Easy Come Easy Go – A Plea to Drop the Word “Easy” From The BTG Vernacular

by on November 7th, 2010

The GMAT is a hard test – it has to be. After all, the role of the GMAT is to separate people who have all already separated themselves; GMAT examinees are college graduates or soon-to-be graduates with an interest in furthering their careers through higher education.   Because of this need for separation, the GMAT doesn’t ask questions unless there is a good probability that those who answer it will answer incorrectly.  Why waste 1 of 37 quant or 1 of 41 verbal questions on a “gimme”?

Sadly, you’ve likely seen evidence to the contrary on the forums on Beat the GMAT and other GMAT-themed websites, on which users will post “this one’s easy” or “that was an easy question” in response to a question or explanation.  As one of the Beat the GMAT featured experts, I implore you to stop!  The score you save may be your own.

1. There’s no value in a post that simply says “that was easy”.

The GMAT doesn’t ask questions unless there’s a chance that someone would miss it, and similarly people don’t post questions on the forums unless they may have had some trouble with it, too.  What’s easy for you may not be easy for someone else, but then again if you’re browsing GMAT forums for assistance on the test you’re probably going to find that you’re struggling on some questions that come easy to others, too.  Let’s share our strengths to teach and support one another and to encourage people to keep posting questions.

As a GMAT instructor, I’ve seen several instances in which the very student question that a few classmates dismissed as remedial (e.g. “could you tell me again why 5 is odd? I thought that ‘odd’ was ‘divisible by 3’…) led to a valuable discussion that improved everyone’s knowledge of the GMAT (e.g.  “no, even/odd strictly deals with divisibility by 2, but keep in mind that 0 is divisible by 2 so 0 is a sneaky even number”).  It’s to your benefit as a learner to encourage others to ask questions…you never know what you’ll learn that you didn’t even realize you didn’t know.

2. The hardest GMAT questions are those that look easy.

One of the greatest movie quotes of all time is from The Usual Suspects:  “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.”  The GMAT does that all the time – it asks questions that are designed to look easy so that you choose an incorrect answer choice without even considering the difficult part.  This works against you in two ways:  first, you get the question wrong; second, you probably start to second-guess your performance based on the computer-adaptive format, thinking that the wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing question you just saw was so easy that your score must be low.  It never pays to think that a question is easy!  Consider the question:

What is the greatest prime factor of 12!11! + 11!10!?

(A)   7
(B)   11
(C)   13
(D)   17
(E)    19

Easy, right?  But the answer is not B, despite the insistence of 90+% of GMAT students that it is!

We’ve all seen Michael Jordan miss layups and Tiger Woods miss putts – even the greatest in their fields will make simple mistakes when they allow themselves to lose focus on what seems like a simple task.  It’s never to your benefit to assume that a GMAT question or concept is easy.  Instead, train yourself to look for the difficulty or potential for it:  How could the authors make such a question harder?  What mistakes might you make if you lose focus or rush through such a question?

Similarly, it’s a cliché but “there’s no such thing as a stupid question”.  Here’s a dirty secret…many of us who post as featured experts on this site are just plain suckers for helping people learn – we can’t resist an opportunity to teach.  Each question that goes on the forums is an invitation for a GMAT expert to teach a lesson, and I know that I personally try to extend each of my lessons beyond the scope of that question asked.  When I see a problem and an opportunity to teach from it, I want to do exactly what I mentioned above – alert you to the dangers that such a problem could present, show you conceptually how to attack similar problems that vary on that theme, summarize best practices for using and attacking those concepts and question types, etc.  Each question that you post on the forums is, if only for the reason that it invites a host of experts to teach from it, a smart question.  Encourage your fellow posters to keep asking questions – if a question was easy for you, smile and pat yourself on the back for mastering the concept.  But, please, don’t publicly call it “easy”.  Who knows…it may have been harder than you think, and who wants to publicly admit to being wrong?  (Thank you, Eric, David, and Bea for the “edit” function!)


  • I tried the question in this post and wanted to see if it is the right answer.


    12! 11!+11! 10!


    Therefore the greatest prime factor is 19?

  • Great article, Brian!

  • Thanks, Brent! And Sajid - you're exactly right...on this question you need to factor-in-order-to-multiply - an important strategy on exponent and factorial questions. Great work!

  • It was nice to read all this stuff Brian! Thank you!

  • Can you explain how to solve this problem in a little more detail? Im not quite grasping the steps that Sijad took to arrive at 19.



    • Hey Jonathan,

      Definitely - you may want to check out this blog post that goes through the same problem in its entirety: http://www.veritasprep.com/blog/2010/09/gmat-challenge-question-prime-time/.

    • First see what can be commonly taken out - it is 11!.10!
      12! 11!+11! 10! =
      (12 11 10!) 11!+11! 10! =
      11!.10!(12.11 + 1)=
      11! 10! 133
      Check highest prime factor of 133 --> It is 19

      This is greater than 11, so go with E and MOVE ON

  • Great post and common sense...! I do always believe that there are no silly questions but only silly answers...!

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