GMAT Tip of the Week: Turn Up the Heat with Fundamentals

This morning, nearly every talk radio show and blog will be dissecting last night’s NBA Finals Game 7 and the performance and legacy of LeBron James. So let’s not get left out. Because in many ways, last night’s game – the Heat’s win over the Spurs, LeBron’s epically-efficient but maybe not SportsCenter style iconic performance – is a direct parallel to the GMAT. We wanted excellence and we got it, but maybe not in the dazzling, jaw-dropping way that we expected it – and that’s often true of 700+ performances on the GMAT, too. The signature moment of last night’s game, if there was one, was probably LeBron’s 17-foot jump shot inside of 30 seconds left to go from a 2-point lead to a 4-point lead. It was a nonspectacular but extremely necessary play to seal a championship, just like the questions you answer to seal your 700 probably won’t be jawdroppingly difficult. Here’s what we wanted to see and what we saw from LeBron, along with you probably think you need for a 700+ and what you really need:

We wanted to see for LeBron to win a title:

Dunks over 7-footers
Acrobatic, twisting layups in traffic
Blocks like the insane stonewall in Game 2
Sneak-from-behind steals turned into fast breaks
Contested jumpers released just-in-time after a nasty crossover

What we saw from LeBron that won a title:

50% shooting from three-point range on mostly uncontested shots
Efficient shooting from the field all around
100% shooting from the free throw line
Ball security down the stretch while San Antonio committed several unforced turnovers

What you think you need for 700+:

Experience with dozens of the hardest permutations-with-restrictions problems
Thorough knowledge of grammar rules and dozens of obscure idioms
Shortcuts for every medium-level question so that you can have enough time for all the hardest questions
10-for-10 on the first ten problems

What you really need for 700+:

Minimal if any unforced errors (sorry, Ginobili…650 tops)
Around 50% accuracy on the hardest problems (eerily similar to LeBron’s 3-point performance)
Rebounding (sorry to belabor the basketball analogy, but you’ll definitely have to recover from problems you just can’t solve and stay upbeat for the next one)
Strong fundamentals (like 8-for-8 from the foul line, you’ll need to be effective with algebra, comfortable with reducing fractions and multiplying two-digit numbers, etc.)
Ability to “take what the defense gives you” (for example, you won’t love the correct answer to several SC problems, but you’ll be able to eliminate the other four)

It’s not at all uncommon for GMAT students to spend 80% of their time on the 10% hardest questions they can find…only to only see 3-4 of those on test day because, for one, they’re making enough silly mistakes on “easy” questions that they don’t graduate to the harder ones, and two, there aren’t as many “750” level questions as you think. People scoring 720 answer (and miss) a lot of “650” level questions – they just miss a lot fewer of those questions than the folks who score 650. On the GMAT, like in basketball, your “spectacular plays” are only as important as – and arguably less important than – your silly mistakes and turnovers. Just ask San Antonio – Kawhi Leonard’s breakout game, Manu Ginobili’s big threes and spinning drives…those were quickly undone by unconscionable turnovers, missed layups, and ill-timed fouls.

Perhaps Shane Battier said it best last night when asked about his big shooting night: “It’s better to be timely than good.” On the GMAT, you don’t have to be as good as you think, but you do need to avoid untimely mistakes and make good, sound decisions. It’s quite possible that none of LeBron James’ plays last night will make SportsCenter’s Top Ten and it’s certainly possible that your 700+ performance won’t include correct answers to any questions that stymie the masses on GMAT Club or Beat the GMAT. But all that matters is the result – if you’re holding that Larry O’Brien trophy or the 700+ score report, you’re basking in the glow of having done all the little things right. Excellence often comes less from being spectacular and more from being consistently very good.