If You Don’t Love the Situation, I’m Going to Make You Love the Situation

As we wind down the first decade of the new millennium, it’s only human to reflect on the decade as a whole to attempt to place it in context. What will people remember as the lasting legacy of The Oughts? The election of Barack Obama? 9/11? The financial debacle? If you’ve been watching television this last month, you’ve likely noticed that a new contender has emerged: MTV’s newest reality show Jersey Shore has become an instant phenomenon, providing the world with both an extraordinary amount of entertainment and another reason to hate America’s Generation Y.

Oddly enough, this so-horrendous-you-can’t-turn-away group of fist-pumping do-nothings may also provide you with a framework to improve your GMAT performance. Arguably the most interesting character, named “The Situation”, has arguably the greatest signature one-liner in recent television memory: upon approaching fellow revelers, he’s keen on saying of himself “if you don’t love The Situation, I’m going to make you love The Situation.” As you prepare for the GMAT, you may want to use this mantra as your own.

The GMAT asks questions in unique ways, each of which is layered with traps and pitfalls designed to provide you with opportunities to make mistakes. Studying for the GMAT can be a frustrating pursuit – perform all the necessary calculations to solve for x, and the question may actually ask you for the value of 15-x (but cleverly provide you with your value for x as an answer choice). On a Data Sufficiency problem, you might determine that statement one proves that “no, x is not greater than 0”, and therefore eliminate statement one from your checklist…only to have made the crucial mistake of not recognizing that a definitive “no” answer means that statement one IS SUFFICIENT to answer the question. Remember – your job on yes/no Data Sufficiency problems (see example below) is to determine when you have enough information to solve the problem; you don’t need to ensure that the answer is “yes”. Consider:

Is x >0?

1) x^2 + 2x + 1 = 0

This statement demonstrates that x must be a negative number – any positive value of x would create a positive result for the entire quadratic, and therefore not equal zero. Only if x is negative can the equation be true (you may even recognize that this equation factors out to (x + 1)^2 = 0, meaning that -1 is the only solution – but also note that you don’t need to solve for x in this case as long as you know that it cannot be positive, as you only have to answer the overall question).

You may be inclined, once you realize that statement one provides the answer “NO” to the overall question, to cross off statement one, but it actually is sufficient; it gives us a definitive answer to the question, which is all we need.

Back to “The Situation”, as frustrating as you may find these subtleties of the GMAT, if you learn to love the GMAT situation you can attack these problems as fun brainteasers. Data Sufficiency problems have subtle rules just like Tetris does, or your computer’s time-killing solitaire card games do. If you see the GMAT as a worthy mental challenge, and not as a frustrating task, you’ll be much better equipped to quickly spot the traps and pitfalls that might otherwise catch you and lower your score.

If you don’t love the situation, you should learn to love the situation. And once you love the situation, you’re much more likely to dominate the situation.

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