As we enter the final weekend of the Vancouver Winter Olympics, plenty of drama remains. Will Canada clinch the ice hockey gold medal on its home ice? Will it do so against the rival Americans? Will Lindsey Vonn withstand the pain of another injury – this time a broken finger to go with her badly bruised shin — to add another medal to her haul? Will Bob Costas ever look older than 29? Will Bode Miller summon the magic one more time to erase his Torino disappointment with an unexpected (or perhaps just delayed… we expected this from him in 2006) display of overall alpine mastery?

As Vonn and Miller attempt to add to their legacies, they will need to employ a strategy that you should be thinking about as you gear up for your peak performance on the GMAT. The last race for each is the slalom, an event in which skiers are required to navigate a series of gates making quick side-to-side turns while keeping their momentum focused as straight downhill as possible. A daunting challenge, to be sure — just like those of you taking the GMAT, these skiers must be aware that losing time on any one gate (or question) can be catastrophic, and must also keep in mind that, upon the successful navigation of one challenge, another will be approaching just as quickly.

How do they (and how should you) cope?

If you watch slalom skiers, you’ll notice that they seemingly take wide turns around each gate — instead of taking a straight line from one gate to the next, which would require them to make an abrupt change of direction at each gate, they swoop in from wide of the gate, building speed through the turn toward the next flag. The rationale behind this strategy is that, by employing it, skiers can use the position of the next gate to set up the previous turn, always thinking further downhill and being prepared far in advance to avoid having to make last-second, ice-crunching, turn-on-a-dime turns that kill a skier’s speed and waste valuable time. If the skier uses the downhill gates to set up his movements uphill, he can take as direct and efficient a line as possible, and maximizes his chances at success.

The GMAT affords you the same opportunity — you’ve already noted that each question contains within itself five answer choices, but you may not have thought about using those “downhill” answer choices to set up your work.

Consider:

- If multiple answer choices include the square root of 3, there’s a good chance you’re going to have to use a 30-60-90 or equilateral triangle, as those triangles lend themselves naturally to sides with the square root of 3.
- If answer choices, similarly, include the square root of 2, you’ll probably want to look for an iscosceles right triangle (45-45-90), for which the hypotenuse is going to have a side the length of the other side multiplied by the square root of 2.
- Other answer choices can guide you in the right direction, as well – look for clues such as denominators (do you need to end up with something divided by 3?), exponential terms (do you need to factor to get everything in terms of 2 to a power?), etc. If you let the answer choices be your guide, you’ll often find that they provide you a template of what your mathematical goals should be.

As an example, consider the question:

What is 3^{8} + 3^{7} – 3^{6} – 3^{5}?

(A) (3^{5})(2^{4})

(B) (3^{5})(2^{6})

(C) (3^{6})(2^{5})

(D) 6^{5}

(E) None of the Above

The initial statement may not lend itself at first to any type of manipulation that would make it any clearer, but if you look at the answer choices, you