GMAT Impact: Story Problems: Love Them or Hate Them?

When it comes to the GMAT, raw intellectual horsepower helps, but it is not everything. In this weekly blog series, Manhattan GMAT’s Stacey Koprince teaches you how to perform at your best on test day by using some common sense.

Some people love story problems. They involve a story! So they should be easier than “pure” math.

Others hate them. We have to figure out what the problem is talking about, and then we have to translate the words into math and then we have to come up with an approach.

You know what I mean, right? Those problems where you think everything will be fine, and then about two minutes in, you realize that everything you have written down does not make any sense, but you are sure that you can do it, so you try again, and you get an answer, but that answer is not in the answer choices, and now the clock is approaching 3.5 minutes and… argh!

If that describes your typical relationship with story problems, then I have the solution for you. You need to learn how to make story problems REAL. Not standardized test questions… not abstract math problems… but real scenarios that you are living right now.

When you want to calculate an 18% tip, do you pull out a calculator? If you need to figure out whether you are going to make it to the office before or after your boss, who started earlier but is driving at a slower rate, would you start writing equations?

No way! Instead, you find a way to “work it out” using real-world logic and back-of-the-envelope calculations. Guess what? This works on the GMAT, too—you just need to learn how.

Over on the ManhattanGMAT blog, I have a two-part article that will teach you how to make story problems real. Read the first part, but before you go to the second part, open up your Official Guide and look for some lower-numbered story problems. (You can even redo problems that you have done in the past.) Practice approaching the problem from the point of view of “What would I do if I actually had to figure this out in the real world?” After you start to feel more comfortable with this (which might take a week or two!), go ahead and take a look at the second half of the article, which discusses a harder problem of the same type.

Just one note before I release you: getting used to approaching the problems this way will take time. You have been trained for 20+ years to approach math problems as, well, math problems! Expect to feel uncomfortable and slow as you develop this new skill to approach story problems as real-world problems.

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