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If you’ve just finished taking a three-hour practice CAT, I assume you didn’t do it “just for fun.” You probably want to glean some information from the ordeal! Most people focus on the overall score and the Quant and Verbal percentiles. I’m here to say STOP. Don’t do that!! But what should you do instead?
Aim for Qualitative Information, Not Quantitative
Age is just a number, and so is your score. Sure, it’s important, but it’s actually not the main reason you take a practice CAT. We need to figure out what went right on this test and what needs improvement. Your score doesn’t help us (much) in that respect. Instead, can you figure out how your timing was? Can you tell me what your strengths and weaknesses are at this point?
Here’s what I have my classroom students do:
First, focus on timing. Remember, the GMAT is not actually an academic test. It is not testing your math prowess or your grammar knowledge. It is actually testing your executive reasoning skills. That means it is testing how well you make decisions. The biggest indicator of how well you make decisions is how you managed your time.
So scan through the Quant section, checking your time every five questions. See how close you are to the Target Cumulative Time (these two columns are next to each other). When you’re done, write it down: “I started on time, but then I ran about 15 minutes behind schedule after question 10.” Do the same thing for Verbal, but this time, check every ten questions.
Next, sort by “Time” at the top of the page. How many did you randomly guess on (probably anything under 30 seconds)? How many were over 3 minutes? How many of those over-time ones were right or wrong? Write it down: “I guessed randomly on 7 questions. I had 8 questions that were over 3 minutes, and only 1 of them was right. Two of those questions took more than 5 minutes.” What does this mean to you? If you’re the student who I just used in that example, it means that more time does not equate with greater success. You need to break that old-fashioned mindset.
I once heard a fellow teacher use real estate to describe how the GMAT is scored. He told the class to imagine that they were buying a house. They go to a property and the living room area is beautiful. High ceilings, plenty of light, newly remodeled. You think, “Yes! I want to buy this house!” Then you get to the bedroom… and it’s a mess. The carpet is torn, there’s mold growing in a closet. There are exposed wires hanging from the ceiling. Suddenly, you no longer want to buy the house. This teacher said that we should think of the living room as 700+ questions. Like, if you get those right, fantastic—but that’s not what we’re worried about. We need to worry about the lower level, foundational issues (i.e. mold in the bedroom). Those hurt our score much more than getting high level questions right.
So, the next step is to sort by “Difficulty.” How many 300-500 questions were wrong? How many 500-600? If this is a large number, then you know you need to work on foundational issues. No one will buy this GMAT house until you fix these things up. In particular, these are the problems you need to put on your error log. You can put the 700+ questions on your error log too, but I wouldn’t spend a large amount of time on these. You’re not going to see high-level questions unless you’re getting all the low-level questions right.
Using The Assessment Reports
Did you know you can run an assessment report? It’s the best!! The gist is that anything 50% or higher is good-to-go. Under 50%, you have a deficit. But there are other things to look at too: timing and question level average. Check out the five different reports and write down a takeaway or two (or more!) from each report. What have you learned from this test from a high-level perspective?
A Word about Percentiles
The schools you are applying to don’t use the percentile rankings to make their decisions; they use the raw scores (and the combined score). So that’s what you should do. Overall, if you want to break 700, you’re going to need both your Quant and Verbal raw scores to be in the 40’s, with at least one of them being mid-high 40’s. The worst thing you could do to yourself is to say, “Wow, I’m at 81% for Verbal, so I don’t need to study it.” Well, guess what, an 81% ranking for Verbal is only a raw score of 36. So you would be doing yourself a HUGE disservice to not keep studying and improving. Better to do all of the stuff I talked about above, than to just rest on your percentile laurels.
Now that you know how to analyze your test, do it!! If you do all the work and write it down, I am happy to look at it for you. That’s right. For free. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will tell you whether I think your analysis is correct. But I only help those who help themselves! (Notice I put this at the end of the article. Ha ha!) 📝
Elaine Loh is a Manhattan Prep instructor based in Los Angeles, California. She graduated from Brown University with a degree in psychology and a desire to teach others. She can’t get enough of standardized tests and has been a test prep tutor and teacher for over half her life. Check out Elaine’s upcoming GMAT courses here.