Let’s look at a vastly important testing issue that is largely misunderstood and its seriousness under-appreciated. Throughout multiple years of tutoring, this has been one of the most common and detrimental problems that I have had to work to correct in my students. It pertains to the entire GMAT exam, but is typically more relevant to the quant section as students often struggle more with pacing during quant.
No single question matters unless you let it.
Reflect on that for a second, because it’s super important, weird, true, and again…important. The GMAT exam is not testing your ability to get as many questions right as you can. You can get the exact same percentage of questions right on two different exams and end up getting very different scores as a result of the complicated scoring algorithm. Mistakes that will crush your score are a large string of consecutive incorrect answers, unanswered questions remaining at the end of the section (these hurt your score even more than answering them incorrectly would), and a very low hit rate for the last 5 or 10 questions. These are all problems that are likely to arise if you spend way too much time on one/several questions.
Each individual question is actually pretty insignificant. The GMAT has 37 quantitative questions to gauge your ability level (currently ignoring the issue of experimental questions), so whether you get a certain question right or wrong doesn’t matter much. Let’s look at a hypothetical example and pick on question #17 for a second (just because it looked at me wrong!). If you start question 17, realize that it is not going your way, and ultimately make an educated guess after about 2 minutes and get it wrong…that doesn’t hurt you a lot. You missed the question, but you didn’t let it burn a bunch of your time and you live to fight another day (or in this case question).
Now let’s look at question 17 again, but from the perspective of being stubborn. If you start the question and are struggling with it but refuse to quit, thinking something like “this is geometry, I am so good at geometry, I have to get this right!”, then it will become very significant. In a bad way. In this example you spend 6 minutes on the question and you get it right. Congratulations! Except…you are now statistically not even going to get to attempt to answer two other questions because of the time that you just committed to it (with an average of 2 minutes per question on the quant section, you just allocated 3 questions’ worth of time to one question).
So your victory over infamous question 17 just got you 2 questions wrong! That’s a net negative. Loop in the concept of experimental questions, the fact that approximately one-fourth of quant questions don’t count, and therefore it is entirely possible that #17 isn’t even a real question, and the situation is pretty depressing.
Pacing is critical, and your pacing on quant questions should very rarely ever go above 3 minutes. Spending an excess amount of time on a question but getting it right is not a success; it is a bad strategic move. I challenge you to look at any practice tests that you have taken and decide whether you let this happen. Were there a few questions that you spent way over 2 minutes on and got right, but then later in the test a bunch of questions that you had to rush on and ended up missing, even though they may not have been that difficult? If that’s the case, then your timing is doing some serious damage. Work to correct this fatal error ASAP!
Brandon Pierpont is a GMAT instructor for Veritas Prep. He studied finance at Notre Dame and went on to work in private equity and investment banking. When he’s not teaching the GMAT, he enjoys long-distance running, wakeboarding, and attending comedy shows.