Computer-Adaptive (CAT) Format

The GMAT utilizes a Computer Adaptive Test format, known as the CAT format. As such, the GMAT is administered on a computer instead of in the traditional paper-and-pencil format used by many other tests. CATs exhibit certain unique characteristics. For instance, only one question at a time is presented, the order of questions is not predetermined, and the test actually responds to your answers and shapes the test in order to most efficiently arrive at your proper score. You need basic computer and word processing skills, and must be familiar with how to use the mouse, access a Help function, and enter a response. You will receive access to a tutorial and two practice tests via download and CD when you register for the test (GMATPrep Software). It is important to review the mechanics of taking this test, as you do not want to waste time during the test to read instructions or utilize the Help functions.

The CAT actually responds to your answers and shapes the test in order to most efficiently arrive at your proper score. For example, the first question in the Verbal or Quantitative section will be a mid-level question. If answered correctly, the computer will supply a somewhat harder question on the assumption that your score is somewhere above that level. If this next question is answered correctly, the following question will again be more difficult. This process continues until a question is missed. At that point, the test will supply a somewhat easier question as it tries to determine if you have reached your score "ceiling." By increasing or decreasing the difficulty of the questions based on prior response, the test attempts to quickly pinpoint your appropriate score level and then confirm that level. Consequently, the first several questions are used to broadly establish your general scoring range, whereas later questions serve to affirm and pinpoint a specific score.

The CAT format has certain features which appreciably alter the testing experience:

  • Once a question has been answered, you cannot return to it.
  • You may not skip any questions.
  • You cannot write on the computer screen, but an erasable tablet is available (and should be used). It is approximately the size of a sheet of paper and is similar to a whiteboard.
  • Facility with a computer is clearly an advantage; fast typing is also an advantage in the Analytical Writing Sections where your response must be typed into the computer.
  • The results of your test (excluding the Writing scores) are available at the conclusion of the exam.
  • The test penalizes examinees who do not finish all the questions in each section; therefore it is very important that you answer each of the 37 Quantitative and 41 Verbal questions. The number of remaining questions will be displayed on the computer screen. If you are struggling with a question, use the techniques you’ve learned in the PowerScore class to quickly make an educated guess.

Ultimately, this discussion of the CAT testing format does not change the inherent and obvious truth of the test: to score well you must answer questions correctly. However, a familiarity with the nature of computer adaptive score-determination is an invaluable asset to test takers.

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