To Guess or Not To Guess on the GMAT?

A few weeks back we blogged about the latest news from GMAC as presented during their Test Prep Summit. One of the topics of discussion involved how unanswered questions at the end of the Quant or Verbal Section negatively impacted scores. The bottom line was this: the more questions you left unanswered at the end of the section, the lower your score was.

Turns out, there’s just a little bit more to the story. It’s important to take note of so you can maximize your score by understanding the best approach for you, and how end-of-test outcomes affect overall results.

I recently reviewed a GMAC-published research report (Talento-Miller and Guo) that closely examined the effect of guessing vs. omission on computer adaptive tests. For those of you with an aversion to statistics and tables and charts, this wasn’t a document you’d want to spend much time with. I battled through, so here’s the low-down from the research:

GMAT Practice Tests

Often, confusion exists about the uses and benefits of practice tests, and the role of practice tests in preparing for the GMAT. Let’s try and offer some clarity to the situation:

Practice Tests

Practice tests are evaluative tools and should be used as such. They are NOT learning tools. You use tests to asses what you have learned and your ability to apply that learning under conditions as similar to the real exam as you can make them. As such you should only be taking practice tests at most once per week (unless you are not working), and should seek to simulate the conditions of the actual test as much as possible when doing so (especially in the last few weeks before the real exam). In the larger preparation picture, you should take a practice test at the very beginning of your preparations to establish a baseline and determine your areas of strength and weakness. After that, it would be advisable to hold off on doing another practice test until you’ve had a chance to do some content review and focused, small-scale practice. Once you’ve gotten a sizable chunk of material and practice behind you, you should start incorporating full-length practice tests into your preparation regiment.

Key points for simulating practice tests:

Jason Goes GMAT

Instructor: Jason Chan

Location: 500 Fifth Ave (at 42nd street), New York, NY

[Editorís note: Bell Curves instructors are required to have taken the GMAT and scored above the 98th percentile before they were invited to train with Bell Curves. After successfully completing training, our teachers take the test at least once a year so they can stay current with the GMAT experience and provide feedback that will allow us to continually improve our teachers and materials. In the interest of research, Jason was asked to go into the test and be the ďobsessive methodical student.Ē He was required to spend an inordinate amount of time on any question he thought would be tricky to an above average, yet not stellar, test-taker. The intent was to get a score in the 600 range and see what types of questions and content showed up most frequently in that range.]

So it’s a random Tuesday and here I am taking the GMAT. Yay me!

From China to the GMAT

For the better part of five months, the GMAT was the bane of my
existence. I donít think an hour went by without me thinking about it.
It was everywhere I looked. I one time even figured out the possible
combinations of the food items offered at the restaurant I worked at.
Ironically, I didnít come up with the right answer.

At some point the GMAT stopped being a test and started being a fight.
That is a development I am certainly thankful for. Because once I
stopped thinking of the GMAT as a test and more of a mountain that I
had to climb, thing became much clearer.

Looking back, I realize that the concepts that the GMAT tests are not
complex. Thereís no calculus, advanced physics, or expectations of you
analyzing Shakespeareís later works. The GMAT is simply high school
math and grammar meant to stump the smartest people alive. Itís
slightly ingenious really.

Aesop’s Fables and GMAT Timing

As I listen to the bloggersphere and twitterverse, attend conferences, and talk to test takers, there is a consistent concern about timing on the GMAT and how much it impacts their performance on the test. Survey GMAT test-takers and I bet that 90% of them will claim their biggest challenge is finishing the test (especially the Quant section). This fear is further propagated by test prep “experts” who cite the lofty goal of answering all Quant questions in 2 minutes or less and all Verbal questions in 1:45 minutes or less. I, however, have not drunk of that particular flavor of Kool-Aid and don’t recommend you do so either.To all those of the 2 minute cult, I’d point you to the wisdom of Aesop and the story of the Tortoise and the Hare.

The GMAC Test Prep Summit

A few days ago the world had their eyes focused on New York City, where the biennial GMAC Test Prep Summit was held. Okay, so maybe the whole world wasn’t watching, but we at Bell Curves were, as were a great many others in the test prep community. Over ten hours, attendees were treated to a wealth of information (some new, some not) from GMAC, the company that develops the GMAT.

Presentation topics included world-wide GMAT testing volume and new developments for the test and its administration (by the end of 2009 every test center will require you to use the vein patterns in your palm as identification – and no, I’m not kidding, it’s called ‘Palm Vein Recognition’).

Coming to terms with your GMAT score.

So you took the GMAT and are not happy with your score.

First and foremost, you should not be feeling depressed by your score, even if that score is not what you wanted or what you expected. The GMAT is often difficult to do well on. Take the next few days to assess what you did to prepare, whether you did as much as you could or should have, and how you could have done more to ensure you have the score you wanted. Assess whether the course you took or tutor you worked with was really in line with your learning style and whether you should have recognized that earlier and done something to make the course or tutoring more effective. Finally, stop beating yourself up if you did not get what you wanted or expected. It often takes a couple stabs at the test before you settle down enough to achieve your best score. To provide you some perspective, the arithmetic mean (a little GMAT speak for you) score is 538.5 and 79% of test takers score below 650, according to the Graduate Management Admission Council.

GMAT Tips: Getting Started

Preparing for the GMAT can be a daunting challenge, particularly for students that are just beginning to study. Before you decide to sign up for any course or tutor, or undertake any type of study, it only makes sense that you find how much study you will need. Far too many people make assumptions about their scores. Whether you assume your score will be good or bad is irrelevant. It makes no sense to guess if you have the resources to find out the truth!

Everyone considering applying to business school (and thus by nature considering preparing for the GMAT) must immediately and without delay go to www.mba.com, download GMATPrep, and take a practice test under as realistic conditions as possible. This is the only practice tests created by the writers of the GMAT, and it will give you a highly reliable assessment of your current level of readiness to take the test.

Once you’ve taken the test you must spend some time analyzing your performance and understanding what you need to do to achieve the score you want. Follow the link below for information that will help you understand your practice test score.

Joe vs. the GMAT

Every few months Bell Curves teachers take the GMAT in order to assess our test taking techniques, evaluate the accuracy of our question pool, and experiment with different result patterns.

Interviewee: Joseph Kambourakis, Instructor and Developer

Interviewer: James Yudin, Online Support Manager

The Assignment

Joe’s assignment was to go all out on the math section, getting as many correct as possible after getting the first question wrong, and to get about 1 in 4 wrong on verbal.

My Career as a Hit Man is Over

The Story

Today officially marked the end of all my dreams of being a hit man. Today, I’m officially “in the system” and to be a top notched hit man you have to be off the grid. If you think of all the truly great hit men Leon (the Professional), Booth (In the Line of Fire), and Nikita (Point of No Return, hit woman really) all were off the grid no record, no bank accounts, no paper trail. I have to give up my aspirations, my dreams, my future.

But I get ahead of myself, let me start at the beginning.

Today, January 3rd, 2006 I took the GMAT again. I periodically (if you’ve read my other postings you already know this) take the GMAT in order to explore whether its changed and if so how. This month’s testing is about exploring how the change to the new test administrator Pearson Vue would affect the testing experience.

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