Heading into this weekend’s giant Alabama vs. Texas A&M game, college football fans are probably as sick of hearing about Johnny Manziel as aspiring MBAs are of studying for the GMAT. But both, at least to some degree, are necessary evils – Manziel represents the best chance that football fans have of seeing someone other than Alabama playing for the national championship, and the GMAT is essential to a well-rounded MBA application. And there’s an overlap between the two – Manziel’s playing style can help you learn to beat the daunting GMAT the same way that he’s the only recent QB to beat that daunting Alabama defense. Here’s how summoning your inner Johnny Football can help you become Johnny (or Jenny) GMAT:

1) He can improvise

Manziel is most dangerous when the play breaks down and he has to create on his own outside of “the system”. He can check out of the assigned play call, scramble backward, decide to run and change his mind at the last minute when a receiver is open, or decide to pass and then at the last minute see that cornerback closing and tuck the ball to run like crazy for the pylon. Like any good GMAT test-taker, Manziel knows how to stick to the playbook when the first option is there, but he’s able to change gears when it becomes clear that the defense – or the question – has shifted into something entirely different.

The GMAT requires you to improvise, to realize on the fly that your first inclination might not work but that there’s another angle you can try. The GMAT rewards flexibility and the ability to almost make a mistake but learn from it in the moment. On quant questions, the algebra may lead you down a path that actually gets messier, and you might realize that it’s time to plug in some answer choices. Or your first sentence correction decision point may leave you with two flawed answers, and you’ll need to go reinvestigate answers you’ve eliminated. Hard GMAT questions will often force you to use a second strategy – those who have practiced with flexibility will have the advantage.

2) He’s not afraid to push the limits when it comes to rules

Manziel spent most of the summer testing authority and pushing the limits of the rules. And by doing so he was able to see just how far he could push the limits and get away with it, whether it was signing autographs for money (allegedly) or doing a little underage drinking / drug-experimentation on his rivals’ campus in Austin (also allegedly). He’s no worse for the wear – the NCAA helped keep him healthy by resting him during the Rice game – and showed you an important strategy for the GMAT…you have to push the limits when it comes to the rules. Like Manziel, the GMAT loves to play to the edges.

When a GMAT question gives the stipulation that “x is positive”, it’s up to you to push the limits – how small can you go? 0.00001? How high can you go? Infinity? Pushing boundaries is the key on many Data Sufficiency questions, like:

Is y > x?

(1) y = x^3

(2) x > 0

In your investigation of statement 1, you might quickly recognize “sure, if x = 2, then y’s bigger…but what about a negative? If x = -2, then y = -8, so negatives are the gamechangers.” And then with statement 2 (which should clearly be insufficient on its own), a lesser Man might say “oh, well together they’re sufficient because I can’t use negatives anymore”. But a full-fledged Manziel would push the limits a little: x can’t be negative, but what if it’s only hair over 0, like 1/4. 1/4 to the third power is 1/64, which is smaller. So y could still be smaller than x if we push the limits and go as small as the statements will let us go – the answer is E, but you have to get there by challenging the statements as far as they’ll let you.

3) He’s cocky

Manziel wasn’t intimidated running out the tunnel in Tuscaloosa last year, playing the defending national champions with a massive NFL-bound defensive line in front of a rabid fanbase. And he wouldn’t be intimidated by having his palm scanned and his digital photograph taken at the Pearson/VUE GMAT test center, either. Manziel is confident – to a fault, many college football enthusiasts would argue, but confident nonetheless. He trusts his instincts and like all good quarterbacks he’s able to leave a bad play behind him to focus on the next play.

To succeed on the GMAT, you need to be able to do that, too – to not be intimidated by convoluted-looking questions (start with what you know) and to not let one bad question unravel your confidence for the next question. Confidence is important, but you don’t have to be an impossibly cocky quarterback to summon the practical things that Manziel does well:

• Know that everyone misses several questions. A mistake or two won’t kill your score, so stay upbeat and trust yourself.
• Remember that if you’re nervous, that’s just your body’s adrenalin preparing you for peak performance. Nerves and anxiety are a biological response to the expectation of success – no one gets nervous buying a lottery ticket or Tweeting their celebrity crush, but you do get nervous when you’re asking for a promotion you think you deserve or when you’re asking out that girl from the coffee shop who has been flirting with you.
• Don’t let what looks like an “easy” question seem like an indicator that you’re not doing well. Maybe it’s just easy for you, maybe it’s experimental, or maybe it’s harder than it looks. There are plenty of explanations for why that question might look easy even though you’re doing extremely well.
• Don’t let hard questions get you down. You’ve earned them by doing well!
• Don’t be afraid to guess. Like Manziel, sometimes you have to throw it out of bounds on second down to avoid the sack and make for a manageable third down. On the GMAT, spending 4-5 minutes on an impossible problem can leave you rushing later on, making silly mistakes that hurt your score a lot more. Guessing is ok – in many cases it’s strategically the right move.

Whether you’re an avid member of Texas A&M’s 12th Man, you greet people every morning with “Roll Tide”, or you’re somewhere in between, you can use the hype for this weekend’s Alabamanziel-apalooza to your advantage, studying how Johnny Manziel’s demeanor and ability can help you conquer the GMAT.

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By Brian Galvin