The Art of Guessing
At the end of a section, when time is about to expire, you must hurry to make sure to review every question (or else face a penalty for not finishing all of the test’s questions). Many students have to do this last-minute sprint and are often left guessing on the last few questions. Here, we’ll go over some strategies to help you avoid making a blind guess.
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.
- Avoid answer choices that look suspicious. Beware of any answer choices that look completely different from all of the other choices. For example, in the Quantitative section, you can usually eliminate an answer that is negative if all the other choices are positive.
- Once you have narrowed down the list of answer choices, just 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 when 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 the corresponding box.
Learn from Your Mistakes
The Importance of Scratch Paper
Another big asset you have going into test day is virtually unlimited scratch paper. Use it and make sure you have lots of it on test day.
You’ll need scratch paper because you are taking the test on a computer screen, and you can’t write on the screen. The result is that you’ll often have to carefully copy information down onto paper without making any errors. This can be 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. Try to use scratch paper extensively during your practice tests to get a feel for this.
If you have a bad day, don’t panic; you have the option of canceling. The computer will offer the option of canceling the test or accepting it when you finish the test. If you cancel the test, neither you nor any school will see your score. If you accept the test, the computer will display your score, and it will be available to all schools. Make sure to schedule the test far in advance of when it is due to the graduate schools so that you have time to cancel and reschedule the test if necessary.