GMAT Impact: News from the Makers of the GMAT, Part 1

When it comes to the GMAT, raw intellectual horsepower helps, but it is not everything. In this weekly blog series, Manhattan GMAT’s Stacey Koprince teaches you how to perform at your best on test day by using some common sense.

In early December, I attended the biannual GMAC Summit, a special conference for test prep companies that is put on by the makers of the GMAT. I have various important pieces of information to share! The most important one is first.

Scoring and Timing

When we were discussing the scoring algorithm, someone asked the age-old question of whether certain questions are “worth more” than others. Dr. Lawrence Rudner, chief psychometrician of GMAC, indicated (as he always has in the past) that the earlier questions are not worth more than the later ones. He did, however, indicate something that we suspected but had never heard officially confirmed: “outlier” questions ultimately count less toward your score.

What is an outlier? Briefly, an outlier is a question for which your performance was unexpected. Read on to understand what this means.

An outlier is always relative to your own performance. Most of the questions you answer will be within a certain range of difficulty. As a general rule, you will answer more of the easier questions in your range correctly, and you will answer more of the harder questions incorrectly. This is the expected behavior.

There are two types of outliers:

(1) easier questions that you get wrong

(2) harder questions that you get right

If you were answering 70th percentile questions mostly correctly but answered a 50th percentile question incorrectly, then that question will ultimately count less toward your overall score.

The Takeaway: Do not stress over missing a question that you think is easier (but note that you cannot let this happen too many times, or those questions will no longer be outliers!)

If, on the other hand, you were answering 70th percentile questions mostly correctly but answered a 90th percentile question correctly, then that question will also ultimately count less toward your overall score.

The Takeaway: Do not waste a bunch of time and mental energy trying to get a really hard (for you) question right.

Now, some of you are thinking, “But what if I can get a lot of those really hard questions right? Then they will help my score!”

Can you spot the problem with that line of thinking?

If you were already capable of answering that level of question effectively and efficiently, you would not need to spend extra time or think, “Oh, I really need to get these right!” You would already know how to do them.

Plus, spending extra time on a hard question does not actually guarantee that you will answer it correctly. Even if you do happen to get one right periodically, that question is going to end up being an outlier for you—and you will miss other, easier questions later in the section because you will have mismanaged your time.

It gets even worse. Those easier errors are no longer outliers, because there are too many of them, so your entire score is pulled down. (And the farther down the overall score is pulled, the more the couple of harder questions that you got right turn into outliers, so they will not help pull your score up!)

What to do? What we have been telling you all along: maintain a steady performance throughout the test, neither rushing nor spending too much time, and letting go of a question when needed (everyone will need to do this!).

If you want to learn more about outliers in general, I recommend reading Malcolm Gladwell’s fabulous book Outliers: The Story of Success.

Check back in next week, when I will share news about Integrated Reasoning.

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