GMAT Tip of the Week: Cedric the Entertainer becomes Cedric the GMAT Instructor

GMAT Tip of the Week“They hope. We wish.”

In his classic routine from The Original Kings of Comedy, Cedric the Entertainer talks about the way that two different types of people view confrontation.

Some people hope that there’s no confrontation, worrying all the while that there might be.

Others – including Cedric himself – “wish a would” start some conflict. (Note: Kanye West borrowed this sentiment years later in a lyric for “The Good Life”)

On the GMAT, you want to be on Cedric’s team. Many test-takers go into the reasoning-based exam hoping that they don’t see too much Testmaker trickery, but those poised to score 700+ – the Original Kings of Calm on the test – wish the testmaker would. They’ve prepared to check negative numbers and nonintegers on Data Sufficiency. They’ve prepared to double-check their inferences on Critical Reasoning and Reading Comprehension questions to make sure they “must be true” (correct) and not just “probably true.” They’ve prepared to go back to the question on Problem Solving to make sure that the variable they solved for is the one that the question asked about. They’ve tracked the silly and recurring mistakes that they made in practice and they wish the test tries to sneak that by them on test day.

Why?

A few reasons. For one, any mistake you’ve made more than once in practice is something that you know is going to be difficult for people. By being ready for it, you’re poised to get “cheap” difficulty points (so to speak) when it’s really not that hard. If a question asks:

Starting with a full 12-gallon tank of gas, D.L. drove 225 miles getting 45 miles per gallon of gas burned. How much gas was left in D.L.’s tank at the end of the trip?”

You WANT them to ask about the gas that’s LEFT OVER (7 gallons) and include the amount of gas that was USED (5 gallons) as a trap answer. The math is pretty pedestrian, but that little twist – that you’ll solve for the amount used and then have to take just one more step to finish the problem, subtracting that 5 gallons used from the 12 you started with – will ensure that at least 20% more people get that problem wrong for just not reading carefully or from being in a hurry to finish the math and move on. You want to see those silly little trap answers there because they add difficulty (and therefore points) to your test without being truly “hard.”

Another reason is that there’s nothing more confidence-building than catching the GMAT trying to beat you with a silly trick that you’re more than prepared for. That’s Cedric’s point about concert tickets; sometimes it’s not sitting in great seats that makes you feel truly big-time, it’s being able to prove to someone else that you’ve earned the right to sit in them. That’s why Cedric wishes a would sit in his seats; he wants that pure satisfaction that comes from being justified in kicking them out! That adds happiness and satisfaction to the whole show. Similarly, when you catch the GMAT trying to trick you with a trap you saw coming from a mile away, that’s a huge confidence boost for the rest of the test. And that’s the ultimate point of this post – you can’t go into the test fearful of falling for traps. If that’s your mindset – “I really hope the GMAT doesn’t trick me into forgetting about zero” – then even if you catch that and save your answer, it can breed more stress. In a Data Sufficiency format, that could look like:

What is the value of x?

(1) 8x = x^2

(2) x is not a positive number

But on Cedric’s team – I wish the GMAT would try to sneak numbers like negatives, fractions, and zero past me – that same discussion looks like this (in bold because, well, it’s a bolder way of thinking):

What is the value of x?

(1) 8x = 8^2

<Cedric’s discussion with self: Man I know you want me to say 8 but that’s easy. I think x has to be 8 but I think you may be trying to trick me, GMAT. I’m too quick for that; I’m a grown-ass man dawg. We ain’t through here, you hear me?.>

(2) x is not a positive number

<Cedric’s discussion with self: There you go, always talking in code like that. x is not a positive number…you didn’t say it was negative so what’s the difference there. It’s zero; you don’t think I know that? So I see what you’re doing…I knew you’d try to throw zero at me. 8x = x^2 above? Anything times 0 is 0 so 0 is that second answer up top; I knew it wouldn’t be that easy. Statement 1 isn’t sufficient because of 0 and 8 and statement 2 says it can’t be 8. That’s C, dawg, as in you can’t C me easy like that. What do you have up next there Einstein?>

The real difference? Cedric’s mindset uses his knowledge that the GMAT will hit you with common traps as confidence. He knows it’s coming and he’s happy when he does see it, and catching those traps just breeds more confidence since he knows he’s better than the test and handling at least some of it’s difficulty with ease. The other mindset – even if it leads to a right answer on a particular question – breeds fear and anxiety, and those qualities can take a toll on future questions. By the time you take the GMAT you know what common traps it’s setting for you, so be confident when you see and avoid them! Like in this example:

x and y are consecutive integers such that x > y. What is the absolute value of y?

(1) The product xy is 20.

(2) x is a prime number.

Have you summoned your inner Cedric? Statement 1 begs you to say “oh, well if x is greater than y and they’re consecutive integers that multiply to 20, it’s 4 and 5 and x is the big one so y = 4. But wait – don’t you wish they’d try to throw a trick at you? Are you ready for it when it comes?

Statement 2 looks to just confirm what you saw before. Yep, x = 5 in statement 1, and if you take statement 2 alone it’s nowhere near sufficient. So what’s Cedric thinking? He wishes that the test would try to hit him with some of the low-level trickery it so often does. The test likes nonintegers? No, those don’t apply since the question says that x and y are indeed integers. The test likes 0? That doesn’t really apply either for statement 1 since 0 times anything can’t equal 20. But the GMAT also likes negative numbers, and you were wishing they’d try to get you with those. What other consecutive integers multiply to 20? -4 and -5. And in that case which is the smaller one (again, x > y)? That’s right, -5. So while the amateur might pick A thinking that the absolute value of y has to be 4, you can answer confidently like Cedric in the clip above:

“That’s right. Fo *and* five.”

Statement 1 is not sufficient alone, but statement 2 guarantees that the numbers have to be positive, so the answer is C. And since you wished the GMAT would try to get you with that positive/negative trick, you were looking for it, you answered correctly, and you confidently moved on to the next problem knowing that you’re on a roll.

On the GMAT, don’t hope they don’t try to make it difficult with those tricks that got you in practice. Wish they would make it difficult with those tricks because you’re confident you won’t fall for them again. They hope; you wish.

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By Brian Galvin