GMAT Tip of the Week: Discount Double Check

If, like many Americans, you plan on watching football this weekend, you’ll undoubtedly see the newest Aaron Rodgers / State Farm “Discount Double Check” ad a couple hundred times. And if you’re reading this post, the Career Day aspect of that ad may speak to you – you’re thinking about making a leap in your career via an MBA, and while the ad suggests that MVPs are for people with low self-esteem, we all know that MBAs are for folks with high aspirations.

When you watch the ad, though, you may not recognize that Mr. MVP is giving you some valuable GMAT advice. One of the most important moves you can make on the GMAT, after all, is the Discount Double Check.

How does that work?

Like Rodgers in a two-minute drill, GMAT examinees are often tasked with accomplishing something important (a touchdown / a correct answer to a difficult problem) with an all-important clock ticking down loudly in their ears. In a rush to answer the question correctly, it’s easy for many students to lose track of context – to do the math right, but to pick an answer that corresponds with the number that remains at the end of the calculation… not the number that the question was asking for. Many word problems, especially, involve multiple variables, and the correct answer to the wrong variable is a very popular trap answer. Consider these questions:

If Charles drives 240 miles and gets 45 miles to the gallon, how much gas is left in his 18-gallon tank if it was full when he began the drive?

The weight of BJ’s first bench press was 150 pounds less than twice the weight of his second. If he increased his bench press by 100 pounds from his first to his second lift, what was the weight of his second lift?

Jordy and Randall began running toward each other from opposite ends of an 8 mile course. If Jordy ran at a rate 1.5 faster than Randall did, how many miles had Randall run when they crossed paths?

In any of these questions, there are two potential answers you could pick – how much gas did Charles use, or how much was left? How heavy was BJ’s first bench press, or his second? How many miles did Jordy run, or how many did Randall run? And the GMAT’s dirty little secret is this — a surprisingly high number of examinees set up the algebra for word problems, then perform the calculations, are then kind of surprised/relieved when the calculations spit out a number that matches the answer choices, then pick that answer and move on…even though they picked “the other” answer: Jordy’s run, the amount of gas Charles used, etc. For most GMAT questions, in fact, the most popular wrong answer is the right answer to the wrong question.

Your solution? The Discount Double Check. Make sure you spend 3-5 seconds at the end of each question double checking whether your answer matches the question asked. Did you use the proper units (minutes vs. seconds)? Did you answer for the proper variable? Did you leave the calculation a step short? And does your answer pass the logic test – does the value you selected make sense in the context of the question (if Jordy and Randall are on an 8-mile course, neither of them would have run more than 8 miles, for example).

The general theme behind all of the Discount Double Check commercials is that the characters aren’t as impressed by MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers as they should be; the theme behind many GMAT questions is that you shouldn’t be as impressed as many are with “getting a number” at the end of your calculations. Once you’ve arrived at that number, Discount Double Check it to make sure it’s the right answer to the right question.

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