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GMAT Tip of the Week for the week of September 17, 2012

This week’s GMAT tip* concerns how to proceed on difficult GMAT problem solving questions when you feel stuck. Specifically, learn to “Drive through the Fog with Headlights.” What does that mean and how can you apply it? Watch this video to find out:

GMAT Tip of the Week: One of the most common challenges I hear my students express is that they sometimes look at a hard GMAT math problem and don’t immediately know how to proceed. They can’t foresee how the entire problem is going to unfold and ultimately lead to a right answer, so they sort of just freeze up and stare at the computer screen, unsure how to move forward. It’s all or nothing for some students: Either they immediately know how to do the problem and work through it accordingly, or they don’t immediately see a solution in their mind and they panic, freeze up, and do nothing (and eventually take a random guess and move on to the next problem).

My solution for this dilemma is to apply a way of thinking — a mindset — that I call learning to “Drive through the Fog with Headlights.” Here’s what I mean by that. Think about what happens when you drive through the fog with your headlights on. Can you see all the way to your destination? No, of course not — it’s foggy! You can only see as far as the end of where your headlights illuminate. But can you safely drive at least that far? Yes. And then a funny thing happens: You can now see a bit further. And a bit further. And if you keep driving just as far as your headlights will enable you to see, you can ultimately reach your final destination that way, even though you weren’t able to see it from the beginning.

The same approach works well on the GMAT. When you feel stuck…Do Something! Write down a formula. Draw a diagram. Make up numbers for the variables. Work backwards from the answer choices. Often times you’ll find that by just doing something, it actually triggers another thought in your mind and enables you to do something else on the problem. And then something else. And then something else. And sure enough, you might just be able to get all the way to a right answer doing one step at a time this way. Learn to adopt this mindset, and I think you’ll find that this strategy better helps you to dominate the GMAT!

* Each week, one of the GMAT experts at Dominate the GMAT shares a valuable GMAT test-taking tip, strategy, trick, or content item. These tips are designed to augment your GMAT study program and provide you with additional information that will help you improve your GMAT score.