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As any good GMAT student knows, you can’t possibly answer every question correctly. In fact, if you get the first couple questions right, you will rapidly get into territory where most people can hardly figure out what the questions mean. And if you take extra time to dig into those questions and try to figure them out, it bites you in a big way when you run out of time toward the end. So we quickly learn that if you can’t figure out a good plan to solve a problem, you need to go ahead and take an educated guess.
Sounds great, but it’s not actually that simple, is it?
The problem is, educated guessing on the GMAT is actually really hard to do. It might seem easy when you look back at a problem that you’ve already done and say, “Well, if I didn’t have time, I could have at least guessed that the answer would be positive for this reason or that reason.” But on the front end, when you’re looking at a problem that you can’t solve, there’s a pretty good chance you don’t understand it well enough to make an educated guess either. I know I can’t, and I know I’ve listened to lots of people explain their “educated” guess and thought, “That was more lucky than educated.”
So what’s the solution? Un-educated guessing on the GMAT!
Maybe “Pure Guessing” would be a better name. Or “Answer-Based Guessing.” Or “Quick and Easy Guessing.”
That really gets at the point, though, doesn’t it? If we need to guess primarily for the sake of saving time and mental energy, we can’t afford to put too much time and mental energy into our guessing on the GMAT. So we need strategies that can be applied quickly and easily. And now that you’ve hung with me to this point, you’re probably ready for an actual strategy! So here it is.
On Data Sufficiency, Always Guess Sufficient
How’s that for quick and easy? But there’s some solid reasoning behind it if you think about how DS works. To prove a statement insufficient, you just need examples, a yes case and a no case, or two different values. But to properly prove a statement sufficient, you need to use logic or algebra to show that you get a definite answer. So what’s harder? A few test cases or a logical/algebraic proof? Most people would agree that the proof of sufficient is harder. So in a situation where you’re looking at a statement and can’t prove it either way, it makes sense to guess that you’re in the harder situation (sufficient).
Another way to think about it is that when a statement is difficult to work with, it most often means there aren’t very many values that fit with the statement. In other words, the statement is very constraining, and that means a challenging statement is actually more likely to be sufficient than insufficient.
And to be clear, you still go through the step-by-step of evaluating each statement and, if necessary, evaluating them together, but if you can’t decide at any point, you guess sufficient. Some examples:
If you haven’t thought this way before, it can take a little getting used to, but once you embrace it, it’s quick, simple, and keeps you moving through DS with a minimum expenditure of time and mental energy. Keep a lookout: more strategies for un-educated guessing on the GMAT for other question types are coming soon!