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The Art of Guessing

Guessing, like pacing, is more important on the CAT than on any other test you have ever taken. You’ll have to guess often on the CAT because:

  1. You can’t skip questions. If you hit a mental block, you have to guess at the question in front of you. You can’t pass over a question and go back to it later. Since all answers are final, you have to make sure your guess is a good one. Most students waste more than 1/3 of their time bogged down on a handful of tough questions. You have to learn how to guess, move on, and cut your losses after spending more than a few minutes on a question.
  2. At the end of the test, when time is about to expire, you have to hurry to make sure to do every question or else face the severe penalty for not finishing all the test’s questions. Many students have to do this last-minute sprint and are often left guessing on the last few questions.


The key guessing strategy is P.O.E. (process of elimination). A big asset going into test day is knowing that one of the five possible answers must be right. If you can eliminate two of the choices, you can increase your chances of getting the right answer by 65% (from 20% or 1 in 5 to 33% or 1 in 3). Here’s how to do it:

Eliminate answer choices you know are wrong. Even if you don’t know the right answer, you can often tell that some of the answer choices are wrong. On Data Sufficiency questions, for example, you can eliminate at least two of the answer choices by determining if one of the statements is true.

Avoid answer choices that look suspicious. For example, on Sentence Correction questions, beware of any answer choices that look completely different from all of the other choices. In the Quantitative section, you can usually eliminate any answers that are negative when all the other answers are positive.

Once you have narrowed down the list of answer choices, pick one of the remainders. It is a myth that some answer choices, like A or C, are more often correct than other choices.

Draw a Grid

If crossing off answer choices on paper tests helps to clarify your thinking (using the P.O.E), you might want to consider making a grid on your scratch paper. By drawing a simple grid and labeling the rows A through E, you can keep track of which answers you have eliminated by putting an X in that box.

Learn from Your Mistakes

Video Courtesy of Kaplan GMAT prep.

The Importance of Dry Erase Scrap Paper

You’ll need to use your dry erase scratch paper because you are taking a test off of a computer screen, and you can’t write on the screen. The result is that you’ll sometimes have to carefully copy much of the question down onto paper without miscopying the information. This is awkward and difficult. It takes valuable time to recopy information and it increases the chance of a hurried error, so you have to be careful about what you copy and what you don’t copy.

GMAT Experiments on CATs

About 1/3 of the questions on the CAT are experimental and will be randomly mixed in with your normal questions. In these questions, you are being used as a guinea pig for experimentation to assess the difficulty of the question. In the future, that question may be positioned at a difficulty level depending on how students performed on it when it was an experimental question.

Some students waste time worrying about how they are doing based on the difficulty of the question they encounter. The problem is that experimentals aren’t tightly tied to your skill level. In other words, if you are a high scorer you can’t expect all the questions past question five to be difficult (at your level). Try to avoid obsessing over how hard your questions are as a precise measure of your performance. Double checking yourself can come in handy if the question seems too easy and you are an upper level student who shouldn’t be encountering questions that seem too easy and therefore could be trick questions.

Beware of “Evil” Questions

At 800score we define an “Evil” question as one that is so tricky and devious that you would be better off randomly guessing than even attempting to answer it. Guessing randomly should produce about 1 in 5 students getting the question right, yet these questions have 1 in 20 students guessing them right. This means that the test is tricking a huge number of students into picking trap answer choices. You should be aware that the GMAT is constantly trying to trick and goad you into picking trap answers. If a question seems “super easy”, particularly for your skill level, it probably isn’t. You may have just been fooled.

Don’t Panic

If you have a bad day, you have the option of canceling the test once you finish it. Neither you nor any school will see your score if you choose to cancel the test. If you accept the test, the computer will display your score and it will be available to all schools (official scores will be mailed about two weeks later). Relax and make sure to schedule the test far in advance of when it is due so that you have adequate time to cancel and reschedule the test if necessary.

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