How to study for a computer adaptive test like the GMAT

What does computer adaptive mean?

This means that the test changes and adapts as you take it.  In a nutshell,  the more questions you get right, the harder the questions become and the more questions you get wrong, the easier the questions get.  It starts off with a medium level question and then if you get that question wrong it tests you with an easier question, but if you get it right, it tests you with a harder level question and so on and so on.  The test is essentially trying to gauge your abilities by how many questions you get right and wrong of certain difficulty levels.  This means that if you get a lot of easy questions wrong it will hurt your score more than getting the same amount of difficult questions wrong.

The fact that the test is computer adaptive makes it hard to gauge how well you are doing during the exam.  Basically, it is just important to stay calm and remember if you are finding a lot of the questions difficult, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you are doing poorly.  In fact, it might mean that you are doing really well and the exam is trying to stump you with the difficult questions. Because the test is computer adaptive, you also cannot go back at any point.  Once you have answered a question and clicked confirm, you are done with that question, so make sure you double check your answer before moving on.

What this means for studying for the GMAT:

If you are aiming for a top score, you need to get used to tackling the most difficult questions, because these are the types that will be coming up a lot for you; if you are doing well.   Only practicing with medium or easy questions will hurt you on exam day when the especially hard questions come up.  With that being said, don’t just jump to studying the most difficult questions.  If you don’t master the easy to medium ones, you won’t even get to the difficult ones in the first place. It is also important to develop good pacing, because there are greater penalties for unanswered questions at the end than a series of incorrect answers.  Finally, make sure that you practice with computer adaptive practice tests as paper tests will not give you an accurate testing experience.

Meet the Author

Eliza Chute

I was always just an average student, but with the right course prep I was able to score a 770 on my first try. I had to wade through a lot of material to find what was right for me, but luckily for you I've done all the research for you! See more on my GMAT courses page.

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