GMAT Gurus Speak Out: March GMATness

March Madness, the annual tournament of some elite and some not-so-elite college basketball teams, is soon upon us.  Teams have played through an entire season, including conference and early-season tournaments, and 68 of the chosen are now ready to face off in the biggest sports showcase in America.  How they will do depends in no small part on their seeding—the ranking they receive based on how well they can perform against the competition.  The better the seed, the easier their road to victory.

So it is with the GMAT.  You’ve studied, practiced problems, and squared off in practice exams before test day.  Just like a basketball team, you’ve prepared for the setups you’ll see and learned how to maneuver around traps and screens, box out bad answer choices, and score the correct answers with efficiency.  When you finally enter the test center, you’ll either be a top seed ready to overcome most challenges thrown at you, or you’ll be among the middle and low seeds who will have to push every minute for a Cinderella showing.  Getting that top seed mojo will all depend on your training.  How well you’re able to navigate GMAT logic, reading passages, and quant concepts on Game Day is determined by how well you focus in practice.

Not sure you’re currently at the level of a top tier team?  Never fear!  There is a simple way to help you become a No. 1 seed for the GMAT.  But first…

Consider this statistic: never has a 16 seed advanced past the first round, and only six 15 seeds have ever reached the second round.  Those are not very good odds—only a 2.5% success rate since 1985 (when the ‘Tourny’ was expanded to 64 teams)—so it would be foolish to enter the GMAT with the figurative skills and training of a 15 seed.  Conversely, the top two seeds have advanced 97.5% of the time.  If we’re looking for a 90+ percentile score, entering the test feeling and operating like an Elite Eight squad is critical.  By reaching that level, you not only will have enough savvy to react quickly to unexpected topics, awkward wording, and complex setups, but also will have some margin to get answers wrong here or there and still come out ahead of 90+% of all test takers.

Granted, the GMAT is computer adaptive and the questions will adjust according to your previous responses and your level of mastery of the subject matter.  But just as the Tournament gets more challenging as good teams advance past the lower and medium level teams, so too will the GMAT as you advance through the easy and medium level questions.

So, how to make sure you’re ready to zoom past Sweet Sixteen level questions with ruthless efficiency and play for the Final Four (i.e. the top 10%)?  Cue the marching band drumline…

The simplest and most practical way I know to reach the 700 level is this:  go over the same questions again and again.  It is a lot of work, but will pay huge dividends on Game Day.  As everyone who’s played basketball knows, free throws, passes, layups, fast breaks, etc. are practiced endlessly.  Just as it would be a mistake to make a shot and assume you have it down, it is not enough to just get a question right; you must completely understand it.  It can be tedious to take the same exact shot over and over, but it’s crucial that your muscles retain a feel for the motions, from all angles.

Train yourself to build a mental muscle memory in GMAT reasoning.  Read questions and their answer choices, and come back to them again every few days—even ones you answered correctly—until the logic is 100% clear to you.  Do this for as many question variations as possible to cover as many concepts as you can, and refer back to Veritas lessons to shore up any trouble areas.  The goal is to understand how the testmaker thinks.  When you can “Think Like the Testmaker”, you’ll understand what questions are getting at, and how they’re challenging you.  Over time, you should feel a dramatic improvement in speed and efficiency.  Just as a 1 seed never loses to a 16, you too can create your own favorable mismatch over the GMAT.  You just might find yourself cutting down the proverbial nets on test day.

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Joseph Dise has been teaching GMAT preparation for Veritas Prep for the last 4 years in Paris and New York City.