Reality of the GMAT: I’m an Idiot When it Comes to Math

There’s so much to do to prepare for B-school applications it’s easy to feel overwhelmed; but the GMAT seems like a great place to start.  I expect I need a score above 700 if I want to get into any of the schools of my choice.  I ordered my test prep books from Amazon but didn’t want to wait for them to arrive (round 1 is quickly approaching!)–so I downloaded some free GMATPrep® software and started a few practice questions.  I’ve always been good with language (“very superior” according to an IQ test) and only “above average” when it comes to my quantitative skills.  I quickly found, in a series of only ten practice questions, that I’m a lazy thinker when it comes to the Critical Reasoning questions (laziness can be whipped into shape); but when it comes to math I’m just plain dumb.

Disclaimer: Reed College gave me the option to opt for either (one year of) language or math.  I dominated my three years of Latin and happily avoided taking a single math course.  In fact, from 2003 on I avoided calculating anything that didn’t have to do with proper change or tipping 20%.  I thought I’d never do math again and rejoiced.

So just plain dumb.  For instance: What the crap is a units digit?  (Turns out that the units digit, as one who uses their brain might imagine, is the digit in the units place, as in ‘0’ in 10 or ‘5’ in 2675.)  You following me?  The units digit falls to the far right… and when you move to the left you get the tens digit, followed by the hundreds digit, the thousands, and so on and so forth. Here’s the question: “If a is a positive integer, and if the units digit of a² is 9 and the units digit of (a+1)² is 4, what is the units digit of (a+2)²?”)  Quick!  Maybe it would help you to see the possible answers, but this question obviously relies upon a little bit of algebra, being able to pull your squares out like a gun from a holster, and knowing what a units digit is.  Thankfully I intuitively guessed that an integer is a whole number, otherwise I would have been really hopeless.

And then I got to this:

1+  __1_  
2 +   1/3

More crap.  Fractions.  I don’t remember how to do much more than add these buggers.  It appears that this problem wants me to be able to add, simplify, find common denominators, reduce to smallest terms… do I need to cross multiply too?  I don’t know.  I certainly didn’t have time to try to draw this one into a pie… and I highly doubt it would work.  (In fact, during that aforementioned IQ test, I distinctly remember drawing pies in order to solve their fraction questions.  It may have worked on a few.)

And so I found these worksheets (obviously designed for a third grader—the happy star guy gives it away).  Feeling pretty resourceful and even a little happy (I always kind of liked homework), I start working on a simple “Add the Fractions and Reduce to the Smallest Terms Worksheet” when I need to find the common denominator for an 8 and a 6—easy right?  Not if you don’t remember your times tables.  I thought 8 x 6 was 56.  And so now I feel really hopeless.  Clearly I need to start with the uber basics: my times tables.  Download and print number two of the day.  I thought I was going to business school… looks like I’m better suited to remedial second grade.

And so I find myself thinking that I’m like a fat, out of shape person who wants to climb Mt. Everest with a prosthetic leg.  And then it hits me that people do that.  People do that.  Ever see Touching the Void?  Amazing movie about a man who breaks his leg while climbing in the Andes Mountains, falls into an ice crevasse, gets left for dead, and manages to crawl his way back to the base camp over several days.  I’m might be dumb at math, but at least I don’t have a broken leg in an ice crevasse.  Here we go!  I expect this to be a comical journey.  Erin teaches herself Math.

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