GMAT Tip of the Week: Taking The GMAT Like It’s Nintendo Switch

GMAT Tip of the WeekThe non-election trending story of the day is the announcement of the forthcoming Nintendo Switch gaming system, a system that promises to help you take the utmost advantage of your leisure time…but that may help you maximize the value of your GMAT experience, too.


The main feature of the Switch (and the driving factor behind its name) is its flexibility. It can be an in-home gaming system attached to a fixed TV set, but then immediately Switch to a hand-held portable system that allows you to continue your game on the go. Nintendo’s business plan is primarily based on offering flexibility…and on the GMAT, your plan should be to prove to business schools that you can offer the same.

The GMAT, of course, tests algebra skills and critical thinking skills and grammar skills, but beneath the surface it also has a preference for testing flexibility. Many problems will punish those with pure tunnel vision, but reward those who can identify that their first course of action isn’t working and who can then Switch to another plan. This often manifests itself in:

  • Math problems that seem to require algebra…but halfway through beg to be back-solved using answer choices.
  • Sentence Correction problems that seem to ask you to make a decision about one major difference…but for which the natural choices leave you with clearer-cut errors elsewhere.
  • Critical Reasoning answer choices that seem out of scope at first, but reward those who read farther and then see their relevance.
  • Data Sufficiency problems for which you’ve made a clear, confident decision on one statement…but then the other statement shows you something you hadn’t considered before and forces you to reconsider.
  • The overall concept that if you’re a one-trick pony – you’re a master of plugging in answer choices, for example – you’ll find questions that just won’t reward that strategy and will force you to do something else.

Flexibility matters on the GMAT! As an example, consider the following Data Sufficiency question:

Is x/y > 3? 

1) 3x > 9y
2) y > 3y

If you’re like many, you’ll confidently address the algebra in Statement 1, divide both sides by 3 to get x > 3y, and then see that if you divide both sides by y, you can make it look exactly like the question stem: x/y > 3. And you may very well say, “Statement 1 is sufficient!” and confidently move on to Statement 2.

But when you look at Statement 2 – either conceptually or algebraically – something should stand out. For one, there’s no way that it’s sufficient because it doesn’t help you determine anything about x. And secondly, it brings up the point that “y is negative” (algebraically you’d subtract y from both sides to get 0 > 2y, then divide by 2 to get 0 > y). And here’s where, if it hasn’t already, your mind should Switch to “positive/negative number properties” mode. If you weren’t thinking about positive vs. negative properties when you considered Statement 1, this one gives you a chance to Switch your thinking and reconsider – what if y were negative? Algebraically, you’d then have to flip the sign when you divide both sides by y:

3x > 9y : Divide both sides by 3

x > 3y : Now divide both sides by y, but remember that if y is positive you keep the sign (x/y > 3), and if y is negative you flip the sign (x/y < 3).

With this in mind, Statement 1 doesn’t really tell you anything. x/y can be greater than 3 or less than 3, so all Statement 1 does is eliminate that x/y could be exactly 3. Now you have the evidence to Switch your answer. If you initially thought Statement 1 was sufficient, Statement 2 has given you a chance to reassess (thereby demonstrating flexibility in thinking) and realize that it’s not, until you know whether y is negative or positive.

Statement 2 supplies that missing piece, and the answer is thus C. But more important is the lesson – because the GMAT so values mental flexibility, it will often provide you with clues that can help you change your mind if you’re paying attention. So on the GMAT, take a lesson from Nintendo Switch: flexibility is an incredibly marketable skill, so look for clues and opportunities to Switch your line of thinking and save yourself from trap answers.

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By Brian Galvin.