The Ins and Outs of Your GMAT Score III – Computer-Adaptive Test Strategies

Posted on November 13, 2007 | Filed in Admissions, GMAT, MBA

Computer-Adaptive Test Taking Strategies

Unlike the old paper-and-pencil administered GMAT of the past, the GMAT CAT is better adapted to measure your ability with fewer questions. On the old paper-and-pencil GMAT you would answer 61 questions of varying difficulty in each section. So an average test taker would breeze through the easy questions, get most of the difficult questions wrong, and get some of the medium difficulty questions right and some wrong. With the CAT, you answer only 41 questions for the Verbal section and 37 for the Quantitative section that are tailored to match your level of ability. So the average test taker is no longer wasting time answering the easy questions that he will most likely get right, nor the really difficult questions that he will most likely get wrong.

You are given a question of moderate difficulty at the beginning of the test and first question in each question type. If you answer this question correctly, then the difficulty level increases. If you answer incorrectly, the difficulty level decreases and this up-down system continues through the duration of the exam. The jump to a higher difficulty or the drop to a lower difficulty level decreases as you move through the test.

The first few questions you answer will either move you to a significantly more difficult or easy level; however, the last few questions you answer will only slightly increase or decrease in difficulty. Please also bear in mind that there is a penalty for not finishing a section. The details have not been released by the GMAC or Pearson. But for each unfinished section, the penalty is about 4x the point for an incorrectly answered question. If you run out of time, then just randomly answer the last questions, at least you have 20% of the chance of getting it right for each question. If these questions are part of the trial un-scored questions, most likely the impact on your score is not that great. (Roughly 37 out of 41 verbal questions are scored, 33 out of 37 math questions are scored. So about 4 in each section are unscored.) We need to caution you against guessing in the early stage of the test. Since your chances of guessing correctly are only 20% for each question, an incorrect choice moves you down to a less difficulty level very quickly in the beginning of the test. After a few randomly guessed wrong choices, the test assumes an appropriate level for you and it will be very hard for you to regain your momentum later as the CAT algorithm will not give you very difficult questions for you later to pile up some last minute points.

In sum, at the beginning, in as few as four questions you can move up to the highest possible level by responding correctly to all four questions, or down to the lowest possible level by responding incorrectly to all of them. This system was developed to better “zero in” on your real skill level. Think of it as adjusting a lens. You first adjust the macro-focus to ensure you are in the right range of focus, and then you adjust the micro-focus to fine tune to reach the optimal focal point. The GMAT CAT uses a complex algorithm, which we explain before, to focus in on your real skill level.

Therefore, please take particular care with the first few questions of each question type in both Verbal and Quantitative sections. Sometimes, it might be well into around the 10th question before you see a new verbal type question. Whenever you see that first question of a new type, slow down and do your best without unnecessarily spending too much time on it. Otherwise, you will have to rush through later questions. It is essentially a balancing act in which you need to pace yourself from the beginning to the end in order to maximize your score.

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