Think With Your Pen and Take Control of the GMAT

Think With Your Pen and Take Control of the GMAT
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This tip for improving your GMAT score was provided by David Newland at Veritas Prep.

Some GMAT test-takers have the idea that not writing much on the note board is the way to score high on the GMAT. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

When you are transferring things to your note board on test day, you are thinking about that information and putting it into a useful form. Even more important, you are moving that information from an area that you have no control over—the computer screen—to an area you do control: the note board. The very act of writing the information down ensures that this is where your focus will be directed.

Taking control:

This transference is something we do all the time. When you step into a room or step outside, you notice your surroundings silently and immediately. You know the color of the walls, you know the temperature of the room, or that it is sunny outside and the grass is very green. There is no need for your inner voice to say to you: “Wow, it sure is a sunny day,” or “Those walls are a nice shade of blue.” So why do you do it? It is all about a sense of control.

Author Michael Singer writes in his best-selling book The Untethered Soul that the reason our inner voice calls attention to the things around us is to try to establish a sense of control over them. We tell ourselves it is cold because it gives the illusion of control and makes us feel better. While it is certainly true that we do not have control over the sunshine or the temperature outside, there are things that we can control. If we are inside and we notice that it is cold, we can turn up the thermostat.

The GMAT has elements of both. There are things you cannot control, such as the subject matter of the reading comprehension passage, and there are things that you can control, such as what you choose to focus on as you read that passage. The key is to know the difference.

If you think with your pen, you will take control of the question by moving the information into your realm and by wording it in a way that is most helpful to you.

Directing your focus:

Thinking with the pen is not just about taking control. It is also about where you choose to put your focus. Of all the things you do control during the GMAT exam, your own focus is the most important. If you are still lamenting the fact that you had to guess at the prior question, then your focus is stuck there. If you are constantly calculating the amount of time remaining per question, then the timer is where your focus is drawn.

Thinking with your pen can help you to direct your focus to the one thing that you need to be focused on, the one thing that matters in this moment: the question in front of you.

Writing down the main idea of each paragraph can help you focus properly on reading comprehension. Writing down precisely what the question is asking can keep you focused on the quant section. And writing down what you need the correct answer to say can help you not to be fooled by the answer choices on critical reasoning.

Putting it all together:

Try the following data-sufficiency question from the Veritas Prep Arithmetic book. First try this question by just glancing at it and quickly moving toward the answer. Do not write anything down until you start making calculations. Then after a minute or so, stop yourself and start the problem again. Write down what the question is asking and write something for each of the statements.

What is the remainder when 33 is divided by the integer y?

(1)    90 (2)    y is a prime number

In my experience, most students begin this question by quickly moving to find out how many prime numbers are between 90 and 100. But I bet that when you went back and restarted by writing down the question and statement 1, you noticed something.

The question asks what is the remainder when 33/y? Many students probably think of this as “y/33” but when you think with your pen you focus and see things correctly. Statement 1 suddenly becomes clearly sufficient. It does not matter what y is; so long as y is greater than 33 the answer will be quotient 0, remainder 33. Statement 1 is sufficient. Statement 2 is not sufficient because various prime numbers give different remainders. So the answer is A. Thinking with your pen and focusing properly not only led to the correct answer but saved much time and confusion.

Remember, the title of the article is “Think With Your Pen,” not “Write Down Anything and Everything.” Know why you write the information—to take control over it and to focus on it. This should help you determine what to write down and allow you to take control of the GMAT.

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