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Huge difficulties to learn Math. What to do?

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New post 25 Apr 2016, 14:45
Hi everyone,

I posted my story a few weeks back, so very short resume:

I never learned math (I cheated 100% of time, so I passed), didn't have it in college, never learned anything of it. Now I have to do GMAT
I started in December 2015 and couldn't tell the difference between Arithmetic and Algebra. On February 26th I did GMAt and got 540 (V29 Q35)

So I kept studying, I followed the order that is listed in GMATclub topics by difficulty post, I studied the 600-00 level questions had lots of difficulties, sometimes it took me 1h to solve and fully understand a question, but slowly I moved forward. I mean when I solve a question I understand it 100%.

Now it's time for a review (my GMAT is in 3 weeks) and I noticed that I can't solve even the basic questions that I had under control just a few weeks ago. If I can solve it, mostly I do it in 5 min. Or make careless mistakes.

So basically in 1 month after my 1st GMAT I improved close to nothing.

For someone like me. What should I do? Should I even insist with GMAT? I solved 1000+ questions in detail, the very least, I am running out of quality questions to study and I see no improvement. Should I just study general mathematics?

I noticed that GMAT is like speaking math language, so I guess one can't simply learn it from scratch in 4 months as I tried... How long do you think it would take me to learn math to get close to a 700? Should I continue with GMAT itself or should I switch to high-school math or college math to increase my general math-culture?

Honestly GMAT became a torture for me. Psychologically I am getting more and more defeated. I can barely focus on the question now, I already know that I will get it wrong and it will only get me more frustrated. It's like beating me up every day..

So yeah, any advice would be very welcome!

Thank you!
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New post 25 Apr 2016, 14:54
This is going to sound a little blunt, but it's unfortunately true. If you've genuinely understood every Quant problem in the Official Guide, you won't be scoring a 35Q. A lot of what you say in your post makes me think that you're studying inefficiently and ineffectively. Solving tons of problems is both inefficient and ineffective: inefficient because you're committing a huge amount of time and effort solving many problems to learn small points that you could actually learn from just one or two problems; ineffective because you're not going to see a single one of those problems on test day, so unless you learn to generalize from those problems, you'll end up going nowhere.

Try going back through the Official Guide quant sections and reviewing each problem a little differently. For every problem you do, answer the following:

- What's the best way to solve it?
- What mathematical concept(s) is the problem testing? Arithmetic? Algebra? Averages?
- What are the clues in the problem that would tell me to use that solution method? This can be something as simple and arithmetical as 'I saw two exponential expressions with an equals sign between them, so I decided to find common bases.' It can also be as complex as 'The problem is telling me a story about two groups of people with different properties, and then what happens when you combine those two groups. So, I started by setting up a weighted averages 'seesaw' diagram.'
- What are the traps or pitfalls in the question? What would be the easiest way to get it wrong? How can you avoid making that specific mistake?
- What can you generalize about the question? Is this a particular 'type' of question that you should approach the same way every time? Is there anything unusual that makes it different from other, similar questions?
- How would you explain the problem and its solution to another student? What would you tell them to do or try? What would you tell them to look out for?
- How would you approach this problem if you were running out of time, and only had 30 seconds or 1 minute? Is there a way to guess or estimate the answer? Are some possible solutions faster than others?

You don't have to do that with 1000 questions, either. If you can do it for most of the questions in the Official Guide, you'll be better prepared than 90% of students I've met!
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New post 25 Apr 2016, 15:01
Thank you for your reply! I didn't mention that I am studying for GMAT full-time so I have the entire day. When I mention 1000 questions, I dissected each one of them. I never move to the next one without fully understanding it. But the math just doesn't seem to stick to my head, I don't know.. Like Verbal comes naturally, I didn't even study for it and I got 29, now with just a month I am WAY better at it.

But math.. the exact opposite. What do you think about studying "outside" math? Do you think it improves the general math abilities? Not to mention I am sick and tiered of GMAT lol.. I can't see the same questions everyday anymore. Did you ever have a student with no 0 math background as me?.. What is your experience with cases like mine?

Maybe it's hard to transmit how bad I was at math when I started ( I'm still bad, just not as much) , but like 4+X=7 that was my level. no quadratics, no inequalities, ab value, limits, functions, probabilities, etc. Everything I know of math is what I learned in these 4 months for GMAT.

