Someday when he’s not coaching football, playing with the Oakland Athletics, visiting with the Supreme Court, or Tweeting back and forth with Lil Wayne and Nicki Minaj, Jim Harbaugh should sit down and take the GMAT.
Because if his interaction with a young, milk-drinking fan is any indication, Harbaugh understands one of the key secrets to success on the GMAT Quant section:
Harbaugh, who told HBO Real Sports this summer about his childhood plan to grow to over 6 feet tall – great height for a quarterback – by drinking as much milk as humanly possible – is a fan of all kinds of milk: chocolate, 2%… But as he tells the young man, the ideal situation for growing into a Michigan quarterback is drinking whole milk, just as the ideal way to attend the Ross School of Business a few blocks from Harbaugh’s State Street office is to use whole numbers on the GMAT.
The main reason? You can’t use a calculator on the GMAT, so while your Excel-and-calculator-trained mind wants to say calculate “75% of 64” as 0.75 * 64, the key is to think in terms of whole numbers whenever possible. In this case, that means calling “75%” 3/4, because that allows you to do all of your calculations with the whole numbers 3 and 4, and not have to set up decimal math with 0.75. Since 64/4 is cleanly 16 – a whole number – you can calculate 75% by dividing by 4 first, then multiplying by 3: 64/4 is 16, then 16 * 3 = 48, and you have your answer without ever having to deal with messier decimal calculations.
This concept manifests itself in all kinds of problems for which your mind would typically want to think in terms of decimal math. For example:
With percentages, 25% and 75% can be seen as 1/4 and 3/4, respectively. Want to take 20%? Just divide by 5, because 0.2 = 1/5.
If you’re told that the result of a division operation is X.4, keep in mind that the decimal .4 can be expressed as 2/5, meaning that the divisor has to be a multiple of 5 and the remainder has to be even.
If at some point in a calculation it looks like you need to divide, say, 10 by 4 or 15 by 8 or any other type of operation that would result in a decimal, wait! Leaving division problems as improper fractions just means that you’re keeping two whole numbers handy, and knowing the GMAT at some point you’ll end up having to multiply or divide by a number that lets you avoid the decimal math altogether.
So learn from Jim Harbaugh and his obsession with whole milk. Whole milk may be the reasons that his football dreams came true; whole numbers could be a major reason that your business school dreams come true, too.
By Brian Galvin