The Old School Approach: Find the Answer
Probably, in all the math you have done in your entire pre-GMAT life, the goal has been to find the answer. In grade school math, high school math, and introductory college mathematics, you are tested and graded on your ability to find the specific numerical answer to a question. If you happened to have gotten any advanced degrees in mathematics, you know that the find-the-answer mentality as well as numbers in general quickly recede as you ascend into the realms of higher mathematics.
For the vast majority of people, though, all of us who did not choose to get college or graduate degrees in abstract mathematics, the last math that we learned prior to encountering GMAT studies in all likelihood still revolved around find-the-answer.
Data Sufficiency: Beyond “find the answer”
GMAT Data Sufficiency requires you shift your paradigm. Fundamentally, in the Data Sufficiency questions, unlike in your previous math classes, you are not being asked to find the answer. Rather, you are simply being asked the question: do you have enough information to answer the question? In other words, if you wanted to, or had to, figure out the answer, would you have enough information to do so?
Data Sufficiency and the Managerial Mindset
Why does the GMAT ask Data Sufficiency questions? First of all, Data Sufficiency tests your ability to gauge relevance – if I want to know A, is it relevant to know B? It certainly conceivable that, in the real business world, if you want to know the price or cost or value of one thing, it will be important to be able to figure out whether knowing the price or cost or value of another thing would be relevant.
At a deeper level, think of the difference of these two questions: (1) what is the actual answer to problem X? vs. (2) do we have enough information to answer problem X? The first question may involve specific expertise, depending on the nature of the problem, and may well be delegated to, for example, an engineer. The second question is more quintessentially the manager’s question, the manager who sees that the problem can be solved and delegates it appropriately.
Insofar as you are planning to take a GMAT and go to business school, you are planning a career as a manager, which is all about delegating, about decision-making, about discerning what paths are fruitful for exploration and what paths don’t merit examination. In this sense, I would argue that GMAT Data Sufficiency tests skills that are at the very heart of what it is to be a powerful and effective manager.
Introduction to the Data Sufficiency format
If you are new to this question, take heart! It will take a little practice to familiarize yourself to the format, but once you gain experience, you will see that GMAT Data Sufficiency is no harder than ordinary problem solving, and in some cases, it’s considerably easier.