Where the Venn Diagram of “Hip Hop Month in the Veritas Prep GMAT Tip space” and “Guy who Photoshops all the preview images for these posts does so for the last time before leaving for an amazing new opportunity” intersects, you’ll find a lot of Boyz II Men, rap ballads, and other assorted slow jams playing bittersweetly in the background. And as it so happens, arguably the best of those slow jams – Tupac’s “Life Goes On” – is a perfect metaphor for GMAT test-day strategy:

“How many brothers fell victim to the streets, rest in peace young brother there’s a heaven for a G. I’d be a liar if I told you that I’ve never thought of death. My brother, we’re the last ones left.”

While Pac isn’t necessarily talking about the GMAT, he might as well be, as arguably the single most important test-day strategy you need to have in mind is, essentially, Life Goes On. The computer-adaptive algorithm ensures that just about everyone will “lose” questions like Tupac loses homeboys. How many questions will fall victim to the pressures of time and difficulty? More than you’d think. The CAT algorithm is designed to keep testing your upper threshold of ability, so you will miss questions even if – and actually especially if – you’re doing really well. The key is to recognize that life goes on, that struggling through a problem or even guessing on a few problems isn’t a terrible thing. Like Tupac says in the line “my brother, we’re the last ones left” the GMAT is a test of survival and not as much of pure mastery. You need to roll with the punches and keep looking forward.

To better exemplify the Life Goes On approach to test-day strategy, take this lesson from GMAC’s OG, Dr. Rudner. The brain behind the GMAT’s scoring algorithm was once taking the exam (for both “fun” and “quality control”) in pursuit of a perfect 51 on the quant section. At one point he encountered a question that he couldn’t quite solve – even with a PhD in statistics and a day job that *is* the GMAT – but couldn’t let go of, either. As the minutes ticked by and his multiple approaches to the problem continued to fall short, he says he laughed to himself that “I wrote the algorithm – I know this is stupid to waste time on one question when one single question probably won’t affect my score” but still he soldiered on. And when he checked the internal report the next day to see his question-by-question performance and the statistics on that particular item, he had to laugh again – that question was an unscored, experimental item that absolutely did not count toward his score. Life goes on; you’ll fall victim to a few questions now and then, and you have to know that it’s okay to let them go.

So as you take the GMAT, remember:

-You will miss questions and you can miss quite a few questions and still get a great score. Don’t let any one question affect your confidence or your pace.

-You can guess to save time. The 37 questions in 75 minutes quant pace and 41 in 75 verbal pace is aggressive for most students, who would perform significantly better if the section were just 3-4 questions shorter. Don’t rush through and make silly mistakes on several questions because you’re intent on doing your best on absolutely every question; if you need to guess on couple awful-looking questions to bank a few minutes to perform comfortably on the others, that’s not a bad strategy.

-Not all questions will look difficult, and that’s okay too – don’t let the “hard questions mean you’re doing well” logic convince you of the inverse, that an easy question means you’ve blown it. You may see an easy experimental, or you may find that a question looks easy but has a subtle twist that you didn’t see that makes it hard. Don’t try to read into your performance as you go – that mental energy and time are better spent solving the problem you’re on. Easy or hard, life goes on.

On the GMAT, as in life, hardships will hit you but life goes on. You’ll miss questions like we’ll miss Jeremy; in either case, Tupac can slow jam you back to success.

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By Brian Galvin