As Veritas Prep's Director of Academic Programs, Brian Galvin runs all of the company's GMAT prep services.
In this space over the coming months, the GMAT experts at Veritas Prep want to urge you to think beyond the skills covered on the GMAT -- algebra, geometry, grammar, etc.-- and get inside the minds of the writers of the exam. The GMAT tests not only your academic capabilities, but also (and more importantly) your problem solving, logical reasoning, and higher-order thinking skills. To employ these skills toward success, it's helpful to begin thinking about the GMAT as a logic puzzle or mind game -- in many respects, you're in a chess match with the author of each question, trying to anticipate the trap he is setting for you as you calculate your next move.
If you embrace this competitive challenge, you'll put yourself in a position to better anticipate the steps necessary to ensure that you answer each question correctly, and you'll also tend to enjoy the process more. Did you dislike Geometry class in high school, but waste countless hours of your life playing Tetris on your GameBoy or computer? Both involve the heavy use of geometrical thinking, but the challenge of Tetris engaged your mind in a way that class may not have been able to do. Think of the GMAT as a game, and you should see great results.
As an initial step in "thinking like the testmaker," let's consider one of the time-honored tricks of the GMAT -- asking a question that could be asked in multiple ways, and providing answer choices that would answer each of those variations.
Consider the question:
A 40-foot length of rope is cut in to two sections, for which the shorter section is 1/3 the length of the longer. How much longer, in feet, is the longer section of rope than the smaller?
Note that this question can be asked in multiple ways. If we break down the question, we’ll find that the shorter piece of rope is 10 feet long and the longer piece is 30 feet. The difference between the two is 20 feet. The question asks for the difference between the two lengths, so the correct answer is 20, or answer choice C. Please notice, however, that if you simply solved for either length of rope, you might be inclined to choose choices A or E, and that, if you mistakenly solved for 1/3 or 2/3 of the initial piece of rope, you’d end up with choices B or D.
Accordingly, the lesson here is that you need to recognize what the question specifically asks for, as the most common wrong answers on the GMAT are simply the right answers to the wrong questions. To become a more astute test taker , ask yourself in practice "How could they ask this question in a different way?" so that you can anticipate the multiple potential questions on each question you face, and remind yourself that you need to be careful when submitting your answer.
For more practice in thinking like the test maker, try a GMAT practice test and track how often you answer the question asked, rather than the question that you thought was asked!