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Diversifying Your GMAT Study Method with Interleaving

gmat test prep learning techniques gmat study

In other words, it takes time and effort to acquire a skill. It's not something that can be bought. In other words, you must practice one part of the new skill thoroughly before moving on to the next step.

The "common sense" approach drilled into you throughout school is called “blocking” by psychologists. And one of the main reasons "blocking" has been utilized in such a way is because of tradition.

Blocking is prevalent in American education, training programs, and other similar settings, and so we raise the question: is adhering to tradition the right approach to effectively learn GMAT material?

One interesting thing we’ve learned is that people don’t always know the best way for them to learn.

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New learning methods

We’re going to explain how you can implement the new technique ‘interleaving’ that is gaining a lot of momentum.

This relatively new principle has caught the attention of a number of cognitive psychologists and neuroscientists as it sounds almost counterintuitive. The 10,000 rule, popularized by writers like Malcolm Gladwell, is dispelled or, at least, somewhat dismissed with this interleaving strategy.

Whereas blocking involves a sequence of learning, such as training yourself in "A" before moving onto skill "B”, interleaving is all about adding variety to the mix.

Looking at a sequence of blocking would be something like: AAABBBCCC, but an interleaving sequence would be more like: ABCABCABC.

After doing our own research on studies of the interleaving technique in a controlled setting, we have discovered findings that point to its ability to drastically improve learner retention of concepts and formulas.

In fact, interleaving has long-lasting advantages for math and quantitative skills, offering a number of benefits for GMAT prep.

Interleaving in algebra and geometry

The GMAT tests you in math subjects taught in high school. So, knowing how to do algebra and geometry is fundamental to earning a high score in the GMAT’s quantitative section. In a three-month study focusing on teaching middle schoolers slope and graph problems, interleaving proved to be far more effective than blocking.

Teachers gave students standard weekly lessons most American students would find familiar. The weekly homework sheets and assignments featured a mixture of both interleaved or blocked designs. When woven together, the students had to deal with a mixture of old and new problems.

Interleaving had excellent results for those exposed to the technique. Students who were exposed to an interleave type curriculum achieved better scores than the ones who continued with standard blocked assignments.

Think of how you can apply this principle to your GMAT studies. If you mix up your quantitative problem sets so that you’re doing a mixture of learning, your brain will be stimulated and bounce back to jump from one mathematical concept to the next.

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Interleaving is better for your memory

Researchers are trying to explain why interleaving is more effective than blocking. One clear explanation is that it improves your brain's sophistication in differentiating between concepts. The thing with blocking is that a lot of it can become redundant if you stick with repetitive material. Once your brain figures out which solution to use, it becomes automatic and the hard part is over.

With interleaving, the variety adds "spice" to your brain, which forces each practiced attempt to spark a new challenge (meaning your memorized responses won’t be used). This is good for your mental acuity since your brain will then "work" to find new solutions. This process hones critical thinking and helps you to search for and execute the correct answer. It also strengthens your neural connections as your brain jumps from one task to the next. Blocking only works for short-term memory, while interleaving builds a long-term connection.

When you encounter a similar set of concepts, it’s natural to mistake one for another. We are not recommending that you apply interleaving to every new skill you learn. However, since MBA programs focus on your quantitative reasoning skills, and the GMAT exam doesn’t test beyond formulas learned in high school math classes, it’s strongly advised that you mix up these concepts. There are initial drawbacks to this alternative approach since it feels difficult to learn more than one thing at once, but your brain can juggle several concepts if you integrate them correctly. Learn your limitations but don't let your suspicion of a new technique stop you from trying it out. Ready to give it a go? Please check out our GMAT practice questions and we also recommend the free practice at the GMAT Tutor website.

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Written by Manhattan R.

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