The quantitative and verbal sections of the GMAT are both Computer Adaptive Tests (CAT), meaning that as you take the test, the computer is using a complex algorithm to determine the difficulty of the next question and, ultimately, your overall score. When you start the section, you will be given a question of medium difficulty, and the difficulty of your questions will adjust based on your performance over the course of the section.
If you have never taken a CAT before, it can be a little unnerving, simply because the testing algorithm pulls questions of differing difficulty based on the accuracy of your previous answers. Many a CAT test-taker has driven herself more than a little crazy trying to guess how well she is doing on the section based on the difficulty of the questions that come before and after. Here are two absolute facts and two common fictions regarding computer-adaptive testing that should help demystify your testing experience.
FACT: Not finishing all the questions in a section hurts your score. So work as quickly and efficiently as you can to ensure you get to every question in the section!
FACT: If you get several questions of medium difficulty correct, you will typically get harder questions. If the questions in the section seem to be getting harder and harder, that is a sign your score is getting higher and higher.
FICTION: “If I get a very easy question, it means I got the last question wrong.” False. If you’re exceedingly well-prepared, a “difficult” question may seem easy to you. Furthermore, the CAT algorithm never bases the difficulty of your next question solely on your performance no the question immediately before it. The test knows that really smart people can make a dumb mistake, and less able individuals may make a lucky guess. It’s not going to change its impression of your abilities based on your answer to one question.
FICTION: “You can out-think the CAT.” You could certainly spend your time in the testing room stressing about how you did on a question, and wondering whether you’re getting too many easy questions or too many hard questions in a row…or you could stop worrying about how you’re doing on the test in real-time and focus on answering the question in front of you correctly. Save your agonizing over specific questions until the test is over. While you’re taking the test, stay focused on the task at hand: answering the question on the screen in front of you as quickly and accurately as possible.