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3 GMAT Topics Students Struggle With Most (& How to Tackle Them)

Dreading a particular GMAT topic or question-type? Feel you’re destined to perform poorly in a certain subject area?

All test-takers have their strengths and weaknesses. But it’s surprising just how easy it is to fill the gaps, and achieve tremendous improvement, with the right techniques and study strategy.

We’ve seen students who claimed they were irredeemably “bad at math” make incredible strides with the most challenging Quant topics. And the same goes for students with insecurities around reading comprehension and grammar.

Once you have a reliable “attack plan,” you can decode and solve any problem the GMAT throws at you.

This week, we’re looking at three GMAT topics students tend to struggle with most, with some fairly straightforward solutions for how to improve your approach. (This post covers mainly Quant topics, so stay tuned for a follow-up piece on challenging Verbal questions.)

Integrated Reasoning: managing multiple streams of data

Integrated Reasoning (IR) is the newest addition to the GMAT. It was added back in 2012 to make the exam more reflective of real business school, and business world, challenges.

IR problems seem tough because they demand the integration and application of several key competencies: reading comprehension, logical reasoning, math skills, and the ability to interpret multiple streams of data presented in various formats (columns, tables, diagrams, graphs, etc).

One of the biggest challenges students face with IR questions is sorting through all of the available information to identify what the question is really asking, and what steps to take next.

The second obstacle is usually time management. You only have 30 minutes to complete 12 questions, which breaks down to 2.5 minutes per problem. Some IR questions come with several tabs of information plus charts or graphs to analyze, making staying within the 2.5 minute limit quite difficult.

What should students remember when prepping for IR?

• reading comprehension skills are crucial (you’ll need to practice scanning information so you can quickly pick out the facts that matter most, and avoid getting mired in irrelevant details)

• the math is no different from what you’ve seen in the Quant section (you won’t need “new” math skills to solve IR problems)

• there are very specific ways to attack each of the four IR question-types (learn a reliable set of steps for each type to improve your speed and accuracy)

For an overview of IR question-types, and how this section is structured and scored, take a look at GMAT Help: 5 Things to Know About the Integrated Reasoning Section.

Advanced Geometry:  don’t deviate from the “process”

Overall, the primary goal of your GMAT prep should be learning reliable procedures for decoding and solving every kind of problem, across each topic area. In most cases, this means “unlearning” some of the inefficient approaches you’ve used in the past, say back in high school or university.

But old habits are hard to shake. Students often revert to previously learned (or improvised) methods when tackling certain problems. And in our experience, this happens most often with advanced geometry questions.

Students seem to forget process on geometry more than any other topic. Each shape has maximum three pieces of theory that go along with it. This means that for any given shape, the question has to be solvable based on one of those three principles.

Yet, rather than figuring out how the limited theory can apply to the question, students often try to come up with some other random solution methodology—an approach that invariably results in errors and wastes precious time.

Remember: once you’ve learned a set of reliable problem-solving techniques, stick with them. Don’t deviate from those processes during GMAT practice, so by the time exam day comes, they’ll be second nature.

Probability: it’s much simpler than you think

Many students say that out of all the GMAT topics, they dread probability questions the most. Having to predict the likelihood of events seems hopelessly complex to many test-takers—but the truth is, determining probability is far simpler than you think.

Once again, it all comes down to the strategy you use to tackle these problems. Students are always surprised to learn that, despite their differences, every probability question on the GMAT can be mapped out the exact same way and has the same solution methodology.

It’s an advanced, higher level topic that, if you follow a good process, is incredibly easy.

What’s the final takeaway for tackling challenging GMAT problems?

There is a proven methodology for deconstructing and solving every single type of GMAT question. At no point should you be left to your own devices, and forced to find “creative” solutions.

Take the time to learn and practice the right techniques, and you’ll immediately feel more confident across all GMAT topic areas—and far closer to achieving your target score.

Need some extra help learning attack strategies for certain Quant or Verbal topics? Looking for general GMAT help across all subject areas?

Quantum provides a wide variety of courses and workshops, designed to support students at every stage of GMAT test prep. To date, we’ve prepared over 10,000 successful MBA students in the GTA, and achieved the highest score improvements in Canada!