The GMAT is a tough test. It’s long, and it requires loads of practice. You have to be prepared for anything the test makers throw at you - and they’ll throw a lot! If you want to do well on the exam, you need to know how to tackle each section efficiently so that your time is maximized and you can get through all questions in the allotted time frame. In this post we’ll cover some strategies for problem solving on the GMAT so that you don’t waste precious minutes struggling with difficult problems or trying to figure out obscure details about some random topic.
Answer the question in 2.5 minutes
The second thing you need to know about the GMAT is that you have 2.5 minutes per question, and this timer doesn’t stop for any reason. That means if you run out of time or take too long, the computer will record your final answer and move on to the next question. Don’t panic! You can always change a first answer to a second choice by selecting “change answer” at the end of each section.
So what do you do when there’s only 2 minutes left in a section? First, don’t panic: there are still some easy questions left that are worth getting right if they’re going to help improve your score. Second, take advantage of those last few seconds by answering everything as fast as possible using processes that worked well earlier on in this section. The more points we get in the first half of each section (when there’s still plenty of time) means fewer mistakes on those last few questions later on when time is shorter and less forgiving.*
Read carefully and underline key words.
- Read the question carefully. Don’t be in a rush, and don’t skip any words.
- Underline key words in the question, such as “NOT,” “NOT ANYTHING,” and “EXCEPT FOR.” These words can help you identify the correct answer by eliminating options that would be true for all or most of the choices.
- Read the question again and see if you can eliminate some answers before looking at them completely.
- After reading each answer choice, read it aloud to yourself so that you can give it more thought than just skimming through on your computer screen or mobile device.* Once an answer is eliminated as incorrect based on what we have underlined so far, then we know that option cannot be correct because every other answer will have something wrong with it relative to what has been ruled out earlier in this process.* In other words: If one option doesn’t work then neither does another option because they are related somehow (they aren’t both true simultaneously).
Factor in all possibilities - eg. if question asks for a percent, it’s possible that you’ll have to convert from decimals/fractions
You should also factor in all possibilities. For example, if a question asks for a percent, it’s possible that you’ll have to convert from decimals/fractions. In this case, we would convert (6/100) into (0.06) and then multiply by 100 to get 6%.
Another common situation is where an answer choice has an improper fraction format (like 3 1/3 or 4 5/8). The GMAT will not accept those answers unless they are simplified first! So keep that in mind as well when evaluating each option presented during the test.
Glance quickly at answers before solving problem and eliminate impossible choices
- What you should be thinking about:
- What is the missing value?
- Is this an absolute value question? If so, which way is it pointing?
- Is there a repeated number in the answer choices? Eliminate those choices.
- How many of the answer choices are positive and how many negative? If there’s an even number of each, eliminate one at random. - That will be your answer! (Note: I don’t recommend using this strategy for every problem; only use it when nothing else works.)
Use the process of elimination to solve problem
- Eliminate impossible answers.
- Eliminate answers that are obviously wrong. If an answer choice is clearly incorrect, don’t waste time thinking about it—just cross it off your list and move on to the next one.
- Use the process of elimination to solve problems. As you work through each question on a section (which are called “experimental” questions in GMAT terminology), use your scratch paper to eliminate answers that you know aren’t right before moving on to other options or trying them out yourself if they seem reasonable enough to attempt without having seen them before in another question or set of questions nearby.
Be willing to guess and move on if you are out of time.
The GMAT is designed to test your ability to solve problems under pressure. Some questions can be solved without a calculator and some cannot. In general, if you are not sure about a question, it’s better to guess than leave it blank because there is no penalty for guessing wrong on the GMAT. But there is an incentive not only for getting questions right but also for getting them done: each question that you leave blank will take off five points from your total score at the end of the test! So if you’re running out of time in one section or another (which could happen), don’t worry about getting every single question right; just make sure that all of them are finished before time runs out.
Understand the strategy of the test makers - don’t try to over-think the problems and don’t worry too much about small details. The goal is efficiency.
The GMAT test makers have a strategy they use to test your ability to solve problems efficiently. Don’t try to over-think the problems and don’t worry too much about small details. The goal is efficiency.
When you see a question, start with an educated guess as long as it doesn’t require knowledge that you haven’t learned yet (such as when you are learning basic math). If one of your answers is wrong and it isn’t clear why it’s wrong, then go back through all of the steps until you can pinpoint where things went awry.
Getting efficient at problem solving takes practice but will make all the difference on test day.
Consistency is key. The more you practice, the more efficient you will become at problem solving and the better your score will be on test day. You should aim to do at least some GMAT prep every single day, even if it’s just for 10 minutes at a time. Your brain will start to get used to solving these problems and before you know it, it will be second nature!
I hope you’ve found this post helpful, and that it gave you some ideas for how to prepare for the GMAT. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to leave them below!