Master the Business Mindset for the GMAT

by on August 2nd, 2015

business-couple-2If you’ve ever read any of my articles, then you know how much I harp on the idea that the GMAT is primarily a test of your business decision-making, or executive reasoning, skills. Sure, there’s a bunch of facts and rules you need to know, but you don’t need to be a math or grammar superstar in order to get a good score on the GMAT (even though I know it feels that way sometimes).

You do, though, have to be a GMAT master. Business schools want to know that you are going to be a good executive. You can assess a situation rapidly, noticing positive and negative factors that may affect how you want to move forward in that situation. You make appropriate decisions most of the time and you follow through: if you decide that a particular product line needs to be cut, you make that cut. You don’t dribble in another million dollars because you’re reluctant to let go. In short, you can manage your scarce resources (time, money, people) masterfully.

The GMAT is the same game, though your scarce resources on the test are time and mental energy. As such, it is crucial to approach the test as a series of business decisions, not a school test.

How do you take the test with a business mindset? Glad you asked! Read on.

Do NOT do what you did in school

In school, your goal was to try to get everything right, and if you studied enough, you just might have. Your teachers didn’t put problems on the test that they thought you couldn’t do. But the GMAT does! The test makers actually do NOT expect you to get everything right!

Why? Because real life is like that. The decisions you make at work every day don’t really have “right” answers, and you’re constantly balancing trade-offs. The GMAT is designed to mimic this, so expect to have to make some hard decisions. The b-schools want to know about your business mindset, not whether you can find the area of a circle or know what an appositive modifier is.

So how do I master this business mindset?

Approach the GMAT as a series of decisions to be made. You are the Director of your division. You’ve got an annual budget, a certain number of employees, various product lines to support, and goals for revenue and profits, among other things.

Each new problem is someone knocking on your door and asking you for $50,000 for something that they think is necessary. Sometimes, you agree and you hand over that $50k. Sometimes, you think the idea is so promising that you actually toss in a little extra (you spend a bit more time and mental energy on this problem).

Other times, you tell your employee, “I’m not sure yet. I’d like to know a little more before I decide.” (You spend 30 to 60 seconds on the problem to see whether you can get into it.) In some cases, the idea clicks and you say, “Great, let’s go for it!” (You realize that you do have a pretty good idea of how to solve the problem and it won’t take too long.) Other times, you say, “It’s a good idea, but we don’t have the funds right now. We’ll keep the idea in mind, but we’re going to table it for now (with the understanding that we may or may not come back to it in future).” (You realize that there’s a decent way to narrow down the answers, and you do so, then you guess and move on.)

Still other times, you say, “There are some significant obstacles to this idea, so we’re not going to move forward.” (You realize the problem is too hard or will take too long, so you cut off your efforts, guess, and move on.)

And, finally, there are those times that someone proposes something that’s just… a waste of time. :) We’ve all worked with that person, you know the one: we have a deadline tomorrow and we’re working hard to get the report produced, and so-and-so suggests that now would be a great time to review the marketing plan for next year. No, it’s really not a great time! Go away! (Cut that problem off fast and move on.)

Feel good about your decisions

Now, here’s the key emotional part. When you tell someone no, you don’t feel bad about it. You know that you’ve made the best decision for that circumstance. You don’t tell yourself that, if only you’d studied a bit more, you might have been able to spend $50k on that idea that actually wasn’t worth $50k…

Get the point? Don’t feel bad when you decide to bail on a question during the GMAT. You’re not bailing because you didn’t study enough and something’s wrong with you or your preparation; that’s the old school attitude.

You’re bailing because that decision is in fact the best decision for the current circumstance. Not only don’t you feel bad about that decision, you feel good about it! Remember, the business schools actually want to see that you have the capability to make these kinds of decisions, and the GMAT test makers are setting things up to test you on this skill!

As I mentioned at the beginning, yes, there are math and grammar rules and concepts to learn, as well as strategies for dealing with the various kinds of questions on the test. But the overarching strategy that ties everything together is this business mindset. You could learn every last formula, rule, and strategy and still bomb the test if you try to take it under the school mindset. On the other hand, you could learn maybe 70% of the content but master this business mindset and still get a 700+ score on this test.

So start practicing how you want to run your division until this mindset becomes second nature and you feel great when choosing to bail or make an educated guess on multiple problems throughout each section, because you know you really have made the best possible decision.

Happy studying!

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