Here on April 15, it’s a good occasion to remember the Benjamin Franklin quote: “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Franklin, of course, never took the GMAT (which didn’t become a thing until a little ways after his own death, which he accurately predicted above). But if he did, he’d have plenty to add to that quote.
On the GMAT, several things are certain. Here’s a list of items you will certainly see on the GMAT, as you attempt to raise your score and therefore your potential income, thereby raising your future tax bills in Franklin’s honor:
You will struggle with pacing on the Integrated Reasoning section. 12 prompts in 30 minutes (with multiple problems per prompt) is an extremely aggressive pace and very few people finish comfortably. Be willing to guess on a problem that you know could sap your time: not only will that help you finish the section and protect your score, it will also help save your stamina and energy for the all-important Quant Section to follow.
On the Quantitative Section, you will certainly see at least one Work/Rate problem, one Weighted Average problem, and one Min/Max problem. This is good news! Word problems reward repetition and preparation – if you’ve put in the work, there should be no surprises.
Level of Difficulty
If you’re scoring above average on either the Quant or Verbal sections, you will see at least one problem markedly below your ability level. Because each section contains several unscored, experimental problems, and those problems are delivered randomly, probability dictates that every 700+ scorer will see at least one problem designed for the 200-500 crowd (and probably more than that). Do not try to read in to your performance based on the difficulty level of any one problem! It’s easy to fear that such a problem was delivered to you because you’re struggling, but the much more logical explanation is that it was either random or difficult-but-sneakily-so, so stay confident and move on.
You will see at least one Data Sufficiency problem that seems way too easy to be true. And it’s probably not true: make sure that you think critically any time the testmaker is directly baiting you into a particular answer.
You will have to pick an answer that you don’t like, that doesn’t catch the ear the way you’d write or say it. Make sure that you prioritize the major errors that you know you can routinely catch and correct, and not let the GMAT bait you into a decision you’re just not qualified to make.
You will see a passage that takes you a few re-reads to even get your mind to process it. Remember to be question-driven and not passage-driven – get enough out of the passage to know where to look when they ask you a specific question, but don’t worry about becoming a subject-matter expert on the topic. GMAT passages are designed to be difficult to read (particularly toward the end of a long test), so know that your competitive advantage is that you’ll be more efficient than your competition.
You will have the opportunity to make quick work of several Critical Reasoning problems if you notice the tiny gaps in logic that each argument provides, and if you’re able to notice the subtle-but-significant words that make conclusions extra specific (and therefore harder to prove).
Few things are certain in life, but as you approach the GMAT there are plenty of certainties that you can prepare for so that you eliminate surprises and proceed throughout your test day confidently. On this Tax Day, take inventory of the things you know to be certain about the GMAT so that your test day isn’t so taxing.
By Brian Galvin.