One of the most common questions asked by those who are new to the GMAT is how exactly does the computer adaptive test or CAT work? The long and short of it is that if you get a problem correct, they give you a harder one, if you get a problem incorrect, they give you an easier one. By doing this the GMAT is able to bounce up and down and calibrate to your skill level.
1. Should You Spend more time on the first 10 questions?
A few things come out of this including questions about how to spend your time. Whether certain questions are weighted more than others, whether your timing, that is the amount of time you spend on a problem, factors into the score.
To start, there’s a common misconception that you should spend more time on the first 10 questions because they tend to adjust your level for the computer adaptive test at a greater rate. While that’s true in the sense that the computer-adapted model on the GMAT does influence it more at the outset, whether you should spend more time is actually a more complex question. That’s because generally, the GMAT is going to give you problems that are about average and build up or down from that average.
2. Planning To Score An Elite GMAT Score
If you’re planning on performing at a top level, at an elite level, if your goal is 700 or even 600, you need to assume that those early problems – that are average level problems – you’re going to do well and in a timely manner anyway.
That is spending extra time to ensure you get them correct is a grandiose version of spending extra time to make sure that you’re getting two plus two correct. You wouldn’t check that because you’re confident enough in your skills and if you’re in the GMAT and you’re getting ready to shoot for a 700 you should already be confident enough in your skills not to have to spend extra time on average level problems. To take these problems on a problem-by-problem basis rather than with blanket statements.
3. Does The GMAT Test keep Track of Other Information?
A common question is whether or not the test keeps track of the type of problems you do. This can refer to:
- subject matter
- problem solving vs data sufficiency
- reading comprehension vs critical reasoning vs sentence correction
However, we can still go about it with the core rule: if you get it right you’re going to see something more challenging, get it wrong, less challenging. We tend to believe that they don’t keep a great track of that but really rely upon the bouncing up and down to calibrate you to your average performance level. You don’t want to sweat any single problem or worry about any single problem type in regards to the Computer Adaptive Test.
Certainly, sometimes you’ll know that certain types of problems require more or less attention from you or that you make common errors on those problems. However, that’s not a CAT thing, that’s just a general GMAT thing.
4. You are penalized for spending too much time on a problem but not in the way you think.
The other big question we hear a lot is whether or not the amount of time you take on a problem factors into the score. The answer here is subtle, it’s yes and no. No in the sense that the GMAT scoring algorithm does not track the amount of time that you spend on a problem. But, yes in the sense that the more time you spend on problems the less time you have for other problems. In particular, if you’re scoring above average, you’re on this ascendant curve so that the difficult problems at the end require more time than the less challenging problems at the beginning.
Therefore, if the GMAT kept track of your time and penalized you for spending longer on problems they would actually be penalizing you twice and this gets us into our timing decisions and the trade-off between time and score.
4. Time and Score Trade-off
When you’re armed with confidence and knowledge about how something works you don’t have to worry about how it works or how what you’re doing affects how it works and you can focus on the task at hand.
The more that you can offload the burden of worrying about the scoring and the mechanisms by which the GMAT measures you, the more success you will find. As always, I hope this helps, and keep prepping!
If you enjoyed GMAT Scoring Demystified, watch The Effects Of Coffee On GMAT Performance.