One of the most popular questions I get asked by my students: “Can you tell me where to find 700 level GMAT questions I can practice?” To which I have a reply ready: “I’d love to help you! But what’s a 700 level GMAT question?”
Here’s one reason that term is problematic: the “700” refers to the 200-800 combined score, which is an amalgam of your scaled Quant score and your scaled Verbal score (click here for a more detailed view). But the difficulty level of a question on the GMAT is determined only by your performance up to that point on a single section.
For example, let’s say you’ve already completed the Verbal section and 10 questions of the Quant section; the GMAT determines the difficulty level of your 11th Quant question by looking at the 10 Quant questions you’ve already answered and determining the difficulty level at which you incorrectly answer some but not all of the questions (think of it as your “Goldilocks level”—questions are neither too easy nor too hard: they’re just right). Notice that your performance on the Verbal section has no bearing on this process. Therefore, it would be more appropriate to refer to the difficulty level of a Quant section using a term that refers to the range of scores on that particular section: in other words, your 6-51 Quant scaled score. For example, “This is a 42 level question.”
This is important, because it is possible for Student A to score a 680 on the GMAT by getting a 48 on the Quant section and for Student B to score a 680 by getting a 39 on the Quant section. Even though Student A and Student B scored a 680, should they both be asking for a “700 level GMAT question” to practice? I think it would be useful to use a more accurate term.
Even if we use such terminology, however, there’s still a second danger in this line of questioning: Most people who ask me for 48 level questions aren’t currently scoring a 48 on their practice tests. It would be a waste of time for those people to practice only 48 level questions, because they will almost never see them on the test!
In nearly every case, your most sensible course of action as a GMAT student is to look at your scaled Quant score and your scaled Verbal score and do a whole bunch of questions at that exact level. That’s because you’re currently missing around 30-50% of those questions under test conditions. You won’t see harder questions until that improves, so don’t study them yet.
To reiterate: your scaled score on each section does not tell you the level at which you’re performing well. It does tell you the level at which you’re performing just okay. That actually makes your study plan very easy: your scaled score on your most recent practice test tells you the level of question you should study! If you start getting all those questions right instead of just some of them, your score will go up. 📝
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Ryan Jacobs is a Manhattan Prep instructor based in San Francisco, California. He has an MBA from UC San Diego, a 780 on the GMAT, and years of GMAT teaching experience. His other interests include music, photography, and hockey. Check out Ryan’s upcoming GMAT prep offerings here.