Don’t Be “That (flashcard) Guy”

Greetings and welcome to another installment of Akil on the GMAT. I thought I’d share some of my thoughts and advice on how to study for the test. It seems more and more I encounter people who are studying wrong (oops I mean ‘incorrectly,’ since an adverb is needed to modify ‘studying’).

First, to understand how to study properly you have to understand the nature of the GMAT. The GMAT is an adaptive test that assesses quantitative and verbal REASONING. As such, the GMAT is not a test that you get a great score by simply memorizing facts, since a reasoning test requires logic supported by facts, rather than simple fact regurgitation.

Regurgitating facts will most likely only allow you to get a score in the low to mid 500s (in the best case scenario). If you are satisfied with a score in the 500s, you should just get a list of formulas and rules tested and memorize them. [My marketing department requires that I insert a shameless plug here for Bell Curves flashcards, which give you a succinct, comprehensive list of the rules and formulas tested on the GMAT – all in a nice, pretty package.]

If you want to have a realistic shot at the higher scores, you will need to memorize the facts necessary for success on the test and then, more importantly, develop your ability to use those facts in context.

Are you Flashcard Guy/Girl?

Flashcard Guy/Girl can recite every rule when asked but cannot apply it when presented a problem utilizing that rule in an indirect or obscure way. Your goal is to first learn all the rules (you will need to embrace your inner Flashcard Guy/Girl for a little while), but you must quickly transition away from reciting rules to a true understanding and application of those rules. Let’s run a quick test to determine your level of Flashcard Guy/Girl-ness.

Complete the following statement.

Rule 1:

To add numbers with exponents one must ___.

If your response was that you cannot add numbers with exponents unless they have the same base and power, you are only partially correct. You should make sure that you learn what you should do not just what you shouldn’t.

If you said “To add numbers with exponents one must have the same base and the same power then add the coefficient of each term,” you would be correct.

Let’s try another before continuing:

Example 1:

What is the value of 3x2 + 4x2 ?

If you realized how this directly connects to Rule 1 above, you are on your way to GMAT mastery. The correct answer here is 7x2.

Now, let’s make the previous question GMAT appropriate and try it again:

Example 2:

What is the value of x2 + x2 ?

Again this is a direct connection to our original rule, but with the additional twist that it hides the coefficients. The correct answer is 2x2.

Let’s step it up to a medium GMAT question (the above questions are fairly easy):

Example 3:

What is the value of 34 + 34 + 34?

(A) 34

(B) 35
(C) 39
(D) 312
(E) 324

If you were able to answer either of the two previous examples but were hesitant or unsure on this one, you have some Flashcard Guy/Girl in you. You were given a rule and problems where its application never varied, but as that rule was presented in a slightly unexpected manner you struggled. That’s what happens to Flashcard Guy/Girl.

The correct answer is B, because when adding numbers with exponents if your bases and exponents are the same you add the coefficients. Thus the question requires you to add (1)34 + (1)34 + (1)34 which can be expressed as (3)34 which is also 35.

To do well on the GMAT you must not expect to apply rules as if on autopilot. Yes, we have exponents and they want us to add them, but we must seek to understand this particular context and how the rule applies.

Proper Preparation

To properly prepare for the test you must accomplish the following:

  1. Learn the knowledge tested.
  2. Learn to recognize when/where that knowledge is tested.
  3. Understand how rules vary in their application from context to context.
  4. Learn the tendencies of the GMAT.
  5. Develop personal efficiencies.
  6. Develop a personal pacing plan.

One of the greatest challenges in transitioning from the 500s to the 600s is learning how to leave behind Flashcard Guy/Girl.

Learn to understand each rule, not to simply recite them.

Learn to recognize each rule being tested.

Learn to apply a rule to a wide variety of problems in a multitude of contexts.

Doing these things will help you gain an amazing GMAT score, admission to your top school, and an opportunity to take a leading role at one of America’s greatest financial institutions, such as Lehman, AIG, Enron, and WaMU (kidding).

Resource List

From time to time, I’ll try to add a list of resource products that will help support your studies. As founder of Bell Curves, I naturally have a bias for our materials, but I’ll always be honest about products I, and my students, find helpful. So, without further ado, a short list:

  1. GMATPrep – the best practice tests, hands down! Use wisely, as there are only two available.
  2. GMATFocus – a GMAC adaptive diagnostic tool. It’s a great source of adaptive questions. I would only use at the end of my prep cycle.

Until next time, I wish you knowledge, skill, and happiness.

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