There are many advantages to being able to take the GMAT on the computer. You get a much truer sense of your abilities because the computer can be adaptive while a paper test cannot. You eliminate the risk of smudged ink making a geometry question impossible to decipher. You get the flexibility to take the test almost any time that’s convenient for you without the test-makers having to worry about questions “getting out”. But it does make timing more challenging.
Unlike a paper-based test where you’re free to skip a difficult question so that you can come back and work on it later, once you’ve skipped a question on the computer-based GMAT it’s gone, never to be seen again. Well, maybe you’ll see it in those haunting dreams you have the night after the test. Because, you see, the vast majority of the questions you face are going to be things that you could answer… if you had enough time. The task being asked of you is not so much what can you do, but rather what can you do in 75 minutes.
The computer-adaptive nature of the test can seem cruel to test-takers of any ability. Whether you’re scoring in the 400s or the 700s there are going to be math questions that are at the limit of your abilities. If you continue to answer questions correctly, you’re eventually going to get to those questions. And that’s where the dilemma comes in: do you spend some extra time to get that really tough question, or do you take a guess and move on?
With few exceptions, the correct tactical decision is to guess and move on. Questions at the beginning of the test are no more important than the ones at the end of your test, and if you’re sacrificing the time you need to answer two questions correctly at the end in order to answer one question in the middle of your test, you’re losing that trade. Plus, even if you do manage to get that very difficult question correct, your reward will be an even tougher question! Go through this cycle a few more times and you’re faced with questions that are certainly beyond your reach and a time deficit that will be nearly impossible to overcome.
Take this strategy to heart: set time markers. Make sure you’re finished with 10 questions with 55 minutes to go. Make sure you’re finished with 20 questions with 35 minutes to go. Make sure you’re finished with 30 questions with 15 minutes to go. Hitting these markers might require making a quick guess on number 9 or taking a complete shot in the dark on number 20, but it’s worth it. The GMAT penalizes you heavily for failing to answer the last question(s) so it’s likely that any good you do yourself early in the test will be more than offset later.
Keep those time markers in mind. If you get a little ahead, you know you have some freedom to take an extra minute on that tough question. If you fall behind, take quick measures to get yourself back into a good position. Even if you realize after the test that the question you skipped and took a wild guess on was one you could have answered, if you follow this advice you’ll be too happy celebrating a great score to worry too much about that!