Invariably when I ask a student what about their strengths and weaknesses related to the GMAT, his list focuses on topics or question types.
- “I struggle with the quant section.”
- “Sentence correction is my best verbal question type.”
- “I hate data sufficiency.”
- “I’m good at rate problems, but I can’t figure out probability.”
Now, the ability to generate this sort of inventory is important. You should generally devote more study time to those topics and question types where you are weaker. But along with this topic-based inventory, other aspects of your personality and approach will impact your GMAT experience. Understanding these underlying tendencies in yourself can be invaluable to improving your GMAT performance.
In each of the four cases below consider which statement sounds more like you.
1) To solve a challenging problem…
A. Give me a formula. Give me an algorithm. As long as I know an approach I can crank through the math and get the problem done.
B. I like the chance to get creative. Drawing diagrams and recognizing patterns is what I do best.
2) During the test I more often feel….
A. Confident that I am attacking the problems correctly.
B. Very uncertain about what I am doing. I hate the GMAT test writers because I am probably falling into the traps they set.
3) When I see a challenging problem I like to….
A. Dive in and start trying things out. If I try enough things, I’ll eventually stumble on the correct one.
B. Take my time and contemplate the best approach. Eventually the words on the page are going to start making sense, right?
4) As I complete a section of the GMAT
A. I am totally focused on the problem I am doing. The pyramids were built one brick at a time and so is my GMAT score.
B. I am in it for the long-haul and thinking about the entire section. How much does each problem really count for any way?
And now to the interpretation of these answers, an interpretation that will hopefully be more helpful than learning whether you should wear spring or autumn colors or the best bathing suit for your body shape.
If you answered A, you may have been an engineering or physics major. Formulas have their place on the GMAT, but the GMAT writers are very good at twisting traditional wisdom and rules (e.g. it takes 2 equations to solver for 2 unknowns) and asking non-standard questions that cannot be solved with a formula. Don’t be afraid to get your right brain involved.
If you answered B, you’re in good shape to attack some of the non-standard problems on the GMAT. But keep in mind that adding some additional structures to your thinking will likely help. Take the time to learn some formulas and approaches to the more common GMAT question types. There is no need to reinvent the wheel for every problem.
If you answered A, it is great to have confidence during the test, but you need to make sure it is a cautious confidence. GMAT questions are tricky so make sure your confidence does not lead to impulsiveness. If you come to an answer very quickly, take a second to consider if there may be an additional trick or trap you are missing.
If you answered B, remember the GMAT is not like a traditional test. You can do very well on the GMAT answering just over 50% of the questions correctly. So don’t let yourself get shaken because you don’t understand one question. Furthermore, your suspicion of GMAT test questions is a good thing if you can use it to try to sniff out the tricks that are inherent in many questions.
If you answered A, a willingness to experiment can be valuable. But don’t underestimate the value of planning. Often if you take the time to understand a question, the approach to solve becomes much clearer (work smarter, not harder). Don’t feel like your pen always has to be moving.
If you answered B, taking the time to evaluate and understand a question is essential. But once you have some understanding, you don’t necessarily need feel fully confident to start experimenting. Don’t be afraid to put something on paper to test out some theories or numbers. You may not have the perfect approach, but some approach is better than staring at a blank piece of paper.
If you answered A, living in the moment – or the question – is an admirable quality. But don’t forget the GMAT is a marathon, not a sprint. You need to be thinking at least somewhat about your larger test strategy, especially time management. One of the biggest hits your score can take is if you substantially run out time by spending far too long on a few problems.
If you answered B, good job keeping things in perspective. One problem will not determine your whole GMAT score. But keep in mind, you must fully engage with the problem you are doing to maximize your score. Make sure you are mindful of larger test strategy, especially timing, but don’t be afraid to really focus in as you move through the test.
These are just a few aspects of your test-taking personality to consider. Take some time to think about the other tendencies you bring to the test. An awareness of your baggage – good or bad – is the first step in actively managing these issues. Or to quote GI Joe, “Knowing is half the battle.”