GMAT Tip of the Week


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

If you’re at all like this humble blogger, you may be spending your Friday looking forward to a weekend that will include, among precious few other activities, watching copious amounts of football and spending some time on the beach reading a Ken Follett World War II spy novel (sounds pretty good, right?). What do the two have in common with each other, and with the GMAT?

Football coaches and wartime intelligence agencies have long been of the mind that extensive research on the opponent is a key attribute to success. In the spirit of “keep your friends close and your enemies closer,” each group devotes resources to scouting the opponent to determine what tendencies it might favor when it comes to doing battle.

Less popular, but arguably just as important, is the notion that these groups should “self-scout,” or conduct the same level of espionage on themselves as they do on the opponent. Such strategy has given rise to the “double agent,” who enlists as a spy for the opposition, but does so in order to determine what the opponent will know about the original side. In this way, a military group or football team can determine weaknesses that an opponent has discovered and will attempt to exploit, and prepare to counterattack or strengthen those weaknesses.

How can you act as a double-agent in your own GMAT preparation?

Most students understand that scouting the opposition — the GMAT — will provide them with greater knowledge about the concepts and thought processes that they will need to succeed on the test. They study, make flash cards, take practice tests, etc., and improve their capacity to get questions correct.

Fewer students, however, conduct much self-scouting, and miss out on valuable points as a result. The GMAT is a test that exploits the mistakes that students often make (many of which have been covered in this space), so determining those weaknesses in yourself is a great way to minimize your blind spots.

To do so, track the errors that you make in homework sets and practice tests — often just writing a few keywords such as “Data Sufficiency, forgot about 0” or “Critical Reasoning / Strengthen — misread conclusion” — so that you can review and see which errors come up most frequently. Simply jotting down reminders to yourself on test day (“remember zero” or “conclusion first”) will help you to avoid these errors, and you’ll minimize the number of points that you give back based on avoidable errors.

You may want to think of it this way — “studying” can increase your ceiling on the exam, as the more that you know, the more questions you should be able to answer. Self-scouting, on the other hand, raises your floor. As you minimize the mistakes that you make, you drop fewer and fewer questions, and raise your score that way. As this weekend’s football winners, Winston Churchill, and Franklin Roosevelt can tell you, self-scouting is an essential part of your battle with a worthy opponent.

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