When he arrived at the famous London soccer club Arsenal, French manager Arsene Wenger was a relative unknown. Shortly thereafter, he revolutionized the Gunners' approach to the game and was soon rewarded with trophies, including an undefeated season in 2003/04 (an unprecedented feat in the modern era of soccer). In doing so, Wenger turned Arsenal's established culture on its head. Early in his tenure, he laid the foundation for one of the world's best youth academies, where youngsters, both local and international, are trained in the new Arsenal tradition. By the time a player has graduated from the academy to the first team, his technical, tactical, and physical abilities are second to none.
What can we learn from Arsene Wenger and his approach to developing great soccer players? For one, he regards player growth as a multi-stage process, which we can adapt to preparing for the GMAT. In Wenger's words:
"You build the player like a house. The basis is the technique that happens before 12. If the player can play, the next floor is the physique at 14-15. Then it the tactical ability - how to use your technique and physique in the game. The last part, the roof, is the mental side. If you have no roof, it rains in your house. How competitive are you? How motivated to do well every day? That is the final step."--Arsene Wenger, Arsenal manager
He focuses on four stages of development: technical, tactical, physical, and mental. For our purposes, the technical ability covers the background knowledge and skills required to answer GMAT questions. On the quantitative side, arithmetic, algebra, and geometry fall into this category (That's why they make up the first three lesson of Veritas Prep's curriculum). For verbal, we have to understand grammar and reasoning. Without the required skills, scoring well on the exam is next to impossible. With that in mind, though, simply having the skills isn't enough: in Critical Reasoning terms, having these skills is necessary but not sufficient for GMAT success. What else do we need?
For most people, the biggest GMAT hurdle is time. Without a time constraint, mastering the basics would lead to a good score. Having to average a problem every two minutes for 75 minutes (on the Quant side), on the other hand, is a very difficult task. How can we handle the time issue? That's where Wenger's second stage, tactical development, comes in. For our purposes, tactical knowledge is the higher-level understanding of the problems you'll face: the conceptual approaches that are both faster and more foolproof. Knowing when to apply which strategy or shortcut is a key skill and comes through doing practice problems. Still, being able to get through problems quickly isn't enough. It's one thing to be able to finish problems quickly early in a section, but it's quite another after you've been working on the Quant section for an hour and the numbers are beginning to blur. That's where our next phase of growth comes in.
Wenger's third stage is physical; for a soccer player, this would include speed, strength, and stamina. For the GMAT, speed was covered in the tactical phase, and strength is only required to maneuver the mouse and write on noteboards (Hopefully, we've got that covered; if not, mouse curls might be a good idea!). Stamina, though, is critical. The GMAT is a mental grind: you will be at your computer for three and a half hours. How can we make sure that fatigue becomes less of a factor? Like a soccer player putting in hours on the practice field, we need to put in hours with our GMAT material. Doing long sets of practice problems helps with both speed and stamina, and taking practice exams regularly will do wonders for being able to give the last few problems of each section the focus they (and your score) deserve. Once we've built up our stamina, we are almost ready to conquer the GMAT.
The final stage in Wenger's house analogy is mental. He mentions motivation and desire. For the GMAT, motivation and confidence are two huge factors in your score. How motivated are you to put in the time to do well? Are you willing to devote 10-20 hours a week to working problems and taking practice exams? Are you spending time trying to figure out why you're getting questions wrong? The GMAT rewards students who invest time in both practice and understanding. The development of confidence comes through the stages we've talked about. Understanding the concepts, getting faster at working through problems, and improving stamina all go into building up self-belief and expectations of a good score. Once you've got that down, you're ready to step onto the field in Arsenal's red and whi- I mean, take the GMAT.
As we can see, GMAT success is built on multiple levels: technical, tactical, physical, and mental. Fortunately for us, we can work on all four at the same time through problem sets and practice exams. Though Arsene Wenger has never taken the GMAT (he does have a degree in economics), I think he'd approach building a successful GMAT student the same way he approaches building a successful soccer player.
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