How Important Are the Last Several Questions?

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Several months ago, I wrote a tip about the importance of the first 5-10 questions in each section. The idea that those questions are somehow particularly crucial to your success is a myth with staying power, but a myth nonetheless. And even if it were true, there's only so much you can do; as I tell my students, would you just "try really hard" on those questions if you knew they were so important?

Perhaps you would, but I would hope that you plan to "try really hard" on every question.

Just as test-takers tend to overestimate the importance of the first several questions in each section of the GMAT computer-adaptive test, they tend to underestimate the importance of the last several.


You probably know that if you don't finish a section (that is, you run out of time and you haven't click on answer on the final question), you are penalized. The penalty is substantial. You don't want any part of it.

What you may not know is that you will be penalized even if you do finish the section, if you rush your way through the last several. I don't know exactly what threshhold the computer uses to judge whether you're guessing, but it's safe to say that if you complete the last five questions in a minute or two, you'll be penalized for your poor time-management.


In other words, you ought to–at the very least–leave yourself enough time to complete the last several questions. I've heard people (even other tutors) say that once you get to the last few questions, your score is "set." That couldn't be further from the truth.

In discussions with test-prep providers, the test-maker has claimed that every question is of equal importance, no matter where it is in the section. Is that true? I've worked out methods a computer-adaptive algorithm could use that make it true; at the very least, it's close enough to true that you ought to assume that it's the case.


In short, this is a simple issue that potential test-takers tend to get overly worked-up about. Each GMAT section is very simple: you have about two minutes per question. You can spend a little more on some questions if you make up the time on others. That's it.

You shouldn't be trying extra hard at the beginning, or cutting yourself short on the end. A perfect GMAT experience would be spending about 1:45 per question, comfortably completing the ones you know how to do, and guessing on those you don't. There's no benefit in weighting your time toward the beginning, or spending several minutes on any single question. Don't let anyone tell you differently.



About the author: Jeff Sackmann has written many GMAT preparation books, including the popular Total GMAT Math, Total GMAT Verbal, and GMAT 111. He has also created explanations for problems in The Official Guide, as well as 1,800 practice GMAT math questions.

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