Over the last two articles, I analyzed what we know about missing GMAT Quant questions and missing GMAT Verbal questions . As it turns out, you can miss a lot of questions on the GMAT. Getting a lot of wrong answers doesn’t guarantee you a bad score—and getting a lot of right answers doesn’t guarantee you a good score.
That’s both good news and bad news. On the one hand, the GMAT is a very forgiving test . You can get way more wrong answers on the GMAT than you could on a college final. On the other hand, taking the GMAT is complicated . You aren’t just trying to get a lot of right answers—you’re making tough executive decisions at the same time.
1. Give yourself some free passes on the GMAT.
Every single person in our data set, including the highest scorers, missed some questions on the GMAT. That means you’re going to miss some questions on the GMAT.
Imagine if the GMAT gave you a list, at the very beginning of each section, of all of those questions you were going to miss. What would you do when you got to one of those questions? Hopefully, you’d guess immediately! If you’re going to miss it anyways, you might as well miss it quickly .
Unfortunately, the real GMAT doesn’t give us a list like that. Have you ever spent a very long time on a GMAT question, just to get it wrong in the end? That happened for two reasons: because you thought you were going to get it right, and because you thought you had to get it right.
You actually didn’t have to get that problem right! If that was true, then the 700+ scorers in our data set wouldn’t have missed so many questions. On the GMAT, a wrong answer is not your enemy.
You can also train yourself to anticipate whether you’ll miss a question. Start with this series of articles on when to guess on the GMAT . Before test day, build a mental list of problems you’re very likely to get wrong— and give yourself permission to miss them .
I recommend starting each section with at least three “free passes,” or GMAT questions that you’ll guess on without even trying. You should also cut your losses and guess on any problem that isn’t going your way! Does it mean you’ll miss more questions? Maybe. Does it mean you’ll get a lower score? According to the data, almost certainly not.
2. Don’t spend extra time on the first few GMAT questions.
Let’s take a look at three test takers from our data set. They all got nearly the same score on the Quant section, but they did it in three very different ways.
Alice (not her real name) started the Quant section strong. Here’s how she performed on each quarter of the Quant section:
Britt had a weaker start:
Finally, Clara was consistent all the way through the section:
There are limits to these data—since Alice, Britt, and Clara took the test at different times and saw different questions, we can’t really directly compare them to each other. However, we can draw a few tentative conclusions from these and the other data.
You definitely don’t have to get the first few questions right to get a great score. If you’re strong at a section overall, the GMAT algorithm will eventually figure that out. That’s how Britt and Clara ended up with similar scores. On the other hand, a very strong start doesn’t guarantee you a higher score than someone who started off more slowly.
There’s nothing special about the first eight Quant questions or the last eight Quant questions. What the GMAT is looking for is the level you can perform at consistently. You don’t get any bonus points for a strong start if you can’t keep it up!
The GMAT data is complicated, but the two pieces of advice we can draw from it are easy to follow and might help you get a stronger score on test day. Here they are: