GMAT Tip of the Week: Dave Chappelle Shows You How to Think Like the Testmaker

Repeatedly in this space, you’ve read the theme “Think Like the Testmaker,” an important mantra for success on the GMAT. Also important – knowing precisely what that means, and what it doesn’t. The Veritas Prep emphasis on “Think Like the Testmaker”:

– DOES NOT mean that you somehow need to play mindreader, that GMAT questions are subjective and if you don’t share the testmaker’s opinion or style you’ll get questions wrong. GMAT questions are binary – there are four incorrect answers and one correct answer every time. Even if a question asks you to select “the best” answer, you’re really trying to select “the correct” answer. The other four will be fatally flawed.

– DOES mean that that more you can think like the testmaker, the greater your chance of success. Students love to learn shortcut tricks and tips, and while you can find historical trends to suggest that “The GMAT hates ______________” or “The GMAT prefers ___________,” know that those trends are all created by looking backward at old tests and trying to find patterns. Sure, you’d be hard pressed to find a question in the Official Guide in which “being” is not used incorrectly in Sentence Correction. But that’s where Dave Chappelle comes in with a lasting GMAT lesson from this clip:

The lesson comes from this exchange – Dave turns on the patient whom he is visiting, beating him mercilessly in the video game “Street Hoops”, and offers this quote:

“What, you don’t think I play Street Hoops? You don’t think I have PlayStation? I’m rich!”

And in doing so, Dave offers you this lesson – you don’t think the authors of GMAT questions have a copy of the book you’re using? You don’t think they’ve seen the tricks that you’ve learned? You don’t think they’re reading this blog (hey, guys!)? Of course GMAC has $24.99 to buy the “Beat the GMAT with these Simple Tricks” book. And if a trick isn’t a technique that rewards deep reasoning or conceptual understanding, recognize that GMAC has a responsibility to write questions on which that trick will not work – the GMAT needs to reward those who can reason effectively and think critically, not merely those who memorized some knee-jerk tricks.

So what should you study in addition to content and strategy?

Tricks. But not the tricks that you think. Think Like the Testmaker means, generally, this – learn the tricks that the GMAT uses to beat you (and not those that you think you can use to beat the GMAT). These do not change as readily! These are the GMAT’s strategy to reward critical thinkers and problem solvers. These themes recur throughout GMAT questions and across question types. Think back to some of the questions that you were sure you got right, but ended up getting wrong. Did they fit any of these themes?

Misdirection – the question gets your mind going in one direction (say, an idiomatic decision in Sentence Correction) so that you miss the core of the question (a verb tense error in the answer choice that featured your preferred idiom)

Abstraction – the question used symbols or other styles of awkward notation to make a math problem or sequence look entirely foreign, but the process turned out to be mere pattern recognition or addition.

Answering the wrong question – the question was designed so that you would need to assign and solve for a variable first, but the correct answer requires you to take one more step (e.g. “How much gas is left in the tank?”, when you’ll first have to solve for how much was used…”amount used” will be a trap answer)

The tricks used by the authors of the GMAT are systematic – they know how to “punish” those who are merely hoping to get the right answer (“Wow, x = 6…I’m done!) and reward those who think deeper (“x = 6, but what does x represent?”). Like Dave Chappelle, GMAC is rich – if you can buy a trick off the shelf, they’ve already bought it, digested it, and gameplanned against it. But if you can think strategically like the testmaker – what traps are the laying for you? – you can use the concept of “tricks” to your advantage.

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