GMAT studying tips: How To Avoid a High-Scorer’s Mistake

February 15, 2013


There are GMAT studying tips everywhere, whether it is giving you advice on reading material, or telling you to think like a computer. Applicants want to know how high, exactly, their GMAT score should be, and wondering if their own personal best even gives them a leg up.

The truth is that high scorers make mistakes as well, despite all the other GMAT studying tips. The biggest mistake comes from what Princeton professor and Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman calls “the ‘Law of Least Effort’ to intellectual tasks.” Basically, when people are brightest and feel they know an answer, they skip steps because they feel they already have enough information—this can help them arrive more quickly at the correct answer, but it can also be a trap that leads to huge mistakes.

Wondering how this happens? “The most academically successful among us have learned over time when we can stop thinking.  We know that hard questions usually have a ‘catch,’ and that once we’ve caught it we can turn our minds back to autopilot.  We know to look for a trap answer, and once we’ve found it we’re ready to play it straight again.”

So, perhaps one of the best among all of the GMAT studying tips comes from a recent post at Poets and Quants. Because the other truth is that the GMAT knows this about us, too, and that many of the hardest problems are deliberately designed to test our inclination toward the “Law of Least Effort.” The best studying tip, then, is not necessarily a tip about studying–it’s a tip on how to control your own thought processes.

Are you one who makes these kinds of high-scorers’ mistakes? If so, here are some GMAT studying tips that will be particularly helpful to you:

  1. “No error is ‘too basic.’  If you made it once you could make it again – don’t assume you’re better than any one type of error.
  2. “Be thorough and complete the last few steps.  Think like the testmaker – they know that we’re all guilty of the Law of Least Effort and they’re apt to exploit it.  Difficulty on the GMAT doesn’t necessarily all derive from ‘the hardest concept to grasp’– it often comes from the silly mistake that most make right after they’ve mastered that hard concept.
  3. “Make a checklist of the silly errors that befall you on practice tests and have a regimented process for double-checking them.  The GMAT will keep your high-powered intellectual side busy, so you should have a system in place to guard against that inevitable lull your mind will experience after the heavy lifting is done.”

As you prepare to apply to Washington DC MBA programs, keep these GMAT studying tips in mind and good luck!


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