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A great thing about working with GMAT students is that few of you are content with where you're at. (Unless, I suppose, you walk in a get a 720 GMAT score with minimal studying, in which case I wonder why you're reading.)

Some people get stuck in the mindset that the GMAT is an IQ test, or an exam of some other type of inborn aptitude. If that were true, it would put a dent in the test-prep industry, and a damper on the hopes of lots of B-School applicants.

What If It Is an IQ Test?

I recently ran across an article that sheds some light on this. Grossly oversimplified, a psychology professor determined that a person's perception or his or her IQ affected learning styles and effectiveness.

Here's the link, and here's a key excerpt:

The psychologists then designed an eight-week intervention program that taught some students study skills and how they could learn to be smart--describing the brain as a muscle that became stronger the more it was used. A control group also learned study skills but were not taught Dweck's expandable theory of intelligence. In just two months, she said, the students from the first group, compared to the control group, showed marked improvement in grades and study habits.

"What was important was the motivation," Dweck said. "The students were energized by the idea that they could have an impact on their mind." Dweck recalled a young boy who was a ringleader of the troublemakers. "When we started teaching this idea about the mind being malleable, he looked up with tears in his eyes, and he said, 'You mean, I don't have to be dumb?'" she said. "A fire was lit under him."

The more research that is done on gifted children and adult geniuses, the more we realize how important hard work is in the equation. Even extreme cases such as Einstein and Mozart weren't born brilliant.

GMAT Strategies

In the relatively short period of time you'll study for the GMAT, you probably don't have a chance to completely change your mindset. However, even a slight adjustment is worthwhile.

Recognize that the GMAT is not testing rote knowledge: instead, it's seeing how flexibly you can think. The more you practice (and the more consistently you practice) out-of-the-box GMAT questions, the better you will be at them, even without a huge increase in content knowledge. You'll start to see relevant connections that you didn't spot before.

What I think is most important is your attitude. Some students I work with will repeatedly tell me that "this stuff isn't teachable." Well...no, in some cases it isn't. But it is learnable. As a tutor, I would never claim to give someone a list of all the things they need to know to get a perfect GMAT score. (Though--shameless plug alert--Total GMAT Math is a good start.)

But I can point you toward accurate practice. The more you think in the ways the GMAT wants you to think, the better you'll get at it. It's the same concept that makes actors better at improvising the more they improvise, or day traders better at spotting arbitrage opportunities the longer they track market indicators.

To reiterate Dweck's point: the brain is a muscle, and you can improve your GMAT score by exercising it the right way.

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.

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