Know When to Swipe Left on GMAT Quant Problems

by on June 8th, 2018

holding a phone

One of the biggest challenges many of my students face in their GMAT preparation is knowing when to let go of Quant problems. They think that they have to correctly solve every problem, but that’s 1) not realistic and 2) not how the test works.

The GMAT is adaptive, so even when you’re doing extremely well, the test is going to dig deep to find harder questions to keep challenging you. This means that you are going to get problems wrong on test day no matter what.

So your goal should not be to solve all of the problems. Your goal should be two-fold:

-Solve all of the problems that you know how to solve
-Recognize problems that you don’t know how to solve and guess on those as soon as you realize you don’t know how to solve them

I’d like to focus on the second of the two folds.

This is a totally different test-taking mindset from what most people are used to, and they struggle to shift mindsets after years of thinking I have to solve all the problems to do well. It’s one thing to rationally understand the right GMAT mindset, but it’s something else to accept it emotionally and actually change your behavior.

There is, however, another area of life where people naturally apply a similar mindset: dating.

With the proliferation of dating apps, there is an endless supply of potential matches out there, but nobody has the time or energy to actually date all of them. So if you’re looking at a potential match’s profile picture and your gut is immediately telling you “not interested,” then what do you do? You swipe left! Don’t waste your time or theirs. Just move on.

You should feel free to “swipe left” on at least 2-3 Quant problems on the GMAT, and those decisions should be informed by knowing your own strengths and weaknesses. If you know that despite all your studying, you’re still pretty bad at function problems, and then a ridiculously complex function problem pops up on the test, feel free to just immediately guess on it and move on.

Or, let’s say you’re initially interested in someone, so you swipe right and decide to go out for drinks. But when your date shows up, there’s zero chemistry, and a few minutes into the conversation, they start talking about how flat-earth believers “make a lot of interesting points”…what do you do? You finish your drink, say, “It was nice meeting you,” and then you get out of there. You had a bad first date, but at least it was over quickly. The real mistake would be ignoring the red flags and thinking Maybe I can still make it work—and then you just end up wasting your whole night.

This is equivalent to being 60 seconds into a GMAT Quant problem and realizing that you have no idea how to solve it. You had initially tried to give it a shot, but as soon as you learned more about it and thought about it, it turned out to be not a good match for you. That’s fine—now get out of there! Guess! The real danger is getting questions wrong and spending too much time on them, because that leaves you less time to solve other problems that you otherwise could have solved.

And just as it’s a good idea to have a preset excuse for getting out of a bad first date (“I promised to walk my roommate’s dog tonight!”), it’s a good idea to have a preset guess that you can go to when you have no idea how to approach a problem. Just pick a letter from A to E and have that be your standard guess.

Lastly, let’s say you have a nice first date and so you go out a few more times and then you’re sort of dating this person… but at some point, it becomes unfortunately clear that there’s a fundamental deal-breaker and the relationship isn’t going anywhere beyond this point. It’s time to end it.

This is like being 2 or 3 minutes into a problem and realizing it’s just not going to happen. You thought you could do it, you tried to set it up, and you tried solving your set-up, but something’s wrong and you don’t know how to fix it.

I’m not a huge fan of ghosting in the real world, but feel free to ghost on GMAT Quant problems in that situation. I’m pretty sure they won’t take it personally.

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