Why you failed the GMAT – 10000 hours of mastery

Two points to understand why you failed the GMAT

To understand why you failed the GMAT, you must understand two things very well:

  • Mastery
  • What the GMAT is and what it measures


Mastery is a term popularized by Malcolm Gladwell, and very briefly suggests that you must practice a skill for about 10000 hours to master that skill. You ‘master’ a skill when you are able to perform it with ease and fluidity. The 10000 hours of practice allow you to internalize the skill and hence achieve that fluidity. You can see where I am going with this. You failed the GMAT because you have not mastered certain skills required to do well on the test.

What the GMAT is and what it measures

The GMAT is test of reasoning.
What is reasoning? the exercise of understanding problems, making informed and directed incremental inference points and connecting those inference points, to arrive at a final conclusion that solves the problem.

Reasoning requires making inference, and making inference requires mastery of basic math and reading comprehension. Because every problem requires more than one inference point, you have to be able to iterate the reasoning cycle to understand and infer quickly and consistently.
Because you have to connect those inference points, you must have vision and direction to move towards the final solution. So, if your foundations are weak, you will be slow, instead of solving a problem in 2 min, you need 3 min, instead of 1.5 min, 2 minutes.

If your vision or direction is inexperienced, you will not see the next stage of the problem or even understand what the objective needs to be.

Why you failed the GMAT

And that is exactly why you have failed the GMAT – your foundations are not strong enough to reason good enough and fast enough towards a clear goal.
You have not strengthen your foundations or quality of your reasoning and just redid problems and checked them of a list. You have to substantially improve your foundations and quality of your reasoning – this requires a strong hard look at how you understand and solve problems.
That is exactly what the GMAT measure:

the quality, consistency, speed and direction of your reasoning.

So, unless you improve your foundations in basic math and reading comprehension, you will not improve the quality and speed of your reasoning. Unless you improve the direction and vision of your reasoning, you will not improve your reasoning, and you will not therefore, improve your score.

How do you improve your GMAT score?

Improve foundations

basics, many many times – more time than you expect. Question, if I ask to solve this question, how long does it take you to solve it? When was the last time you read a book?

Improve your reasoning

A symptom of failure to reason is asking

“how do I solve this problem” instead of “how do I understand this problem better”

Hence, better reasoning starts with the desire to understand problems more than solve problems. When you are solving problems, your primary goal should be to understand the problem, more than obsessing about ‘how to solve the problem’.

It’s a KEY distinction.

If you clearly state the objectives of the problem, for example, x = ?, your direction and focus on understanding the problem in your own words, and the solution will follow naturally.

Doing this consistently and improving your process, will improve your direction and vision in reasoning to understand better and ultimately solve problems.

How long will it take?

So let’s understand your score therefore as a measure of reasoning, knowing that your goal is to arrive at mastery in reasoning. For practical purposes, we can say that mastery is around the 700 mark. How long does it take to arrive? The further away you are from that score, the longer you have to prepare. If you score around the 400-500 range, you will need about 18 months of preparation, and there is no way around it.failed the GMAT

How do some people do so well with little preparation then?

Because they have already achieved mastery in basic math and reading comprehension before they even begin to prepare for the GMAT. They have already achieved mastery in reasoning before they even take a GMAT course. An engineer, lawyer, scientist, consultant, or any job function that demanded solving problems, and therefore reasoning, on a regular basis for a long time. They were already ready for the GMAT before they even new of the GMAT.

You would have achieved mastery in foundations during high school if you had done your homework or were a diligent student.
You would have achieved mastery in reasoning during university or your job if you had to solve problems on a regular basis for a long time.

Accept the time that it will take

Now obviously you don’t have to practice for 10000 hours because you have already spent time practicing basic math, reading comprehension and reasoning. Have you practiced for 8000 hours? 9000 hours? That is reflected in your score. Time to catch up.

Understand who your up against : Someone who practiced their foundations for a long time and reasoned for a long time. Are you going to catch up in 2 months? 3 months? 4 months? You can’t and you must accept that. You have to put in the work.

A psychological stand point

The five stages of grief describe the phases we go through during a crisis:

Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

Understand where you are in that cycle to avoid endless frustration to create a realistic plan. Doing yet another GMAT prep course that promises 200 points in 2 months is not going to cut it because you have not mastered foundations of basic math and reading comprehension, and you have not mastered reasoning. If you want to improve your score, you must improve these foundations and you must improve your reasoning.

Also remember that you don’t need to do this alone. Hire a tutor. He or she can point you in the right direction and help you make the most out of your time and effort by focusing on what matters.

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