Although the GMAT purports to be just a test of high school math and verbal knowledge, as anyone who has written the exam before can tell you, there is a lot more to it than simply knowing a few basic formulas or grammar rules.
One of the biggest challenges of the GMAT is managing your time efficiently because the GMAT does not give you a lot of it. Test takers are afforded an average of approximately about 2 minutes per Math question and 1 minute 45 seconds per Verbal question. And as the proverb says, haste makes waste.
Assuming sufficient preparation, the single biggest reason smart people score poorly on the GMAT is that they focus too much on the clock and walk right into the traps that the GMAT has carefully laid out. The solution? Slow down, focus on accuracy over speed, and be wary of these three common mistakes.
#1 – The Devil is in the Details
“If x, y, and z are consecutive odd two-digit integers less than 20….”
GMAT questions are loaded with information, often overwhelmingly so. By the time you make it to the end of the question and start to do your analysis, it is easy to forget some of the details given at the start, especially if your mind is on the clock.
These details are critical to answering the question correctly. Miss one and you can bet the GMAT will have a very attractive trap answer waiting for you in the answer choices.
In order to avoid this pitfall, make sure you start the question off on the right foot by writing out and understanding each condition you find as you read through the question:
- x, y, and z are consecutive
- x, y, and z are odd
- x, y, and z are two-digit numbers
- x, y, and z are less than 20
Physically writing out these conditions on your notepad forces you to slow down and recognize the restrictions. Moreover, if you need to check possible values for your variables (e.g. x, y, and z) later in the question, you can easily identify the conditions without having to re-read the whole problem.
#2 – Learn to Walk Before You Learn to Run
Very often on the GMAT it is not the grade 9 or 10 math theory that trips students up, but rather the middle school stuff: fundamental math skills like long division, factoring, 12 times tables, manipulating fractions, and so forth. It won’t matter how well you know your geometry formulas or exponent rules if you consistently make arithmetic mistakes using them.
In a world of smartphone calculators and Excel spreadsheets, many test takers find themselves very rusty when it comes to basic arithmetic. And since the GMAT does not permit the use of a calculator, these basics are absolutely integral to GMAT success.
Just as athletes practice their mechanics repeatedly until the motions become muscle memory, test takers should drill their fundamentals until they become second nature. If 9 times 12 gives you a pause, it’s time to get back to basics. Not only will this help prevent careless arithmetic errors, it will also allow students to focus more on the actual GMAT question.
#3 – Don’t Trip at the Finish Line
You have carefully analyzed and understood the question, diligently noted the conditions, flawlessly navigated the arithmetic, and have arrived at a solution in a timely manner. Best of all, your solution is a perfect match for answer choice B. Great!
However, before you reflexively confirm your answer and move on, take a moment and make sure you have actually answered what the GMAT is asking for. Is the GMAT looking for the ratio of apples to oranges or of oranges to apples? Are they asking you what could be true or what must be true? Is it a ‘strengthen’ question or a ‘strengthen except’ question?
Read the question carefully and be clear about what is being asked. It is better to take a few extra seconds to confirm that you are answering the correct question than end up with a trap answer despite doing all of the hard work.
Jason Hornosty is a travel enthusiast with an academic background in physics and philosophy. He is currently helping students to achieve their postgraduate aspirations as a GMAT, GRE and LSAT instructor for Quantum Test Prep.