Difficulty Level of My Practice Math Questions

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A few months ago, I shared some information on the difficulty level of the math questions in The Official Guide to the GMAT and the supplemental Math Review book. If you haven't read that article and are using those resources, I strongly recommend that you do so now.

In that article, I also promised that I'd share parallel information about the difficulty level of my practice questions. Now that I've released 18 sets of 100 GMAT math questions each, I can do so quite thoroughly. But first, it's important that we're clear on how I'm presenting this information.

What Difficulty Level Means

A lot of people come to me wanting "700-level" questions. What they really mean is that they want to score a 700 on the GMAT. If you are currently scoring a 580, the last thing you need is a clutch of 700-level questions.

In short: a "600-level" question (or fill in whatever number you'd like) is one that half of 600-level test takers are getting right, and half are getting wrong. So, if you just took the GMAT at got a 600, you got half of the questions at that level right, and half wrong.

What that means to you is: Before you start digging up really hard questions, you need to master the rest of those 600's. When you're getting 75-80% of those questions right, then you can move up a notch.

Potholes In Measuring Difficulty Level

However, measuring difficulty level isn't quite as straightforward as it sounds. Someone who gets a 600 on the GMAT will likely get a number of "harder" questions right and a number of "easier" questions wrong. Your strengths and weaknesses are probably not identical to the average GMAT test-taker. That doesn't change what I've said about your approach, but it does mean that there's some approximation going on here.

Further, beyond spending some time selecting appropriate practice questions, you shouldn't waste a lot of time thinking about how hard your questions are. Certainly not when you are doing them. I wrote a whole article about that, which you can read here.

How I Measure Difficulty

Every question in every one of my practice sets is rated a 3, 4, 5, 6, or 7. They roughly correspond to the following ranges:

  • Level 3: 200 - 320
  • Level 4: 320 - 500
  • Level 5: 500 - 620
  • Level 6: 620 - 720
  • Level 7: 720 - 800

My Fundamentals sets include level 3, 4, and 5 questions, and most of the level 5's are in the bottom half of that range. My Challenge sets include 5's, 6's, and 7's, ,and the 5's are almost all in the top half of that range.

Basically, the difficulty level of my sets is determined by taking the weighted average of the difficulty levels of the individual questions. I don't claim to be the final authority on measuring the difficulty of GMAT practice questions, but I've watched enough students work through these things, and I've seen enough of their score results, that my numbers are pretty close to the real thing.

How Hard Are My Practice Questions?

  • Algebra: Challenge: 650
  • Algebra: Fundamentals: 500
  • Arithmetic: Challenge: 660
  • Arithmetic: Fundamentals: 480
  • Data Sufficiency: Challenge: 640
  • Data Sufficiency: Fundamentals: 480
  • Exponents and Roots: 620
  • Extreme Challenge: 720+
  • Geometry: Challenge: 650
  • Geometry: Fundamentals: 510
  • Number Properties: Challenge: 660
  • Number Properties: Fundamentals: 520
  • Problem Solving: Challenge: 670
  • Problem Solving: Fundamentals: 510
  • Rates, Ratios, and Percents: 550
  • Statistics and Sets: 580
  • Word Problems: Challenge: 600
  • Word Problems: Fundamentals: 490

As you can see, the Challenge sets cluster around 650, while the Fundamentals sets are in the 500 range.

For reference, the 650 level is about the same as the last 50 questions in the PS and DS sections of the Orange book. 500 is roughly equal to that of the first 50 DS questions in the orange book, and the PS questions from #51 to #100.

For more information on my practice questions, including how to order them, click here.



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.

Total GMAT Verbal

The comprehensive guide to the GMAT Verbal section. Recognize, dissect, and master every question type you'll face on the test. Everything you need, all in one place, including 100+ realistic practice questions.
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