Don’t swim against the tide of GMAT

Today, I listened to a series of recorded lectures on GMAT by some GMAT instructor. The lectures pertained to Sentence Correction. On listening to the lectures, one thing became clear to me: the aim was to somehow solve the questions correctly as fast as possible.

The aim makes sense? Isn’t it?

Well, not really.

The instructor asked the student to scan through the option statements and look for the differences, and then try to understand the sentence to figure out which options can be eliminated on the basis of the differences. The sessions were laden with tricks and tips that can help one solve some questions in as few as 10 seconds! Of course, there were exceptions to those tricks. Fortunately, those exceptions were also discussed to some extent, but then the student was left to figure out whether question he is going to see on the actual test will follow the trick or be an exception.

All these sessions pertained to Sentence Correction. I am not sure how people teach CR (Critical Reasoning) or RC (Reading Comprehension). Probably, they have tips and tricks for these sections too.

Now, why am I writing this article?

Probably, because I felt a bit (or more accurately, quite) sad while watching the videos. All the focus was on solving the questions as fast as possible without any on student learning. There was no focus on building the concepts of the students. It was if the success could be achieved directly without a pursuit of excellence, without mastery of the subject.

Of course, success is our aim. A good score on GMAT is our aim. And for a good score, we need to solve the questions within a limited time frame. However, how do we achieve it? Through tips and tricks? By learning shortcuts for every conceivable question type?

This approach is something I call “swimming against the tide”. Why do I call it so? The answer lies in simple logic.

What is the objective of GMAT?

The answer to the above question will be easier to understand if we look at an even more fundamental question first.

Why does GMAT exist?

It exists as an entrance test for MBA programs worldwide. Right? And it is accepted by the likes of HBS, Stanford, and Wharton.

What will these B-schools be looking for in the candidates?

A mastery of shortcuts?

Or A mastery of skills that will contribute to success during MBA and, after that, in business.

The second one. Right?

And wouldn’t that be the objective of GMAT?

To provide these B-schools with a reliable indicator of these skills in the candidates.

Now, what are the skills that are required to succeed in MBA or business or that GMAT tests us on?

I think the most fundamental skill, if it can be called a skill, is the ability to reason deeply. Basically, what is your depth of reasoning? When you understand anything, do you understand it in depth? or do your understand it just superficially?

And this is what GMAT is testing you on. It tests your depth of reasoning by asking you to apply very fundamental concepts of Math and English in difficult situations. Your ability to apply the concepts on difficult problems is directly proportional to your concept clarity. The clearer your concepts are, the more successfully you’ll be able to apply them on GMAT problems.

So, logically, our focus while preparing for GMAT should be on building our concept clarity.

However, we’re struck in shortcuts and tricks. And why are we stuck in shortcuts and tricks?

Because when we look at a GMAT paper, we don’t see it as a test of reasoning; we see it as a test of English and Math questions because, as we reason, every question on GMAT is indeed either an English or a Math question. Such superficial is our understanding that we cannot see past the surface of the questions to understand their crux! Quite comically, this superficiality of our understanding prevents us to even see that the test is a test of depth of reasoning. And we continue to prepare in ways that don’t build our reasoning skills. We just want to clear the test through shortcuts and tricks, and this way is rather enforced by many test prep institutes, many of whom have faculty who haven’t taken GMAT themselves and even don’t have the reasoning calibre to teach higher order reasoning skills tested on GMAT.

Now, this approach of shortcuts and tricks is what I call “swimming against the tide”. Why? Because you want to score high on the GMAT through these shortcuts and tricks without building your concepts, and GMAC (the council that conducts GMAT) is up against you and wants to make sure that a student’s score reflects his or her ability, not his recollection of shortcuts and tricks.

Essentially, you are swimming against the tide and purpose of GMAT.

Who wins?

If GMAT is indeed worth its salt, it will.

Now, you don’t really need to swim against the tide. There is another way to prepare for GMAT. The way is to build your concepts that are tested on the GMAT. And once you master those concepts, your confidence will soar, and you’ll deserve and eventually get a high score on the GMAT. And trust me, this building of concepts is going to be useful not only for the GMAT but for your entire life. The learning that you gain during your GMAT prep will help you in your business school and beyond.

And in this way, you’ll swim with the tide of GMAT, not against it.

This article has also been posted at Linkedin (Link) and GMAT Club (Link)

About Chiranjeev Singh

An Alumnus of IIM Ahmedabad and with scores of 780 (2017) and 770 (2013) on GMAT and 99.98%ile on CAT, Chiranjeev is one of the most qualified GMAT tutors in India. Chiranjeev has earlier served as Director of Curriculum at e-GMAT. Chiranjeev has been helping students ace GMAT since 2012. He follows a concept-based methodology to teaching GMAT and is very committed to student success. You may contact him for any private GMAT tutoring needs at He conducts online sessions for students across the world.

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