GMAT Tip of the Week: Making Your GMAT Score SupeRIOr to Ryan Lochte’s

GMAT Tip of the WeekWhat’s the worst thing that can happen on your GMAT exam? Is it running out of time well before you’re done? Or blanking on nearly every math formula you’ve studied?

Whatever it is, it can’t be nearly as bad as being pulled over by fake cops – no lights or nothing, just a badge – then being told to get on the ground and having a gun placed on your forehead and being like, “whatever.” So your big event of 2016 will already go a lot better than Ryan Lochte’s did; you have that going for you.

What else do you have going for you on the GMAT? The ability to learn from the most recent few days of Lochte’s life. Lochte’s biggest mistake wasn’t vandalizing a gas station bathroom at 4am, but rather making up his own story and creating an even larger mess. And that’s a huge lesson that you need to keep in mind for the GMAT:

Don’t make up your own story.

Here’s what that means, on three major question types:

DATA SUFFICIENCY
People make up their own story on Data Sufficiency all the time. And like a prevailing theory about Lochte (he didn’t connect the vandalism of the bathroom to the men coming after him for restitution; he really did think that he had been robbed for no reason), it’s not that they’re intentionally lying. They’re just “conveniently” misremembering what they’ve read or connecting dots that weren’t actually connected in real life. Consider the question:

The product of consecutive integers a, b, c, and d is 5040. What is the value of integer d?

(1) d is prime
(2) d < c < b < a

Once people have factored 5040 into 7*8*9*10, they can then quickly recognize that Statement 1 is sufficient: the only prime number in that bunch is 7, so d must be 7. But then when it comes to Statement 2, they’ve often made up their own story. By saying “d is the smallest, and, yep, that’s 7!” they’re making up the fact that these consecutive integers are positive. That was not specifically stated! So it could be 7, 8, 9, and 10 or it could be -7, -8, -9, and -10, making d either -10 or 7. And the GMAT (maybe like an NBC interviewer?) makes it easy for you to make up your own story.

With Statement 1, prime numbers must be positive, so if you weren’t already thinking only about positives, the question format nudges you further in that direction. The answer is A when people often mistakenly choose D, and the reason is that the question makes it easy for you to make up your own story when looking at Statement 2. So before you submit an answer, always ask yourself, “Am I only using the facts explicitly provided to me, or am I somehow making up my own story?”

CRITICAL REASONING
Think of your friends who are good storytellers. We hate to break it to you, but they’re probably making at least 10-20% of those stories up. Which makes sense. “It was a pretty big fish,” is a lot less compelling than, “It was the biggest fish any of us had ever seen!” Case in point, the Olympics themselves.

No commentator this week has said that Michael Phelps, Lochte’s teammate, is “a really good swimmer.” They’re posing, “Is he the greatest athlete of all time?” because words that end in -st capture attention (and pageviews). Even Lochte was guilty of going overly-specific for dramatic effect: there was, indeed, a gun pointed at his taxi, but not resting on his forehead. His version just makes the story more exciting and dramatic…and you may very well be guilty of such a mistake on the GMAT. Consider:

About two million years ago, lava dammed up a river in western Asia and caused a small lake to form. The lake existed for about half a million years. Bones of an early human ancestor were recently found in the ancient lake bottom sediments on top of the layer of lava. Therefore, ancestors of modern humans lived in Western Asia between 2 million and 1.5 million years ago.

Which one of the following is an assumption required by the argument?

(A) There were not other lakes in the immediate area before the lava dammed up the river.
(B) The lake contained fish that the human ancestors could have used for food.
(C) The lava under the lake-bottom sediments did not contain any human fossil remains.
(D) The lake was deep enough that a person could drown in it.
(E) The bones were already in the sediments by the time the lake disappeared.

The correct answer here is E (if the bones were not already there, then they’re not good evidence that people were there during that time), but the popular trap answer is C. Consider what would happen if C were untrue: that means that there were human fossil remains that pre-date the time period in question.

But here’s where Lochte Logic is dangerous: you’re not trying to prove that the FIRST humans lived in this period at this time; you’re just trying to prove that humans lived here during that time. And whether or not there were fossils from 2.5 million or 4 million years ago doesn’t change that you still have this evidence of people in that 2 million-1.5 million years ago timeframe.

When people choose C, it’s almost always because they made up their own story about the argument – they read it as, “The earliest human ancestors lived in this place and time,” and that’s just not what’s given. Why do they do that? For Lochte’s very own reasons: it makes the story a little more interesting and a little more favorable.

After all, the average pre-MBA doesn’t spend much time reading about archaeology, but if some discovery is that level of exciting (We’ve discovered the first human! We’ve discovered evidence of aliens!) then it crosses your Facebook/Twitter feeds. You’re used to reading stories about the first/fastest/greatest/last, and so when you get dry subject matter your mind has a tendency to put those words in there subconsciously. Be careful – do not make up your own story about the conclusion!

READING COMPREHENSION
A similar phenomenon occurs with Reading Comprehension. When you read a long passage, your mind tends to connect dots that aren’t there as it fills in the rest of the story for you. Just like Lochte, who had to fill in the gap of, “Hey what would I have said if someone pointed a gun at me and told me to get on the ground? Oh right…’whatever’ is my default answer for most things,” your mind will start to fill in details that make logical sense.

The problem then comes when you’re asked an Inference question, for which the correct answer must be true based on the passage. For example, if two details in a passage are:

  1. Michael swam the fastest race of his life.
  2. Ryan’s race was one of the slowest he’s ever swam.

You might answer the question, “Which of the following is a conclusion that can be drawn from the passage?” with:

(A) Michael swam faster than Ryan.

Your mind – particularly amidst a lot of other text between those two facts – wants to logically arrange those two swims together, and with “fastest” for Michael and “slowest” for Ryan, it kind of seems logical that Michael was faster. But those two races are never compared directly to each other. Consider that if Michael and Ryan aren’t Phelps and Lochte, but rather filmmaker Michael Moore and Olympic champion Ryan Lochte, then of course Lochte’s slowest swim would still be way, way faster than Moore’s fastest.

Importantly, Reading Comprehension questions love to bait unwitting test-takers with comparisons as answer choices, knowing that your mind is primed to create your own story and draw comparisons that are probably true, but just not proven. So again, any time you’re faced with an answer that seems obvious, go back and ask yourself if the details you’re using were provided to you, or if instead, you’re making up your own story.

So learn a valuable lesson from Ryan Lochte and avoid making up your own story, sticking only to the clean facts of the matter. Stay true to the truth, and you’ll walk out of the test center saying “Jeah!”

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By Brian Galvin.