Getting to the Answer

Your goal when taking the GMAT is to pick the right answers on a multiple-choice exam. The more questions you answer correctly, the better your score.

You are not being graded on style. It doesn’t matter if you find the answer following the usual routine. In fact, the fastest way to an answer often does not involve using a traditional method, but rather a method geared specifically to the GMAT.

Each question may have several possible approaches, so you need to develop an ability to recognize a fast and effective way to solve different question types. Because your objective is to find the correct answer choice as quickly as possible, choosing the right strategies is a very important part of doing well on the GMAT.

Ladder of Difficulty and Scoring

The GMAT is a Computer-Adaptive Test (CAT), which means that question difficulty will adjust to match your skill level.

Expect the first question to be moderately difficult. From there, question difficulty will go up or down based on whether you answered correctly. The difficulty level can make huge swings in the first few questions.

Most questions will be near your skill level. A few questions are experimental questions, which may be above or below your skill level. If a question seems outside your skill level it might be a GMAT trick meant to test your logic and reasoning. Therefore:

  • If a question seems unusually easy or quick to solve, double-check that you’re not falling for a trap.
  • If a question seems unusually hard, look for shortcuts.

The GMAT scoring algorithm is based on three factors:

  • how many questions were answered within the time limit
  • how many questions were answered correctly
  • level of difficulty of the final questions

Remember that difficulty is based on reasoning, not just math. The level of difficulty assigned to a question by the GMAT may not be the level of difficulty for you if you know the right technique and have the right strategy.

You may not be able to notice a change in difficulty level while you are taking the test. But at some point, you will start consistently getting some answers wrong. Your score is correlated to the level of difficulty of those last questions.

With 75 minutes to answer 37 questions, you will have about 2 minutes per question. But on a Computer-Adaptive Test (CAT), you can’t skip a question and return to it later.

To maximize scoring, you should spend a little more than 2 minutes on the first questions and decrease the amount of time spent on later questions. This may seems backward, since later questions are harder. But this minor variation in time management can help you get more correct answers and increase the level of question difficulty, which will raise your score.

You can practice this timing tactic by using the GMAT Pacer while taking the 5 tests included in the 800score GMAT Prep Course.

Dry Erase Boards

To prevent GMAT questions from being “stolen,” you won’t be allowed to use scrap paper for your calculations. Instead, the test center will provide you with dry erase note boards and marker pens. These can be awkward to use, especially if you usually do detailed calculations. Doing calculations in your head can increase errors, particularly under the pressure of test day. In addition, copying questions also invites errors.

Therefore, it may be helpful to go to an office supply store and get a couple of boards similar to those you’ll be given on test day. Also buy a couple of dry erase markers (thin point) and a box of tissues. Practice doing math problems with these supplies, and you’ll be better prepared for test day.

Other Tips

Play with some of the math. Create tables of numbers. Just writing down the numbers is a good way to get ideas.

Sketch graphs or figures – seeing these can help you solve problems.

Staying physically relaxed during the test is very important. If you find yourself tensing up, put your marker down and take a couple of deep breaths. This will help you stay calm.

Don’t panic if you are suddenly stumped by a question. Stay calm and work through the techniques to either solve the problem or make an educated guess and move on.

Take five full-length GMAT CAT tests with video explanations and tutor support.