3 Similarities Between the Hobbit and the GMAT

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. If this sentence looks familiar, it’s because it’s the same one I used two years ago to begin an article about the similarities between the first Hobbit movie and the GMAT. Lo and behold, a couple of weeks ago I was watching the final installment of the Hobbit trilogy, and I noticed more parallels to the GMAT. I decided then to pen a follow up to my original article to finish the comparison between the two disparate, yet often overlapping events.

To quickly recap some of the main points from the original article, I mentioned that both the GMAT and the Hobbit movie require a significant allocation of your time and that both should contain very few surprises. The Hobbit (pick any of the three movies) is about three hours between run time and previews, whereas the GMAT is just short of four hours if you take all the breaks (which I recommend). Since you know you’ll be there for a while, you should plan accordingly in terms of snacks, medication and fatigue. Bring anything you might need to manage the lengthy endeavour.

The other main point I brought up is that the Hobbit movies should contain very few surprises because the source material is already known. If you want to know what happened in the Hobbit, you could read the book first published in 1937. If you want to know what’s on the GMAT, you can read the OG (or other specialized GMAT study guide). All the material you need to know is contained within. The only thing that will change is the execution. Indeed, just knowing there will be a question about triangles doesn’t guarantee you’ll get the right answer, but you shouldn’t be surprised if you find yourself using the Pythagorean theorem to solve the second quant problem. If you don’t want to be surprised, do your research.

However, while watching the newest installment of the franchise, I noticed more elements that are similar to the GMAT. Specifically, I was struck by how the first sequence of this movie was essentially a warm up for the main event, how the protagonists constantly had to think strategically, and how the entire movie was the culmination of an arduous journey. For the purposes of this analogy, I will assume you have seen the movie (or at least read the book). It’s hard to spoil a book published during the great depression, but I want a disclaimer noting that there might be some minor spoilers ahead (#spoilers).

The Warm Up Section

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies begins with the dragon Smaug unleashing his fury on nearby Laketown. This continues from where the last movie leaves off, but even though there is much action from the start, viewers know that this scene will not take very long to conclude. Why? Because the movie is called “The Battle of the Five Armies”, and not “Smaug Burns Everything” (or even “Smaug Gets his Comeuppance”). The scene certainly looks frightening, but we know it is just a matter of time before one of the dwarves gets his mystical arrow and shoots it perfectly at a specific weakness on the dragon whizzing around at hurricane speed. The movie will then get on with the gathering of multiple armies to face off in a grandiose climax of sword and steel.

Similarly, the opening act of the GMAT, the AWA and IR, are simply warm ups to the main event commencing at around the one hour mark. Certainly no one wants to do poorly on these early sections, but just doing okay on them and performing well on the verbal and quant sections of the GMAT will do just fine. The score out of 800, which is really what most people look for, is composed entirely of your blended verbal and quant scores. You still have to go through the first two sections, but if you could conserve mental energy for the final two sections, you’ll typically see your score improve. (I could see this exam being called “GMAT: the Struggle of Verbal and Quant”).

Strategic Thinking

Having never engaged in warfare (beyond Starcraft), I cannot say definitively that having one opponent is easier than having four, but it certainly seems that way. If you only have one enemy to deal with, you can focus all of your attention on them. However, if five separate armies are entering the fray, as was the case in the movie, you had to coordinate strategically among your allies and adjust to your enemy’s changes rapidly. If the orcs suddenly overrun the dwarves, then the elves have to switch strategies and defend their vulnerable flank. Similarly, if a new army appears from a different direction, you may have to redeploy to avoid being surrounded.

The GMAT is very similar, as the exam is designed to test your mental agility. If you are great at algebra, that can help you with a lot of questions, but some questions will be almost impossible to solve purely through algebra (and without a calculator). You must consider other options such as backsolving or using the concept to avoid wasting time and getting frustrated. Some questions are designed to be time-consuming if approached in a straightforward way, so you always have to think strategically. If your approach looks like it will take 4-5 minutes, you might be better off thinking of it in another way.

The Culmination of a Long Journey

The final installment of the Hobbit has a runtime of about 2.5 hours, but it is the conclusion of something much greater. Two other movies (some might argue five) are closed at the end of this spectacle, so even if it only took a few hours to complete, it is the ending of months or even years of preparation. Few people spontaneously decide to take the GMAT without studying or at least researching the exam a little. For most, hundreds of hours are devoted to the 3-4 hour endeavour that is the exam. Just because the exam is over in the blink of an eye (more or less), doesn’t mean that there weren’t hours of studying, of wondering, of panicking and of persevering that all concluded in one day at the Pearson center.

You can learn a lot about the GMAT from this final Hobbit movie, most remarkably that the beginning is just a set up for the second portion. You should also recognize that you must always think strategically on this test, for it is designed to trick people who consistently depend on one single approach. Finally, you can also note that the GMAT, like the Hobbit is the last step on a long (and unexpected) journey. Ironically, in both cases, it is often the beginning of an even greater journey, but I’ll save that analogy (LotR/MBA) for another day.

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Ron Awad is a GMAT instructor for Veritas Prep based in Montreal, bringing you weekly advice 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.