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GMAT Shortcuts

An enduring myth among many test-takers (GMAT and otherwise) is that standardized test preparation is simply a matter of memorizing a few rules and shortcuts and implementing these tricks on test day. This belief is only reinforced by large test-prep companies like The Princeton Review and Kaplan, whose curriculum is oriented around such superficial techniques. Unfortunately, I’ve had to break the news to a few recent students that these tricks can only go so far in helping you get a good score on the GMAT.

Though it’s certainly true that some of the shortcuts for concepts such as combined rates or overlapping sets will prove useful on test day, the actual effectiveness of most of the shortcuts you learn is significantly overrated for a couple reasons:

1.The makers of the GMAT are fully aware that such techniques exist, and they thus construct questions that, for the most part, circumvent the cookie-cutter techniques you might read in a typical GMAT book at the bookstore.

2. For your preparation to be most effective, you should be concerned not so much with the reason a specific answer is correct as with the broader applicability of that question’s concepts to what you might see on test day.

Equally important is recognizing that trying to memorize every shortcut that could possibly be used on the GMAT will often be counter-productive. Instead of taking a content-based, foundational approach, you will be spending time memorizing shortcuts and gimmicks with little applicability to the actual exam. It might turn out that one or two of the hundreds of shortcuts you memorized will appear on the exam, and it’s great if you get those questions correct. But the downside is that you won’t have the conceptual foundations to successfully tackle the rest of the questions that appear on the exam. Furthermore, because memorization lends itself to rigidity in your approach, it will be difficult to have the flexibility of thought (especially under timed circumstances) that you need to tackle some of the nuanced questions the GMAT will throw at you.

So what is someone studying for the GMAT to do? Recognize the GMAT for what it is: A difficult, subtle exam that requires hard work, dedication, and perseverance. Success on the GMAT won’t come overnight, and it won’t come from drilling home hundreds of flashcards before test day. What it will come from is an approach that recognizes the underlying concepts that appears on the exam and works on these concepts from the ground up.

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