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GMAT Tips — Quantitative and Verbal Sections

This page provides a list of time-tested GMAT tips and strategies that apply to both the Quantitative and the Verbal sections. Though you may have read similar points of advice elsewhere, they're well worth reinforcing.

DON'T resort to random guesses. Instead, try to eliminate at least one answer choice before confirming your response.

By eliminating answer choices you know are wrong you improve your odds of selecting the correct one. Also keep in mind that an incorrect response moves you down the ladder of difficulty to easier questions, and that the testing system offers less credit for easy questions than for more challenging ones — another reason you should avoid guesswork and attempt a reasoned response to each question you confront.

NOTE: The scoring system for the paper-based GMAT (available only at certain locations outside the U.S.) eliminates any advantage of random guessing by deducting one-quarter point for each incorrect response.

DO look out for sucker-bait answer choices.

The test will bait you with tempting wrong-answer choices, so heed the following points of advice:

  • In Problem Solving questions wrong-answer choices typically reflect common computational errors. To avoid this trap: (1) use your pencil and scratch paper, (2) check your calculations, and (3) know the general size of the numerical value that answers the question.

  • Questions on the Verbal section typically include a best response and a second-best response. So never hasten to select and confirm an answer until you've read all the choices.

DO pace yourself so that you have enough time to consider every available question — but don't be a clock-watcher.

To give your full attention to all 37 Quantitative questions and all 41 Verbal questions, you might need to work at a somewhat quicker pace than is comfortable for you. Check your pace after every 10 questions (three times during a section):

  • If you're on question 10, the total elapsed time should be about 20 minutes.

  • If you're on question 20, the total elapsed time should be about 40 minutes.

  • If you're on question 30, the total elapsed time should be about 60 minutes.

  • You should answer the last question — number 37 (Quantitative section) or 41 (Verbal section) — by the time the 75-minute section has expired.

Adjust your pace accordingly so that you have time to at least take a reasoned guess on every available question in the section. But try not to be a constant clock watcher.

NOTE: The best way to avoid the time squeeze is to practice under timed conditions, so that you get a sense for how quickly you must proceed to get through a multiple-choice section within the allotted time.

DO take your time with the first few Quantitative and Verbal questions.

The CAT uses your responses to the first few questions to move you either up or down the ladder of difficulty. Of course, you want to move up the ladder, not down. So take great care with the initial questions — perhaps moving at a somewhat slower pace initially. Otherwise, you'll have to respond correctly to several questions just to reverse the trend by proving to the CAT that you're smarter than it thinks you are.

DON'T succumb to perfectionist tendencies.

On an exam as important as the GMAT, it's easy to be a stubborn perfectionist. The design of the CAT itself contributes to this mind set, because your reward for correct responses to difficult questions is greater than your reward for easier questions. But a stubborn attitude can prove self-defeating because:

  • It reduces the number of questions that you attempt, which lowers your score

  • You run the risk of over-analyzing questions, and going against your initial hunch (which more often than not is correct)

As you take timed practice tests, get comfortable with a quick pace by adhering strictly to the time limits imposed. Remember: You can miss quite a few questions and still score high. Develop a sense of your optimal pace: one that results in the greatest number of correct responses.

DO use your pencil and scratch paper (both will be provided).

Doing so helps keep you in an active mode. On the Quantitative section, perform only the simplest calculations in your head; commit everything else to paper. Obviously, you'll use your scratch paper less during the Verbal section. Nevertheless, outlining Reading Comprehension passages and jotting down conclusions and premises for Critical Reasoning questions can help keep your thought process clear and straight.

DON'T waste time reading directions while the clock is running; you should already know them.

Just before the test presents the first question of each type (for example, Sentence Correction or Reading Comprehension), it will display the directions for that question type. The clock will be running! So dismiss the directions as quickly as you can by clicking on the DISMISS DIRECTIONS button — without taking any time to read them. (This advice presupposes that you already know the directions, which you will if you've prepared for the exam.)