Overprepare For the GMAT

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I've noticed a surprising phenomenon among my students lately: most of them are getting GMAT scores well above their target. It might just be that I've had a particularly diligent crop of clients lately, and it might even be a bit of good luck. But I think there's more to it.

As I've written repeatedly on this site, most people (including the major test-prep companies) focus too much on what we could call "Tips and Tricks." The opposite of "Tips and Tricks" is your good old basic math knowledge. Of course, tips can be plenty helpful: hundreds of students have benefited from my persistent suggestions to use mental math instead of pencil-and-paper arithmetic.

But, there's a key difference between math skills and tricks. A trick, usually, applies to one question, or a very small subset of questions. Sometimes the trick is extremely effective–it might even amaze you with its efficiency when your GMAT instructor walks through it. But what if the odds of being able to use it on the test are, say, 1 in 20? At that point, is it worth learning? I can think of dozens of tricks I know that apply to practice GMAT questions that have exactly that probability (or worse) of being applicable come test day.

By contrast, there is no underlying GMAT math skill that arises so infrequently. If you learn how to do weighted averages, it gives you an edge not only on weighted average problems, but also on conventional averages and on mixture problems. It may even come in handy on a ratio question now and then. If you really understand how to do a combined rate question, that skill will be tested in any number of guises.

The difference between "tricks" and "skills" is increasingly at the heart of my tutoring. I love a nifty trick as much as the next guy, but more and more, I've limited tricks to sideshow status. Best of all, if you understand the underlying math techniques, you're more likely to come up with the tricks yourself–you won't need someone to show you a shortcut for each of several dozen questions.

I've long said that if you can comfortable, quickly, and correctly complete all of the questions in The Official Guide for GMAT Review, you'll be ready to take the test. At that point, you'll probably score at least a 650; many people score much better with that level of preparation. Lately, my students who have outperformed my expectations for them have done exactly that: worked through every last problem in the Official Guide.

The difference is that, as my philosophy has slightly changed, I've emphasized more and more the traditional approaches. Don't get me wrong: some of the "textbook" explanations in the back of the book are brutal. In some ways, the methods I teach are more abstract than what the book provides by way of explanations. The point is that these recent clients of mine understand many of the most important questions at a deeper level.

If you can do that, you don't need to spend all of your stressing out over advanced topics like probability. You will be overprepared, and you will get the score you need for entry into the best business schools.



About the author: Jeff Sackmann has written many GMAT preparation books, including the popular Total GMAT Math, Total GMAT Verbal, and GMAT 111. He has also created explanations for problems in The Official Guide, as well as 1,800 practice GMAT math questions.

Total GMAT Verbal

The comprehensive guide to the GMAT Verbal section. Recognize, dissect, and master every question type you'll face on the test. Everything you need, all in one place, including 100+ realistic practice questions.
Click to read more.