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How the GMAT Works

GMAT Test-Taking Strategies

With the old paper version of the GMAT, everyone in the room received the same test, and the test questions in each section progressed from easy questions to harder ones. The logical test-taking strategy was to answer the easier questions first and save the more difficult for last, skipping around when necessary.

The computer-adaptive test format changes everything. First of all, unlike the paper version, you can't skip a question and come back to it. If you leave a question unanswered, that's your final answer. Since there is a much higher penalty for not answering a question than for answering it incorrectly (test prep services estimate four times the penalty), you should always take an educated guess (or if time is running out, a wild guess) [source: Manhattan Review].

The second major difference with the computer-adaptive test is that questions in each section don't progress predictably from easy to hard. Instead, the computer "adapts" the test questions to your abilities.

Here's how it works. The computer starts each section with some medium-difficulty questions. If you answer those first questions correctly, the computer automatically bumps you up to a higher level. If you get a few wrong, you are bumped back down. In this way, the difficulty level of any question depends on how well you answered the one before it. Harder questions generally mean higher scores, so it's always best to keep the difficulty level up.

Use your time wisely. Know how much time you have to complete each section of the test, how many questions are in each section, and keep moving at an even pace. On average, you have 1.75 minutes for every verbal question and two minutes for every quantitative [source:].

If possible, don't rush and don't skim. Read all instructions, test questions and answers fully. Many correct answers rely on subtle details in the question that can be overlooked if you're moving too quickly.

If there's no obvious correct answer, try to eliminate choices that are illogical or at least highly unlikely to be correct. Sometimes you can do this by using simple common sense (could the answer really be a negative number?). In math questions, particularly algebra, you can eliminate incorrect answers by plugging them back into variables the question. If you can eliminate all but two answers, take your best guess. It's better than leaving it blank.

Don't forget to confirm your answer! In the computer-adaptive format, it's not enough to select an answer, you must also confirm it before moving on to the next question. Remember, you can't go back, so double-check your answer before confirming.