Follow Through

Ed. Note: Taking the GMAT is an essential part of a good GMAT instructor’s job because it gives us a whole new perspective when advising students. Bell Curves requires all teachers to regularly take the actual GMAT in order to hone their skills in the actual setting of the test, discover new trends, and report back experiences that can benefit students. On an unseasonably warm Monday the third week of November, three members of Bell Curves GMAT development team took the GMAT in order to experience the new Integrated Reasoning (IR) questions first hand in the real setting. This is Ajani’s experience on that particular day. To see reports of that same day from Akil or Jason click either of their respective names. Keep an eye on this blog for an upcoming post about those aforementioned IR questions, as well as novel insights on cigarettes and the GMAT, and why NOT to sweat the AWA.

Last week, my curiosity got the better of me regarding the new Integrated Reasoning question types GMAC were going to test out as part of preparations for the Next Generation GMAT rollout in 2012. So I went along with a couple colleagues and sat for the test. Given the crowded waiting room at the Herald Square location (Manhattan), clearly I wasn’t the only one on pins and needles about the new IR questions. Okay, maybe most of the people there were to take the GMAT to get into Business School, but it was an interesting experience nevertheless.

Wiling away the hours (and my goodness how many hours – arrive the requested 1/2 hour early, start the test almost 1/2 an hour after the scheduled time, plus the test, breaks, and 45-minutes for the IR research section meant I was there for nearly five-hours!), I realized there might be a few test-taking tidbits to pass along that might help others as they prepare to do battle with the GMAT.

One of the chief dynamics that undermines performance on the GMAT is allowing the environment and circumstances of the real test to throw you off your game. Early on in the Quant section I was faced with just such a circumstance. Question 3 was, on first glance, unlike anything I’d seen before (and I’ve seen a lot of GMAT questions). Here’s rough facsimile of it (to avoid conflicts with GMAC and maintain question integrity we’ve altered the question from its original):

A certain number line has 3 evenly-spaced hash-marks labeled A, B, and C. If B has a value of 314 and C has a value of 315, what is the value of A?
(A) -315
(B)  -314
(C) 1
(D) 3
(E) 313

As this question came early in the test, the degree of importance was pretty high. Looking closer revealed some familiar concepts (exponents and number lines to name two), but combined in such a way that made almost no sense. I spent a solid two minutes studying the question for familiar ways to access it and rechecking my thought process to see if I’d overlooked some fundamental aspect of the problem. I didn’t see any way in and the seconds were ticking away. So I had a choice to make: spend a bunch more time figuring it out or make my best guess and move the hell on. I always tell my students, “no one question can ruin your score, unless you spend too much time on it.”

The key to preventing the test from throwing you off your game is follow through. Follow through on the preparation you’ve done. Follow through on the knowledge and tools you’ve built through practice. Follow through on the strategies and approaches you’ve honed and developed through timed work and practice tests. These strategies will allow you to comfortably take the necessary steps (such as, in this case, abandoning ship in the interest of time) to get you your target score without all the worry that comes from over-thinking questions and wasting time doing so.

Here are a few helpful tips to help replicate on the real thing the abilities you’ve acquired through practice:

1) Stick to Your Guns (Pacing) – The work you’ve accomplished on practice tests to hone your pacing ability should serve you in good stead come official test time – if you use it! Before the break ends prior to the Quant and Verbal sections, briefly think through your pacing plan and reaffirm your intentions regarding your pacing. Regardless of what kind of test taker you are (see this blog post for more on pacing and different kinds of test takers), you should have a pacing plan by the time you sit for the real thing. To ensure you’re sticking to your hard-earned pacing plan, use the end of each break to reaffirm your plan so you’re less likely to stray from it.

2) Stick to Your Guns (Question Management) – intimately tied to pacing, question management speaks to the time and strategy used for any given question. You should have generated a host of question-management skills through your practice. If you’ve done this, why would you let some anomaly on the real test throw you off your game? There will always be a wacky Reading Comp passage, or that Quant question you’re sure is testing calculus (or your skills of divination). Don’t let a particularly tough question pull you away from your plans. Manage the question, don’t let the question manage you.

3) Forget Spilled Milk – I was pretty sure I’d gotten that Quant question I discussed above wrong (after all, I’d guessed). And though it came near the start of the test, I didn’t care. I’d decided through practice that I won’t spend more than 2 minutes on a question I’ve used my tools to try to crack and rechecked my thinking. I’d rather bail and make the most of subsequent questions. By the time Question 4 appeared on the screen I’d forgotten about the nightmare that was Question 3. Carrying baggage from a question you already answered is a waste of time. Trying to calculate the effect of a single question on your score (or fretting over said effect) is a waste of time. The GMAT will allow you to show your true abilities…if YOU let yourself. When you’re done with a question, move on!

4) Guess Wisely You Should – my own little ode to Yoda. If you’ve got to bail on a question, at least do yourself the favor of guessing wisely. Get rid of any illogical answer choices, make your guess and get to the next question. In my Question 3, I knew that 313 was a red-herring because it was the next value in the pattern of the original two exponents (15 –> 14). -315 was also a trap answer because it was the smallest value of the bunch. -314 looked like a trap too, but I wasn’t ready to boot it. I kicked those other two answers and made a guess (the wrong one, but still, only cost me two minutes).

Incorporating these techniques into your practice and the real thing should help you better manage your test. As it turns out, I’m glad I didn’t waste any time worrying about question number three. As a consequence of the question management for 3, and elsewhere in the section, I only had to guess on the last 4 or 5 questions. And my Quant score ended up a 46, right around the 47-50 I usually get. Now if only I could’ve smoked a cigarette before doing the verbal section (that’s a whole other story…).

For more on managing questions and your emotions in situ see Akil’s post from a test the same day.

Until next time…

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