GMAT – Practice won’t lead you anywhere!

Yesterday, I got a call from a person who works as a senior scientist in one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in India. He has, if I remember correctly, more than 7 years of experience in this domain and is one of the high performers in the company. In his under-graduation, he was a gold medalist.

Used to flying high, he saw his confidence shattered when he took the GMAT for the second time a few days go and scored a disappointing 630, a good 100 points below his target. He scored so even after studying on and off for more than a year and in a very focused way for the more than three months.

His natural question was: why didn’t hard work help? He was clueless as to where he went wrong and thus, as to what he needed to do to improve.

As I was talking with him, another similar story came to my mind.

In my first CR (Critical Reasoning) session, I use a statement to teach some fundamental concepts of critical reasoning.

The statement is: “If you work hard, you will succeed”.

In one of these sessions, a student became so unsettled by this statement that he remarked as soon as he saw the statement “Sir, I don’t believe in this statement. I have prepared for a long time, but I’m still nowhere close to my desired score.”

I was taken by surprise by this sudden out-of-the-turn admission in our first session, and I could feel that the person had really worked hard, though without success.

At that time, I had thought that I would write an article on this extremely important topic. However, time went by, and I kept postponing the same. After yesterday’s call with the scientist, I thought that I had delayed it enough and that it was time to share my perspective with others.

So, now, coming back to the question:

Why does hard work, at times, does not lead to success? Or in GMAT terms, why does a lot of practice, at times, does not lead to a good score?

I think the answer is same as the reason for the fact that a lot of running, at times, does not lead to the destination.

The crucial factor, which is overlooked in such cases, is DIRECTION.

The question one needs to ask, or the question you need to ask is:

Are you running in the right direction?

If the answer is yes, then you’ll reach your destination sooner or later, depending on your speed. If you want to reach earlier, you may increase your speed. If you can’t increase your speed beyond a point, just keep running. You’ll be there in a little more time.

However, if the answer is no, you have a BIG PROBLEM.

In such a case, no matter how much you run, you won’t reach your destination. You might feel that you are doing very hard work — and you’ll be correct: running is indeed hard work — but you may not reach where you want to. Then, you may curse the lady luck or even doubt the virtue of hard work, as the student above did.

If you do so, I believe you’ll have missed the right cause. And without such identification, you’ll not be able to resolve the problem at hand.

The problem lies in your direction. Running alone is not a sufficient condition for reaching the destination; the direction also needs to be correct.

In your pursuit to run as fast as possible, you may have all along neglected the value of the direction. And probably, nobody told you about that. Or worse, somebody guided you towards the wrong one.

The idea here is not to find the person to blame but to understand the root of the problem so that the problem can be solved.

The root is the wrong direction.

Hard work is not wrong; rather it is a necessary condition for success. The mistake is considering a necessary condition a sufficient condition.

To bring things out of the metaphor: the direction here stands for the approach on GMAT.

How do you approach questions?

Are you trying to understand and learn from each question? Or are you looking for shortcuts and tricks?

Are you trying to build your reasoning skills by solving questions? Or are you just looking for superficial patterns? Or worse, are you solving questions just for the sake of solving, assuming that solving more and more of them will help you ‘somehow’?

Do you have a structured thought process to break down the complexity of a question before attempting to solve it? Or do you just jump into the question tackling everything at the same time?

Do you have a clear and solid foundation of concepts which can help you solve a simple question left after breaking down a complex one? Or are your foundations still shaky? Or worse, do you not even know that there are foundational concepts in every area of study?

Do you spend sufficient time analyzing every question you get incorrect or question you are not sure of while marking the answer? or do you consider a post-attempt analysis of a question unnecessary?

Do you even know how to analyze your mistakes or the parameters on which to evaluate yourself?

Do you try to first master easy and medium level questions before trying to master hard questions? or do you start with the hardest questions first assuming that you’re going to see only the hardest ones on the test? (It’s like learning to drive at 80 miles per hour because ‘eventually’ you will want to drive at that speed!)

These are some of the questions that might help you evaluate your ‘direction’.

We need to understand that we are never going to see on actual GMAT the questions that we practice. So, solving questions is useless unless we learn from them.

And we’ll learn from them only if we practice them the right way.

Unless we do so, practice will not lead us anywhere!


If you found this article useful, you’ll likely find my strategy videos and article also relevant. Here are the links:

How to Ace GMAT?

Three Pillars of a Successful GMAT Strategy

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