GMAT Tip of the Week: Keep Your Eye on the Ball

GMAT prep classesWelcome back to Baseball Month in the GMAT Tip of the Week space, where we sincerely apologize to Bostonians for what we’re about to do:

Bill Buckner.

Red Sox Nation, we hate to even bring that up, but you stand to gain the most out of anyone from the reference. It’s said that you can learn more from a second of pain than from a day of glory. Read on, and let the story of Bill Buckner help you improve on the GMAT.

If you were to chronologically read the story of Bill Buckner’s career, you’d be impressed. He won a National League batting title in 1980 and played in the All-Star game in 1981. He ended his career with over 2,700 hits in a sport for which 3,000 hits grants one immediate immortality. Bill Buckner was a great baseball player, better than 99% of players who ever lived. Yet bloggers feel compelled to apologize to fans of his Boston Red Sox some 20 years after he retired simply for mentioning his name. Why?

Buckner took his eye off the ball.

In Game Six of the 1986 World Series, Buckner stooped to the dirt to field what looked like a routine ground ball, but was much, much more than that. Had Buckner cleanly fielded that grounder, the Red Sox could have won their first World Series in nearly a century, and each member of the team would be a lifetime legend in Boston with a name synonymous with Paul Revere’s. Instead, Buckner’s name stands on its own, living in infamy in New England. Bill Buckners is, unfairly, an icon of failure. Why? Buckner took his eye off the ball.

Baseball players take infield practice nearly every day, and Buckner probably fielded an infield grounder like that a few thousand times that summer. Alas, he made a simple mistake on the grandest of all stages, and it’s been his legacy. Reasonable Red Sox fans will admit that the gaffe wasn’t entirely Buckner’s fault, as the Sox had given up multiple runs earlier in the inning and closer Bob Stanley had already let in the tying run with a wild pitch. They may also admit that, even had Buckner cleanly made the play, an extra-innings game on the road was little better than a 50-50 proposition. But Buckner’s mistake is the one that remains the iconic moment of that Series, and one of the more iconic moments in all of sports.

Buckner has more than served his penance for a simple mistake, but that mistake can also teach you a valuable lesson as you prepare for the GMAT. Much like Buckner, you can do almost everything right and still suffer a thoroughly negative consequence for one mistake. In fact, on most GMAT questions, there are multiple opportunities for you to do so. So, to avoid a Bucknerian mistake, be sure to work methodically and carefully:

1) Avoid skipping mathematical steps. As time is a factor, you may be tempted to rush through calculations, but that extra second to set up the intermediate step between calculations could be pivotal.

2) Know what your variables represent. GMAT questions often make it easy to solve for one variable, while another is the correct answer choice. If you solve for the fact that x = 35 miles, but the question seeks the number of gallons of gasoline used, and not the distance, you have one more step to your calculation, but 35 is likely an answer choice.

3) Know your own blind spots. Over the course of your education, you’ve built bad habits or misconceptions — you may see 25^2 as 225 (it’s not: 15^2 is 225 and 25^2 is 625); you might forget about the initial value when asked for a percent increase (125 increased by 20% is 150, not 25 (that’s 20% of 125, not 20% added to 125)); you might forget to distribute negative signs in multiplication… Whatever your blind spots, be aware of them and look for them on test day so that you can fix those mistakes.

4) Read key words carefully. Many a GMAT question has been answered incorrectly because someone overlooked (or inferred) a word like “only” or “sometimes” — words that limit a premise or a conclusion. Make special note of those words, as they’re almost always (“always” being another of those words) game-changers.

Most importantly, don’t let yourself make Bucknerian, loss-of-concentration mistakes on the test. Like Buckner, you’ve likely worked incredibly hard and are thusly quite deserving of great success. Perhaps the reason that Buckner’s mistake resonates so much more so than those of his teammates is that his error could be — again, perhaps undeservedly — considered “careless,” a quality that comes with a negative connotation. In your case, the worst possible way to lose points is through similar carelessness, so be diligent in your quest to be given credit for the questions that you do know how to answer correctly. Keep your eye on the proverbial ball, and become a legend in Boston (or wherever you choose to go to school).

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