The #1 GMAT Math Mistake (Hint: It’s Not Combinatorics)

Give me ten seconds and a piece of paper and I can tell how much work someone needs on the GMAT Mathematics section.

I just ask the person to make an origami swan and if he or she can’t give me a passable bird within the time limit, it just won’t happen.

Just kidding. However, I’m not kidding about the ten-second rule.

But how is that even possible?

Well, for starters, I have been doing GMAT-style math daily for over 15 years and tutoring it at various levels for over 11 years.

To look at someone’s work is like looking at a fingerprint. No person solves every problem exactly the same.

(This is why a good GMAT tutor can teach you ways to solve Official Guide problems in ways that the writer of the question never even dreamt of!)

Reading the lines of someone’s work is a peek into that person’s thought process.

If that work is crisp, clean, and easy to follow, chances are that the person can solve the problem.

If he or she cannot solve the problem, a good GMAT tutor can quickly and easily identify the error and provide guidance as to how to correct it.

Perhaps most succinctly stated: a clean page equals a clean mind.

How does your math look? Could you hand it in to a professor? Would you let your partner look at it?


The main problem I see is that most people write all over the page. Their handwriting might be nice, but their math looks like haphazard chicken-scratch.

Sometimes this is lack of discipline,

It is impossible to approach the GMAT Mathematics section without a clear plan of action and a clear reading of each question.

But how can this be changed?

It takes effort to overcome any habitual process, but the tutoring process is about breaking bad habits and installing new, more efficient habits.

The next time you do a GMAT math question, write it line-by-line. Every time you do another operation, rewrite the entire problem with only the one change made.

If you have made a major change, write this change in plain English in the margin.

Take five or even ten minutes with the first few problems.

Then read the problems again, looking through your solution. Clearer, cleaner, faster, stronger (to poorly paraphrase Daft Punk).

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P.P.S. Remember our no play-no pay guarantee: if you’re not happy with the first hour of any session, the session is free!