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The GMAT Test and Computer-Adaptive Strategy

By Peterson's Staff updated on Friday, February 01, 2013

With most standardized exams, you can see all the questions as soon as you open the test book. However, the GMAT test is a Computer-Adaptive Test, otherwise known as a CAT.

GMAT test is computer-adaptive

The GMAT is administered completely by computer, one question at a time. Each time you enter an answer, the CAT evaluates your response and determines the difficulty level of your next question — and then instantly retrieves and delivers it. Lightning quick, it's a thinking test that represents Artificial Intelligence in the testing room and it understands you and your capabilities before you ever finish the test.

Sound ominous? It's not. There's science behind the CAT and by understanding how it works, you can develop a test-taking, CAT-taming strategy that will work for you!

GMAT review should take the CAT into account

Before you begin your GMAT prep, you should understand how a CAT works. All CAT tests begin with a question of average difficulty, and the GMAT is no exception. Theoretically, it's a question that half of the people taking the test will get right, and the other half will get wrong. The difficulty of the second question depends on whether or not you answer the first question correctly or incorrectly. The third question depends on your first two responses, and so on.

About a third of the way through the section, the CAT zeroes in on your skill level, approximates where your final score should be, and tailors the remaining questions to suit your capabilities.

Early questions determine difficulty level
Imagine playing a guessing game where someone thinks of a number from 1 to 100, and you have to guess what it is. You start with 50, and the person who knows the number says "higher". You guess 75, and the other person says "lower". Then you guess 60, and so on. The jumps between your guesses get smaller and smaller as you hone in on the correct number.

The GMAT test works in much the same way. Each time you answer a question, the CAT decides if that question was too hard or too easy for you. Eventually, it gives you a series of questions that are all about the same level of difficulty. Your score may jump up and down until the CAT draws its conclusions.

As a result, score jumps are usually higher near the beginning of the test, so they are the most important in determining your final score. However, you can't slack off on the last ten questions, since your score can slide significantly if you do, especially if you start plugging in incorrect answers.

Although the early questions are important in determining your skill level, keep in mind that your GMAT preparation should focus on the test content in addition to test strategy.

How the scoring works
Because the questions are tailored to you, CAT scoring takes into account the number of questions you answer correctly as well as which ones you answer correctly. If you tend to answer the toughest questions correctly, then you'll score higher than the guy next to you who gets the easier ones right but tanks on the hard ones.

Study strategy in your GMAT review

You can't really outsmart a CAT, but you can alter your test-taking strategy. First and foremost, if you don't know an answer, don't just guess. You can't skip anything because you have to answer the question to move on to the next one, so use some logic to try to rule out the wrong answers.

Random guessing could result in the computer giving you levels of questions that are all wrong for you. So, no skipping and no guessing. Try to follow this strategy in your GMAT practice as well. Every question deserves at least an educated attempt so the computer can align your test to your skill level appropriately.

About the Author

Peterson's has more than 40 years of experience in higher education, and the expert staff members here are all ready to leverage their considerable knowledge and experience to help you succeed on your educational journey. We have the information, the know-how, and the tools -- now all we need is you!

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