GMAT Tip of the Week: Is The Final Exam Cumulative?

GMAT PrepThey’re the words that crush the soul of any passionate teacher. You’re standing and delivering like Jaime Escalante and you’re waiting for them to stand on their desks and call you Captain. You’re drawing analogies, building upon core concepts, linking together seemingly incompatible ideas and the room is vibing along with you as you simultaneously pour your heart, soul, and brain onto whiteboard and into the air, teaching as well as you’ve ever taught before. And as you pause, not expecting applause but not not expecting it either, letting the lesson sink in and hoping that a student will ask a poignant question, one speaks up and asks the question that you know he will but dread he won’t:

Is the final exam cumulative?

You remember that question from your college days, right? In each course, on multiple occasions, someone had to ask the professor — not the TA, of course, but the professor who had dedicated her life to accumulating the knowledge that she was currently dispensing – something inane about the final exam. If you have an ounce of compassion, you had to feel for your professor, who in that moment had to realize that she was less an inspirational teacher and more a means to an end — the grade — for most students.

In this space we often discuss strategies for managing the GMAT exam, but as part of that process may include a GMAT class we may use this space to advise you on how to manage your GMAT class, and specifically your instructor. As the year ends and we reflect on our amazing team of instructors, two of whom were just named Worldwide Instructor of the Year for their devout passion for teaching their students, we’re again struck by just how talented and caring our instructors are. Should you have the opportunity to work with them, take every opportunity to derive maximum value from your class. In other words, try not to interrupt a seminal moment in class to simply ask whether the final exam is cumulative (answer: it is).

Be Grateful (or at least feign gratitude)
One absolute fact about your GMAT instructor is that he genuinely loves teaching this stuff – sure, the job pays fairly well and there are flexible hours, but few people go into GMAT instruction as a cash cow, and even fewer remain in it if they don’t enjoy what they do. It’s an enthusiasm-based business — to spend your Tuesday evenings talking about grammar and geometry you really have to have some love for the subjects, for the students, and for helping people in general. Your GMAT instructor wants to be there and wants you to learn, so much so that he’ll almost always stay a few (or a few dozen) minutes late to answer questions or tackle extra challenge problems, and will almost always invite you to email or call for advice or help after the course is over. In fact, most instructors will admit that they look forward to spending extra time with enthusiastic students going over fun, difficult problems.

The key to leveraging your instructor’s enthusiasm? Encourage and share in it — ask questions by beginning with “Wow, that strategy works so well. I think I’m stuck on that last step, though — can you do that again?” or “Thanks so much for a great class tonight — I feel like I’m getting a lot better at Sentence Correction. Actually, can we take a look at two problems that got to me in the homework?” Your instructor wants to know that he’s been helpful and that you’re enjoying the class; remind him of that first and how can he say no?

The flip side to the gracious/grateful approach is the entitled or frustrated way to ask a question: “I don’t get it” or “I need to ask you four homework questions” signals that you’re dumping your problems and frustration on your instructor to solve. You’re not part of a team with your instructor; you’re demanding extra help in a pessimistic way. Your instructor is a professional and won’t outwardly turn you down, but with these approaches you’re much less likely to get much of his free time after class or as vested an interest in your success long-term.

Be Smart – Stay Off Your Smart Phone
Another thing is true of almost all teachers: they love it when you ask questions. Questions show that you’re actively engaged and striving to learn. Questions are an invitation for an instructor to reframe a problem in a different way; a challenge for an instructor to build a stronger lesson. Teachers want to be asked questions, want to be challenged…frankly, we want to be needed!

But if you’re asking a question seconds after putting your phone down… Well, that just shows that you weren’t paying attention. Now, it’s 2010… It’s just a fact of life that most young adults are tethered to Droids, Blackberries, and iPhones that are, to be quite honest, pretty cool toys. And many young adults need to be in touch with phones for business reasons (maybe that’s why you’re considering going back to school…). So your instructor shouldn’t be appalled if you check your phone once or twice or have it on your desk, but she’ll also notice when you’re spending large chunks of class time texting a friend or browsing the internet. And that’s just disrespectful, not only to the instructor but for your classmates who will have to wait for you to ask questions on things that transpired while you were L’ing out L. WTF?!

If you know that you have a reason to be on your phone more than a trace amount, consider a quick explanation/apology: “Hey, I’m on call for a project at work so I apologize in advance if I’m checking my phone a lot tonight.” Show that you care about your instructor and classmates and they’ll generally respond in kind.

Be a Teammate
Your instructor, like your parents, has to “love all of you equally” and spread attention to all of your classmates — she wants everyone to succeed. But, also like your parents, your instructor isn’t immune to having a few favorites, and usually those favorite students are those who are respectful and inclusive of their classmates. Blurting out questions and answers without giving your classmates a chance to participate almost requires your instructor to build in extra time to help them and not you. But deferring to classmates, allowing them to ask questions first, offering to help if you can while several students are waiting to talk individually to your instructor…these are endearing actions that make your instructor much more apt to want to ensure that you get all the individual attention she can give you. Again, teachers want to help people — if you show that you’re conscious of that you immediately have that bond with your instructor, and that bond can go a long way. Instructors “have to” help everyone during class time, but they “want to” go the extra mile to help those who they feel deserve it the most. Being that deserving student will almost always result in your ability to solicit plenty of what is essentially free after-class tutoring, and the loyalty of a talented committed instructor to boot.

Enthusiasm is contagious, and just as George Costanza recommends eating an apple while on a potentially-nervous phone call, sales manuals worldwide encourage people to simply smile (even while on the phone) to take advantage of the mutual positivity that results for everyone involved. While you look at the whiteboard behind your instructor, your instructor is looking at, well, you, and at your classmates. Simply smiling when you make eye contact after answering a question or listening to an explanation, or nodding positively to signal that you’re understanding and enjoying the lesson will have raise the energy level and enthusiasm of your instructor.

Do Your Homework
While you’re taking a class, you have a fairly-captive sounding board in your instructor to not only answer your questions but also to prescribe study strategies, diagnose potential pitfalls, etc. Your instructor has likely seen every mistake a student can make, from studying ineffectively to approaching distance/rate problems in a way prone to making systematic errors. The more you’re able to inform your instructor about your progress, the more likely she is to be able to point out inefficiencies in your thought process and study plan that can save you from mistakes or wasted time later on – her insight can alert you to GMAT-specific problems that you might otherwise never know about. Take advantage of the fact that you have an experienced guide not only for the lessons in class but also for the entire study process if you’re going through that process parallel to the time you spend together.

Engaged, motivated students also appeal to the enthusiasm that instructors have for the lessons and for their classes. If you’re working hard, your instructor will naturally want to match your effort with some of hers to ensure that you achieve the results you deserve. If you’re demonstrating commitment to your studies, your instructor will inevitably feel more committed to your success, as well.

Let’s not kid ourselves… GMAT instructors have a great job, one that enables us to work with some incredibly compelling and motivated people to help them achieve their goals. How could we not enjoy what we do? When you take a class, tap into that enthusiasm and energy and harness it to make your instructor your teammate. Together, everyone achieves more.

Getting ready to take the GMAT soon? Next month we have GMAT prep courses starting in Los Angeles and around the world. As always, be sure to find us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter!