If you’re doing math on the GMAT, watch this.


I want to discuss one of the core tenents of Apex’s quantitative philosophy on the GMAT, and that is that “If you’re doing math, you’re doing something wrong.” This means, if you find yourself doing math, that’s a signal from the exam that you’re using a sub-optimal solution path. And by math I don’t mean any calculation whatsoever, but any calculations that aren’t reasonable, that don’t come out easily, neatly and cleanly, once you’re well practiced with mental math. So it’s not that we’ll never do a calculation, but every calculation we do should be deliberate and should be smooth.

Let’s go a little deeper into this, because it’s a really important concept. Many, many people preparing for the GMAT spend way too much time worrying about the math, being freaked out about the math and on the exam doing the math. The applied mathematical solution path is the most over used solution path on the quantitative side of the GMAT. Particularity among engineers, and with people who do a lot of self prepping, they look to the back of the book or look to their previous experience as students and they get caught up in the idea that their answer needs to be precise. This gets in the way of us using our estimation solution path or one of the other higher solution paths that get us to the correct answer much more quickly.

How do we know that math is not what the GMAT wants us to do? It’s quite simple. If the GMAT was the referendum on how well you can do mental math, then the scores would reflect your ability to do so. MBA programs at top business schools would be filled with people with extraordinary, almost savant like mental math abilities. We know this isn’t the case.

Actually, as we improve on our mental math, we get diminishing returns with it, so we see a lot of clients getting up to the 70th, 80th, or 90th percent level even, on the quantitative side of things and then, all of a sudden they plateau; they can’t get any higher. The reason is they are so focused on the math they are missing the bigger logical reasoning picture or the structure of quantitative problems that doesn’t rely on doing math that allows both quick and accurate solutions.

While math has it’s place, we want to be sure that we’re not putting it on a pedestal, and that when we’re performing computations, we’re doing so with great deliberation, with great intentionality, and that we have a very good reason for doing any computation we’re doing. If you find yourself diving into the equation or doing a lot of processing, stop; put a hard stop on it. Say “Wait a minute, there must be a better way to do this.” Or, another option is that sometimes you make a basic processing error early on and that leads to ugly numbers and heavier duty math. But you should never, never, never be multiplying decimals out to the fourth decimal. That sort of math is the true trigger, the true signal, that there’s a better way to solve the problem. When you’re self prepping, this is what you want to look for so by the time you get to the exam, you’re not catching yourself doing math, but you’ve already incorporated it into your process, the fact that math shouldn’t be your default. So, remember, guys, if you’re doing math, you’re doing something wrong and you can take this one to the bank.

Hope this helps and I’ll see you guys again soon.

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