GMAT Tip: Skip the Toughest Questions

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The GMAT Tip of the Week is a weekly column that includes advice on taking the Graduate Management Admission Test, which is required for admission to most business schools. Every week an instructor from a top test prep company will share suggestions for improving your GMAT score. This week’s tip comes from Stacey Koprince, lead instructor developer and director of online community at Manhattan GMAT.

Recently one of my students told me he’s struggling to ignore questions that are too difficult to answer because, normally, he’s “in it to win it.” He doesn’t like to give up on anything. (For those who aren’t familiar with that expression, it means you’re always trying your hardest to win.)

I responded, “Are you playing the right game?”

He’s been playing the game he was taught in school, where getting things right was much more important than the length of time spent. In school, grades are almost always based on the percentage of correct answers. The best students expect to get everything right. And this is the mindset that most of my students take into the GMAT as well—at least, until they talk to me.

We’re not playing that school game anymore. In fact, if you play by “school rules,” you’re not going to earn your best score. This is a new game with different rules—from now on, you’re playing tennis. Recently, Serena Williams won a match with a score of 6-1, 6-1; in other words, she crushed her opponent as you wish to crush the GMAT. Ninety points were played in the match. Williams’ opponent won 31 points. Even at the top levels, we expect to lose a lot of points; we just want to win more points than the opponent.

In other words, stick to your timing, cut yourself off on questions that are too difficult, and make educated guesses. All these habits are those of someone who is in it to win it. You’re not giving up when you do those things. You’re playing the game like an expert.

If you can think of a standardized test, Stacey Koprince has probably taught it—including, of course, the GMAT. She has been teaching the test for more than 15 years (she earned a score of 780) and her former students have gone on to such institutions as Columbia, UC-Berkeley’s Haas School, Harvard, and Wharton. Koprince earned a biology degree from the University of Michigan, where she began her teaching career as an organic chemistry lab assistant. She teaches in Montreal.

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