The GMAT is like a headstand

This post is about headstands.

That’s right, the yoga pose in which your whole body is inverted.

Well, not exactly but humour me for a bit, would you?

I did a google search today on: “how to do a headstand for beginners” (don’t ask why 🙂

google search on headstand

Here are the results I got:

1. Handstand in 30 days ad

The first result was an ad. Some excerpts:

“Join the #1 Handstand Program. Learn to handstand in 30 days. Unique Program. Highlights: 2+ Hours Of Video Demonstrations, Follow-Along Workouts.”

Notice: The ad is for a hand-stand. And they claim they have a unique program that would allow us to learn to handstand in 30 days

I went to their website, this was the main image on the homepage: 


They don’t know me. They don’t know my current fitness level. Yet, they claim I can do a handstand in 30 days – anyone can do a handstand in 30 days.

2. YouTube video: How to do a headstand for beginners 

The second result was a YouTube video in which a yoga instructor walks us through the entire process from establishing a stable base to recuperating from the headstand in the end. 

She covers aspects such as 

  • how to lay your arms,
  • how to rest your head in your hands,
  • how not to rush,
  • how to lift your body
  • and eventually how to come back

She even iterates how we should not rush through the process, and even take days to follow the steps if needed.

3. Featured snippet question: “How do I teach myself to do a headstand?

In the featured snippets, the first question was: “How do I teach myself to do a headstand?” The answer was about establishing a stable base before you lift your legs off the floor, and balance on your head and forearms.

4. A WikiHow page titled “How to Do a Headstand”

The WikiHow page had the following steps:

  • Position your cushioned mat
  • Position your body like a table top
  • Lace your fingers and place your head
  • Lift your knees to balance on your feet
  • Bring your feet up the mat
  • Lift your legs
  • Come down from the headstand

The rest of the results were more of the same.

I found a common theme in all these results. All the search results were about the technique of how to do a headstand.

Remember, I had searched for “how to do a headstand for beginners“. All these search results assumed that a “beginner” is an individual who already possesses the core and upper body strength, and the overall fitness required to do a headstand. The only thing the beginner is lacking is the technique.

Of course, an argument can be made that a logical individual would know that doing a headstand requires core and upper body strength, and fitness. And if a person is searching for ‘how to do a headstand for beginners’ the person already possesses the requisite strength and fitness, and now needs the technique.

It does make me question the definition of a “beginner” though.

I am a complete beginner when it comes to doing a headstand. I can’t speak for everyone, but If I were to even think about doing a headstand someday (which I’m not so far), I wouldn’t start with placing my knees on a mat. I’d start with working on my fitness and strength – the foundation. Once I’d feel that I have reached a minimum level of fitness, I’d then start work on my technique as well.

I’d say in order to do a headstand well, one needs two things:

  1. A proper technique (posture, position, angle)
  2. A strong foundation (strength, fitness, balance)
Pillars + Foundation

Proper technique and a strong foundation are both required to do a headstand. One without the other will not a good headstand make.

As I mentioned before, you might feel that fitness and strength are obvious requirements, and someone searching about headstands must already know this and must be at least somewhat fit.

And I agree.

It is pretty easy to differentiate between the technique and the foundation when it comes to doing a headstand. It is easy to understand how both are needed for eventual success. And it perhaps even makes sense to assume that a person searching for how to do a headstand is only interested in the technique.

While all this may well be true for a headstand, I have found, however, this is not not the case when it comes to the GMAT.

I submit: 

The GMAT is like the headstand

  1. Doing well on the GMAT requires proper technique and a strong foundation just the way doing a headstand properly does.
  2. In the world of GMAT training, as in the world of headstands training, most trainers focus only on the ‘technique’ and take the foundation for granted.
The key difference between the GMAT and the headstand is that while most “headstand-aspirants” would know that the the layer of foundation (fitness and strength) is required, GMAT-learners often do not realize that doing well on the GMAT also requires a strong foundation. 

In fact, I’ll go as far as to claim that many do not even realize that there these two layers at play, and what the layer of foundation even is for the GMAT. 

Layers of Foundation and Technique on the GMAT

So, what’s the technique layer in GMAT? The formulae, grammar rules, mathematical concepts, the definition and implementation of ‘strengthen’/ ‘weaken’ etc.

Most GMAT aspirants are aware of and work on this layer.

What’s the foundation layer in GMAT? The foundation is made up of the core skills and abilities that are required to do well on the GMAT. Namely,

  • Reading skills
  • Reasoning skills
  • Mathematical + Practical Logic
  • Ability to relate things with day-to-day life
  • Ability to organize and structure information
  • Ability to operate systematically

If a person does a headstand, wouldn’t that be proof that the person is fit and possesses the strength required to do a headstand?

