GMAT Tip of the Week: Thinking Out Loud With Drake, Nicki, and Wayne

lil-wayne-gmat-tipIt’s the hottest song in the country with a beat you just can’t get out of your head. Which is a good thing, because as you go in to take the GMAT you’d be well served to heed some of the lessons that Drake, Nicki Minaj, and Lil Wayne weave into the latest single from Nicki’s album.

The beat itself, with the steady bass line followed by the singsongy “You know…,” is a positive affirmation in and of itself. You DO know. You know how to solve these problems. You know that if you can’t make sense of the question you can often find clues in the answer choices. You know that just getting started and writing down what “you know…” is often the key to lessening anxiety and getting the prompt into an actionable format. You know.

But the master message in this track is the way that the three most prominent rappers in the game start each verse:

“Thinking out loud…”

Why is that important to you, the GMAT test-taker? Because that’s the way that the greatest test-takers start GMAT problems, too.

“Thinking out loud…”

Thinking out loud on the GMAT means having a conversation with yourself about the problem. It means staying relaxed and getting your thoughts together before you panic about the challenge of the problem. It means understanding that many problems won’t have an obvious set of steps that you can begin right away; they’ll require you to start loose and take account of your assets and the strategies in your toolkit. One of the keys to success on the GMAT is thinking out loud.

Check the annotation for why Drizzy/Nicki/Weezy start each verse that way: All three MCs start their verses with some variation of “I’m thinkin’ out loud,” lending the song a breezy, friends-in-the-booth feeling. The recording was probably not a casual meeting, at all, but they’re good at sounding relaxed.

For that reason alone, thinking out loud is important for you. Their recording wasn’t a casual meeting – as they go on to say in all their lyrics they’re some of the wealthiest and most sought-after people on the planet, so that meeting was a big deal – but they were able to approach it like it was. Similarly your GMAT is, indeed, a big deal, but casual, calm problem solving is the name of the game. Teaching yourself to think out loud – “so I know that x and y must be positive but z could be either positive or negative…” – is a great way to get your mind thinking calmly and proactively as opposed to the all-too-commmon reactive mode of “I don’t even know where to start.”

But thinking out loud isn’t just a psychological tool, it’s also a tactical tool. Tricky GMAT problems are notorious for forcing you to see your assets from different angles before you can package them in a way to solve the problem. Too often students are looking for “the way” to do a problem when really they should be looking for “a way”. Which seems like a trivial difference but going in with the mindset that there may be several ways to solve the problem allows you to be flexible and see assets, not liabilities. Consider the example:

Triangle ABCD

If side AB measures 3 and side BC measures 4, what is the length of line segment BD?

(A) 7/5
(B) 9/5
(C) 12/5
(D) 18/5
(E) 23/5

While many will rush into an abyss of Pythagorean Theorem, thinking out loud can show you a calm, proactive way to do this.

“Thinking out loud…I know that it’s a right triangle so if AB = 3 and BC = 4, it’s a 3-4-5 and side AC is 5. And as much as I want side AC to be cut in half by point D I don’t think I can do that. There are three different right triangles so I could go nuts with Pythagorean Theorem but that’s a lot of work. Thinking out loud, I also know that the perimeter is 3 + 4 + 5 and the area is 1/2(base)(height) so that’s 1/2 (3)(4) = 6. But what can I do with that?

Thinking out loud…the answer choices are all divided by 5…why do they all look like that? The only 5 in the problem so far is the 5 that’s side AC. Why would I multiply or divide by that?

Thinking out loud…BD is definitely going to be smaller than 4 because there’s no way it’s longer than side BC. So it can’t be E. But what else do I know about BD? It’s perpendicular to side AC, and AC is 5 and that’s that 5 in the denominator. Thinking out loud…what if I drew the triangle so that AC was on the bottom and not on the side? Then BD would be the height of triangle ABC and AC would be the base…but wait, I already know the area is 6, so that area 1/2 (side BD)(5) has to be 6, which means that side BD has to be 12/5, answer choice C.”

The takeaway here is that almost no one sees the area relationship with side BD right away, and that’s okay. The key to working on problems like these is staying loose and filling in unknowns. You can’t simply do math on paper and follow a set of steps…you need to do some thinking out loud and talk to yourself as you solve. For each of Drake, Nicki, and Wayne the phrase “thinking out loud” is followed by a wild description of how much money they have. Follow that “thinking out loud” philosophy and you’ll be on a similar pace with the help of an elite MBA.

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By Brian Galvin