The SBC GMAT Files

How To Feign Math Skills Developed Over Time With A Robust GMAT Study Plan, Part I

Although the math sections of standardized tests such as the SAT, GRE, and GMAT appear to cover similar content, there are some important subtleties to GMAT math that are worth keeping in mind when preparing for the exam.

All standardized tests require preparation. This is especially true for the GMAT, and particularly so for GMAT math questions. The content writers for most of the standardized tests you’re familiar with are looking to produce material that minimizes the benefits of practice – although their degree of success appears dubious in light of the proliferation of test preparation courses. Their motive for doing so is that schools are looking to them to produce a metric of long-term skills acquisition; an exam that can be easily mastered with preparation won’t offer a proper weighting to the skills that take years to develop.

As best as we’ve been able to ascertain, the aims of the GMAT’s content writers are similar to those of other standardized test writers, but with a bit of a twist. Business schools want serious applicants, and expect your preparation for the GMAT to be an earnest enterprise that signals your level of commitment to earning an MBA. Nevertheless, like other graduate programs, they want the GMAT to be a good measure of skills acquired over time. The exam they’re looking for is one that rewards preparation, but only up to a point. They want those students who aren’t willing to prepare to do poorly, without giving too much of an advantage to those students who are willing to devote hundreds of hours to test prep. The Graduate Management Admission Council’s own data on the GMAT appears to confirm this. The GMAC recommends that students devote about 100 hours to GMAT preparation in order to achieve optimal performance . Many of us in the test preparation field suspect that the benefits of proper preparation extend well beyond this point, and certainly we’ve witnessed how nuanced and engaged prep can yield improvements on points that initially seem to be insurmountable. Certainly, the GMAT is an exam worth studying for, perhaps even more so than for most other standardized graduate school admissions exams. The following are some quick and easy ways to begin to build the foundation of your study for the math section. By no means is this comprehensive, but because math fluency is cumulative, you’d be best served to start off with the basics.

Working with Numbers

To do well on the math section of the GMAT, one has to be able to work fluidly with numbers. Over and over we’ve seen the same situation: A student has a strong grasp of conceptual math, but has difficulty with numerical computation. Despite the student’s evident facility with math concepts, the student underperforms significantly on the GMAT.  Performance on the GMAT demands you be able to do simple arithmetic quickly and accurately. Presumably, successful managers can think on their feet in terms of dollars and cents, and business schools want applicants with a penchant for numbers. I recommend students practice mental arithmetic as much as possible to get an edge. For students struggling with mental math, memorization is often a good starting point. Some things you can do to get up to speed include:
  •  Memorizing the times tables up to 20 times 20,
  •  Learn the powers of small integers (quick! What’s 2 to the 8th power?), and
  •  Know the decimal equivalents of common fractions.
These three quick fixes will actually help lay the foundation for rapid arithmetic. When you think you have this down, take it up to the next level and make it applicable to the GMAT itself:  work through practice questions without pen and paper ”“ do everything in your head.  Once you get foundations down it’s easier to understand and succeed on more difficult questions, all of which can be accomplished in a short period of time.


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