Pillar #1: Content
In this series of articles, we’ll cover the three main “pillars” of GMAT prep necessary for success on test day. The first pillar is content, which encompasses the math and verbal skills necessary to answer the questions given to you on Test Day. This is the factual stuff you HAVE to know when you walk in the door for the GMAT. For example, a question like
“What is the area of a right triangle whose legs have lengths 3 and 4?”
is literally unanswerable if you don’t know the formula for a triangle’s area (one-half base times height, for the record). Other vital content areas tested on the GMAT include, organized by section:
Quantitative content areas:
- Algebra (including Isolating a Variable, Systems of Equations, FOIL, etc.)
- Geometry (including Triangles, Quadrilaterals, and Circles, with a little bit of solids and coordinate geometry)
- Number Properties (including Positives/Negatives, Odds/Evens, Prime Numbers, Integers, etc)
- Arithmetic & Proportions (including Ratios, Rates, Percents, Averages, etc)
Verbal content areas:
- Grammar (for Sentence Correction)
- Argument Analysis (for Critical Reasoning)
One of the first steps of successful GMAT prep is to assess your strengths and weaknesses in terms of content. Maybe there’s a lot of writing required at your job, so your grammar is strong, or you have fond memories of geometry formulas but don’t know the first thing about argument analysis. After identifying your current status with regard to GMAT content, you then must follow through and be willing to confront those areas that are a little rustier, or that you never learned in the first place.
But it is not enough to merely work your weaknesses tirelessly until Test Day. As an illustration of this principle, the subject of probability comes to mind. In my experience, a great many students are nervous about their ability to answer probability questions quickly and accurately, and rightfully so: the subject can be tested in many ways, and some of the GMAT’s hardest questions test knowledge of probability content. However, I do not advise these students to concentrate many precious hours of study time to brushing up on probability, beyond gaining a general knowledge of the principles at hand. Why? Because however difficult it may be, even the highest-scoring test takers will not likely run into no more than 2 or 3 probability questions on Test Day, and so time is better spent mastering higher-yield topics, such as Algebra or Number Properties.
Thus, in terms of content, to really maximize your score, you have to find yourself an individual or organization who knows the GMAT inside and out to help you prepare and to use your preparation time efficiently. Having someone over your shoulder, guiding you on what to cover next and how to allocate your prep time can really make a difference in the score you ultimately receive.
Stay tuned for Pillar #2: Strategy.