Thank you for your time!
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New post 25 Apr 2016, 15:40
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Got it. I stick by my point that studying 1000 questions is never necessary (or even a good idea), though! :)

Here are some specific ideas, if your issue is getting the math to 'stick':

- Try putting together 'cheat sheets' for specific content areas based on the problems you've done. Go through all of (for example) the exponents/roots problems you've already done, and work out what the most important, simple, general skills are for that problem type. Then try to condense all of that knowledge into just one or two pages. Reread it periodically, and if you ever do a problem and run into something that isn't on the sheet already, add it in!

- Make a 'when I see this, do this' spreadsheet (or flashcards). Article is from our GRE blog, but it's applicable to GMAT too: http://www.manhattanprep.com/gre/blog/2 ... e-problem/

- In general, flashcards are great for this situation! You have a few options. One, make flashcards of specific full problems and study them in your spare time. But that doesn't seem to be helping you too much so far, so try this instead. Just pull out the one most important 'clue' or most important math point from a problem, and put it on the front of a flashcard. Then on the back, write out how you interpret that clue, or how you simplify the equation, etc. Whatever critical thing you have to do to solve the problem. For example:

Front: xy > 0
Back: x and y have the same sign (both positive or both negative)

Front: x^2 - 5x + 6 = 0
Back: (x-2)(x-3) = 0
x = 2 or 3

And my thoughts on your other questions:

- Don't burn yourself out! That never helped anyone. What's your Verbal score looking like? Unless it's above the 80th percentile or so, I still tell students who are very weak in Quant and pretty good at Verbal to study Verbal. A high Quant score looks good to schools, but a high Verbal score actually contributes more to your overall 200-800 score...

- I've definitely worked with students with zero math background. In some ways, you're better off than a student with some math background, because you'll probably have fewer bad habits and be more open to unusual ways of solving a problem. Some students 'know just enough to be dangerous', if you know what I mean - they can do algebra reasonably well, so they insist on using algebra to solve every single word problem, even if there's a smarter way to do it. You're also in a position where you could see massive score gains relatively quickly. There is hope!

- Have you thought about working with a tutor? I normally hesitate to recommend tutoring to students who have zero math background, because it can take a long time to build up the basic knowledge and it's almost as easy to do it on your own via reading or watching videos. But if you've done that many problems and reviewed them and it still isn't sticking, that's exactly the situation tutoring is made for. It's useful to have someone else diagnose the specific issue you're having.

It sounds like you're really committed, but you're right on the edge of risking GMAT burnout... be careful. :)
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New post 25 Apr 2016, 16:09
Chelsey, thank you so much for your replies :)

Well, regarding verbal I haven't done any tests, but I get most of 600-level correct in SC, 700's in CR (on time) and I didn't start RC yet, but the thing as a whole is moving forward. I should be fine in 3 weeks. When I got my V29 I know that I had all SC wrong, I was relying on my non-native "ear" and I had no method for CR nor RC, so this time my Verbal must improve a lot. I am dedicating like 4h\day to Verbal.

I see what you mean when you say that no math background may be good. For example, when I see an algebra problem, I just don't know how to best approach it. It takes me time, trial and error to get there. So forget the 2 minutes. I can solve most questions in 10 minutes by slowly thinking through it, but not 2. It seems I see a new question for the first time, every time...

With math I feel like when I am learning a foreign language. I want to say something, I know what I want to say, but I can't express myself correctly. That is the best way to describe how I am doing at math. I am constantly asking "how do you say X in your language? Is Y correct?" So I am not fluent in it. It takes me a lot of time or I "speak" with mistakes.

And finally about a tutor.. I am broke :) I can't afford one.

Chelsey, just one last advice from you, for my remaining 3 weeks, what is the best thing to do, focus on Quant 500s\600s from OG and dissect them again? Should I try 700s? You see I'm good with abstract math (n props, inequalities, divisibility) but pretty bad with Word problems and a few other topics, so it's unlikely that I will get questions on the abstract topics that I dominate, GMAT won't let me get there and it's a shame..

Thank you so much for your help! If I find a treasure I will have classes with MGMAT :)
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New post 25 Apr 2016, 19:49
iliavko wrote:
Hi everyone,

I posted my story a few weeks back, so very short resume:

I never learned math (I cheated 100% of time, so I passed), didn't have it in college, never learned anything of it. Now I have to do GMAT
I started in December 2015 and couldn't tell the difference between Arithmetic and Algebra. On February 26th I did GMAt and got 540 (V29 Q35)

So I kept studying, I followed the order that is listed in GMATclub topics by difficulty post, I studied the 600-00 level questions had lots of difficulties, sometimes it took me 1h to solve and fully understand a question, but slowly I moved forward. I mean when I solve a question I understand it 100%.

