Make Your GMAT Game Complete, Like Justin Verlander

Within hours of the Detroit Tigers’ blown Game 4 lead against the Oakland A’s, ensuring a fifth and decisive game of the American League Divisional Series, devastated (and exhausted) Detroiters started watching their Facebook and Twitter feeds fill with an internet meme that would prove prophetic:

Justin Verlander the Game Five pitcher, with the slogan “Everybody Chill Out…I Got This”

And “got this” he did, pitching a complete and dominant game, shutting out the A’s and seemingly inspiring run support from what had been dead bats all series. And in doing so, Verlander showed you how to raise your game for the GMAT. He made it known loud and clear – not necessarily from his words but from his actions, demeanor, and commitment, that he was finishing the job no matter what — he wouldn’t hand the ball off to a relief pitcher if there were any way to avoid it.

Sports lore is full of these moments. No one in his right mind would have dreamed of taking the ball from Jack Morris’ hands in his epic Game Seven World Series 10-inning win for the Minnesota Twins in 1991. Larry Bird famously responded to his coach’s joking offer that “if anyone makes a half-court shot, practice is cancelled” by informing his team “y’all can head to the locker room — I got this”. And Michael Jordan told coach Doug Collins something similar in Collins’ first game as Chicago Bulls coach. By the final timeout in a close game, Collins had chewed the sticky out of his gum, leaving a powdery film around his mouth as he gave instructions to his team. “Coach,” Jordan said. “Wipe that crap off your face — you know I’m not going to let you lose your first game.” I got this.

What does this mean for your GMAT performance?

Like Verlander, Morris, Jordan and Bird, you’ll need to commit to “I got this” every so often in your GMAT practice. Veteran GMAT instructors will confirm – when a class is tackling a hard problem in class, there’s always a point at which most pencils have stopped moving and most students have begun to look to the instructor for guidance or to the back of the book for the answer. But one student, as the instructor begins to bring the group back together for a discussion, will invariably say “give me 30 more seconds…I got this.”

That student always scores well on test day.

Now, it would be a Critical Reasoning catastrophe to simply assume causation, that the “I got this” mindset directly causes success. It’s quite likely that the “I got this” student has that confidence because she’s always been an expert problem solver. But there’s certainly some causation there – students who allow themselves to struggle, who force themselves to struggle even, will benefit from that experience. They earn that knowledge and deep understanding, rather than asking for it. Reading or hearing someone’s explanation can be helpful, but it can also be fleeting. Forcing oneself to earn that knowledge independently is one of the greatest ways to make that knowledge permanent – and at that point, even if you need to ask for help, you’re so invested in that answer that you’re exponentially more likely to internalize it.

One of the great differences with athletes like Verlander, Jordan, or Bird is that they need to test themselves – they need to prove to themselves that they can do it, and they’re willing to fight through adversity for those results. Similarly, necessity is the mother of invention – any good GMAT instructor will admit that they didn’t fully “get” at least one question type or concept until they absolutely had to – until they were about to stand in front of a class and teach it, knowing that their expertise would easily be called into question if they didn’t own it. At that point, simply reading an explanation won’t do – struggling through a problem independently, that instructor simply must connect the logic and almost always does.

The good news for you? “I got this” is easier to say when the concept is “math” or “logic” than when the competition is the Bad Boy Detroit Pistons (or Jordan) or the Moneyball Oakland A’s (for Verlander). Your opponent is knowledge – it’s not zero-sum in which only one can win. You got this. So:

- Don’t let yourself simply give up after a minute and flip to the back of the book. Force yourself to build logical connections and prove concepts to yourself.

- Don’t rely only on written solutions – if you can’t get a problem right, check the letter answer and use that as a guide to go back and build a logical connection…why is that answer right?

- After you’ve exhausted those options, you’re now fully invested. NOW you can ask for help or consult an explanation – because you’ve had to think through that problem, you have a greater level of need for that answer…you’re thirsty for a reason that you’re allowed to take that one step that you didn’t see. When you get that answer now, you’re that much more likely to understand and remember it. By forcing yourself to say “I got this” you’re that much more likely to actually “get it” once you’ve read the answer.

Since you’re an academic, you have at least one thing in common with Justin Verlander – you want to do better than A’s. Take a page from Verlander’s book — borrow from the MVP as you seek your MBA. Tell those difficult practice problems “I got this,” and complete your GMAT game.

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