The GMAT is a Computer Adaptive Test, or CAT, which means that the test adapts to your performance. Do well, and the questions you receive will get harder, and you’ll be eligible for a top score. Do poorly, and you’ll be relegated to lower-level questions and face limits on how high you can score. This means that the only way to know how you would score on the real GMAT is to take a CAT practice exam. Since there are only eight official exams available, it is important to use them wisely. This guide breaks down when to use these practice CATs and when it’s best to wait.
You should take CATs…
(1) To get a baseline score or measure progress. Taking a CAT will give you a rough estimate of how you would perform on the real thing, which will help you plan when to take the official exam and how much to study. Then, regularly throughout your studies, you should take CATs to monitor your progress and adjust your study plan accordingly.
(2) To improve stamina. The GMAT is a three-and-a-half-hour test, and you will want to be at the testing center (or ready to log in for the at-home GMAT Online) at least 30 minutes in advance. It can be a tiring and stressful experience, and you want to be at the top of your game from start to finish. If you feel that you might lose focus after a few hours, taking practice CATs is essential to building stamina.
(3) To improve pacing. Appropriate pacing is crucial to strong performance on any test, and this is especially true of the GMAT, which does not allow you to return to previous questions. If you find that you do not leave yourself enough time to finish or are finishing with significant time to spare, you’ll need to take CATs to refine your strategy.
You hold off on taking a CAT when…
(1) You already know what you need to work on. Don’t remember formulas from high school geometry? Need to review subject-verb agreement? Taking a CAT will simply reveal that you still have that work to do; it won’t teach you the content. The time you spend taking (and recovering from) the CAT is time you could have spent nailing down those key concepts.
(2) You haven’t changed anything about your approach or knowledge base since the last time you took a CAT. It’s unlikely that your score will change, and consistently failing to reach your target score is one of the best ways to undermine confidence (and performance). Instead, wait until you’ve spent at least a week or two learning new concepts and techniques.
(3) You have few CATs left and you’re still far from your test date. Ideally, you can prevent this by spacing your CATs over your study time. But if you find yourself running low and you are still months away from test day (or believe you may take the GMAT more than once), it is best to consider alternatives, such as doing timed practice sets or unofficial CATs.
Have questions about using your CATs? Reach out today! I would love to hear from you.