Why Knowledge Is No Longer Power

“You know, a town with money is like a mule with a spinning wheel. No one knows how he got it and danged if he knows how to use it!” – Lyle Lanley, Monorail Salesman, The Simpsons

Once upon a time, the favored expression in education was “Knowledge is Power”.  But now?  It doesn’t matter how smart you are; your phone is smarter than you are, at least when it comes to pure knowledge. Whether you ask Siri, Bing and decide, or Google it, knowledge is never more than two bars of 3G or a Wifi connection away.  So what’s important in education – and business – now?

It’s like Lyle Lanley says above – “danged if he knows how to use it”.  Knowledge is a commodity now, but with a deluge of data bombarding us from all angles, the scarce resource now isn’t information, but those who know how to use it.  Enter the GMAT, an exam that assesses hundreds of thousands of MBA aspirants each year, aspirants hailing from every corner of the globe and coming from a dazzling array of educational and professional backgrounds.  These students will go on to careers in functions as different from one another as finance, entrepreneurism, nonprofit management, project management, advertising, and government.  Business schools, perhaps more than any other graduate programs, need to emphasize not the indoctrination of knowledge but the training of what to do with it.

And understanding that can unlock the GMAT for you in powerful ways.

Content is important on the GMAT – it’s not an “Open Google” test and you can’t use a calculator – but virtually everyone who sits for the GMAT can be expected to brush up on the relatively narrow scope of content.  You need to know it, but that won’t be your competitive advantage.  At a point pretty far to the left of the bell curve, the GMAT starts testing what you can do with that knowledge, and not just whether you have it.  So it’s to your advantage to focus a great deal of your studies on looking for clues, finding patterns that help you determine which sections of knowledge will be important and how you’ll leverage them.  Consider a few examples:

Data Sufficiency

Four workers from an international charity were selling shirts at a local event yesterday. Did one of the workers sell at least three shirts yesterday at the event?

(1) Together they sold 8 shirts yesterday at the event.

(2) No two workers sold the same number of shirts.

A)     Statement (1) ALONE is sufficient, but statement (2) alone is not sufficient to answer the question asked;

B)     Statement (2) ALONE is sufficient, but statement (1) alone is not sufficient to answer the question asked;

C)     BOTH statements (1) and (2) TOGETHER are sufficient to answer the question asked, but NEITHER statement ALONE is sufficient;

D)    EACH statement ALONE is sufficient to answer the question asked;

E)     Statements (1) and (2) TOGETHER are NOT sufficient to answer the question asked, and additional data are needed.

Statistics from the Veritas Prep Question bank show that users select C, the trap answer, over the correct answer B by a margin of 2 to 1, and slightly less than 25% of users answer this correctly.  Their process?

They see that statement 1 allows for two options: either each person sells 2, meaning that the 8 shirts are divided as 2 + 2 + 2 + 2, or one of those people sells less and another sells more, guaranteeing that at least one worker sold at least three shirts.  So 1 is insufficient, but – ah, there’s statement 2 which removes that 2, 2, 2, 2 possibility. And since statement 2 doesn’t supply much in the way of a mathematical expression, people happily choose C.

But here’s where you need to look for clues.  C shouldn’t come that easily – it’s a fantastic trap answer because people are predisposed to wanting “a second opinion”. When one statement is close but not quite, and the other statement fills that gap nicely, C hangs temptingly in front of you.  That’s when you need to think critically – why would the GMAT make C so tempting?  Often times because it’s a trap.  Often that seemingly-worthless statement, the one  that looks to only add that last 5% to the close-but-not-quite statement, has a lot more value than meets the eye.  Here it’s sufficient on its own: if no two workers sold the same amount, the minimum that could have been sold is 0, 1, 2, and 3 – guaranteeing that at least one worker sold 3+ shirts.

More importantly than the answer to this question is the clue – the GMAT isn’t just trapping the folks who selected C here, it’s also rewarding those who see those clues (“wait a second…is the *only* function of statement 2 to supplement 1, or am I missing something?) and leverage their assets.