The same way, if a person does well on the GMAT, that’s proof that the person possesses the above-listed skills that are required to do well on the GMAT.

And along the same line for reasoning, just the way if a person does not possess the fitness and the strength required, the person will not be able to do a headstand, if a GMAT taker does not possess the skills required, the person will not be able to do well on the GMAT.

Now, granted, these skills are not native to the GMAT, just the way fitness and strength are not native to a headstand. Yet, doing a headstand without that foundation, and doing well on the GMAT without these foundational skills is next to impossible. 

What’s more, learners could have been developing these skills for years without even realizing that the GMAT requires them, making it even more convoluted for those who’re struggling to understand why.

If these skills are not native to the GMAT and are so fundamental, shouldn’t we all have them by now?

Some have habits that help them build fitness and strength – climbing stairs, sports, good diet etc. Some build fitness and strength by purposely doing activities that build fitness and strength – going to the gym, joining pilates, etc). Some are in a line of work that helps them build these as a by-product – construction work, for example. Some end up not building fitness and strength to the extent required to do a headstand.


The same applies to the GMAT fundamental skills. Some might have been developing them through habits, some by actively working towards them, and some as an ancillary outcome. And some might not have these skills developed to the extent required by the GMAT.

But aren’t concepts enough?

Consider this: 
What if a very unfit person goes to a yoga instructor to learn how to do a headstand.

And then, what if the yoga instructor day-in and day-out helps the student with the posture of her hands, the angle of the head, the position of the body, and never instructs the student to build strength and fitness.

Do you think the student would be able to compensate for her lack of strength and fitness by following a perfect technique?

  • Can work on technique compensate for the foundation?
  • Can the proper way of lifting your legs compensate for the strength required to lift your legs?

I think not.

A proper technique could reduce the strength required, but not compensate for it beyond that point.

The same is true for the GMAT as well. If your gaps are in the foundational skills, working harder and harder on the conceptual knowledge will not help you bridge those gaps. What will happen is that you will continue to do questions after questions, go through books after books, complete courses after courses, and not even comprehend why you’re not improving. This is the main reason why many learners hit a plateau while preparing for the GMAT.

Just that, it is easy to notice the need of strength and fitness to do a headstand, it is not so straight forward to notice the need of the foundational skills to do well on the GMAT.

Tell me, if the yoga instructor is any good, wouldn’t the instructor work on building the person’s fitness and strength along with her technique? GMAT is no different, and it’s high time we stopped treating it differently.

And this lack of focus on skills is the root cause of so many people’s struggle with the GMAT

Let’s consider the following headstand scenarios:

  • My friend was able to do a headstand within two months of preparation, and yet I am not even close after six months. There must be something wrong with me.
  • Many people find it so easy to perform a headstand, yet somehow for me it is a herculean task.
  • I wish to do a headstand. Since many people I know of did a headstand in three months, I should be able to do a headstand in three months as well.
  • Even though I have gone through so many instructional videos on how to do headstands, I am still nowhere close.
  • This online course guaranteed that I’d be able to do a headstand within 30 days. It’s been 45 days, and I’m nowhere close.
Now, just think of the same scenarios in the context of GMAT instead of headstands. If you have been involved with the GMAT for a while, I’m almost certain that you’d have thought of at least one such thing, or would be aware of peers who have had such thoughts. 

Root-cause? Lack of focus on building the foundation.

How come it is so difficult to notice the need of skills in the case of GMAT then?

I believe it starts with our outlook. We treat the GMAT as a Mathematics and an English test. Many do not dive in deeper to consider why b-schools ask for a GMAT score in the first place. Do they really care about our math solving and English language capabilities so much? Are these ‘subjects’ really that critical to doing an MBA? And even if they were, why not just look at our marks in these subjects from high school and be done with it? Why have this unique test?

GMAT is a test to evaluate our ability to do well in a B-school. So, doesn’t it make sense that the admissions committees include this test because they believe this test evaluates us on skills that are required to do well in a B-school?

The challenges that we face on the GMAT are often not Math and English related challenges. They are most-often foundational-skills related challenges.

So, if your GMAT prep is not helping you build the skills that the test truly evaluates, you’ll probably injure your back, strain your neck, and cramp a few muscles. 

Wait. That’s what happens if you don’t build the foundation for a headstand. 

But you get the picture. The result will be quite analogous.

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