Making the Jump, pt. 2 – Higher Scorers

As we discussed a few weeks ago in Making the Jump Part 1, there are some general rules that everyone can apply to improve their scores or break out of the range they’re stuck in. For each type of scorer (low, medium, high), however, a modified approach would also be beneficial. In today’s post, we’re going to tackle some strategies that higher scorers can use to help them break through the often difficult 650 point barrier.

First, we have a testimonial from a student was able to break out of his range and get the higher score that would get him into the schools he wanted:

When it came to the GMAT, I tried 4 different previous services. Some were decent and some I probably wasted my money. But I kept getting the same bad result on test day…until I was recommended to try Bell Curves….Hands down Bell Curves has the best approach to the quant section. There is such a reservoir of resources that it can be overwhelming at first. However as you do the work (and you will be doing a lot of work), you will begin to get acclimated to what the test requires (the timed quizzes are reflective of the real test and do an excellent job of getting you accustomed to the ticking clock).

In terms of instructors, I had Christine and the Grand Wizard (Akil). Both are characters, but both know this stuff inside out. They don’t teach tricks, they don’t teach gimmicks. They teach content-based strategies that allow you to attack the test in a confident and cohesive manner. More importantly, they force you to prepare and be organized, which is critical to not freaking out on the actual exam. I still hear both of them saying, “What’s the real question…Learn your idioms…Stop assuming…(i could go on and on)”

By far the most important aspect for me was the additional 2 hour Question and Answer session that was offered free of charge every Tuesday. I was able to go over questions and concepts I struggled with. This allowed me to use my purchased tutoring hours more strategically and efficiently. Jason taught most of the tutoring sessions and he is an absolute rock star. Additionally, you can submit questions 24 hours a day. So with class, the group Q&As, the one-on-one tutoring, and email access, I don’t think there was a quant concept that I didn’t understand. As a result, my quant score jumped 16 points on my last test.

Overall, I could not ask for a better team of people!

Mike D (+ 80 point score improvement)

So, aside from a shameless plug, I posted this letter because Mike D points out a few very important things that could serve to help people struggling to break through the 650 barrier.

1. Know the Rules… – The GMAT tests a variety of concepts that is actually rather limited in scope. The majority of these concepts are underpinned by a set of rules and facts (think Grammar Rules, Mathematical Formulas and Equations, etc.). To give yourself the best chance at breaking 650 you must have all these rules committed to memory. When we say committed to memory we don’t mean you’ve just reviewed the rules. What we mean is those rules have been so thoroughly ingrained that they are at immediate recall. Not only that, but you’re so familiar with them that you can recognize those rules being tested in their various guises, and can effectively apply those rules in both common and uncommon manifestations. You have no idea how many times I’ve tutored or taught someone scoring in the 600-650 range who generally has all the knowledge they need, but doesn’t have it down as cold as they need it. There is NO substitution for knowledge.

2. …But Heed The Number One Rule! – The GMAT is a reasoning test. A person scoring at or above 600 and trying to break the 650 barrier generally has a firm grasp of the knowledge they need to do well on the test. However, a great many higher scorers tend to rely too heavily on the rules and tools they’ve learned, eschewing their innate reasoning ability in favor of trying to mechanically work through any problem. This may seem contradictory to the advice given in point 1, but the GMAT requires a fluid balance of content and reasoning ability. This reasoning ability generally manifests itself in two ways: a) being able to see the common aspects of a problem in an unfamiliar context, and b) being able to quickly identify the most effective way to do a problem or as Mike put it “content-based strategies that allow you to attack the test in a confident and cohesive manner.”

3. Start Questions the Right Way (instead of right away) to help you identify the best way to work/manage a problem, think a moment before you dive in. Far too many high scorers, in their rush to have time to complete all the questions, often just “start working” the problem in front of them before chilling for a moment and ruminating on what the question is asking. Pausing to assess the problem will often allow you to see beyond the initial few “steps” (much like in Chess), which can often reveal flawed reasoning in the initial approach you selected. As with all else GMAT-prep related, developing the ability to see the best way into and out of a problem without sacrificing too much time takes focused practice. Mike’s comment “I still hear both of them saying, “What’s the real question…Learn your idioms…Stop assuming” indicates that when taking the test he was very cognizant to consider all the things he’d learned in practice and “heard” his teachers’ voices telling him what to watch out for, so he was much more likely to pause and watch for traps rather than jump right into a problem.

4. Know Your Holistic Strategy – While there still seems to exist some “debate” about whether GMAT scoring is front-weighted, our research indicates that contrary to purported circumstances, every question on the test is NOT created or weighted equally. Consequently, you need to find the pacing and question management strategy that works best for you (as discussed here in an earlier post titled Aesop’s Fables and GMAT Timing). Perhaps even more important is that you realize how grievous more than 2 wrong answers in a row can be for your score, particularly in the earlier stages of the test. Think how the GMAT, as a CAT, works: to find your “true ability estimate” the test gives you harder or easier questions based on your response to the immediately preceding question. Early in the test, when the software is trying to figure this “true ability,” getting any one question wrong won’t be that detrimental to your score. However, getting a second wrong answer, and then another, makes the software “think” your ability is lower than it might actually be. Once that has happened, good luck getting the score back up. There is really no other way to combat this than to take each question on it’s own terms. Attempting to determine whether a previous question was hard or not, or assessing whether you got it right or wrong, is a waste of time. Letting previous questions distract you as you try a current question is simply a recipe for disaster. Think of the confirm button on your GMAT Test screen for each question as an internal “reset button” and start anew after each question, focusing only on the question in front of you.

That’s it for now. Good luck with all your GMAT preparation and business school endeavors.

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