GMAT Tip of the Week: Subconsciously Speaking

GMAT Tip of the WeekDo some of your best ideas come while you’re driving, running, taking a shower or just about to fall asleep? Have you ever spent what felt like an eternity reading a solution over and over again to no avail, only to revisit that problem a few days later and know how to do it almost so intuitively that just feels easy?

There are reasons for that – that happens to everyone, and while it can’t really help you on test day (there are no known Pearson/VUE test centers that will let you take the GMAT on a treadmill or under running water), it can absolutely give your study routine a much needed lift. The simple advice?

Put the book down.

Not immediately, and not forever, but from time to time you need to take breaks in your study routine to give your subconscious a chance to process all the work you’re doing. Some of the most effective GMAT study comes after you’ve “studied” when you’re not officially studying at all. You *get* factors, multiples, and divisibility when you’re noticing that the number on your dinner bill is divisible by 3 or that the prime factors of that 65 on the speed limit sign are 5 and 13. You’ve begun to really master Sentence Correction when you see both that this sentence is using the common “both X and Y” structure and see that it’s written incorrectly because the verb “see” came before the word “both” and therefore is redundant after the word “and” (it’s either “see both that X and that Y” or “both see that X and see that Y”). You have the GMAT right where you want it when your study extends to those places you want to be outside the library.

So how can you use this advice productively?

1) When you’re studying exhausted, let yourself rest. This doesn’t mean that you can always claim “Exhausted! Not studying!”, but if you’ve been at it for two hours and you feel like you’re beating your head against a wall and not getting anywhere, it’s just good strategy to let it rest and let your mind process it on its own time and in its own way.

2) Take entire days off. With muscle training, rest days are essential to allow the muscles to build up after you’ve broken them down. And the brain is just that, a muscle. Your subconscious is your brain’s way of regenerating and reorganizing itself – that’s an important process, so give your brain time to do it.

3) Challenge yourself to use GMAT concepts and thought processes outside of GMAT books. GMAT practice problems are designed to be challenging, and most solutions and content review units can be dryer and denser than you’d ever find entertaining. But you can let yourself “win” when you’re the one to calculate the tip or divide up the bill at dinner, or when you convert kilometers to miles while driving (a 10k is 6.2 miles, so every kilometer is approximately 3/5 of a mile). In that way, you’re proving to yourself that you know the concept and you’re challenging yourself to apply the concept…and the GMAT is more an application test than just a knowledge test, so practical application practice is some of the best practice you can get.

Most importantly, trust in the power of your subconscious mind to strengthen and organize the fruits of your conscious study labor. There’s value in rest, so give your brain that chance to rest up before your next monster study session.

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By Brian Galvin