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GMAT in the Era of Fake News


July 3, 2019


Josh Jones

Here at TPU, we never get political.  Unless and until one of the candidates comes out against MBAs or something, we don’t have time for anything, but test prep and admissions consulting.  GMAT is our life, and – when you join us – it’ll be your life until you achieve your targeted score.

So why am I bringing up fake news?

First, I want to remind you of all those horror stories out there: don’t become the next viral sensation.  To the extent there’s anything “bad” in your social media history, get rid of it. And, for the time being, get off social media.  You’ll never write anything on social media that will get you into B-school, but you might write something that will create a problem for you.  

Besides, you don’t have any time for social media.  You should be reviewing your flash cards, or reading, or reviewing problems you’ve missed; you’ve got no time to find out what the Kardashians have been doing.  (But if you did, it would blow your mind… just kidding.)

Second, I want you to start thinking about essay topics.  Remember the best essays come from your life experience, but your life can be digital.  Did you experience a social media crisis? Did you help lead your business through such a crisis?  Or did you help it avoid one?

At some level, I don’t care whether you helped your synagogue reach out to disaffected members or you developed a strategy to respond to rumors your investment bank is run by Satan; it’s not the crisis that concerns me, it’s the qualities you displayed in your response, and the insights you’ve gleaned.

So, let’s talk about fake news in the hope that you might find some great material for your applications.

Why is fake news a problem?  Here’s my theory: we live in a post-literate age.  Here’s what I mean: most people can read, but they don’t; consequently, the function like illiterates – they simply lack enough experience and background information to assess news stories.  As a result, they’re easily whipped up into a frenzy.

Let me illustrate my point with one concrete example: a group of pranksters have repeatedly managed to persuade news organizations to report that they’re living without food because they believe (and, supposedly, have proven) that humans don’t need food.  I suggest that anyone who reads would know that’s impossible, that it violates multiple laws of physics and physiology, but if you’re not a reader, you don’t tend to think in those terms, you don’t have the tools to assess these claims because nobody can remember everything and most web surfers don’t take the time to check what they’re “surfing.”  Again, non-readers could check, but they don’t because they’ve fallen out of the habit of reading, preferring instead to “consume” media.

How does that relate to GMAT?

GMAT specifically measures your ability to see through the nonsense, and the precision of your thinking.

You lose points for sloppy/imprecise thinking. The less prone to cognitive biases you are, the higher you’ll score. The most obvious example of GMAT critical thinking is in the aptly titled Critical Reasoning section. You may be asked to weaken an argument or identify an assumption or information that would help you evaluate an argument.  In Boldface questions, you are asked to identify what role certain sentences play in a passage. This is crucial for legal contracts. Is this phrase inconsequential? Is it a big deal? See the whole picture.  Real life is far more complicated than a single CR boldface question, but your performance in these mini-models gives a glimpse of how likely you are to commit similar errors in the big picture.

But other than that, cognitive biases/shortcuts are measured for in other areas of the test. In Problem Solving, often an intermediate answer will be a trap answer choice.  In Data Sufficiency, they make it look like they provided sufficient information when actually they didn’t.  In SC, two sentences may sound almost exactly the same but mean completely different things!

But back to the bigger picture about fake news, you may wonder how fake news relates to B-school.  Well, do you think anybody’s going to bother to “read” negative comments about you or your company?  How does a company (or professional) survive when reputation can be destroyed in an instant?  Whatever you think of that smirking kid from Covington, have you – or anyone at your company – ever done anything that might look bad in a quick shot or short video?

See my point?  Your business could be shattered in an instant – how can B-school help you prepare?  How have you demonstrated your ability to anticipate and defuse such dangers?

There could be a great essay in there.


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