Welcome back to Baseball Month at the GMAT Tip of the Week space, where we’re big fans of the Moneyball style of statistical thinking. Moneyball, a book by Michael Lewis (Liar’s Poker, The Blind Side), follows the somewhat-revolutionary trend in baseball of statistical thinking — small-market teams and their general managers found that certain, “sexy” statistics like home runs and RBIs, were overvalued, and that more effective statistics, like walks and on-base percentage, were not only undervalued, but much more important to team success.
The story itself was right up Lewis’ alley; a former bond trader for Salomon Brothers, Lewis’ initial works focused on his skeptical eye for business and businesses run inefficiently based on faulty thinking. As analytical minds in baseball began to embrace similar thinking, Lewis noted the trend of a more managerial approach to sports. Much like Wall Street was run by bravado and moxie in the 1980s, as Lewis wrote in Liar’s Poker, baseball had long been run on the notion that teams won with Triple Crown offensive statistics — batting average, home runs, and RBIs — and excellent pitching on defense. The statistical approach noted, however, that these statistics were overrated:
1) Batting average corresponds to getting a man on base, but a man who reaches base on a walk is still as likely to score a run as one who reaches on a single
2) RBIs are an inaccurate measure of a particular player’s usefulness, as they are just as indicative of a player’s situation and his teammates: those who bat leadoff will have significantly fewer opportunities to bat in a run with no one on base before them; those whose teammates do not reach base as often will similarly have fewer opportunities, and the same goes for those with slower teammates who don’t score runs as easily
3) Home runs, even for the most prolific sluggers, happen very infrequently compared to other situations, and often the hitter of a home run with no outs or one out would have scored had he only hit a single or double, because the teammates behind him also had hits
On the other side, statisticians noticed that statistics like walks and on-base percentage had a much more significant impact on the game than most thought (and the GMAT, overseen by statisticians, uses the same thinking against you):
On-base percentage is more significant than is batting average, as the end result of each is a man on base who has a chance to score, and OBP more accurately measures how often a player puts himself in that position
Walks and OBP not only measure offensive ability to score, but they also measure how likely a player is to require the opposing pitcher to throw more pitches. A batter who hits the second pitch and reaches base requires the pitcher to throw two pitches; a batter who walks requires a minimum of four pitches, and may, through foul balls and a full count require a dozen or more pitches.
The art of forcing the opposing pitcher to throw more pitches is key because it provides a valuable link between offense and defense: if a great pitcher is the other team’s biggest strength, as is often the case, forcing him to wear out his arm early in a game wastes his effectiveness and neutralizes the opponent’s advantage. (If you’ve ever played RBI Baseball on Nintendo, you undoubtedly know this strategy)
Simply put, smarter minds in baseball realized that a player who can both get on base and wear down the pitcher were the most valuable hitters in the game, and they were cheap — teams overspending on sluggers were leaving these nuanced players available at much-lessser salaries, allowing teams like the Oakland A’s to spend aggressively for top pitching and intelligently on “smart” hitting and compete year after year with teams that spent millions more.
The GMAT — a test overseen by statisticians to ensure the validity of scores — uses similar thinking as it attempts to wear you down as though you were a pitcher. If it can’t easily elicit an incorrect answer (its “home run”), it will certainly try to waste your time (or increase your “pitch count”) by requiring to you to read more text, perform more calculations, and sort through more scratchwork to finally get the question out (of the way).
To combat this strategy, first know that the GMAT will, indeed, use these tactics to waste your time, and think about ways to minimize the time you spend on problems:
1) Don’t perform unnecessary calculations. The answer choices are often your keys to helping you avoid this — check to see if you can use an estimate or a number property (does the correct answer have to end in a 5, or be a multiple of 3?) to eliminate all but one answer choice without completing the math.
2) Read for GMAT knowledge, not subject knowledge. The GMAT loves to include technical terms (antigen-antibody immunological reaction) and long proper nouns (the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology) to make your reading more time-consuming and cumbersome. You don’t need these terms, however — you’re not performing surgery or writing a bibliography, but rather just answering the question. Look for key elements of each question — in Sentence Correction, whittle proper nounds down to a single-word (or acronym) subject (e.g., “the lab,” instead of the long-winded title above); in Reading Comprehension or Critical Reasoning, key in on the author’s argument, using keywords like “thus” or “however” to determine the direction of the argument.
3) Know when to fold ’em. If, after your conscience has told you that you’re taking way too long, you don’t see a clear 30-second path to a correct answer, take an educated guess and bank that time for the next few problems. A correct answer that takes you four minutes is fool’s gold — you’ve just wasted the two minutes that would have gone toward the next question, so you’ll likely have to guess and get one wrong. Remember that the GMAT is trying to “get on base” with a wrong answer, but that it’s almost as happy to just “work the pitch count,” knowing that you’ll give up a hit later on if you’re short on time.
The Boys of Summer are back, making it the perfect time to consider enrolling in a GMAT prep class. And, as always, be sure to subscribe to this blog and to follow us on Twitter to keep receiving GMAT tips!