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GMAT Myths Debunked

GMAT myth

Ever since the GMAT went the adaptive test way, every question became important in its own right. Every correct answer ensured you get a premium in scores for the next question and every mistake made your score go down.
This also resulted in conspiracy theories and notions. The key to a good score is getting the first set of questions correct and so a guess on the GMAT will be disastrous.
Let me debunk both these myths and tell you why the first set of questions is not the most important and how educated guessing plays a vital role in the GMAT.

1.The first 5 questions do not determine your score


The GMAT costs USD 250, which totals to Rs 17,000 (approx). Now when someone is charging you that much just to take the test, you must know that the exam will be meticulous and have very few, if any, loose ends. The GMAT has been designed by the best programmers and educationists in tow. Do you seriously believe they will design a test that will determine your final score based on the first 5 questions alone? 🙂


How does the algorithm work?


Pearson VUE, the nodal test agency that conducts the GMAT and GMAChave not revealed the exact algorithm of the GMAT exam for obvious reasons. So, we can at best give best guesses on how it works.


In simple terms, the score and the difficulty level of the next question depends on your previous question. If you get the first one right, then the next one will be tougher and will carry more marks. This pattern will continue till the time you get one wrong, at which point the level will be downscaled.


Let me give you an illustration of this:


The questions will be divided into 5 buckets




The questions in the first bucket will be the easiest and those in the last bucket are the toughest ones.


When you begin the test, the first question will usually be from the 500-600 bucket, which is an average question. You get it right, the algorithm thinks you are a smart guy, and upgrades your bucket. This question will be from the 600-700 bucket, but slightly closer to the 600, gradually increasing closer to 700 and beyond. If you get a question wrong, it will drop your level to a lower bucket.


So, the general perception is that if you get the first five or six questions right, you move so high up on the scale that even if you make mistakes afterwards, you don’t drop down so much. If you are amongst the believers of that theory, I am sorry to give you a reality check.


Now the GMAT quant section has 37 questions, with a time limit of 75 Minutes. This gives you approximately 2 minutes per question. Most test takers tend to spend a lot more time on the first few questions in an effort to get them right. This will invariably leave them with less time for the other questions.


At this point, I come back to why the GMAT exam is so expensive. The GMAT algorithm is an organic algorithm. Which means it is intelligent enough to realize that it, sometimes, could be wrong. How does that affect you, you may ask?


Let us assume you get 7 questions right, and you spend 4 minutes on each question, because you are a member of the “First 7 questions make or break my GMAT” club. You have spent 28 minutes of your GMAT test, answering 7 questions, which leaves you with 47 minutes to solve 28 questions, about a minute and odd for each. Panic sets in, and you make mistakes in the next 5.


Here is the sequence:
Question 1: 500-600 bucket
Question 2: 600-700 bucket, closer to 600
Question 3: 600 -700 bucket, at about 650
Question 4: 600 -700 bucket, closer to 700
Question 5: 700 – 800 bucket closer to 700
Question 6: 700 – 800 bucket, with a higher value then question 5
Question 7: 700 – 800 bucket.


Now you realize that you have used too much time, on this but you are happy that you have the first 7 questions correct, and are already dreaming of a 700+ score and a party.


Question 8: Wrong
Question 9: Wrong
Question 10: Wrong
Question 11: Wrong
Question 12: Wrong


At this juncture, GMAT assumes it has made a mistake in identifying your talent. So instead of downgrading you to the 600 bucket, it dumps you straight down to the 300 one.
So after getting the first seven correct, you effectively are in the same position as the person who has made a mistake in the first three questions. What will make it worse is you don’t have time to set it right.


GMAT rewards consistency, and that is what they are looking for. So try to do well across the length of the test, and not violate time limits that you have set for specific questions. Remember, getting first 5 questions right is not a guarantee for a good GMAT score, so don’t waste your time there. If you get stuck somewhere, make a guess and move on to the next.


2.Wait, Did you say make a guess on the GMAT?


Guessing in the GMAT:


Yes, you are reading it right. You can guess in GMAT, and if we are allowed to take this thought further, you have to guess in GMAT.


Let’s go back to the 2-minutes-per-question idea; ideally, at the end of 16 minutes, you should have solved 8 questions. But what if you have solved 6 or fewer? This is when you should make a quick ‘n’ dirty guess on the next question and move on. Suddenly, you are not so far behind schedule any more – and a 2 minutes window opens up to tackle the next question. Even if you guessed wrongly, it’s okay. This way, you – and not the algorithm – decide when to make a mistake, and your mistakes will be spaced far apart.


Even if you just make a blind guess on a question, you still have a 20% chance of getting it right. And if you refine your guesses and eliminate wrong options, you can increase the probability of getting the answers right.

Hope these techniques make a positive difference to your GMAT prep! If you’d like to share what works for you and what doesn’t, please leave a comment in the comment section below.
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