Crossing the Finish Line

(This is one of a series of GMAT tips that we offer on our blog.)

There are few good reasons for a 56-year old father of three to decide to get his first tattoo, and maybe only one that pretty much mandates that he should. For finishers of the Ironman triathlon — an extraordinary athletic event consisting of a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, and 26.2 mile run — tradition dictates that each Ironman has the ability, if not the duty, to ink the Ironman logo on his skin as a permanent reminder of the accomplishment. Ask one of these warriors about the experience, and you’ll likely hear some derivative of the following:

“Once I finished the bike without mechanical trouble, nothing was going to stop me from getting to the finish line.”

Ironmen will limp, stumble, crawl, or roll ther way to the finish line to cap their months-if-not-years of training, as they consider the completion of this task to be the ultimate result, with other factors like time, form, etc. to be secondary.

Why is this important in the GMAT space (other than your author’s incredible pride in his father’s Ironman finish this week)?

The GMAT scoring algorithm considers “finishing the task” on each section to be nearly as important as does the Ironman. In a recent summit of test prep companies, the representatives of the Graduate Management Admission Council reiterated that it is essential for examinees to complete each section, as the penalty for failing to answer questions is incredibly steep. As an example, a test taker who fails to answer the final five questions on a section can expect to lose greater than ten percentile points on that section.

Accordingly, you need to budget your time to ensure that you can complete the section, even if that means simply guessing toward the end to register answers (after all, that will not only avoid the failure-to-complete penalty, but will also give you opportunities to end up with correct answers). More importantly, you should budget your time even more effectively to ensure that you can give each of the questions a fair look and opportunity to successfully answer. The following is theoretical and not necessarily a hard-and-fast rule, but the logic follows:

• Because the GMAT scoring algorithm values a candidate’s ability to complete the exam, it is unlikely that it would provide any examinees with a “cop-out” or mulligan by offering an unscored, experimental question in the final 4-5 questions of either section.
• Because the GMAT does, indeed, feature unscored, experimental questions on each section, it is likely that you will see multiple unscored items in the middle 50% of each section.
• As a result, you may want to note your pace at interim checkpoints (after 10 questions, 20 questions, etc.) and plan to catch up on pacing the middle of the test if you know that you’ll need to save time, by determining which question types will likely take you the most time and making a quick decision on whether that return-on-investment is worth it.

Again, this theory is a bit more gamesmanship than pure strategy — your ultimate goal should be to answer each question correctly in an efficient amount of time, and that goal is achievable for all examinees with proper preparation — but if you have an impending test date and a sincere worry about your ability to pace effectively, it will likely give you a better chance to maximize your score. If anything, take a lesson from the finishers of the Ironman — whatever it takes, make sure you get to the finish line!

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