Why GMAT Data Sufficiency Questions Matter in Business School and Beyond

By: Brian Prestia of ReasonGMAT

When people first encounter the GMAT in their business school admissions process, they are often surprised to learn that the GMAT doesn’t directly test anything about business at all!  So why do schools require the GMAT in the first place if it doesn’t seem to be at all related to what one studies in business school?  The answer is that the GMAT does measure something relevant:  the logical reasoning and critical thinking skills that lead to success both in business school and beyond.

Data Sufficiency questions, those difficult quantitative questions that are the bane of many a GMAT test taker’s existence, are perhaps the best example of this.  Many people view them as “Math questions,” but they are as much about logical reasoning as they are about math and many people who are very quantitatively inclined struggle on these questions.  Essentially, Data Sufficiency (DS) gets at a test taker’s ability to evaluate whether one can draw certain conclusions based on evidence provided.

Many test takers struggle on DS questions because they make unwarranted assumptions or are willing to draw conclusions based “on a hunch.”  On the other hand, people who excel at DS tend to be very careful not to make unwarranted assumptions and aim to prove what they believe to be true.  This is a key difference that gets at the heart of what Data Sufficiency tests:  What level of certainty will a person seek to achieve when making a decision?

This is a crucial issue that is relevant to both business school and to the wider business world beyond.  If you need to make a decision about an investment or really any business decision, how aware will you be of any assumptions that you might be making?  Will you make an important decision based on a hunch or on untested assumptions—or will you try to achieve as high a level of certainty as possible?

Of course nobody wants to make unwarranted assumptions and draw conclusions that cannot necessarily be drawn, but it happens all the time on the GMAT and it happens all the time in the business world as well.   It’s almost amazing how willing test takers will be on Data Sufficiency questions to say that they “think” a statement is sufficient or are “pretty sure” a statement is sufficient without feeling the need to go any farther than that (unfortunately DS questions are designed specifically to punish that kind of thinking).  And in the real world people seem to be equally comfortable making those kinds of assumptions and are likewise punished for them.   Just think about the assumption that most investors made in thinking that that housing prices would never fall.  Or consider the faith that many people put in financial models, believing them to be accurate and predictive with an extremely high level of certainty when in fact the models are often based on a whole host of assumptions and cannot be relied upon with the level of certainty that is often attributed to them.

To summarize, the GMAT has much more relevance to business school and to the wider business world than most people realize.  This does not mean, of course, that if you don’t do well on the GMAT you will not succeed in business school—clearly there are many skills and personality traits that the GMAT does not measure that are probably more important than what the GMAT seeks to assess.  But when you prepare for the GMAT, try to do so with the knowledge that some of the skills that you are honing are skills that will serve you well in business school and beyond.


Brian Prestia is a NYC-based and online GMAT tutor with a 780 score and over decade of experience preparing people for the exam. Check out other great GMAT articles and services he has to offer here at www.gmattutoringnyc.com.

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