-You can’t win them all – in fact, with Item Response Theory scoring much like with democracy you can achieve a resounding “victory” with even 55-60% success in many cases.
-You’ll have gaffes and blunders along the way and you’ll have no choice but to recover from them as best you can.
-You’ll have to think quickly on your feet and make sound, logical decisions with incomplete information and in less-than-ideal circumstances.
-You’ll need to make compromises – you might be able to get a question right in 4-5 minutes but you’ll need to make the conscious decision to let that one go in favor of having more “capital” (time) to spend on future questions.
-And when you do succeed, the rewards last for a long term (2-6 years in politics; 5 years is how long your GMAT score stays valid).
So when thinking about the GMAT and how to approach it, it’s only reasonable that you might consider the example of Chris Christie and the George Washington Bridge.
Allegedly, Chris Christie became so fixated on a setback (the mayor of Fort Lee, NJ did not publicly endorse Christie for NJ Governor) that in the end didn’t matter (Christie still won in a landslide) that he allowed it not just to clog his mind but also cloud his judgment, clogging the heavily-trafficked George Washington Bridge into New York City as “punishment” for the citizens of Fort Lee. And in so doing, Christie followed the not-so-successful example of GMAT test takers everywhere:
When the GMAT deals you a setback, don’t let it shut down the whole system – keep the bridge clear!
Just across the bridge from Fort Lee in Manhattan, a Veritas Prep student (to preserve her anonymity, let’s call her “Christie”) Chris Christied her way out of a 700+ score a few years ago. Here’s the transcript (well, re-enactment) of her call to VP headquarters after her test:
CHRISTIE:Can someone please help me? I just finished the GMAT and I don’t know what to do or where to go from here.
INSTRUCTOR: Sure, yeah – tell me how the test went for you and we’ll see if we can figure out what went wrong.
CHRISTIE:I was getting above 700 on all my practice tests and I got a 590 today. I don’t know what to do. What happened?
INSTRUCTOR: Well let’s start breaking it down. Tell me about the quant section – did you run out of time? Can you pinpoint a question or two that you think may be responsible for getting you down?
CHRISTIE:It honestly felt great for the first 25 questions or so. My pacing was good – I actually had a little more time than I thought so I could double-check some answers and spend some extra time drawing out geometry figures. But then around question 30 I noticed a couple easy questions in a row since the test is adaptive I knew that meant I was doing poorly. I tried to stay focused but after all that hard work, to know that I blew it, I just couldn’t. I finished the section – I guessed on the last two because I just couldn’t focus now – and that’s when I knew that it was over.
INSTRUCTOR: Wow, ok – that’s frustrating because it sounded like everything had been going really well. I understand how that must have felt.
CHRISTIE:It was terrible. I ran to the bathroom during the break and just started crying. All that hard work, all those practice tests… I know the break is for 8 minutes but I couldn’t tell how long I was in there. I didn’t want to go back into the test room still crying, but every time I thought I could stop and go back to finish the test – to at least see my verbal score – I’d start crying again. By the time I got back to my seat the verbal clock had already been running and I lost probably 4-5 minutes.
INSTRUCTOR: Wow, so it sounds like things really went downhill. I’m so sorry for you. Do you remember much from the verbal section?
CHRISTIE: I tried to read but I was still shaking a little from crying and my eyes were blurry, plus I was so far behind on time. I guessed on a few because I just couldn’t focus, and then by the time I could compose myself again the questions were really, really easy and that got me teared up again. I couldn’t even try on Reading Comp – I couldn’t focus long enough on a passage to really get through it, so I guessed on just about all of those and probably most of the Critical Reasoning. It was bad – I was just so upset for having blown it like that.
INSTRUCTOR: So wait – you basically didn’t even do the verbal section, but your score was still a 590 right?
INSTRUCTOR: That’s almost a full standard deviation above average. What was your split between quant and verbal?
CHRISTIE: Um, I think it was about 88th percentile quant and maybe 5th percentile verbal. That part was really bad.
INSTRUCTOR: So think about that, though – your verbal was terrible because you were so upset for having bombed the quant, but you didn’t bomb the quant at all. You had a great quant section!
CHRISTIE: Oh…I hadn’t thought about it like that.
INSTRUCTOR: My advice for next time, Christie – you have to let it go even if you know you made a mistake or feel like you’re struggling. The only thing you have to fear is fear itself!
What can we learn from Christie in Manhattan? Don’t let setbacks hold you back. Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow (or the next question). Don’t let a setback clog your mind or clog the bridge – we have to keep moving forward. Whether your goal is an 800 or a 1600 (Pennsylvania Avenue), you won’t get that by dwelling on the past or focusing on the little bumps in the road on your way there. You have to keep the bridge – and your mind – clear.
By Brian Galvin