GMAT guessing

GMAT Guessing Strategy

Conventional wisdom says that you should always finish every question on the GMAT, and that the computer will thrash you silly if you don’t. It even says so on page 17 the 12th edition of the GMAT Official Guide:

F[act] -- There is a severe penalty for not completing the GMAT test.

If you are stumped by a question, give it your best guess and move on.... If you don't finish the test, your score will be reduced greatly.

Thanks to this particular part of the GMAT Official Guide, a lot of GMAT students seem to think that they’ll face imminent GMAT doom if they don’t finish every single question. As a GMAT tutor, I often field anguished calls from students, who swear that their scores would have been much higher if they hadn’t accidentally ran out of time before they had a chance to answer question #37 on the quant section.

And guess what? A random guess on question #37 doesn’t seem to matter all that much. This little fact comes straight from the (tragically underused) official GMAT blog, which rarely receives more than one new post per month.

I strongly encourage you to read the GMAT blog post, or you could go straight to the pdf of the entire study if you’re feeling ambitious. And if you're not feeling all that ambitious, here are the highlights:

  • the last question or two never really matters much -- so don't freak out if you don't have time to guess
  • if you have five or fewer questions left on the verbal, it doesn't really matter if you omit questions at the end
  • if you are of below-average ability on quant, it might actually be better to omit questions at the end
  • if you are of relatively high ability on quant, you are better off guessing on the last few questions... but again, it doesn't make a big difference if you omit just one or two questions at the end

Pretty crazy stuff, right?  All of this information apparently comes from actual GMAT test data, and it definitely represents a departure from standard GMAT test-prep advice.

The bottom line is that a few random guesses or a few “skipped” questions at the end of the test won’t ruin your GMAT score, one way or the other. Remember that you have a huge margin for error on the GMAT, and you can miss a crapload of questions and still get an absolutely wonderful score on the test.

So relax a little bit. Whatever you do, don’t stress if you can’t answer the last quant question—it certainly isn’t worth causing the sort of anxiety that may inspire unnecessary verbal underperformance or a tearful call to your GMAT tutor.