don’t half-ass your GMAT practice

I rarely mention this part of my life on my GMAT blog, but I used to be a junior member of a professional aerial modern dance company.  There were a grand total of six dancers in the company—seven, including the director—and we did a lot of trapeze-based movement, usually mixed with some vaguely acrobatic modern dance.  Our two-hour performances were unbelievably exhausting: since we had so few dancers, nearly all of us were on stage for most of the performance, jumping from flying birdcages perched 20 feet above the stage or swinging on giant metal sleds.

We did plenty of crazy stuff on various flying apparatuses, but my favorite piece of choreography was this insane mess:  I would throw myself into the air as forcefully as I could, and another dancer would catch me in mid-leap, and then throw me right back into the air.  I would fly across the stage and try to roll gracefully onto my back; meanwhile, the other dancer would chase me across the stage and fall over backwards as soon as I rolled onto my back.  And then I would hurl him right back into the air before he could land on top of me.  Tons of fun!

My director was pretty much a complete lunatic, but I learned a ton from her.  The choreography was absolutely brutal, and the director used to scream at us at the top of her lungs:  “Don’t half-ass the choreography in rehearsal!  Dance with 100% energy all the time when you practice, or else you’ll get hurt during the performances!”  The dancers got sick of hearing it, and we would whine about how crazy and annoying she was.

But the crazy director was right.  During our first performance, three out of the seven dancers got hurt—badly.  Two dancers collided on stage, and both of them cracked their ribs.  The director proved her own point by popping a hernia on stage during the performance; I watched with horror as she pushed the hernia back in—on stage—and kept dancing.  Since she usually watched the rehearsals instead of participating in them, she wasn’t quite ready for the performances, either.

By now, you might be wondering what this silly dance story is doing on a GMAT blog.  Well, my director’s screams (“don’t half-ass the choreography in rehearsal!”) ring in my ears every time I prepare for an exam, or every time I see one of my GMAT students “half-ass” a practice set.

The GMAT, more than most standardized tests, requires you to be 100% focused during every single second of the test.  If you lose concentration for even a moment, you might misread a word or bungle some simple arithmetic, and then you’ll miss questions that you shouldn’t miss.  And on an adaptive test, those “unforced” errors can absolutely destroy your score, especially if the errors occur early in a section.  As discussed in an earlier blog post, the key to a great GMAT score is your ability to avoid those unforced errors.

To make things worse, the GMAT is a really long, painful test, and the verbal section appears at the end of the four-hour marathon.  That’s one reason why so many test-takers receive unpleasant surprises when they see their GMAT verbal score:  they’re exhausted, and they start to lose their ability to concentrate.

There’s only one thing that you can do to prevent verbal meltdowns and “unforced” errors:  do every practice set as if your hair is on fire.  If you’re going to do two hours of GMAT practice every night after work, throw every ounce of your energy into those two hours.  Convince yourself that each set really matters.  If it helps, pretend that an insane dance director is screaming at you at the top of her lungs.

Or pretend that your GMAT tutor is screaming at you.  Whichever you prefer.

Sometimes we forget that the GMAT isn’t really a content-based test; it’s mostly a test of reading and reasoning, and it’s an outstanding test of your ability to stay sharp for four full hours.  You can memorize all of the formulas you want, but if you aren’t accustomed to answering 91 questions at full intensity, your score will suffer enormously.

So don’t just “go through the motions” when you do your practice sets.  Do each question as if your MBA life hangs in the balance—because in the long run, it does.

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