When should I guess on the GMAT?

Posted by Nick S on 1/13/17 6:04 PM


If you’re thinking about taking the GMAT and going to business school, chances are you’ve already taken hundreds of written tests throughout your career. Some of them were probably standardized tests like the SAT or ACT, and others might have been in your high school and college classes. Most likely, those tests involved sitting down and answering a set list of questions that your teacher or professor created beforehand; everyone in the class got the same set of questions, and scores were determined based on the share of questions each student answered correctly.

The GMAT is different. Not only is it on a computer, but also it’s adaptive, meaning it adapts the questions you receive based on how it perceives your ability. If you are answering easy questions correctly, for example, the computer will start feeding you harder questions to see if you can handle them. Conversely, if you’re answering very hard questions incorrectly, you may start to see easier questions come up. 

Beating the adaptive system requires building a strategy that fits your strengths and weaknesses. It also means figuring out when to guess.  

Guessing on the GMAT

Most students feel like they are most pressed for time on the quantitative section of the GMAT, so this advice will use examples from that section. However, if you are running into timing issues on the verbal section, it is applicable to that as well.

Because of the test’s adaptive structure, it’s important to note that you will definitely have to guess on the GMAT. Every GMAT test taker, even the strongest, guesses multiple times on the test. This is likely different from most other tests you’ve taken, and it’s an extremely important skill to master.

When should I guess?

  • Figure out which categories you tend to 1) take excessive time with (i.e. more than 2 minutes per question) and 2) after taking that time, you get the question wrong.
    • For example, if you routinely spend more than 2 minutes on combinatorics questions and after those two minutes, you end up getting them wrong, those are prime targets for guessing.
  • When you start hearing the following questions in your head, you know it’s time to guess:
    • “Crap, I studied this!”
    • “I’ve already spent 90 seconds doing the work. Just a little more and I may be able to get it.”
    • “I should know this!”
If you are guessing on a question, make sure to guess early. You should know within about 15 seconds of reading the question whether or not it’s one where you’ll need to guess. That way, you won’t waste valuable time doing work for a question you’re abandoning anyway!

Often overlooked, guessing is one of the most important skills you’ll need to hone before attacking the GMAT!

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Craving more tips and strategies for approaching the GMAT? Read on, friend, read on!

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Tags: GMAT