GMAT Tip: Slow Down to Speed Up

With the intense time pressure of the GMAT, test takers use a variety of techniques to answer every question in the 75 allotted minutes, extra time spent making sure you're doing the correct work will more than pay off by avoiding wasted time. Photograph by Martin Shields/Getty Images

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 Andrew Mitchell, director of pre-business programs and GMAT instructor at Kaplan Test Prep.

With the intense time pressure of the GMAT, many test-takers use a variety of techniques to answer every question in the 75 allotted minutes. Some of those are very useful—plugging numbers in place of variables to avoid algebra, for instance, or using keywords such as “however” and “therefore” to read a passage efficiently. Unfortunately, some overreact to the ticking clock and throw away points by rushing through questions and solving the wrong problems.

As the old saying goes, “Measure twice, cut once.” Extra time spent to make sure you’re doing the correct work will more than pay off by avoiding wasted time on inefficient or incorrect solutions. On every single GMAT question, stop and think to yourself, “What am I really asked for here?” Don’t start solving until you can answer it.

Consider, for example, the following critical reasoning question stem: Which of the following would NOT lend support to the author’s proposal?

I’ve seen students simply miss the word NOT and choose the first answer that does, in fact support the author’s proposal, getting the question wrong. Equally common is the mistaken assumption that the correct answer must undermine the proposal, leading students who “saved time” skimming the question to waste that time tenfold as they check and recheck the answers for an answer that doesn’t exist. In contrast, when you see a question like the one above, your thought process should go something like this: “O.K., NOT lend support. So, four wrong answers DO lend support, and the correct answer does NOT lend support—that could be a choice that weakens the proposal or one that’s too irrelevant to support anything.” It may seem paradoxical that you need to slow down to speed up. However, if you force yourself to adhere to this basic habit, your speed and accuracy will certainly improve.

Mitchell helps manage Kaplan Test Prep’s GMAT business, including marketing, program development, and delivery. Still an active GMAT and GRE instructor, Mitchell is leading Kaplan’s efforts to revamp its curriculum to teach the GMAT’s new Integrated Reasoning section. A best-selling author, his previous experience includes consulting for the Pentagon and product development at Google. Mitchell graduated from Harvard University with a B.S. in physics in 2001 and completed his MBA in 2007 at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business.

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