Don’t Float Like a Butterfly – Sting Like a Bee

(This is one of a series of GMAT tips that we offer on our blog.)

The world fondly remembers Muhammad Ali’s boxing career for a variety of reasons – his effervescent smile, his political activeness, his friendly banter with Howard Cosell, and an uncanny ability to brag and taunt through rhyme that still makes Jay-Z and Eminem jealous. Boxing purists, however, remember him most fondly for the techniques he employed in the ring to make himself the Greatest of All Time (GOAT). Perhaps most famous was his “Rope-A-Dope” style, in which he would lean back against the ropes, allowing overeager and undersophisticated challengers to wear themselves out throwing ineffective punch after punch while Ali conserved his energy for a knockout barrage later in the fight.

What, you may ask, does this mean for your GMAT preparation? Much like the GOAT, the GMAT finds much of its competitive advantage in its ability to wear down its unsuspecting challengers, who inefficiently chase “punch after punch”, performing unnecessary calculations on the quantitative side and reading and analyzing unnecessary verbiage on the verbal side, while all the while the GMAT packs its “knockout punch” in the form of a subtle uniqueness in the line of questioning that an exhausted-and-distracted examinee is unlikely to notice.

In order to combat this formidable opponent, be sure to seek out opportunities to save time and energy when possible. A few likely opportunties to do so include:

Quantitative Section:

• When answering a Data Sufficiency question, once you know that you will get one definitive answer (for example, if you have arrived at one, linear equation), you can stop performing the calculation. The actual answer does not matter, as the question is only concerned with whether you will, indeed, arrive at an answer.
• When calculating the answer for a Problem Solving question, consider the answer choices and whether an estimate, or a property of the correct value (does it have to be even? Must it be negative?) will be sufficient to solve the question without performing the entire calculation.

Verbal Section:

• Determine what you are being asked to do before you read any sentence/paragraph/passage. The actual subject matter is much less important than your ability to answer the question, so if you can identify the grammatical error being tested in a Sentence Correction question, or the question stem of a Critical Reasoning question, you can prioritize the sections of the stimulus that you do read, and filter out the distraction created by the other portions.
• Pursuant to the above, technical terms or official titles are unlikely to be testable, whereas grammatical flaws and structural language are often tested. The former devices, however, can easily add strenuous words and syllables to your task, so take care to focus on what you know to be important, and save the less-likely components for when they are absolutely necessary.