in front of you. You’re in charge: you decide what is and is not worth your precious time. Maximize your ROI on the GMAT by taking advantage of the good opportunities and dropping the bad ones.
Good luck and happy studying! 📝
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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.