The Dangers of Targeted Practice

October 19, 2010

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Sometimes you can have too much of a good thing. For GMAT preparation, "targeted practice" is generally a great idea. You should focus on building skills in specific areas, especially in the early and middle parts of your study plan.

But too much targeted practice? You won't be ready for the nature of the GMAT itself. I believe this study-plan mistake is the reason for a lot of disappointing scores.

Let's talk about baseball for a minute. Imagine you're trying to become a better hitter. You do just find against fastballs, but faced with a curveball, you swing and miss every time. To address the problem, you find someone who will throw you curveball after curveball in batting practice.

After you've seen about 50 of those curveballs in a row, I'll bet you start hitting them! Maybe you even start to feel that you can hit curveballs as well as you hit fastballs.

This is great practice, but unrealistic practice. I'm not telling you not to do it--by all means, if you can't hit a curveball (or you can't handle a science passage), do whatever it takes to learn how.

But that's not the end of the process. To extend the baseball analogy, part of the challenge of hitting a curveball is recognizing it's a curveball in the first place. How test-like is it to ace some combined rates problems when the headline at the top of the page says "Combined Rates?"

This is one of the many benefits of The Official Guide. A resource like Total GMAT Math is a fantastic way to build your skills, but to get ready for the timed, mixed content of the GMAT itself, many students need one more step. My "Problem Solving: Challenge" and "Data Sufficiency: Challenge" sets accomplish a similar purpose.

Building skills for GMAT test day and practicing to perform on test day are two different things. Targeted practice is a valuable part of the first, but it can be harmful when you take it too far.



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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