GMAT Preparation: How to Mix Interleaving & Block Learning

Block vs Interleaving GMAT PreparationWhen a GMAT test taker is lagging behind in Sentence Correction, what they do? They pick a question type, say Subject-Verb agreement, and drill through 10-15 questions on the same topic, hoping that the concentrated effort to tackle one question type would give them the fundamental learning lessons to solve similar questions in the future. This technique works in most GMAT sections but for the crucial performance differentiators: Sentence Correction and Problem Solving, this technique is a hindrance.

Interleaving – A Better Alternative?

What if you mix and match, and try three question types in one 20-minute GMAT study session? Bob Bjork, who studies interleaving, demonstrated this with an experiment where he used art to demonstrate our ability to remember and connect the dots. One group of participants were shown a set of painting from the same artists in consecutive sessions with each session marking the transition from one artist to the other while for the other participants a mix of painting from various artists were shown in one session. By the end of the experiment, the participants were asked to identify the artist based on the images that they see. 60% of participants who were part of the interleaved session connected the dots and identified the artist while only 35% from the block session identified the artist with each painting.

Interleaving is not limited to the sequence of question types, even a good night’s sleep that separates learning something new, and the test, improved performance. A study on participants, who were tested after 12 hours of learning new information, with a 7-hour sleep in between, showed how they improved their performance by 20.5% while a test on participants’, 4 hours after learning during waking hours, marked only a 3.9% improvement in performance.

Reading Comprehension: Interleaving

The reading comprehension is constructed in such a way that the questions are not of one type. You can improve accuracy, with the right reading technique, note taking strategy and just enough comprehension to answer the questions in less than two minutes. Speed-reading helps when the word count is more than the average length of a standard comprehension passage, but mostly, perfecting the reading comprehension section is all about practice.

GMAT Reading Comprehension does not require you to comprehend every sentence. You won’t get the perfect score if:

• You overhear what you read in your mind
• You go back to the passages unnecessarily
• You are too distracted to capture the author’s intention
• You keep staring at the timer
• You think beyond the scope of the text
• You overanalyse the author’s argument

Download F1GMAT's Essential GMAT Reading Comprehension Guide (Learn how to Master GMAT Reading Comprehension)

Critical Reasoning: Block Learning

With the length of the passage limited to 5-7 sentences, critical reasoning questions can be practiced in blocks. If you are weak in finding inference of an argument, you can explore methods to eliminate irrelevant inferences, and deduce relationship between premises by staying close to the context of the argument. With 20-30 practice questions on Inference, you will improve the accuracy, from the low 20% to over 80%. There is no need to interleave, except for the final mock tests.

GMAT test takers score in the low 600s or never cross the 700+ mark because they fail to look at critical reasoning as a scoring opportunity. GMAT Critical Reasoning is not a puzzle. There is no extra point in getting to the answer without using Process of Elimination. You are wasting your time overanalyzing the answer choices or posting your findings in GMAT Forums. The so-called Critical Reasoning experts know the answer. Justifying an answer choice is much easier.

The real secret is in understanding the “Scope of the Argument".Once you know the Scope, you can eliminate 2 out of 5 answer choices. Learn the secrets with F1GMAT's Mastering GMAT Critical Reasoning.

Sentence Correction: Interleaving

One section where block learning fails is the Sentence Correction section. Even if you master ‘Subject-Verb’ agreement questions using block learning, improving performance in other sections requires you to look at the answer choice holistically and hear the words while you evaluate the accuracy. Mixing the question types help you to look at the overall grammatical structure of the sentence instead of haphazardly searching for the question type and recollecting strategies to solve it. Instead, write blogs at least 2-3 months before the test. Set a 100-blog target. Before publishing the blog, you will review the sentence for style and grammatical errors. When you iterate through your 100th blog post, you will have subconsciously explored hundreds of rules on English Grammar. Don’t use Microsoft Word or other standard word processors, which has limited explanation on why the sentence is wrong. Instead, use Grammarly. It explains in detail on ‘why you were wrong’.

Data Sufficiency: Block Learning

GMAT Data Sufficiency is one section where block learning yield the maximum benefit. The question by definition requires you to check whether the data as part of the options a) and b) are sufficient to answer the question. Perhaps, this is the only type that is relevant for post-MBA or any other life scenarios where source of the data is evaluated, as we do while solving real problems. It takes 5-10 questions to get used to the meaning of each answer choices (A to E)

A: Only A is required
B: Only B is required
C: Both A & B are required
D: Either A or B is required
E: Neither A nor B will help

But once you get used to the logical construct of the question, you just have to test the fundamentals of arithmetic and algebra.

Problem Solving: Interleaving and Block Learning

While solving GMAT problem solving questions, you will try to familiarize with one question type but the problem is that even one question type will have several variations, especially with the manner in which the data is cited or the way in which the question is framed. Block learning in Problem Solving familiarizes you to a question type, but interleaving is essential to keep your memory fresh on other questions types. After a 20-minute study session on one question type, try your hand on 5-6 concepts with a mini mock GMAT test. That will keep the fundamentals fresh in your mind.


F1GMAT's Essential GMAT Reading Comprehension Guide
F1GMAT's Mastering GMAT Critical Reasoning Guide
Crew Blog
Why Interleaving enhances inductive learning

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