GMAT Tip of the Week: That's a Deduction

GMAT prepIf you’re watching the Winter Olympics, you’re likely amazed at the body control of moguls skiers, the grace of figure skaters, and the creativity of aerial skiers and snowboarders. You might also, however, find yourself becoming particularly critical of those around you, a byproduct of listening to Olympic announcers describing the mistakes made by these all-world athletes:

She didn’t stick the landing; unfortunately, that’s going to be a deduction.

His knees came apart on that turn…every time you do that, that’s a deduction.


With the judged sports, the unfortunate nature of the elite level of competition is that the scoring system seems to assume perfection, and deduct from there, instead of rewarding excellence at each turn. In some cases, the system just isn’t set up to reward that excellence — Jonny Moseley’s infamous “Dinner Roll” maneuver in the Olympic mogul skiing competition was too new and too unique to fit the scoring system, and he lost the 2002 gold medal as a result, even though most competitors would agree that his run was the most impressive of all.

The GMAT, in a lot of ways, is scored similarly: questions are structured so that you receive “deductions” in the form of incorrect answers for making minor errors. You can perform admirably on a difficult question, but if your answer contains one of those small mistakes, you’ll be punished for it.

Because of this, in your waning days of GMAT preparation before the exam, you should put an emphasis on minimizing those “deductions” by practicing those little things that tend to give you trouble. With a few days before your exam, you’re more likely to improve your score by perfecting the things that you do well than you are by adding new tricks to your repertoire. Track your common mistakes, and you’ll likely find that you often:

  • Answer the wrong question, solving for a value that is slightly different from what the question asks for
  • Make assumptions regarding a number (say, that it’s an integer, or that it’s positive) and thinking that you have more information on a Data Sufficiency problem than you really do have
  • Misread the conclusion of a Critical Reasoning question and choose an answer that strengthens your alternate conclusion, but not the official one
  • Set up equations incorrectly when working quickly

If you catch yourself making these, or other mistakes, frequently, make a note to slow down in those situations to “stick the landing” and avoid the deductions that the GMAT will take from you if you’re not careful.

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