There is a body of content that forms the foundation of the Quantitative and Verbal sections of the GMAT and I make sure that my students have sufficient mastery of the content to succeed on the test. Since students can learn at least some of the material on their own, I usually guide students on how they can build content mastery outside of our sessions (except for topics that I know to be difficult for most students and areas of weakness that we uncover as the student works through the content). This allows us to focus attention inside of our sessions on the areas where I can add the most value and that will most determine a person’s score: the strategy and time management aspects of GMAT preparation.
The main focus with my students, especially in our sessions, is on the strategy and reasoning aspects of the GMAT since it is my firm belief (based both on my experience taking the test and my many years of preparing students for it) that this is the single most important factor determining success on the test. Most test prep companies and tutors tend to focus on the content that appears on the test – unfortunately the content merely serves as a foundation and no amount of content mastery will by itself lead to a high score. The GMAT is above all else a reasoning test so the main thrust of what I do is to help people learn how to approach the questions and how to tap into their own innate reasoning ability to better align themselves with what the test actually measures.
Probably the most underappreciated aspect of the GMAT is the importance of proper time management. Most people have some vague understanding that they need to manage their time well, but few people actually understand how to do it. The scoring algorithm is complicated so people often misunderstand how to distribute their time through the sections. So I spend a significant amount of time with my students explaining how the scoring algorithm works, coaching them on proper time management strategies, and then refining their skills by analyzing their practice test results and tweaking things as necessary. With many of my students this alone has been responsible for significant score increases.
Over the course of the more than 10 years that I have been doing this, I have tutored students from all different backgrounds and at all different levels. I taught and tutored the GMAT in Thailand for 4 years dealing mostly with non-native English speakers and over the years have continued to have a steady stream of non-native speakers, including many international students who I have worked with online.
I have also had students with a variety of learning disabilities, some minor, others severe. While I am not a specialist in working with students with specific learning disabilities I have tutored so many over the years that I have come to understand most of the difficulties that these students face and have developed a range of strategies for dealing with them.
Finally, I have also had students who either started at or finished at an extremely high level, say 750+. I even had one student whose first practice test was a 770 – despite my protests he wanted to have a few additional meetings with me anyway after that initial practice test result.
Really no matter what the starting level is or what the difficulties are, each student has issues that he or she can improve upon and my job is always to help a student understand what those weaknesses are and guide him or her in how to overcome them.
One of the things that I pride myself on is my ability to get into the mind of a student. Every person has their own unique way of thinking and one of the greatest challenges of GMAT tutoring (and the one I enjoy the most) is trying to understand the particular ways in which each student processes information and navigates the questions. This is critical for 2 reasons:
First of all, in order to help students improve I first need to understand exactly what they are doing that is causing them to either get the question wrong or spend too much time. So when I watch a student work through a question I constantly ask why they are doing what they are doing (for example, why did they choose to attack the question in that way, where did they think that process was going to lead, why did they eliminate the answer choices that they did, why do they think the answer they chose is correct, etc.). This helps me understand precisely where they are going wrong in the process so that we can make adjustments as necessary.
Secondly, since most GMAT questions can be approached in a variety of ways, its important for me to understand what works and doesn’t work for a particular student. For example, with regard to Quant, some people are more algebraic in nature while others have a knack for doing Math less formally and more intuitively. It is not my goal to mold my students into a particular form; rather it is my responsibility to help students figure out what methods work best for them and guide them accordingly.
To repeat, GMAT questions can be approached in a variety of ways and there can be no one-size-fits-all approach. There are certainly methods that are more effective and less effective, but that changes from student to student and question to question. Being strategically flexible is hugely important on the GMAT so I make sure my students are aware of the myriad ways in which one can attack GMAT questions. But ultimately the best way is the one that works best for that particular person, so my goal is always to help students understand what strategies are most effective for them.