A great GMAT study tip is what I call The Slow Down Paradox: going slower on the GMAT can make you faster.
Recently, one of my GMAT tutoring students, an engineering undergrad at Penn, hit the test prep wall. After a couple of months of study he was consistently scoring 670/680 on weekly practice tests, but he needed to do significantly better to qualify for Wharton's sub matriculation program. This student was a bright guy and a typical engineer, accustomed to attacking challenges and blowing through them. His problem was quant – all kinds of quant. This was surprising since, in our sessions together and his homework, he demonstrated mastery of high-level content and methods. But something was falling apart under test conditions. Together, we analyzed his situation and soon saw a pattern. Specifically, he was making preventable errors, misreading the problems and falling into traps. Meanwhile, he was regularly finishing the section 15 minutes early!
Every time you make a preventable error on the GMAT, you're falling into a trap designed to test your critical thinking skills and your attention to detail. The test-maker frequently presents information in deliberately confusing order, separates data that need to be considered together, or uses terms with very specific implications. Test takers need to be alert to these pitfalls while at the same time identifying the relevant content information and choosing the most efficient method to solve the particular problem.
Since he had plenty of extra time in the section, I challenged my student to slow down his reading of each question. More specifically, his assignment was to read each question exactly once. To read only once, he had to visualize the relationships and goal in each question. I dared him to take the test-maker's question and make it his own before proceeding – much as test-takers learn to paraphrase a critical reasoning stimulus or summarize each paragraph in a reading comprehension passage.
On his next practice test, the student put this new discipline to work. He slowed down his reading and increased his understanding of each quant question before going to his noteboard to calculate. It worked: his score shot up 30 points. His meticulous approach enabled him sidestep the snares that previously had been tripping him up. And as he mastered the technique, his performance continued to improve.
Now, this may sound all well and good if you've got an additional 15 minutes to play with. A little more patience, a little more attention will obviously pay off if only you had the time. Well, just maybe you do. You see, in addition improving his score, the student also found that, by reading each question once and not having to go back again and again, he actually finished the section even earlier. Try it.
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