GMAT Tip of the Week: Goodbye to “No, But…” and Hello to “Yes, And…”

It’s a new year, which is often a good time for a new mindset. And if you’ve already decided that 2014 is the year for you to get serious about graduate school, the “hard work pays off” mindset is one you’ve already adopted. So before the year gets too old and habits get too hard to change, try adding one more new outlook to your study regimen (and your life) this year:

“Yes, and…”

A common mantra for improv acting and comedy, “Yes, and…” is immensely helpful when studying, too, mostly because it replaces the single most counterproductive mindset in all of GMAT Preparation, “No, but…”

Here’s the difference: in improv shows, a “no, but” response shuts the scene down and makes it an argument between the actors. When an improv actor makes a decision she has to go with it; if she wants to play the NYPD cop with a British accent, her costar can’t try to counteract it “No, but my character needs you to have a Brooklyn accent!”. The scene would die and the audience would either be confused or just plain ticked off. “Yes, and…” allows the costar to accept that choice – the British accent – and create an interesting scene (“Yes, and I have a Boston accent…what do Brits and Bostonians have in common? They both hate the Yankees…”).

“No, but” similarly shuts down your learning capacity. “No, but” is defensive and combative – when students get a wrong answer they often try to debate it, either with their teacher or the solution in the book: “No but I thought you always had to…” or “No but I divided by x and got…”. In those cases you’re forgetting that your goal in GMAT preparation isn’t to be right on every practice question, but instead to learn from every question so that you’re right more often on test day. “Yes, and…” is the philosophy of saying “yes, I see that the answer is D and here is how the test is twisting my logic against me” or “Yes this seems to violate the rule I was applying and here’s the reason that the rule doesn’t apply here.”

“Yes, and…” accepts that the test is hard but learnable, that you know you’ll make mistakes but you’re ready to learn from them and work to improve. And “Yes, and…” fits the GMAT perfectly well – the “no, but” mentality usually stems from either adherence to “rules” that are either tendencies more so than rules (“being” is usually wrong on Sentence Correction, but it’s definitely not a rule) or limited-use rules that the GMAT will tempt you with when they don’t apply (you can always divide both sides of an equation by a variable UNLESS that variable could be 0).

The “no, but” response is one that tries to disprove the test, to know more than the test/teacher/book – and *sometimes* you’ll be right, but way, way more often you’ll be missing an important point that is much easier absorbed with a “yes, and” mentality. Because the GMAT isn’t a cram-and-regurgitate test, but rather a test of reasoning and critical thinking, “no but”ing your way through practice problems can leave you mired in a memorization state when you could be learning to think more critically and pick up on tendencies of the test.

So adopt a new mindset for the new year – “yes, and” is a powerful way to get the most out of your studies and other facets of your life.

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By Brian Galvin