How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the GMAT

There is one recurring question everyone has about the GMAT: what can I expect on “Game Day” and how well will practice tests prepare me for the real deal?  This is a tough question; everyone trains and reacts differently.  However, there’s one thing you should know: The GMAT Will Surprise You.  It will surprise you because the test makers want to hit you with difficult and unexpected challenges; it’s the best way to prove you earned the score.

The U.S. Open, going on now, provides an analogous situation.  In tennis, every player wants to make it hard for his/her opponent to handle the torque coming across the net.  They put speed and movement on the ball to make it difficult for even great players to anticipate shots and stay zoned in.  If you cheat right, your opponent will serve left.  Have a weakness, your opponent will try to find and exploit it.

Similarly, everyone who takes the GMAT will be caught off guard by some setups.  Veritas Prep’s Brian Galvin recently wrote about this common problem: “What makes the GMAT frustrating?  For many, it’s that you’ve studied and studied but on test day it seems like half the questions are things you’ve never seen before.”  The point being: doing the everyday things right will get you only so far; excellence requires that you adapt.

Adaptability is where the Veritas Prep curriculum provides its greatest value.  We train you to think like the testmaker.  The more time you can spend with us, in the classroom or with a tutor, the better equipped you’ll be to harness the sophistication of thought required to adapt to any problem.  I promise you, practice problems alone will not be enough to give you adaptability.

It would be similar to a tennis pro only hitting practice shots from a ball machine – there’s little strategy or insight required to perform well.  In practicing the GMAT, many test takers go through the motions, but quantity of study does not equal quality.  Quality requires thinking on three levels: knowledge, wisdom, and insight.


Knowledge involves developing skills, building speed and efficiency in calculation or error recognition, and mastering logic and understanding of situational issues.  It is an ability to remember tactics.


Wisdom involves recognizing the kind of approach that will be required to solve the problem, keeping the question firmly in mind, and breaking it down and rebuilding into the desired form.  It is an ability to apply strategies.


Insight involves comprehending the motivation behind the question, seeing the connections and relationships that guide the problem and inform the answers.  It is an ability to create systems.  This is higher order thinking, and this is what we teach above and beyond the rest.

Quant and Verbal are not really any different in this, which is fantastic: there’s a fundamental—downright simple—reasoning behind any situation.  Best of all, you don’t have to dive right in to a given question; stepping back is almost always as practical, if not more so.

This is how I learned to stop worrying and love the GMAT – the game is about more than being practiced in fast calculation or reading.  Just as tennis is not only about being able to run and hit shots; it’s about being able to exploit angles, play the odds, and stay mentally aware.  The GMAT is about those same things.  As Brian writes, “There’s no one blueprint for success in business, and so on many hard GMAT problems there’s no blueprint either.  You have to be willing to test out a theory of how to set something up, then look at it from a different angle and ask yourself whether that’s really accurate.”

To practice well, you’ll need to develop an ability on all three levels, particularly higher order thinking.  Self-assess your understanding and get help from a good instructor or tutor to see what you might be missing.  Just as those tennis players who study match film, percentages and positions, opponent behaviors, and high level systems have an advantage over those who mostly drill footwork and groundstrokes, GMAT test takers gain their biggest edge through higher order insights.  Confidence in this is priceless.  Learning to think like the testmaker, as Veritas Prep alum have, is learning to stop worrying and love the game.

Planning to take the GMAT soon? We have online GMAT prep courses starting all the time! And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter to better learn how to Think Like the Testmaker!

Joseph Dise has been teaching GMAT preparation for Veritas Prep for the last 6 years in Paris, New Brunswick, and New York City.