GMAT Tip: When Shortcuts Don't Work

To have a shot at a 700+ score on the GMAT, you need to embrace the fact that the GMAT starts to employ new tricks as you move up in difficulty level. Photograph by 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 Brian Galvin, director of academic programs at Veritas Prep.

To have a shot at a 700+ score on the GMAT, you need to embrace the fact that the GMAT starts to employ new tricks as you move up in difficulty level. The test doesn’t focus on obscure content in the way that Jeopardy-style trivia questions get harder with more and more little-known facts. Doing well on these problems requires that you think critically about the same fundamental skills you have mastered in the easier problems.

Consider this question:

If triangle ABC is isosceles, what is the length of side AB?

1) The length of side AC is 4

2) The length of side BC is 4(√2)

Right away, you may recognize that neither statement alone is sufficient. You may also think about a particular isosceles triangle property: In an isosceles right triangle, for example, the ratio of the sides is x : x : x * (√2). And here you seem to have two of those sides—AC is 4, BC is the longer side, and so AB should also be 4. Right?

Wait! We don’t know what angle B is. This triangle could also have sides of 4, 4(√2), and 4(√2), and have all acute angles. Remember that the GMAT knows that you are studying all the standard triangle rules and that you will want to apply them to every triangle problem on the exam. Doing that here would have cost you the question. Knowing when not to is critical.

Remember that knowledge is just one part of the GMAT, which also tests critical thinking skills, efficient processing of information, and other higher-order thought processes. These are the skills that business schools value, and these are what the GMAT is designed to measure, no matter what content is being tested. And those same skills will make a difference between a good and a great GMAT score.

Brian Galvin has been with Veritas Prep since 2006 and has devoted himself to developing new and better ways to help students master the GMAT. He earned a 99th percentile score on the GMAT and has a bachelor’s degree and a master’s in education from the University of Michigan. He has taught high school history in Detroit, worked in sales and marketing for the Detroit Pistons NBA franchise, and has completed an Ironman race.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.