ROn Point: What the Hobbit and the GMAT Have in Common

Over the holiday season, you may have taken the time to go see the Hobbit, the much-hyped precursor to the Lord of the Rings movies which breathed life into the seminal Tolkien books published over a half century ago. After watching and reflecting on the movie, there are many parallels between it and the GMAT exam that can be drawn. Most glaringly, the amount of time that must be dedicated to each, the unfamiliar visual experience, the importance of wordplay, and the known subject matter prior to even entering the theater. For the purposes of this analogy, the Pearson center will double as a movie theater, except with the no cell phone rule enforced quite vigorously.

We’re Going to Be Here for a While

The fact that it’s the first of three movies does not preclude the Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey from being just shy of 3 hours long, which is longer than the quant and verbal sections combined.  The GMAT still wins on length due to the hour-long warm up session of the AWA and IR, but at least you don’t have to sit through the previews of an M Night Shyamalan movie before getting started. Either way, the length becomes an issue, so taking a break is always a good way to recharge your batteries and refocus. During the movie it can be at any point that the hobbits and dwarves are discussing Middle Earth minutiae or singing songs, but during the GMAT there are specific 8-minute maximum respites allowed before and after the quant section. Even if you’re feeling fresh at the beginning of the verbal section, that won’t necessarily still be the case after 30 questions. The break is a great idea to recharge, and going outside to get some fresh air will help prevent fatigue through the latter part of the exam.

Eyes on the Prize

The GMAT is a three hour plus marathon, so eyestrain can become an issue over the course of staring at the screen for over 200 minutes. This is especially true for those of you who are accustomed to writing out exams with a pen and a stack of paper. Similarly, the Hobbit’s experimental 48-frames per second has given some moviegoers headaches due to the colloquially named “soap opera effect”. Anytime your eyes must adjust to an unfamiliar experience, there is the possibility of strain and discomfort. Practicing at least a couple of Computer Adaptive Tests on a screen will help simulate the experience of the exam much better than doing 100 problems from the back of a book. The GMAT hasn’t been administered on paper since the 20th century, so there is no avoiding staring at that ominous screen. However the plans to make the GMAT 3D have been put on hold indefinitely…

Words Matter

Without giving much away, there is a prolonged exchange in the Hobbit between Smigel and Bilbo Baggins concerning riddles. And when I say prolonged, I mean it goes on for so long I forgot the rest of the movie was even taking place. These clever plays on words are used by each character to gauge the other’s skills and determine the winner of a contest. This is quite similar to what the GMAT is doing to you, but without the reciprocity. So much of succeeding on the GMAT is in understanding what the question is asking. This is why Veritas Prep employs the mantra of “thinking like the test maker”. If you understand what is being asked, you’ll be able to answer it quickly and correctly. This is why reading the question attentively is paramount (or MGM?) to having success. And just like in the Hobbit, correctly answering the questions will not only make you feel clever, it will also yield what you want, assuming what you want is a good score on the exam and not a gold ring of power.

The Script Has Already Been Written

Finally, just as (spoiler alert) the Titanic sinks at the end of the eponymous movie, the vast majority of what transpires in the Hobbit is already known to anyone who bothered looking it up. Since the movie is based on a novel written 75 years ago, there should be precious few surprises over the course of the cinematic adaptation. Similarly, all the topics and question types that can appear on the GMAT are well known ahead of time. Every possible Analytical Writing Assessment topic is published by the GMAC. This naturally does not make the exam trivial, but it does make it eminently unsurprising. There will invariably be surprises in the execution, but the overarching themes will be exactly what you’ve prepared for. As such, preparing for the exam adequately will ensure that there are very few questions that blindside you. However, just as knowing that there will be a triple integral on the exam doesn’t mean you will necessarily be able to solve it; knowledge must go hand in hand with preparation to ensure you get the maximum score on the exam.

In conclusion, the Hobbit can help prepare you for test day. Understanding what is being asked of you seems obvious, and not losing focus is extremely simple in theory, but these directions are hard to implement consistently in practice.  All the information you can be asked is available for perusal ahead of time, and only the execution will vary during the test. Simulating the experience as accurately as possible during preparation will also help minimize the discomfort of an unfamiliar situation. Thus, whether you were enthralled or bored by Peter Jackson’s adaptation of the Hobbit, the experience at the movie theater can help you prepare for the experience of conquering the GMAT.

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Ron Awad is a GMAT instructor for Veritas Prep based in Montreal, bringing you occasional tips and tricks for success on your exam.  After graduating from McGill and receiving his MBA from Concordia, Ron started teaching GMAT prep and his Veritas Prep students have given him rave reviews ever since.