CONSISTENTLY ASK YOURSELF: “Am I spinning my wheels?”
Remember, that means doing things that won’t get you to the answer any faster.
Are you calculating something that won’t yield one of the five answer choices?
That’s not to say that the GMAT is giving you wrong information, but rather that the answer choices restrict your possibilities.
Remember that the answer choices are an integral part of the question!
There is a lot of information in the questions that is pointless once you look at the answer choices.
For example, say you’re looking for the number with digits AB and they tell you A * B < 10.
Don’t try A = 2 and B = 4 when your answer choices are 11, 12, 13, 21, and 31.
In other cases, maybe the answer is clear. Stop calculating and pick the answer!
Just as in real life, no one is paying you to cross your Ts and dot your Is. No one is paying you for certainty. They’re paying you for getting the job done to some acceptable degree of efficacy.
(If you’re an accountant or an actuary, my apologies.)
If you’re 81% sure, that’s enough — pick the answer and move on!
Are you calculating what they’re asking for?
Look at the answers.
Find the one that looks the most realistic at this point. Try to make your answer look like that.
Aiming at an answer doesn’t mean you’ll absolutely get that particular answer, but it’s a good place to start.
If you’re not looking at how the GMAT Quant expresses its answers, how will you know what they want?
There are many mathematically equivalent ways to write most correct answers—especially in Algebra and Percents—so you need to be aware of how the test expects you to write your answer.
Mold and shape your answer to match the answers provided.
When the basic form of your workings begins to look like the answer choices, then you’ll see whether you need to make any adjustments.
In fact, looking at the answers quite often tips me off to something I might have missed earlier—even when I’ve read the question incorrectly.
My internal dialogue goes something like this:
“Why does that answer have an N in it when mine doesn’t?”
“Because you accidentally dropped the N three lines ago, genius.”
But hey, at least I caught the problem. Long story short, look at your asnwers—they’re part of the question!
The Dumb Mistake Wheel-Spin in GMAT Quant
On a related note, it’s usually useful to scan the two or three previous lines of work just to make sure you haven’t done anything really silly.
Do a brief estimation—is that normal? Do those numbers look like they work out?
No point in beating yourself up about it—everyone makes silly errors.
That’s probably not true—some people don’t, but they’re horrible and they got a 780 without studying anyway so they’re definitely not reading this guide.
In short, learn to catch your errors as you work. Shit happens. Deal with it.
That’s the only way to move forward.
3) Critical Analysis in GMAT Quant
This is a refined version of the skillset to stop wheel-spinning. Simply integrate these questions into your work:
- What is this question about?
- What information is given in the question?
- How does each piece of information apply to the other? What can be discarded?
- What basic “best practices” can I apply, given this information?
- What is the “punch line” of the question? That is, what main idea is it testing?
- What, specifically, is the ultimate question? Is that the answer that I’ve written down? (HINT: Re-read the last sentence of the question before confirming your answer).
It might seem difficult to memorize all of these questions, but that’s OK–I’m not asking you to do so. In fact, I suggest you don’t.
Rather, this set of basic principles will ingrain itself in your process through time and experience.
If you keep it next to you as you work through the Official Guide, following through these steps will become a thoroughly intuitive process.
When you’re analyzing the question for future revision—that is, repeating questions–because YOU DO REPEAT QUESTIONS, RIGHT?—ask yourself these questions as well:
- What is the primary “trick” in this question?
- What is the place that they expect me to trip? That is, what is the question? Where would the 600-level testtaker fall down when doing this question? Where would the 700-level test-taker fall down when doing this question?
See? The question isn’t that daunting after all.
Where would the 500-level test-taker fall down when doing this
By asking yourself a few basic questions, it’s possible both to go from a total lack of understanding to a pretty firm grasp of the point of the question.
Learning to ask the right questions of yourself is only part of the battle, though—the rest is the make sure you know the concepts thoroughly and that you’re confident that you can solve any problem.
Remember, GMAT Quant is not smarter than you—any of these questions, sufficiently explained, are comprehensible.