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The GMAT CAT Format

The Verbal and Quanititative sections of the GMAT are administered as a computer-adaptive tests, or CATs for short. On both of these sections, the difficulty of each question (except the first) depends on a test-taker’s performance on previous questions. Correct answers generally lead to more difficult questions and incorrect answer choices generally lead to easier ones.

The CAT format has both advantages and disadvantages. One major advantage is flexibility in scheduling a test date. The CAT format allows students to schedule the test for whatever time is most convenient rather than whenever a paper test happens to be administered. The computer-adaptive test also uses significantly fewer questions to determine a test-taker's score, which gives students more time to answer each question.

The main disadvantage of the CAT is that you cannot skip questions or return to previous ones. The reason for this lies in how the test is scored: basically, the computer needs to know whether to present a harder or easier question next, and the only way to determine that is by recording your answer for the current question.

The other significant drawback to the CAT is that the ideal pacing strategy for a paper-based test must be abandoned. On the paper-and-pencil test, questions typically progressed from the easiest to the most difficult, which allowed test-takers to breeze through the first several questions and save most of their time for the more difficult questions later in the section.

This strategy cannot be applied to a computer-adaptive test, since the first questions in the section are not necessarily easy and subsequent questions are not necessarily more difficult. In fact, one test-taker could see 25 extremely difficult questions, while a person sitting five feet away taking the same test might not see even one. In addition, there is a significant penalty for failing to finish a section. Since questions cannot be skipped, test-takers must sometimes make an educated guess on a question to avoid squandering time. TestMasters GMAT courses teach students how to effectively navigate the CAT format and use their time as efficiently as possible.