Now it's time for a review (my GMAT is in 3 weeks) and I noticed that I can't solve even the basic questions that I had under control just a few weeks ago. If I can solve it, mostly I do it in 5 min. Or make careless mistakes.

So basically in 1 month after my 1st GMAT I improved close to nothing.

For someone like me. What should I do? Should I even insist with GMAT? I solved 1000+ questions in detail, the very least, I am running out of quality questions to study and I see no improvement. Should I just study general mathematics?

I noticed that GMAT is like speaking math language, so I guess one can't simply learn it from scratch in 4 months as I tried... How long do you think it would take me to learn math to get close to a 700? Should I continue with GMAT itself or should I switch to high-school math or college math to increase my general math-culture?

Honestly GMAT became a torture for me. Psychologically I am getting more and more defeated. I can barely focus on the question now, I already know that I will get it wrong and it will only get me more frustrated. It's like beating me up every day..

So yeah, any advice would be very welcome!

Thank you!


A couple of things:

- Studying for GMAT the whole day could really frustrate you. Your mind can grasp only a limited number of new concepts in a day. It is best to study along with either college courses or a full-time/part-time job or any other serious involvement in some activity.

- If you don't "know" Math at all, just doing problems will not help you. You must first go through your high school Math book, even middle school if that is where the problem started (You will be surprised at the number of people who start from that level.) One cannot "wing it" in GMAT. The good thing is that you have already invested a lot of time in GMAT prep so you know exactly what is relevant. Work on the relevant topics. Then go through a complete GMAT curriculum of a test prep company preferably a video on demand kind of a thing (which explain concepts in video format). If, unfortunately, you don't have the financial resources to buy these, check out the free resources. The net has plenty of free resources - most test prep companies have some products on trial, forums such as this one have free e-books etc. It will involve some research and organisation on your part but you should be able to get hold of some good free material. Don't worry about "solving problems"; first worry about understanding fundamentals. The problems will automatically get solved once you understand the basics. The way I see it, if you spend close to 10 mins on every problem, you don't really understand what it is asking. You are trying to recall the last problem you did which looked like this one and then trying a few things till you arrive at one of the options. This strategy won't help you in GMAT.

Here are some links to get you started:
http://www.veritasprep.com/gmat/
(a free book, video and practice test)
gmat-math-book-in-downloadable-pdf-format-130609.html
(free Math book)
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New post 26 Apr 2016, 02:03
Dear Karishma,

Thank you very much for your reply.

I studied the basics through MGMAT and Veritas books, but even after reading all the material I still had lots of difficulties when answering questions... That's why I tried to expose myself to the max number of different situations by doing many questions.

A private tutor would be the best I guess, but as I said I can't afford one.

Taking into account that I have 3 weeks till my GMAT, what is the best I can do in your opinion? Theory again?.. Or exercises?

I think that this will be my last shot at GMAT anyways, the applications finish end of May and if I don't get accepted this year, I will have to follow some other path.

Thank you!
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New post 26 Apr 2016, 17:57
iliavko wrote:
Chelsey, just one last advice from you, for my remaining 3 weeks, what is the best thing to do, focus on Quant 500s\600s from OG and dissect them again? Should I try 700s? You see I'm good with abstract math (n props, inequalities, divisibility) but pretty bad with Word problems and a few other topics, so it's unlikely that I will get questions on the abstract topics that I dominate, GMAT won't let me get there and it's a shame..


Sadly, I think you know the answer to this one! The test is designed to almost exclusively give you questions that are right around your level - if you see something that's very different from the level you're scoring at, then either it's an experimental question, or you've made a mistake in how you're approaching the test (flubbing easy questions or wasting time on hard ones). So studying 700 level Quant questions might make you feel better, but it's not likely to help you much on the test.

I'd recommend combining those 500-600 level questions, and also doing simple math drills from a source like Khan Academy. It's critical to get the basics down. But don't try to cram too much new stuff in during the few weeks you have left! If you only have three weeks, then you have about a week and a half left to work on new material, tops. After that, it's about finding a level you can work at, and practicing problems at that level - even if it seems way too low to you - until you perfect them.

