From The Free Dictionary:
a. Able to express oneself readily and effortlessly
b. Flowing effortlessly; polished
2. Flowing or moving smoothly; graceful
3. Flowing or capable of flowing; fluid
When I teach people how to beat the GMAT a common refrain of mine during class #1 goes something like this:
“It is not enough to study content. It’s not enough to study methods and strategies. It’s not enough to merely understand how to get the right answer to a GMAT question. If you truly want to dominate this test, which is entirely possible for you to do, then you must attain GMAT fluency. You must be fluent in all aspects of the GMAT: content, methodology, strategy, timing, what the GMAT is, what the GMAT is built to test, why you have to take it, what the scores communicate, the levels and types of stress it cultivates, etc., etc., etc. Fluency is the key.”
In Kaplan GMAT courses, we begin our conversation about the Quant and Verbal sections of the test by discussing what we call the GMAT’s four Core Competencies. These core skills are what the GMAT is designed to test and every single question you will face on test day will leverage each of these competencies in some way. A particular problem solving question, for example, may lean heavily on critical thinking and pattern recognition, and less so on paraphrasing and attention to the right detail. The next one, though, might be built almost entirely around one tucked away, camouflaged detail that most test takers brush right by on their way to getting the right answer to the wrong question—a common GMAT mistake. However, the other three central competencies will still lurk within this question and the test will reward those who exercise those skills.
The point of this conversation about what skills the GMAT cares most about, despite my best efforts to make it intriguing, is very often lost on many. I try my best to describe that the GMAT is a definable thing and it belongs in a particular box and that the walls of this box are created by these core competencies. I try my best… but, despite my effort, I watch so many who are new to the game inherit only the most superficial appreciation of these concepts. I move on because there is always so much to do in a Kaplan class, always so much to cover, and I must trust that at some point on their trip down Preparation Road each will, in turn, have their own “a-ha moment” and perhaps revisit the big ideas again. (Admittedly, I help ensure these revelations by consistently tracking the competencies throughout the course.)
Possibly, what makes it a difficult sell initially is that the GMAT will never test whether someone knows what the four core competencies are or what aspects of a particular question pertain to which. Similarly, it is hard for some to remember the names of the Critical Reasoning or Reading Comprehension question types. After all, that terminology will never actually be tested. Yet, the ability to spot and accurately identify these question types is monumentally crucial to test day success. How a question ought to be approached and answered is inextricably tied to its type. Nonetheless, it is a common occurrence in my line of work to engage a seasoned GMAT prep student in conversation over a troublesome question and during that discussion I inquire as to the type of question we are talking about. Promptly, I am then met with a coy smile followed by, “I dunno… assumption? Inference?”
It is not that the student can’t understand the difference between an assumption question vs. an inference question. It is not even that they can’t articulate that difference if really pressed. The problem is that understanding is not enough. This knowledge must be at the very front of your mind. It must flow out of you so effortlessly it is as if you aren’t really even thinking at all—you are just doing.
Fluency is the key. It is difficult to acquire, though entirely possible, and it must be continuously worked in order to maintain once achieved. We most often use and think of fluency in regard to language—of which all of us are fluent in at least one. So, to stick with this line of thinking, I ask you:
Can you speak GMAT? Can you speak it fluently?