How to study (and not study) for the GMAT

A wise dude named Einstein once defined insanity as such: “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

Despite the somewhat philosophical tenor of this quote, I find it highly applicable to the situation that confronts many GMAT test-takers. Having developed and familiarized themselves with a certain approach, many GMATers come to practice that approach habitually, even when it yields less-than-desirable results. Such a situation is in many ways the by-product of the cookie-cutter techniques students might learn at a large classroom, in which the teacher presents a general approach to a problem and exhorts all students to adopt that approach (such as ALWAYS plugging in numbers when they see a variable). But the fact is that different approaches work for different types of learners, and learning one rote method for tackling a problem can be not only counter-intuitive for some, but even counter-productive.

That’s why any good tutor (a group that I hope includes me!) will tailor the nature of the lessons to your unique learning style and the peculiarities of your educational background and goals. The same approach for Reading Comprehension will simply not work for both a non-Native English speaker aiming for a 650 and a Literature major striving for the 99th percentile. Sometimes creativity is needed, and sometimes it might turn out that an entirely unorthodox approach will be necessary to address the issues engendered by repeating the wrong approach.

In the same vein, many students, intimidated by the content of the exam, try to jump into the GMAT’s most difficult content without ever developing a firm grasp of the fundamentals. For example, I recently began working with a student who worked backward on Sentence Corrections in the Official Guide, starting from the toughest and moving incrementally to the easiest. Though ambitious, this approach concealed the problem that without understanding the fundamentals of grammar, she would never see questions of this level of difficulty on the actual exam. Spending time understanding the subtleties of modifiers or gerund usage is certainly necessary, but not until you have a general understanding of these concepts.

So as tempting as it might be to learn a certain approach and stick to it or to dive into the nastiest GMAT questions available, it’s important to recognize that proper preparation for the GMAT should be foundational and should take into account the subtleties of your situation.


Erfun Geula

Erfun Geula is a professional GMAT tutor, based in New York City. He has scored in the 99th-percentile of the GMAT three different times, he has written and edited hundreds of practice GMAT questions, and he has over 7,000 hours of tutoring experience.

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