When You Don’t Know the Answer
If you have to guess on a standardized test, what’s the best way to do it? The topic has been addressed in two recent US media articles from very different angles.
Businessweek reporter Amy Choi took the GMAT exam without any preparation and ran out of time on the Quantitative section: “Suddenly, I noticed 20 seconds left on the clock and rapidly started selecting C, C, C, aware of the penalty for unanswered questions,” she wrote.
In the same week, Parade magazine columnist Marilyn vos Savant, who was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records for having the world’s highest recorded IQ, was asked whether guessing the same letter answer (C, C, C, C) rather than different ones was a better strategy for guessing on a standardized test.
The articles raise some interesting questions about guessing on standardized tests in general and the GMAT exam in particular.
First, we should make a distinction between guessing because you run out of time and guessing because you don’t know the answer.
The former is preventable through proper pacing, which you can do if you’re prepared. GMAC provides free GMATPrep® software with sample questions and two practice tests, and there are a wide variety of other preparation materials in the mba.com store to help you understand the question formats and get used to the pacing required.
Aim to prepare well enough so that you only have to read each question one time. Solid preparation will help you avoid guessing blindly because you’re rushed at the end of a section.
Which brings us to the latter. Even if you are well-prepared, the computer adaptive nature of the test means that as you answer more questions correctly, the test will get more difficult, and at some point you will most likely run into questions you don’t know the answer to. If and when this happens, the key thing to remember is not to spend too much time on questions you don’t know how to solve.
In this case, is it better to answer the same letter response, or different letters? As it turns out, neither. The world’s smartest woman advises doing exactly what GMAC has always recommended: Eliminate any choices you can, and choose from what’s left with your intuition.
As she concludes: “You’re never as clueless as you think!”