GMAT Tip of the Week: As You Debate Over Answer Choices… Just Answer The Freaking Question!

GMAT Tip of the WeekIf you’re like many – to the dismay of the NFL and the advertising industry – you’re planning to watch another presidential debate this coming Sunday. And just like Trump-Clinton I and Pence-Kaine earlier this week, this debate will provide plenty of opportunities to be annoyed, frustrated, and disappointed…but it will also provide an ever-important lesson about the GMAT.

It’s no surprise that candidate approval ratings are low for the same reason that far too many GMAT scores are lower than candidates would hope. Why?

People don’t directly answer the question.

This is incredibly common in the debates, where the poor moderators are helpless against the talking points and stump speeches of the candidates. The public then suffers because people cannot get direct answers to the questions that matter. This is also very common on the GMAT, where students will invest the time in critical thought and calculation, and then levy an answer that just doesn’t hit the mark. Consider the example:

Donald has $520,000 in campaign money available to spend on advertising for the month of October, and his advisers are telling him that he should spend a minimum of $360,000 in the battleground states of Ohio, Florida, Virginia, and North Carolina. If he plans to spend the minimum amount in battleground states to appease his advisers, plus impress his friends by a big ad spend specific to New York City (and then he will skip advertising in the rest of the country), how much money will he have remaining if he wants 20% of his ad spend to take place in New York City?

(A) $45,000
(B) $52,000
(C) $70,000
(D) $90,000
(E) $104,000

As people begin to calculate, it’s common to try to determine all of the facets of Donald’s ad spend. If he’s spending only the $360,000 in battleground states plus the 20% he’ll spend in New York City, then $360,000 will represent 80% of his total ad spend. If $360,000 = 0.8(Total), then the total will be $450,000. That means that he’ll spend $90,000 in New York City. Which is answer choice D…but that’s not the question!

The question asked for how much of his campaign money would be left over, so the calculation you need to focus on is the $520,000 he started with minus the $450,000 he spent for a total of $70,000, answer choice C. And in a larger context, you can learn a major lesson from Wharton’s most famous alumnus: it’s not enough for your answer to be related to the question. On the GMAT, you must answer the question directly! So make sure that you:

  1. Double check which portion of a word problem the question asked for. Don’t be relieved when your algebra spits out “a” number. Make sure it’s “the” number.
  2. Be careful with Strengthen/Weaken Critical Reasoning problems. A well-written Strengthen problem will likely have a good Weaken answer choice, and vice-versa.
  3. In algebra problems, make sure to identify the proper variable (or combination of variables if they ask, for example “What is 6x – y?”).
  4. With Data Sufficiency problems, pay attention to the exact values being asked for. One of the most common mistakes that people make is saying that a statement is insufficient because they’re looking to fill in all variables, when actually it is sufficient to answer the exact combination that the test asked for.

As you watch the debate this weekend, notice (How could you not?) how absurd it is that the candidates just about never directly answer the question…and then vow to not make the same mistake on your GMAT exam.

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By Brian Galvin.

GMAT Tip of the Week: Verbal Answers Are Like Donald Trump

GMAT Tip of the WeekIn the winter/spring of 2016, Donald Trump is everywhere – always on your TV screen, all over your social media feeds, on the tip of everyone’s tongue, and, yes, even lurking in the answer choices on your GMAT verbal section.

Why are verbal answer choices like Donald Trump? Is it that they’re only correct 20% of the time? That they’re very often a lot of boastful verbiage about nothing? Hackneyed comedy aside, there’s a very valid reason and it’s one that Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio learned just last night:

Verbal choices, like Donald Trump, simply MUST be attacked. If you saw last night’s debate (or read any coverage of it) you saw how the two closest challengers changed tactics immensely, verbally attacking Trump all night. The rationale there is that if you let Trump go unchecked, he’s going to attack you and he’s going to get away with his own stump speeches all night. The exact same thing is true of GMAT verbal answer choices. If you don’t attack them – if you’re not actively looking for reasons that they’re wrong – they’ll both beat you tactically and wear you down over the test. You simply must be in attack mode throughout the verbal section.

What does that mean? For almost every answer choice, there’s some reason there why someone would pick it (after all, if no one picks it then it’s just a terrible, useless answer choice). And so if you’re looking for reasons to like an answer choice, you’re going to find lots to like (and in doing so pick some wrong answers) and you’re going to get worn down by keeping wrong answer choices in your “maybe” pile too long. But if, instead, you’re more skeptical about each answer choice, actively looking for reasons not to pick them, that discerning approach will help you more efficiently find correct answers.

Consider the example:

If Shero wins the election, McGuinness will be appointed head of the planning commission. But Stauning is more qualified to head it since he is an architect who has been on the planning commission for 15 years. Unless the polls are grossly inaccurate, Shero will win.

Which one of the following can be properly inferred from the information above?

(A) If the polls are grossly inaccurate, someone more qualified than McGuinness will be appointed head of the planning commission.
(B) McGuinness will be appointed head of the planning commission only if the polls are a good indication of how the election will turn out.
(C) Either Shero will win the election or Stauning will be appointed head of the planning commission.
(D) McGuinness is not an architect and has not been on the planning commission for 15 years or more.
(E) If the polls are a good indication of how the election will turn out, someone less qualified than Stauning will be appointed head of the planning commission.

Here there’s a lot to like about a lot of answer choices:

A seems plausible. We know that McGuinness isn’t the most qualified, so there’s a high likelihood that a different candidate could find someone better (maybe even Stauning). B also has a lot to like (and it’s actually ALMOST perfect as we’ll discuss in a second). And so on. But you need to attack these answers:

A is fatally flawed. You don’t know for certain that a different candidate would appoint anyone other than McGuinness, and you really only know that one person is more qualified (and does he even want the job?). This cannot be concluded. B has that dangerous word “only” in it – remove it and the answer is correct, but “only if the polls are a good indication” is way too far to go. What if the polls are flawed and the underdog candidate just appoints McGuinness, too? The same logic invalidates C (there’s nothing guaranteeing that a different candidate wouldn’t pick McGuinness), and the word “and” makes D all the harder to prove (how do you know that McGuinness lacks both qualities?).

The lesson? Much like John Kasich may find on that same stage, the nicer and more accommodating you are, the more the GMAT walks over you. If you want to give each answer a fair chance, you’ll find that many answers have enough reason to be tempting. So follow the new GOP debate strategy and always be attacking. You didn’t sign up for the GMAT to make friends with answer choices; you signed up to “win.”

Getting ready to take the GMAT? We have free online GMAT seminars running all the time. And, be sure to follow us on Facebook, YouTubeGoogle+ and Twitter!

By Brian Galvin.