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I was tutoring a student recently when I had a horrifying epiphany, not unlike the one Hank had in Breaking Bad when… Is it too soon to spoil the show? Have you not watched that show? I mean, I guess spend time studying for the GMAT if your future is really that important to you, but the whole series is on Netflix, y’know, so maybe your future isn’t even worth it.
Kidding, of course it is. Great show, though.
Anyway, this student has flatlined at the low 600s, so I was curious about his studying habits. He works hard. Studies pretty much daily. Has worked through much of the OG and several of our books. Reviews his practice tests thoroughly. All of it sounded great, but I was suspicious. It sounded too good. Like in the episode of Breaking Bad when Walt finds out—
Sorry, sorry. Won’t spoil it.
So, I pulled up a problem on my computer and told him to work through it. He couldn’t do it. He got totally lost. I asked him if the problem looked familiar. He said, “Yes, I think so, I feel like I’ve seen it before, or one like it.”
I told him, “You’ve definitely seen it before. Do you know how I know?”
“How?” He asked.
“Because it’s from one of your practice tests.”
I saw the shame wash over him. He knew he was caught. I stared at him with that look that combines confusion and disappointment, the one I know so well on my father’s face. I told him I wasn’t mad, just disappointed, and said, “How can you miss a problem you’ve done before?”
Alright, I’m exaggerating a little. I wasn’t that disappointed, but I did ask that question. Since then I’ve repeated the exercise with all my students, and without fail, they miss the same questions they’ve missed in the past, which brings me to where I am today, writing this blog post, asking you studiers a very simple question:
WHAT IN THE FESTERING PILE OF FETID PINK PIGLET SPIT ARE YOU DOING?!
I know what you’re not doing: redoing GMAT problems enough.
I’ll ask you another of the questions I asked these students: “How can you possibly expect to get new problems on these topics right if you can’t get right the ones you’ve already seen, done, and reviewed?” I mean, if you’ve read an explanation on how to do a problem, and then can’t do that problem 3 weeks later, all that time was time utterly wasted. You might as well have watched Breaking Bad.
Review problems you miss and problems that take too long. Often. You don’t like this, do you? My students don’t either. Their retort is always a variation of, “But then I won’t learn new things!”
WHO CARES?! YOU’RE NOT LEARNING OLD THINGS!
I would rather you do one problem and be able to do it again than ten problems and miss them later. In the first you’ve at least demonstrably made progress.
“I’m worried that then I’ll just get good at doing problems I’ve seen before.”
WHO CARES?! WOULD YOU RATHER BE BAD AT DOING PROBLEMS YOU’VE SEEN BEFORE?
How is that better? You’ve learned nothing if you continue to miss problems you missed before. How will you recognize the same topic when it is tweaked and tested in a slightly different way in a different problem if you don’t even recognize it in the one you’ve already reviewed?
So when you miss a problem, how should you handle it?
First, mark your error log, as you definitely, absolutely have already been doing. Write down the question, your mistake(s) on that questions, and the big GMAT lesson(s) to take away. Then, in a fourth column, jot down some redo dates. Yes. Dates. Plural.
The first date is soon, a day or two later. The problem will be fresh in your mind, but you’ll still probably have to think to make the logical connections. If you get it right, then re-do it 7 to 10 days later. This will give you more time to forget. If you get it right after that, redo it again in 2 to 3 weeks. If at any point you get the problem wrong or take longer than three minutes, you start the redo process over.
And in the downtime, watch some Breaking Bad. Man that show is good. 📝
Want some more GMAT tips from Reed? Attend the first session of one of his upcoming GMAT courses absolutely free, no strings attached. Seriously.
Reed Arnold is a Manhattan Prep instructor based in New York, NY. He has a B.A. in economics, philosophy, and mathematics and an M.S. in commerce, both from the University of Virginia. He enjoys writing, acting, Chipotle burritos, and teaching the GMAT. Check out Reed’s upcoming GMAT courses here.