Guessing on the GMAT

The following is a metaphor for how students often respond to a particularly tough GMAT question:

It’s a dark, moonless night, and you find yourself alone in a haunted house. Blood drips from the ceiling, and the words “Get out!” echo throughout the cobwebbed halls. You’re terrified so, naturally, you head upstairs to investigate.

Well, that’s how events seem to play out in most horror movies, but any sane person would get out of the house immediately.

On the GMAT, the same logical instinct should apply to ridiculously scary questions. Once you’ve identified a question as such, DO NOT go upstairs to investigate. Just get out! 

Now, before I go any further, I want to explain what I mean by ridiculously scary questions. These are insanely confounding questions where you have no idea where to begin, or you don’t even understand what the question is asking. These types of questions smell hopeless, and nothing in the world is going to change that for you. This is what I mean by ridiculously scary questions.

Of course, the BEST strategy is to be so prepared that there’s no such thing as a scary GMAT question. Unfortunately, most test-takers aren’t in this envious position, so the computer-adaptive nature of the GMAT practically ensures that everyone will encounter his or her share of ridiculously scary questions. So, you might as well have a strategy for handling them.

The best tactic is to know when to quit and heed the ominous advice to “Get out.”  More importantly, get out EARLY

The biggest obstacle to the get-out-early strategy is the mistaken notion that all questions deserve about 2 minutes of our time. While preparing for the GMAT, most of us learn that, in order to complete each section on time, we have about two minutes to spend on each question. Unfortunately, many interpret this as meaning we should never consider guessing on a tough question BEFORE two minutes have elapsed. This misguided notion can kill your score. The truth is, if you encounter a question that you have zero chance of answering correctly or even eliminating answer choices, why spend two minutes staring at it? Give yourself 30 seconds (at most) and then guess and move on. This way, you’ll have extra time to spend on questions that you actually have a chance of answering.

Remember, you can have incorrect responses on the GMAT and still get a perfect 800 score. If your target score is the 600 range, then you can have many incorrect responses. So, don’t waste time blindly fumbling with questions that you’ve identified as next-to-impossible. Move on from your weaknesses to your strengths.

For the perfectionists out there, this is a tough pill to swallow (Me, guess? I don’t think so!!). If this is you, then I offer the following advice: Get over yourself, and look at the big picture. Remember, the goal is not to obsess over every single question; the goal is to maximize your score, and guessing is an integral part of that. 

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