Think You Made a Mistake? Good Errors on the GMAT

Today’s guest post comes from New England-based instructor David Newland. David has been teaching for Veritas Prep since 2006, and he won the Veritas Prep Instructor of the Year award in 2008. Students’ friends often call in asking when he will be teaching next because he really is a Veritas Prep and a GMAT rock star!

As you are practicing for the GMAT and you miss a problem, you probably already try to figure out why you missed it. However, you can improve the quality of your practice – and ensure that you are making progress toward test day – if you will also categorize your errors. On Test Day any “scored item” that you miss counts against you, but when practicing there are actually reasons to be happy when you miss a question. In fact, the ratio is pretty good: there are two types of “good errors” and only one category of “bad errors”.

The Good Errors

It is never fun to make a mistake. So let’s not label these errors mistakes, rather let’s call them learning opportunities.

  • Learning the Concept – This is the first of the “opportunity errors.” Do you remember the first time that you saw a Problem Solving question that relied on the formula for the measure of an arc, using an inscribed angle? If you did not know that formula or concept then it is no shame to miss the question! It is an opportunity to learn the concept. There are only so many so formulas, equations, grammar rules and concepts to learn. This is one more concept down and one step closer to earning your score!
  • Applying Skills and Strategies – The second of the opportunity errors involves what I call “recognition and application.” So you have learned the rules of grammar, but do you know how to apply the “decision points” technique? Do you know when to look for parallel elements and how to apply “slash and burn?” How do you know that you should use algebraic manipulation on the question stem of a Data Sufficiency question? This is all about learning to recognize how to use your concept knowledge, when to apply that strategy you learned, and, most importantly, how to recognize this same underlying setup in future problems. It is the job of the test writers to try to make you think that every problem is unique; it is your job to see that they are not.

Stay tuned for Part II of Newland’s post next week where we take a look at the Bad Error!

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