Monday, November 22, 2010

How do we conquer the fear of GMAT math?

Let start with a show of hands

How many of us go blank when we see a math sum?
I can see that most of you are raising your hands, the others must be one of lucky 2%.

Now the big question.

Why some of us go blank and others seem to have the knack of solving math sums?

Well you can blame it on your mathematics teacher @ school or on your genes. But nevertheless while preparing for GMAT or in fact while doing an MBA, you will encounter lot of math.
I can hear lots of groans. :-)

Few years back I read this book ‘How to solve it’ by George Polya. I modified my teaching style from just teaching question answers, question answers, question answers, question answers……to question logic answers, question logic answers, question logic answers…..

I found that I could tutor a person to achieve 45+(raw score in GMAT) within few weeks as instead of few months. Wow!! The best part of it I could see that students are able to solve math problems independently without me intervening.

In the book, Polya gives a detailed step by step process on how to approach math problems in general

I will modify the process and present it to you in context with GMAT math
Keep these steps in mind when you approach a math problem in the future.

Step 1: Understanding the problem
Answer the following questions first
  • Do you understand all the words used in stating the problem?
  • What are you asked to find or show?
  • Can you think of a picture or diagram that might help you understand the problem?
  • Is there enough information to find the solution?
  • What information, if any, is missing?
The answer to these questions will channelize your thinking towards the answer.

Step 2: Devise a plan
Answer these questions now
  • What will be the best approach to address the problem?
Approaches can only be devised. If a tutor explains a sum to you, then you will be able to understand only that problem. But when you encounter a new problem, you will go blank again.
Ideally when you encounter a new problem, you will have to use the existing ideas plus any new ideas you can conjure up. These process are mostly done mentally and involve little computation/calculation.

To get an idea, do any/all of the following.
  • Make a systematic list/table
  • Write an equation
  • Consider special cases
  • Use direct reasoning- for example If A>B and B>C then A>C.
  • Use indirect reasoning.-Think of an earlier sum where you encountered a similar problem
  • Look for a pattern
  • Draw a picture
  • Solve a simpler problem- break the problem into small parts and solve each part.
  • Use a model- Make a general assumption and solve by guessing.
  • Work backwards. –work with answer options
Now that you have got an idea. Put pen on paper and solve to get an answer
Stage 3: Carry out the plan

  • Solve the problem with great care and patience
  • Discard the plan if it does not work and devise a new plan
  • Record what you have done to avoid repetitive work – For future use.
While attempting Data sufficiency questions, it is imperative you check your results. So
Stage 4: Looking back or checking
  • Have you addressed the problem?
  • Is your answer reasonable?
  • Can the method applied to other similar problems?
  • Is It consistent.
Now go ahead and repeat this thought process on different math problem and the next time when you see a math problem you will not go blank.

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