How You Approach the GMAT and Why It Matters

Let’s face it. For most people, the process of preparing for the GMAT is long and grueling. The GMAT is like the SAT and GRE, except on steroids, and the test’s algorithm will make sure to expose any weaknesses in your conceptual knowledge or approach. For most people, these facts inevitably lead to a perspective on the GMAT that is somewhere between resignation and outright loathing. And, to be honest, I can’t fully blame you. If you’re working full-time and have to spend hours upon hours doing Data Sufficiency Number Properties and Modifiers questions in your spare time, you’re probably somewhat justified in any hatred you have for the test. But the truth is that, as far as your preparation is concerned, this type of mind-set will be counter-productive.

To truly beat the GMAT, you need to get into the test-makers’ minds to understand the logic of the questions and the fundamental topics that these questions are testing. I can’t count how many students I’ve had who, instead of taking this content-based approach, have approached their studying with the mindset that A) The GMAT wants to trick them and B) The only way to do well on the GMAT is to beat the test-makers at their own game, with various tricks and shortcuts. Instead of viewing the test as some game full of tricks and mazes, you should take a structuralist¬†approach. Once you study the exam enough and understand that the test-makers are truly testing only a finite number of concepts, you’ll be better-positioned to understand that answering a question correctly is not a matter of finding some loophole but, rather, a matter of categorizing the question and utilizing a strategy for that question that (hopefully) you’ve developed through hours of practice.

Of course, I’m not denying that the GMAT will throw some absolutely brutal questions at you, but I’m steadfast in my belief that what makes the GMAT difficult is the fact that the test-makers take simple concepts and insert them into unorthodox situations. The test-makers want to make it difficult to identify what’s really going on in the questions, so they’ll throw in a lot of variables or strange manipulations that will trip you up in what would be an otherwise simple question. Again, the best antidote here is NOT to memorize a gazillion shortcuts. It’s to spend some time understanding what the question truly, really is getting at and then proceeding just as you would with any other question within that category. What you’ll notice is that the more you practice this approach, the better you’ll become the next time you encounter a similar situation. What you’ll also notice is that, instead of taking an adversarial, screw-you-GMAT approach, you’ll view the exam as what it actually is: a test of your ability to process and analyze information within a finite amount of time. Now I’m not saying that taking this approach will magically lead to a 760, but what it will do is align your thought process with that of the test-makers — which is ultimately a good thing.


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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