Time Management on the GMAT: When to Guess

November 19, 2009
Brian Fruchey

Guessing on the GMAT is a painful decision point – especially for advanced test takers.  In the past, sometimes we were punished for guessing (SATs) and sometimes we were made to feel like we weren’t fully prepared (college Spanish classes!).

However, on the GMAT, while we want to minimize the amount of guess we do, realize that having a guessing strategy in place is important.  A guessing strategy is more important in the Quantitative sections since most test takers find they have a more difficult time finishing that section.  However, it is also important to not lose track of time on the Verbal section.  Primarily there are two distinct times when you want to guess:

Don’t Know the Concept

Honestly, on test day, you have a chance of forgetting one of the several equations you have memorized.  Additionally, sometimes you will look at a Problem Solving question and have no idea how to structure the variables or the situation.  These are all great times to guess.  The key to this situation is to not spend a great deal of time on a problem where you do not remember the formula or the approach.

Too often, test takers spend considerable time examining the question and looking at the answer choices for clues.  Generally, this is a good approach.  However, spending too long doing the analysis is detrimental.  If you don’t know the concept, look at the answer choices and quickly guess between the two or three that look consistent.  You want to BANK TIME on questions like these.  Spending that extra time on other questions will potentially repair any damage done to your score by making a strategic guess.

Running Out of Time

As you are taking the GMAT, you need to pay attention to the time posted on the screen and the question number you are on.  Time Management is not just an activity to be concern with at the end of any given section – it must be considered throughout the Quant and Verbal Sections.

However, if you find yourself running out of time on a Computer Adaptive Test, start to strategically guess on a couple of answer choices to ensure that you get to the end of the section (remember, the GMAT has a harsh penalty for test takers who leave a string of un-answered questions at the end!).   The best questions to guess on are Problem Solving questions with real numbers in the answer choices.  On these types of problems, often you can quickly read the problem and strategically cross out a couple of the answer choices because they are outside the realm of reasonableness – at this point, the probability of guessing correctly increases exponentially.

Key take away on this topic:

Guessing is not the best way to get through the GMAT, but it’s a key part of GMAT execution and you want to plan for it accordingly.  Failing to guess on just one question (that would otherwise take you too long to solve) can have severe consequences on Test Day.  Good luck with your preparations.

Brian Fruchey Brian taught GMAT courses for Kaplan for over 5 years - starting just a few months after he took his own Kaplan course. He has moved on to his post-MBA career with a large management consulting firm in Washington, DC and sits on a number of non-profit and university boards and panels.

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