As a Kaplan GMAT instructor, I work with a lot of different people. Some of those people feel most challenged by the Verbal section of the test, while others feel most challenged by the Quant section. Either way—or even if you have a foot in both camps—everyone knows the feeling of reading a GMAT problem solving question that leaves you stunned and frozen like the proverbial deer in headlights. Savvier test takers, the kind all must eventually train to become, will quickly shake off that paralyzing sense of bewilderment and simply start moving. Those test takers might not get the question right, but they definitely don’t get run over.

I am writing this post because of a student I have been working with over the last couple of weeks. Her content knowledge is strong; give her a math problem and chances are she’ll solve it. However, give her a story describing a math problem and she is wont for where to even begin. It’s the biggest obstacle in her GMAT prep by a long shot. Translating words to math and paraphrasing the situation to its most essential parts (e.g., two types of things are sold; we know how much, we know how many; which sold more?) are our primary foci in our work together. In fact, at this point, we move onto the next problem after those two things have occurred. I don’t care to watch her turn the crank, I just want her to get the machine loaded.

In your prep, do the same thing. Compile a bunch of challenging questions covering all sorts of content and concepts, then focus on taking control of the question (i.e., get moving). What is happening? What information do you have? What information is missing? What are you supposed to figure out? What do the answer choices look like? What type of math is being tested (e.g., algebra, arithmetic, geometry)? What math concept will you have to use to solve (e.g., linear equations, percents, volume)?

Talk out loud, jot down noted answers to those questions (and others you think appropriate), then move onto the next one as quickly as you can. You can always go back and solve them—in fact, I recommend you do—but do so after you’ve gone through them as described. The focus of this exercise is to get you moving, to get you working, and to avoid standing still or spinning your wheels without any forward motion to show for it.

Lucas Weingarten teaches students how to beat the GMAT, GRE, and LSAT for Kaplan Test Prep and is proud to have earned “elite instructor” status. Lucas writes extensively for Kaplan’s GMAT blog, and in addition to the GMAT and business school as primary subject matter, he regularly explores topics within higher education, economic systems, sustainability, and current events. Lucas spent his formative years in North Carolina and currently resides in Milwaukee, WI, though he has not yet found the part of the world wherein to bury his roots. He has an MBA with a dual concentration in entrepreneurship and finance from DePaul University in Chicago and is fortunate to have secured an adjunct teaching position there out of the department of management. Family, friends, and a seemingly endless stream of new hobbies keep Lucas busy and happy outside of the classroom. You can reach out any time by email (lucas.weingarten@kaplan.com) or through the comments thread after his blog posts.