GMAT Tip of the Week: How to Avoid GMAT (and Pokemon Go) Traps

GMAT Tip of the WeekIn seemingly the most important development in world history since humans learned to create fire, Pokemon Go has arrived and is taking the world by storm. Rivaling Twitter and Facebook for mobile phone attention and battling the omnipresent selfie as a means of death-by-mobile-phone, Pokemon Go is everywhere you want to be…and often in places you don’t.

And that is why Pokemon Go is responsible for an ever-important GMAT lesson.

Perhaps most newsworthy about Pokemon Go these days is the dangerous and improper places that it has led its avid users. On the improper side,  such solemn and dignified places as the national Holocaust Museum and Arlington National Cemetery have had to actively prohibit gamers from descending upon mourners/commemorators while playing the game. And as for danger, there have been several instances of thieves luring gamers into traps and therefore robbing them of valuable (if you’re playing the game, you definitely have a smartphone) items.

And the GMAT can and will do the same thing.

How?

If you’re reading this on our GMAT blog, you’ve undoubtedly already learned that, on Data Sufficiency problems, you cannot assume that a variable is positive, or that it is an integer. But think about what makes Pokemon Go users so vulnerable to being lured into a robbery or to losing track of basic human decency. They’re so invested in the game that they lose track of the situations they’re being lured into.

Similarly, the most dangerous GMAT traps are those for which you should absolutely know better, but the testmaker has gotten your mind so invested in another “game” that you lose track of something basic. Consider the example:

If y is an odd integer and the product of x and y equals 222, what is the value of x? 

(1) x is a prime number
(2) y is a 3 digit number

Statement 1 is clearly sufficient. Since y is odd, and an integer, and the product of integers x and y is an even integer, that means that x must be even. And since x also has to be prime (which is how you know it’s an integer, too), the only even prime is 2, making x = 2.

From there your mind is fixated on the game. You can quickly see that in that case y = 111 and x = 2. Which you then have to forget about as you attack Statement 2. But here’s the reason that less than 25% of users in the Veritas Prep Question Bank get this right, while nearly half incorrectly choose D. Statement 1 has gotten your mind fixated on the even/odd/prime game, meaning that you may only be thinking about integers (and positive integers at that) at this point.

That y is a 3-digit number DOES NOT mean that it has to be 111. It could be -111 (making x = -2) or 333 (making x = 2/3). So only Statement 1 alone is sufficient, but the larger lesson is more important. Just like Pokemon Go has the potential to pollute your mind and have you see the real world through its “enhanced reality” lens, so does a statement that satisfies your intellect (“Ah, 2 is the only even prime number!”) give you just enough tunnel vision that you make poor decisions and fall for traps.

The secret here is that almost no one scoring above a 500 carries over all of Statement 1 (“Oh, well I already know that x = 2!”) – a total rookie mistake. It’s that Statement 1 got you fixated on definitions of types of integers (prime, even, odd) and therefore got your mind looking through the “enhanced reality” of integers-only.

The lesson? Much like Pokemon Go, the GMAT has tools to get you so invested in a particular facet of a game that you lose your universal awareness of your surroundings. Know that going in – that you have to consciously step back from that enhanced reality you’ve gained after Statement 1 and look at the whole picture. So take a lesson from Pokemon Go and know when to stop and step back.

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By Brian Galvin.