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In 1776, Thomas Paine wrote Common Sense, which became the moral and intellectual touchstone for the American colonists struggling for independence from England.

What does this have to do with the GMAT? Nothing politically, of course. But the concept of using common sense to eliminate clearly wrong answers is a remarkably powerful concept on the GMAT, and one that many students often overlook to the detriment of their GMAT score.

If you’re like a lot of GMAT test-takers — especially if you’re a bit rusty in your math skills — you freeze up when you look at a problem that you don’t immediately know how to do. Yet, a useful habit to develop is to step back from a problem and look at the big picture. Try to see the forest for the trees. Can you apply common sense and basic logic to the problem and eliminate clearly wrong answer choices? Sometimes eliminating wrong answers on the GMAT is just as helpful as being able to lock in on possible right answers.

Consider this real former GMAT problem:

___1___
0.75 – 1       =

(A) -4
(B) -0.25
(C) 0.25
(D) 0.75
(E) 4

Let’s assume you hate fractions and decimals. Let’s assume further that you don’t immediately know how to solve this problem mathematically. What to do?

Question: What do you notice about the answer choices?

Answer: Two are negative, three are positive.

Do you think that if you applied a little bit of common sense to this problem that you’d be able to at least determine whether or not the quotient should be positive or negative? Give it a try.

Of course the answer has to be negative, right? Looking at the denominator, we recognize that we’re subtracting one (1) from something less than one (0.75). Even if you’re bad at decimals, you’d realize that the denominator is going to be negative. And the numerator is positive, which means that the quotient is going to be negative because when you divide a negative number from a positive number (or vice-versa), the result is negative.

So there you go. You can immediately eliminate answer choices C, D, and E on your scratch paper. At worst, now you have a 50-50 guess. (The correct answer is A, by the way)

Consider this: There’s almost always at least one throw-away answer choice on any given problem — an answer that is clearly wrong if you apply even a little bit of common sense. Do you realize that if you eliminate even just one wrong answer choice per problem, that increases your guessing odds from 20% to 25%. Now, for every four questions that you don’t know how to do, probability says that you’ll get one of them right by guessing. Not bad. And if you can increase your guessing odds to 33.3% or even 50%, so much the better!

So, practice applying common sense to GMAT questions and go out and Dominate the GMAT!