Use a 'Pilot’s Checklist' to Soar on Quantitative

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This tip for improving your GMAT score was provided by David Newland at Veritas Prep.

Some people find it difficult to know when they can safely hit “submit” on a Quantitative problem and make the answer final.

Can you be confident in your answer on problem solving if you find that your answer is one of the five choices? On data sufficiency, what do you need to consider to be sure you have not neglected some important concept?

It can seem risky to finalize your answer and go to the next question, so how can you be sure?

Take your cue from pilots. Deciding to take off in a plane is certainly an important decision. Midair is no time to realize that you have no fuel or you have a mechanical issue. It is important to be sure that everything is in order before takeoff.

Pilots deal with this need to be absolutely sure every day. A pilot needs to be cautious and confident at the same time. You need to be the same way on the GMAT Quantitative section. Be cautious right up until you are sure you have done all you can do and then be confident as you finalize your answer.

The Pilot’s Checklist
How does a pilot ever achieve confidence before takeoff that all systems are “go” and no minor-but-crucial details have been overlooked? The magic is in the pretakeoff checklist. The checklist indicates what the gauges should say and which parts of the plane to inspect visually so the pilot can be sure that nothing is overlooked and she can proceed with confidence.

You should develop simple checklists for problem-solving data sufficiency to prevent the avoidable errors that can crash-land your GMAT score.

Develop a Routine
The checklist is crucial for both you and pilots to remember crucial details, but so is developing a routine. It would be much more difficult for a pilot to remember the important details if she did things in a random order each time. A routine allows her to implement the checklist in a reliable, repeatable fashion.

Develop a checklist and implement it every time so that your routine is second nature, even under intense pressure. A good routine can work wonders for your GMAT score.

Here are checklists you can to follow on Problem Solving and Data Sufficiency. Practice often enough, and this will become your routine.

Problem Solving Checklist:

1. Read the problem slowly and write down precisely what the question is asking—before you start to make equations or do calculations.

2. Bring down all the numbers from the computer screen to your note board. If possible, put the numbers directly into relevant equations.

3. Now glance at the answer choices before doing any complicated math. You are looking for three things:

a. The spread of the answer choices—if the choices are spread far enough apart, you may be able to select an answer using logic alone.

b. The form of the answer choices—fractions vs. decimals, variables included, presence or absence of a denominator, etc. This will tell you what form your answer should take.

c. Clues how to begin addressing the problem. (Sometimes the form of the answers will point to a common denominator, factoring, etc.)

4. Solve the problem in the most efficient way you are comfortable with. Be sure you have answered what the question is asking.

Data Sufficiency Checklist
1. Write out the question that you are answering and note if it is a “specific number” or a “yes/no” question. This may seem simple, but it is one of the most important things you can do, especially for yes/no questions.

2. Separate the “facts” you are given in the question stem from the actual question itself. If x is an integer or a positive number, note this on your note board.

3. Write something down for each statement. Even if you write only “x is positive,” or some other seemingly obvious note, it is important that you write something. It keeps you organized and ensures that you’re digesting each fact you’re given.

4. Be sure to keep track of sufficient and not sufficient. Once you have evaluated each statement, you will want to indicate whether the information (combined with the “facts”) is sufficient to answer the question.

5. Check common number properties. Data sufficiency may seem endlessly devious, but a limited number of things actually come into play. For example, “positive/negative” and “integer/non-integer.”

To a pilot a safety check is second nature; it is a preflight routine before every flight. Make your checklists into routines and watch your Quant score soar.

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