how the gmat is computer adaptive

GMAT: The Computer Adaptive Test

The GMAT computer adaptive test (CAT) is more than just a computerized version of a paper-and-pencil test. On the GMAT, the CAT actually adapts to your performance as you’re taking the test. Understanding how the CAT works and knowing a few strategies specific to this particular format can have a direct, positive impact on your score.

When you begin the GMAT, the computer assumes you have an average score and gives you a question of medium difficulty. As you get answers correct, the computer serves up more difficult questions and increases its estimate of your ability.

And vice versa, as you answer incorrectly, the computer serves up easier questions and decreases its estimate of your ability.

Your score is determined by an algorithm that calculates your ability level based not just on what you got right or wrong; but also on the difficulty level of the questions you answered.

GMAT Computer Adaptive Test: Confirming Your Answer

GMAC adjusted the algorithm to allow GMAT test takers to change up to 3 answers per section. You will still need to choose an answer to each problem as you go. At the end of each section, you’ll be able to review any problems you want and change up to 3 answers.

So the limit will force you to really think about what you’re doing:

Objective reasons to change– Found a careless mistake – I remember some fact/rule/process I’d forgotten 15 minutes ago
Don’t change!– Second-guessing myself but not really sure – Panic-changing as the clock ticks down – Agonizing between two answers

GMAT Computer Adaptive Test: Should You Guess?

Guessing on the GMAT is a painful decision – especially for advanced test takers.  In the past, sometimes you were punished for guessing (like on the SATs) and sometimes you were made to feel like you weren’t fully prepared (remember college Spanish classes?).

However, on the GMAT, while you want to minimize the amount of guess you do, realize that having a guessing strategy in place is important. A guessing strategy is more important in the Quantitative sections since most test takers have a more difficult time finishing that section.

However, it is also important not to lose track of time on the Verbal section. For sound GMAT strategy, primarily there are two distinct times when you want to guess:

When You Don’t Know the Concept

Let’s face it, on GMAT Test Day, you have a chance of forgetting one of the many equations you have memorized.  Additionally, sometimes you will look at a Problem-Solving question and have no idea how to structure the variables or the situation.  These are all great times to guess.  The key to this situation is to not spend a great deal of time on a problem where you do not remember the formula or the approach.

Too often, test takers spend considerable time examining the question and looking at the answer choices for clues.  Generally, this is a good approach.  However, spending too long doing the analysis is detrimental.  If you don’t know the concept, look at the answer choices and quickly guess between the two or three that look consistent.  Y

ou want to BANK TIME on questions like these.  Spending that extra time on other questions that you DO know how to approach could repair any damage that may have been done to your score by making a strategic guess.

When You Are Running Out of Time

As you are taking the GMAT, you need to pay attention to the time posted on the screen and the question number you are on. Time Management is not just an activity to be concerned with at the end of any given section – it must be considered throughout each section.

However, if you find yourself running out of time on a Computer Adaptive Test, start to strategically guess on a couple of questions to ensure that you get to the end of the section (remember, the GMAT has a harsh penalty for test takers who leave a string of un-answered questions at the end).

The best questions to guess on are Problem-Solving questions with real numbers in the answer choices. On these types of problems, often you can quickly read the problem and strategically cross out a couple of the answer choices because they are outside the realm of reasonableness – at this point, the probability of guessing correctly increases exponentially.


Guessing is not the best way to get through the GMAT, but it’s a key part of GMAT execution and you want to plan for it accordingly.  Failing to guess on just one question (that would otherwise take you too long to solve) can have severe consequences on Test Day.