December 07, 2006

The Strategy of Trade-offs in GMAT

I'm going to post a rather long note about the importance and strategy for "trade-offs" when you prepare for GMAT (for that matter, any standardized time based test). I hope some of you GMAT preparers will find this useful and help your planning.

GMAT tests you on three broad categories (apart from the actual content - Quant and Verbal)

  1. Ability to handle time pressure without panicking
  2. Ability to make intelligent assumptions
  3. Ability to make quick judgments on what you can solve within a given period, and what you cannot.

Regardless of your technical acumen, if you are poor at one of the above points, you will find yourself at a disadvantage at the test center. One of the issues with many preparers is the inability to plan realistically. Any test preparation must be done in accordance with realities of the test taker. Strategies are not made in a vacuum, they are borne out of a set of cirumstances that best fit the eventual course. For a test like GMAT, one would have to look at

  1. Past history and performance in standardized tests. Are you a good test taker?
  2. Test taking temparament. Are you "cool headed", nervous, do tests give you anxiety?
  3. Skills relevant to the test. Are you very strong or weak in Quant? Is your english well below average?
  4. Preparation time - how much time do you have for your preparation? 10 weeks? 1 year?
  5. Target schools - what kind of scores do your target schools look at? 600? 700?
  6. Applicant pool and demography - do you belong to very competitive applicant pools? Does that require you to score higher than most others?
  7. Financial resources - how much can you spend in preparation and training?
A good strategy makes an makes an honest assessment of each of these points.

I've seen in many discussions that test takers are hung up on a score, often with utter disregard to realities that dictate what they could reach. It's often "I want to score 750, what do I do?" - and then they get upset at poor practice scores, and then panic at the actual exam. It might be more relevant to ask, before you begin, if "Do I need 750? can I get 750 given my current skills and circumstances? What am I willing to do to get that score?" You might be surprised that in many cases, you really do not need such a score, or that it is realistically difficult and therefore your strategy needs tuning thereby substantially altering your preparation style. For an average appplicant, preparation for a target of 680-700 can be hugely different from trying for a 750.

Step I - Plan a goal score that is based on an honest self evaluation.

Once you have a number in mind, begin to assess your chances and your course of action.

Step II - Pick your battles wisely

Let's face it, if you suck at permuations and combinations and you had 100 hours to study quant- you do not want to be spending 70 hours trying to "master your combinatorics" and spending the other 30 hours on all other topics. In my case - I took a stand early on. In GMAT, the perm/comb questions are far and few in between, but number properties rule. So I spent most of my time practicing number properties, and decided that I would tackle simple combination problems and if they were hard - I would make a wild guess using my elimination techniques. Bottom line, I was not going to sweat about not cracking every question.

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