GMAT Tip of the Week: The Super Bowl Provides Super GMAT Lessons

GMAT Tip of the WeekIt’s Super Bowl weekend, one of the busiest gambling weekends of the year. Maybe you’ll play a squares pool and end up with the dreaded 6:5 combination, maybe you’ll parlay three prop bets and lose on the third, and maybe you’ll bet on your team to win and lose both the game and your cash. How can you turn your gambling losses into investments?

Well, if you’re a GMAT student, you can think about what the odds mean in terms of probability and you can watch the announcers miss Critical Reasoning lesson after Critical Reasoning lesson. For example:

Probability

Before the last piece of confetti hits the turf on Sunday, oddsmakers will have posted their odds on next year’s winner. For example, New England and Seattle might open at 4:1, Green Bay might come in at 7:1, etc. And while you might look at those odds and think “if I bet $100 on the Packers I’ll win $700!” you should also think about what those mean. 7:1 for Green Bay is really a ratio: 7 parts of the money says that Green Bay will not win, and 1 part says that it will. So that’s a good bet if you think that Green Bay has a better than 1 out of 8 chance (so better than 12.5%) to win next year’s Super Bowl. And if those are, indeed, the odds (4:1 for two teams and 7:1 for another), Vegas is essentially saying that there’s a less than likely chance (1/5 + 1/5 + 1/8 = 52.5% chance that one of those two teams wins) that someone other than Green Bay, New England, or Seattle will win next year.

So consider what the probability of those bets means before you make them. Individually odds might look tempting, but when you consider what that means on a fraction or percent basis you might have a different opinion.

Probability #2

As you watch the Super Bowl, there’s a high likelihood that at some point the screen will start showing a line indicating the season-long field goal for either Steven Hauschka or Stephen Gostkowski (the Seattle and New England kickers…there’s a huge probability that someone named Steve will be incredibly important in this game!). And the announcers will use that line to say that it’s likely field goal range for that team to win or tie the game.

Where’s the flawed logic? If that’s the longest field goal he’s made all year, is it really likely that he’ll make another one from a similar spot with all that pressure? Or, in the case of a low-scoring game like many predict between these two elite defenses, how likely is either kicker to make two consecutive field goals from a relatively far distance?

Sports fans are pretty bad with that probability. Say that a kicker has been 70% accurate from over 50 yards. Is it likely that he’ll make two straight 50-yard field goals on Sunday (assuming he gets those attempts)? Check the math: that’s 7/10 * 7/10 or 49/100 – it’s less than likely that he makes both! Even a kicker with 80% accuracy is only 8/10 * 8/10 = 64% likely to make two in a row…meaning that fail to perform that feat 1 out of every 3 times he had the chance! Think of the probability while announcers talk about field goals as a near certainty on Sunday.

Critical Reasoning

The announcers on Sunday will try to use all kinds of data to predict the outcome, and in doing so they’ll give you plenty of opportunities to think critically in a Critical Reasoning fashion. For example:

“For the last 40 Super Bowls, the team with the most rushing yards has won (some massive percent) of them; it’s important for New England to get LeGarrette Blount rolling early.”

This is a classic causation/correlation argument. Do the rushing yards really win the game? It could very well be true (Weaken answer!) that teams that build a big lead and therefore want to run out the clock run the ball a lot in the second half (incomplete passes stop the clock; runs keep it going). Winning might cause the rushing yards, not the other way around.

Similarly, the announcers will almost certainly make mention at halftime of a stat like:

“Team X has won (some huge percentage) of games they were leading at halftime, so that field goal to put them up 13-10 looms large.”

Here the announcer isn’t factoring in a couple big factors in that stat:

-A 3-point lead isn’t the same as a 20-point lead; how many of those halftime leads were significantly bigger?
-You’d expect teams leading at halftime to win a lot more frequently; based on 30 minutes they may have shown to be a better team plus they now have a head start for the last 30 minutes. Over time those factors should bear out, but in this one game is a potentially-flukey 3-point lead significant enough?

Regardless of how you watch the game, it can provide you with plenty of opportunities to outsmart friends and announcers and sharpen your GMAT critical thinking skills. So while Tom Brady or Russell Wilson runs off the field yelling “I’m going to Disneyland!”, if you’ve paid attention to logical flaws and probability opportunities during the game, you can celebrate by yelling “I’m going to business school!”

Are you studying for the GMAT? We have free online GMAT seminars running all the time. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

By Brian Galvin