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Adaptive Testing Explained

ADAPTIVE TESTING?! What the heck is adaptive testing? Well, unless you've been living in a cave for the last year, you've probably heard that the GMAT is now an adaptive test. However, if you're like most of the rest of the general population you probably have no idea what that means. Read closely and what we'll tell you just might make you score higher...

The best way to think of adaptive testing is to think of it as kind of like the high jump at a track event. To find out how high you could jump in as little time as possible we would start with the bar at a moderate height, say 5 feet. If you cleared 5 feet we might decide to raise it to 6 feet. Let's say you cleared this also. Well, we might raise it to 7 feet (I know it sounds ridiculous, but Charles Austin cleared 7'10" in 1996!). Now at 7 feet, you fail to clear to the high jump. Would it do us any good to lower the bar to 4 feet? No! Instead we'll lower it to 6 feet 6 inches.

This entire process would continue and we would get closer and closer to the height at which you could just barely clear the bar. Ideally, we would want a height where if the bar was any higher you would fail every time and if the bar was any lower you would clear it every time. We would continue adjusting the height until we reached that point.

The GMAT CAT works pretty much the same way. You'll start out with a question of moderate difficulty. If you get it right, you'll be given a tougher question. If you get it wrong, the computer will "lower the bar" and give you an easier question. As you progress through the test, the computer will attempt to determine a level of difficulty at which you are getting about one question right for every question you get wrong. That level of difficulty will become your score for the GMAT.

With this in mind, there are several things you'll want to do to maximize your chances at getting a high GMAT score. First, understand that questions earlier in the test are worth more than questions later on. Going back to our high jump example, for the first couple attempts we raised the bar a foot each time trying to find the optimum height very quickly. However once we figured out the general range, we didn't need to adjust it nearly as much. Because of this you'll want to take the first section of the test slower than the rest of the test.

In addition, there's no going back on the GMAT CAT. Once you answer a question, you'll never be able to change that answer. You can't skip around in sections like you used to be able to do on the Paper-and-Pencil exams. Don’t worry, it really shouldn't matter that much. Simply being aware of these new rules will help you on Test Day.

One final recommendation: Don't let the adaptive testing format intimidate you! It's not really any harder (or any easier for that matter) than the traditional exams. You actually might find that there are certain aspects of it that you enjoy (like not having to wait four weeks to find out your score!). Go through the information on this site and be sure to check out our Links Page for more detailed information on the CAT. Good luck on your test!