GMAT Tip of the Week: The Secret to Mitt Romney's Success

As the political primary season nears ever closer to Super Tuesday, all eyes are on the race between Mitt Romney and his field of challengers. In the interest of fair time, we planned in this space for thematic GMAT Tip posts for each of them (an “exponent rules of 9 to the 9 to the 9″ for Herman Cain; something completely unsearchable by Google so that our Santorum post wouldn’t tarnish our brand; and a post in honor of that third guy… can’t remember his name. Oh, right. Rick Perry). But as Romney nears ever closer to the nomination and holds the Harvard Business School MBA relevant to this space, anyway, we’re prepared to declare him the presumptive winner, at least of our choice for the subject of this post. How can you use Mitt Romney’s style to achieve Mitt Romney’s level of business school acceptance success?

Flip-flop.

Much has been made of Romney’s tendency to change his opinion on issues as time goes on. Politically, feel free to think what you will. But on the GMAT, you simply must learn to adopt this skill that undoubtedly helped Romney on the test in his day. To this point in Data Sufficiency you have likely learned this mantra that rings true in politics, too: “Once you have staked a position on statement 1, leave it alone and only look at statement 2.” But to be truly successful, you should recognize that statements can give you clues about other statements. And in the spirit of Romney and the words of Keynes, “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?” you have to be flexible.

Consider the example:

Set J consists of terms {2, 7, 12, 17, a}. Is a > 7?

(1) a is the median of set J

That looks pretty sufficient, right? The median in a set of numbers is “the middle number,” and so for a to be between 7 and 12 it would have to be greater than 7. If you said “sufficient” to this (it’s not…more on that in a minute), you’re forgiven. Just don’t become so entrenched in that position that you don’t recognize this when statement 2 drops:

(2) Set J does not have a mode

OK, now you should be able to really start thinking. What does statement 2 mean? It means that there is no repeat number. Clearly this is insufficient as it allows a to be anything other than 2, 7, 12, and 17. It could be -1,000,000,000 or it could be the number that represents the US Federal Debt. So why is statement 2 here?

Consider the opposite – what if Set J did have a mode. That would mean that a would equal one of the other numbers. And if, as statement 1 says, a is also the median, then it would be either 7 or 12. In the set {2, 7, 7, 12, 17}, 7 is the median – it’s the middle number when you arrange them all in ascending order. So, actually, in statement 1 we did not know that a was greater than 7, because it could have been 7 itself. And while that may not have been clear looking just at statement 1 alone, statement 2 provided a nice clue… but only to those willing to flip-flop on their position.

Flip-flopping isn’t inherently wrong, whether you’re John Kerry, Mitt Romney, John Maynard Keynes, or an MBA aspirant. When you receive more information, you often should reconsider your previous position. Many difficult Data Sufficiency questions are designed specifically to reward you for that. To follow in Mitt Romney’s footsteps, at least as they pertain to business, from Harvard to the top of a private equity firm to the top of the 1%, learn to share his ability to change his position when new information enters the picture.

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