GMAT Quantitative problems are the headlights—don’t be the deer

December 28, 2011
Lucas Weingarten

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,GMAT Blog 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 Lucas Weingarten is a full-time instructor for Kaplan Test Prep and he loves preparing GRE students for Test Day. The classroom is Lucas’ arena. When he cannot be found in one of Kaplan’s cage matches of learning, he is very likely dancing around DePaul University’s College of Commerce/Kellstadt Graduate School of Business in Chicago professing various courses offered by the Department of Management, up to and including monikers such as: “Managing for Effective and Ethical Organizational Behavior,” “Entrepreneurship Strategy,” “Strategic Managements and Analysis,” “Human Resource Management,” “Recruitment and Selection,” and “Foundations of Business Thought and Theory.” (Although that last one was cancelled just before the quarter started and he’s still not gotten over it.) Lucas spent most of his formative years in North Carolina, but hit the long road as soon as he was able. A world traveler with a currently expired passport, he has lived on and wandered around three continents with the expressed intention of finishing the job. He holds a BFA with a concentration in sculpture as well as an MBA with dual concentrations in Entrepreneurship and Finance. When not challenging standardized tests to a duel or wondering how to corrupt the business students of America, Lucas can be found brewing delicious beers, riding-then-fixing-then-riding his motorcycle, hanging out with dogs, pretending he’s a good cook, and feeling like the luckiest guy in the world to have such a fantastic wife and endlessly amazing young son. He’s in Milwaukee now, but is in Chicago often. Email him anytime about anything at:

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