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GMAT Tip: Stop with the Calculations, Already!

Timing is hands down one of the biggest challenges test takers have for the GMAT. The exam recognizes this, of course, and in fact sets up a penalty for those who leave the exam unfinished. Smart test takers have a solid understanding of the foundation of the GMAT – high scores come not from being a math whiz or spending your time memorizing obscure grammar topics, but realizing that the GMAT is looking to assess how well you critically think and leverage your assets in a demanding, time-sensitive environment.

That being said, when faced with complex, or seemingly complex, quantitative questions, many test takers acknowledge that they often revert back to trying to calculate a concrete, correct answer rather than assessing answer choices to determine which answer choice is “most likely” correct.

Beyond the standard strategies of plugging in answer choices when we see variables, or seeing which one of the answer choices stand out (say, an even integer in the midst of odd integers), remembering that there is a right answer listed for each problem is a key foundational concept that the best test takers recognize is a mindset that always need to be at the forefront of their strategy.

It can be difficult to adjust the very nature of how students are used to tackling quantitative, i.e. math, questions because the majority of educational systems focus on topic by topic, free-response oriented exams from primary through secondary schools, and even to college. Adjusting to a standardized, applied examination after years of doing it differently can be a tough challenge. But there are a few questions test takers can ask themselves while working through problem solving and data sufficiency questions that can encourage them to stay the course:

Question #1 – What is this question asking for – exactly?

It may seem like a very basic question, but many test takers assume that say, when facing with a two-variable equation question that they need to solve for one and/or both variables, when in fact, the question may be looking for x/y or x + y, which would require significantly less calculations.

Getting a good, and accurate, handle possible on what end point we need to arrive at is crucial to the 700+ score. And at the end, asking “did I give them what they are looking for?” can help us to avoid careless mistakes in say, solving for the wrong variable or failing to fully solve for a number of items in a ratio question.

Question #2 – What do the answer choices look like? Do I see any patterns?

In the same way that we focus on assessing what is “changing” in sentence correction questions, we should be doing the same with problem solving questions. Are all the answer choices multiples of 6? Are the answer choices relatively small numbers for a factorial question?

When faced with a question that seems completely impossible to solve in two, even five minutes, assessing the answer choices are an excellent way to figure out where to start. It also helps us avoid the common challenge of “solving” a question and coming up with the completely wrong answer and wasted precious time. Getting our bearing helps us be more competitive test takers. Most often, setting up the problem is a huge part of getting to the right answer, and leveraging answer choices to decide the problem approach is essential to good GMAT strategy.

Question #3: How can I use less brainpower on this question?

Read: the same as asking “is there an alternate, hopefully easier, way is solving this question?” The answer is very likely “yes” because many GMAT quantitative questions have multiple ways of getting to the right answer. Always staying cognizant of alternate approaches helps primarily with time management, but also helps test takers keep abreast of diving into a calculation minefield.

In summary – be as lazy, but as accurate, as you can be when it comes to the GMAT quantitative section. You’ve still got a verbal section ahead of you!


The above GMAT Tip comes from Veritas Prep. Since its founding in 2002, Veritas Prep has helped more than 100,000 students prepare for the GMAT and offers the most highly rated GMAT Prep course in the industry.

Posted in: GMAT, GMAT Tips

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