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Early game in GMAT Verbal and Quant.

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If you're considering taking the GMAT and have taken the time to look at strategy for the test, you've almost certainly heard this little nugget before: "The questions toward the beginning of a section are worth more points!" So, is it really true? Sort of.

Actually, you have to dispense with the idea of questions being “worth points” at all to make sense of how this works.

What’s happening as you answer questions is that the GMAT is honing in on the difficulty level that corresponds to your skill level. The scoring algorithm estimates what your score will be, based on your past responses and the difficulty levels of those questions. After each response you make, the estimate is updated, with the results of all previous responses taken into account. The next question that appears is one that the algorithm has selected as the "best" to confirm the machine's suspicions about your predicted result. Oh, and another thing: the aptness of the next question is determined not only by question difficulty but also by question type and skill type. In other words, you will be sure to get a blend of questions that covers all kinds of GMAT test concepts at the appropriate difficulty level.

At the start of a multiple-choice section, you are given a problem in the middle of the difficulty scale. At this early stage, the difficulty adjustments are dramatic: correct answers cause the questions to get harder quite quickly, while wrong answers quickly make things easier.

The idea here is that you should get see some questions that are way too easy for you as well as some that are way too hard, and progress to slightly too easy and slightly too hard. At the end of a section, where you land on that spectrum of difficulty is what decides your score. It's not the quantity of questions you got correct, but the quality (difficulty) you have achieved.

So should I dump all of my time into the front end of a section? Well, yes and no. You shouldn't do this TOO much as it can easily backfire. You see, there are a couple of things to keep in mind that make such a strategy a double-edged sword.

Firstly, the penalties for not finishing the section tend to be steep, so you should always find a way to finish, and to do so without having to make a huge number of guesses in the final stretch.

Secondly, if you invest too heavily timewise into, say, the first ten or fifteen questions and this strategy succeeds- i.e. you get all of them right- you will end up facing extremely difficult questions early on. These questions will be huge time sponges practically by definition, so again you'll be setting yourself up for the possibility of a disaster brought on by not finishing. On the other hand, making a significant number of errors in the early game will set you in bad stride, causing you to have to fight your way back uphill the whole way. It’s all about knowing what level you’re capable of achieving, and striking a balance regarding time distribution.

More to come soon. We still have to talk about what it means for a question to be "difficult" to begin with. Join us in class!

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