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7 Things you didn't know about the GMAT test

Tell me something I don’t know…
The GMAT - you heard of it, but what do you really know? We thought of 7 things you probably don’t know about the test and put them all in one place to make sure that you'll know it all. 

1. The GMAT is fundamentally different from exams you are used to.

Most tests you know, whether from high school or from your bachelor’s degree, require that you solve problems in a linear fashion: read a question, understand all the info, and add to this some knowledge you previously memorized (such as rules or formulas). All of this will give you an exact solution.
Those are most tests. The GMAT is a different story: it isn’t based, by and large, on prior knowledge. Yes, you will have to use a formula or two (like calculating the area of a triangle), but we’re talking about school-level knowledge. You already know it, and if you’ve forgotten it, it’s easy to remember.
In the GMAT, on the other hand, what is a big issue is time. This means that often, solving a question the straightforward way is not the way to go: something quicker is needed.

2. Each question can be solved more than one way.

Most GMAT questions, whether Verbal or Quantitative, can be solved using any one of three different strategies:

  • Precise – using all the information in the question so as to arrive at an exact answer on your own.
  • Alternative – using tools to select the right answer choice quickly, without necessarily figuring out the solution on your own. These can include estimation, comparing the answer choices, using number instead of variables, etc.
  • Logical – implementing a logical rule ‘from outside’ which brings you straight to the answer. Examples of this are using the logic behind causation, pricing or ratios.
These can be remembered by the acronym PAL: Precise, Alternative, Logical.

But if there are three different strategies, which do you use? This, it turns out, is the million dollar question. Which brings us to our next point…

3.            What the GMAT really tests is mind flexibility.  

Mind flexibility is the ability to quickly find the fastest way to solve each question, and apply it. This starts with identifying the optimal PAL strategy and continues with figuring out how to implement it.

You can base this in part on clues that the question gives you: does it require me to make an approximation? Does it look as if a precise calculation will take a long time? Is there a logical reason I can eliminate some answers without even fully taking in all the information?
The decision will also depend a lot on your self-knowledge: what you personally are good at when it comes to the different strategies.

4.            Optimal preparation time: 100-120 hours.

100 to 120 hours of effective studying should be enough. Optimally, this should occur in a 6-to-8-week span, but it can be spread over longer amounts of time as well. Any less time is too little, but you could go wrong the other way too: a 3-to-4-month studying routine will cause you to forget the early material by the time you’ve finished studying.
In general, more studying is correlated with higher scores. But nothing is guaranteed: what’s important is the quality, not the quantity, of the time.
5. Guessing is a good idea… sometimes.

On the exam, when running out of time, you may find yourself faced with the dilemma: guess or skip? The answer depends on the situation:

  • 1 or 2 items left in a section? Guess or leave it blank – it doesn’t matter much.
  • Verbal section with fewer than 5 question left? Guessing won’t hurt you, but it won’t help much either.
  • Quantitative? Guess! Don’t leave any questions blank here.
  • In general, feeling insecure? Leave it blank. Feeling confident? Guess.

6. Not happy? Cancel.

Immediately after the test is over, on your screen will appear a preview of your Verbal, Quantitative and Integrated Reasoning scores. You will have two minutes to decide whether to keep your score or cancel it. Keeping it means it will be reported to the schools you’re applying to. Cancelling it means it won’t be reported at all, not now or in the future when you do report other scores. Neither will schools even know that you even took the test. The only person who will know is you.
If you don’t immediately cancel, you can still do so for the next 72 hours (for a $25 fee), and for the next five years you can reinstate a cancelled score (for $50).

7. Improvement is possible… but keeps getting harder.

According to official GMAT statistics, the average re-taker improves his score by 30 points. That’s a lot, but wait: it’s just an average. Some people improve by much more, and others see their scores fall. Obviously, simply retaking won’t lead to success; you have to fix problems you had the first time. Another important thing to note is that the higher your score, the harder it is to improve: re-takers with scores of 700 and higher improve their score by only 10 points, on average.

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