GMAT Tip of the Week

Practice The Way You Play

(This is one of a series of GMAT tips that we offer on our blog.)

Sports Illustrated ran an interesting article this week about Barack Obama and the influence that the game of basketball has had on his political career. The implication — and some theorize one of the reasons that he won in the hoops-heavy states of Indiana and North Carolina — is that he governs the way he plays: getting others involved, playing defense with discipline, making the smart play, etc.

What does this mean for your GMAT preparation? You, too, can learn to be more effective by taking a lesson from the game of basketball. One of the most important disciplines in basketball (sorry, Shaq) is shooting free throws, as most close games are decided at the end at the foul line. For this reason, basketball coaches everywhere adhere to the practice that the best time for players to practice free throws is at the end of practice, after running sprints. At this point, they can simulate the feeling of shooting those important late-game shots – when they’re tired, their hands are sweaty, their legs are heavy, and their heart rate is pounding. It simply doesn’t make a great deal of sense to practice free throws at the beginning of practice while they’re fresh and energized, as the most important such shots they will take just won’t take place in that environment.

On the GMAT, you will face Reading Comprehension passages only near the end of the exam — after you’ve written AWA essays for an hour and spent 75 minutes grinding through the Quantitative section. At least one difficult Reading Comprehension passage will face you after you have been testing for over three hours, at which point you will need to be able to focus on a dense, four-paragraph essay on quasars, or a comparative study of Emily Dickinson and Robert Frost, or an analysis of the history of vaccination. At this point, simply staying focused may be your biggest challenge, as your mind will have been stretched in multiple directions throughout the course of the exam.

This is why it is important to take a lesson from the all-time great basketball coaches and practice the way that you’ll perform on test day. Study Reading Comprehension at the end of your normal study sessions – after you’ve worked through an hour or two of Data Sufficiency or Sentence Correction. Sure, it may seem almost enjoyable to pick up a Reading Comprehension book on a lazy Sunday morning in an easy chair with a fresh cup of coffee (perhaps with Lionel Richie’s “Easy Like Sunday Morning” in the background), but you won’t receive the same benefit of needing to stay focused while exhausted and distracted. If you discipline yourself to practice GMAT Reading Comprehension questions while tired, you will develop skills to read effectively under duress, and by doing so feel much more comfortable when you face tedious passages late in the exam on test day.

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