Einstein Can’t Teach Me Physics


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Einstein can’t teach me physics! And Michael Jordan can’t teach me basketball.

There, I’ve said it. I’ve put it on the internet for all to know. I don’t think these relative gods of their domain can teach me to succeed in that domain. Before you call me crazy and stop reading, let me make my case.

Einstein was as genius as Jordan was. Geniuses possess innate understanding of their respective fields that most of us do not. Because of this innate understanding, the way they approach that field is very different from that of the average man. This approach combined with their innate knowledge makes them achieve things that we probably can’t follow unless we have the same genius. To learn from this genius you must learn to think like him or he must learn to think like you. That’s a pretty daunting task to accomplish, and most likely a task requiring years of dedication.

Now what’s that got to do with the GMAT you ask?

The internet is full of crazies offering advice on how to improve your score and touting their achievement of a 99th percentile score. They claim to have the the quick fix and magic pill that will make all the difference in finding and catching the GMAT equivalent of a unicorn, the mythical 750+. Since I joined Twitter about a year ago I’ve been seeing tweets from more GMAT forums that are little more than myth conjuring. The forums scare me because of how poorly the advice given by such posters can and often is taken by those prepping for the GMAT. So today’s post is about the proverbial grain of salt that must be taken with all advice, especially as the series of tubes gets more and more clogged.

Giving and getting good advice about the GMAT (and this probably applies to love, career, and marriage too, but I’ll leave those topics to Oprah) is a tricky business, because improving test scores – especially those of the computer-adaptive GMAT – is not as simple as many make it out to be. When you consider it in a really basic way, the GMAT is a test of information you learned in 7th through 11th grades. This information, however, is tested in context of the reasoning skills you have developed from birth to now. So anyone who attempts to give you advice really should have context for how you reason, how you learn most effectively, what your academic strengths and weaknesses are, and what your optimal performance habits are. If they don’t have that information, then the advice they give you will be generic and possibly harmful. Let’s look at who the people giving advice usually are and what that might mean to you…

Your typical GMAT Genius post look like this:

“I took it after some preparation, but nevertheless it was my first test and I got a 710. After a month of preparation I took the second test on the same CD, and I got a 740. I finally got a 770 on the actual test.”

Or like this:

“Ohh!! So you didn’t do well in the diagnostic?? You expected something better, didn’t you?? You thought the questions were easy and you were gliding through but still ended up getting a not so good score!! That happens…let me tell you why!! GMAT is adaptive…remember?? You were not doing well, and that’s why you were getting easier questions :-D

Never mind…you will do much much better in the actual test if you start it from today!! Okay so you want to know how much?? Let’s say around 100 more than the actual score…assuming that you took it without preparation. Even if you prepared a bit before taking it, but it was your first test…you can easily hope to score 60 more. I took it after some preparation, but nevertheless it was my first test and I got a 710. After a month of preparation I took the second test on the same CD, and I got a 740. I finally got a 770 on the actual test. Let’s not get into the score analysis thing right now. We’ll come to that later, when I will give you the list of all my test scores to compare.”

Each time I see such a post I cringe. I cringe because I fear that the 75% of the world that do not score near a 650 on their first ever practice test will listen to the GMAT Genius’ story and prep experience in hopes of replicating her results, and overlook that this person is starting from a baseline of information and testing savvy that the vast majority of the country, nay world, nay universe does not have (and according to GMAT stats will NEVER develop). Much like the GMAT, your preparation needs to be dynamic (adaptive). You need to understand the underlying concept(s) and apply your knowledge and understanding to it so you can maximize your performance, not try to replicate someone else’s.

The best way to get advice from a GMAT Genius is to find out what value she found in the materials she used and what study strategies she employed, and then use the materials that would offer you the value you need and replicate the habits that will develop the skills you need. If the GMAT Genius just took tests without reviewing them, its unlikely that the simple act of timed tests will have the same benefit for a 300 scorer as it would for a 700 scorer.

So who should you listen to?

1. Me, of course!

2. The person who had the experience you want (not the score you want) – forget scores; learn from the experiences others had. Find out what was good and what was bad with their prep. If someone can only tell you about their scores and not the things that led to those scores than you probably don’t want to take advice from them.

3. GMAT teachers (not simply high scorers) – Individuals who are devoted to teaching others generally have the perspective to give “client-centered” advice. The best of these people will ask you a slew of questions before answering any of yours, the worst of them will spout a generic curriculum that works for the average test taker they’ve worked with. Given this, try to find someone with experience working with someone with your profile.

In short, Michael Jordan probably can’t teach most of us to play basketball the way he does and Einstein can’t teach us to understand physics the way he does. To really get what either of these two greats have to offer in their respective fields you have to be close to their level and aligned in approach. I also think Jordan could not teach someone like Tim Duncan, because their approaches are too fundamentally different. Especially for those of you without the innate understanding of the GMAT, you want to find your Stan Van Gundy, a personable teacher who can help you maximize your talents!

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