Before you’re matched with your ideal score, studying for the GMAT can feel much like the torturous process we call dating. Luckily, we’re here to help you navigate the treacherous waters of computer adaptive testing.
Here’s some classic dating advice, applied to the GMAT.
Just as in a romantic encounter, first impressions can make a huge impact on the outcome of your "date" with the GMAT. Some problems require that you test solutions while other questions have that “magic button” that will allow you to cut to the chase quickly. Here’s a number properties Data Sufficiency question that illustrates the advantages of getting off on the right foot:
Is n positive?
Statement I: np > 0 and pt < 0
Statement II: p >0
You can spend a lot of time testing cases, but if you’re familiar with number properties, you recognize that Statement I tells you that “n” and “p” are the same sign and that “p” and “t” are different signs. But Statement I is insufficient because we don't know whether "p" is positive or negative. Knowing that the lack of knowledge is the only impediment to sufficiency, we go to Statement II, recognize that on its own the statement is insufficient because it says nothing about “n.” Together with Statement I, the statement is sufficient, however, because it provides what Statement I lacked.
When you’re dating, quickly finding out what's missing (sensitivity, rationality, good looks...) can be disappointing. But on Data Sufficiency, it is generally quite rewarding.
In a nutshell: Know when to test the waters and when to make a quick conquest.
It’s a mini-nightmare: after a minute of feverish scribbling on your scratch paper during a Problem Solving question, you’ve arrived at an answer of 0.738 -- and the closest answer choice is 45. You could start over, or guess and move on. Any way you cut it, the situation is painful. What’s true of dating is true on the GMAT: after you’ve invested significant time and energy (after all, 140 seconds is like 4 years in GMAT-time) it can be painful to let go, especially since there’s no partial credit.
If you know where you went wrong, and you can afford to sink another 20-30 seconds, go ahead. But if you fail to arrive at the answer, don’t let frustration affect your performance on the next question.
In a nutshell: Don’t carry emotional baggage from question to question.
Maybe you thought you saw a sparkle, a hint of something in your first few seconds flirting with that coy CR question. But it’s gone now. After a long 180 seconds, you need to be decisive. Guess and move on. Don’t get hooked on those early, giddy feelings, when you’re certain you know how to tackle the question and the answer seems just around the corner. At the three-minute mark, you either have the answer or you don’t.
Don’t worry if this happens early on in your CAT. The “date” isn’t “ruined”! Your compatibility with the test will be built up over weeks (and even months) of studying. Relax and take each question as it comes. You'll have ample opportunity to prove yourself.
In a nutshell: Keep your confidence and don't be afraid to move on.
Ever notice that those super-confident, flirtatious types always seem to be dating rockstars and models? It's the same with the GMAT. People who perform exceptionally well often expect to score exceptionally well. They think of themselves as 700+ scorers before they even start. Whether they score a 630 or a 590 on their first CAT, they’re determined to close the gap between reality and their goals. And while this may be unrealistic in some cases, as long as this ambitious mentality doesn’t add extra stress, it can be quite galvanizing.
In a nutshell: Don’t settle for less than your best.
When you're out at a bar, sometimes you just need to take a deep breath, go up to that cute guy or girl, and start talking. The same is often true of GMAT math questions, especially those that involve spatial skills. You simply have to put your pen to paper and sketch it out, even if you're not sure how to proceed. The very act of translating a question into visual terms can bring the solution to mind.
Here’s an example:
A piece of tape is marked in segments of one-fifth the length of the tape and also in segments of one-third the length of the tape. If the tape is then cut at each of these marks, what are the different lengths of the pieces of tape, in fractions of the original stretch of tape?
Stare at the words all you want, but there’s no substitute for translating this problem into a diagram. First, draw a piece of tape. You want to find some way to represent fifths and thirds in standard increments. Since the least common multiple of 5 and 3 is 15, make 15 points along the piece of tape. Then place a check or a star at every one-fifth or one-third along the piece of tape. Now imagine that the tape is cut at these points. The resulting pieces are 3/15 (which you can reduce to ⅕), 2/15, and 1/15.
In a nutshell: When in doubt, trust yourself to figure out the problem.
Dating requires one to be attuned to a variety of non-verbal signals (body language, eye contact, etc.). On the GMAT too, you should look for hidden signals in the questions. Are there short cuts you can use? The Quant section in particular is tightly paced; you’ll need every second you can get at the end! Remember that each question you do not answer is one point off your final scaled score for the section.
See how quickly you can solve this problem:
A team won 40% of the first 30 games it played last year. The team then won 60% of its remaining games. If, over the course of the entire year, the team won 50% of the games in which it played, how many games did the team play?
Algebraic solution: .4(30) + .6(x) = .5(30 + x)
12 + .6x = 15 + .5x
0.1 x = 3
x = 30
Total games = 60
Here’s a 15-second solution for those who are attuned to “signs and signals”: 50 is half-way between 40 and 60, so the two parts of the season are equally weighted in the overall average. Therefore, the second part of the season must have been the same length as the first part. 30 games for the first plus 30 for the second equal a total of 60 games.
In a nutshell: Stay attuned for less-obvious ways to approach the situation at hand.