Good luck on your test! I'd love to hear how you end up scoring.
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New post 28 Apr 2016, 09:43
Again Manhattan staff, Cooley this time, is doing their job as great they are.
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New post 20 May 2016, 14:45
Hi,ccooley

Chelsey,

Just wanted to tell you my score, I got 600... (Q44 V27) I have no idea how I managed to ruin Verbal. I got v29 on my 1st GMAT with no study what so ever. Now after 200+ hours dedicated to verbal alone I get 27. Unbelievable.

Anyways, I think this is the end of my story with GMAT, I don't see myself waiting for another year to apply to bschool, I have to figure something about my future. There are other thing to do in life!

One more time, thank you for your help and advice! And thank you Karishima VeritasPrepKarishma, Bunuel, Engr2012, Mike mikemcgarry, and all those who helped me here on the forum!

Take care :)
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New post 20 May 2016, 23:30
iliavko wrote:
Hi,ccooley

Chelsey,

Just wanted to tell you my score, I got 600... (Q44 V27) I have no idea how I managed to ruin Verbal. I got v29 on my 1st GMAT with no study what so ever. Now after 200+ hours dedicated to verbal alone I get 27. Unbelievable.

Anyways, I think this is the end of my story with GMAT, I don't see myself waiting for another year to apply to bschool, I have to figure something about my future. There are other thing to do in life!

One more time, thank you for your help and advice! And thank you Karishima VeritasPrepKarishma, Bunuel, Engr2012, Mike mikemcgarry, and all those who helped me here on the forum!

Take care :)


Not outstanding, but it's certainly a decent score. You should be able to comfortably apply to good b-schools. By the way, good job on that Quant score!
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New post 21 May 2016, 02:54
Thank you for your reply, Karishima!

I forgot, one more thing, I got a 7 at IR (81%) does that count for something?.. Or it's still not appreciated by the bschools?..

Damn, it is such a shame that I messed Verbal.. Would have been such a good looking score, like IR7, Q44 and like V36, so 650+... bah, still can't believe how V could go so wrong for me.. It's indisputably my strongest skill and I was always "talented" for languages and linguistics.
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New post 21 May 2016, 06:53
iliavko wrote:
Thank you for your reply, Karishima!

I forgot, one more thing, I got a 7 at IR (81%) does that count for something?.. Or it's still not appreciated by the bschools?..

Damn, it is such a shame that I messed Verbal.. Would have been such a good looking score, like IR7, Q44 and like V36, so 650+... bah, still can't believe how V could go so wrong for me.. It's indisputably my strongest skill and I was always "talented" for languages and linguistics.


I'm glad you came back to follow up on this :) Like Karishma says, 600 is nothing to write home about, but it's a solid middle-of-the-pack score that can help get you into many good bschools. And your Quant score shows that your efforts in improving your mathematical skills finally paid off. Nice work!

As for IR, I've heard various things. My general impression is that there are two things going on:

- IR initially wasn't very important to schools, because it was added to the GMAT less than five years ago. Since GMAT scores are good for 5 years after you take the test, for a long time, there were many students applying to schools who hadn't even taken the IR section when they took the test. With no basis for comparison, schools couldn't take IR too seriously.
- But, it's now been nearly 4 years since IR was introduced, and all preliminary research that I've heard about seems to show that it is a good and predictive part of the test. And I've also heard - not definitively, and not recently, but I have heard this - that some admissions committees now consider a strong IR as a point in your favor when applying.

So it's not going to make a huge difference either way, but it's a nice little bonus to have on your application. :)
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New post 22 May 2016, 21:17
iliavko wrote:
Thank you for your reply, Karishima!

I forgot, one more thing, I got a 7 at IR (81%) does that count for something?.. Or it's still not appreciated by the bschools?..

Damn, it is such a shame that I messed Verbal.. Would have been such a good looking score, like IR7, Q44 and like V36, so 650+... bah, still can't believe how V could go so wrong for me.. It's indisputably my strongest skill and I was always "talented" for languages and linguistics.



As you know, a good GMAT score is a necessary condition but by no means a sufficient condition to get an admit. So the IR score, though great, is unlikely to tilt the scale in your favour. That said, with two similar applications, sometimes these little graces bring the acceptance letter home. IR is certainly gaining importance as it should - data interpretation and stats are important aspects of a business school curriculum and a business executive's routine chores.
Finally, forget about your GMAT now and work on presenting a great application.
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New post 25 May 2016, 05:36
Thank you so much about all the replies and all the information that you have provided!

I will give my application a shot and who knows maybe I will get back to GMAT in the future!

Meanwhile I wish you all the best in you endeavors!
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