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Big Factors in Why Verbal Scores Can Drop on Test Day

By Max Peterson On Oct 30, 2015 In  Verbal Study Plans 

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Recently, someone who is currently studying for the GMAT asked for my insights into why so many GMATers seem to experience a big drop in their Verbal Scaled Scores between their practice CATs and Test Day. The discussion was detailed and included some insightful follow-up questions. Below is the relevant content of that discussion.

Test Taker X: I wanted to ask you about the recent trend of very low verbal scores on the real exam. I have seen an increased number of topics on this - in which test takers mention that they had high verbal scores but received a disproportionally low one on the real exam (e.g. V40-45 --> V20-25), but this appears to happen in the Verbal section only. Could you share you thoughts?

You ask an important question, although the answer will vary somewhat from Test Taker to Test Taker, and each answer is a combination of a lot of detailed 'pieces.' Without going into every little detail, here are the major issues:

1) The realism with which each Test Taker works through his/her CATs. Test Day is a specific 'event', made up of specific details that you CAN define... so you SHOULD be able to prepare for those details. Most Test Takers don't consider all of those details (much less properly train to deal with those details), thus they are not properly prepared for Test Day.

2) There are a number of lower-quality products on the market that a certain number of Test Takers use; that lack of quality/realism impacts practice scores and gives those same people a false sense of their own readiness. 

3) The Verbal section of the GMAT is just as predictable and pattern-based as the Quant section is, although many Test Takers find it easier to deal with Quant patterns than Verbal patterns. For example, the process that you go through to calculate 1+2 is the same general process that you go through to calculate 123+456 (it's just a little more work to do the second calculation and the digits are different). In that same way, the logic behind 'X causes Y' in a CR prompt is the same as the logic behind 'A causes B.' You just might have to do a little more work to sort through the details because the wording is different. 

This is all meant to say that you CAN train to score at a higher level in ALL areas of the GMAT, but a certain responsibility falls on the Test Taker to train in the proper way.

Test Taker X: Really comprehensive answer, thank you. But a question arises - why does the quant performance remain almost the same and why are the CAT scores still high?

If one is not able to cope with verbal (re: cannot recognize verbal patterns) then his scores would be lower on the CAT, wouldn’t they? And if one gets nervous on the real exam then the quant part should suffer too. 

You ask some good follow-up questions. In both cases, the primary issue often comes down to fatigue and endurance skills. The Verbal section is the final 75 minutes of a 4-hour Exam. Since you're not going to start the Verbal section until almost 3 full hours have gone by, almost everyone is tired by that point (and tired brains make bad decision - including missing details, not taking notes, randomly guessing when the correct answer is just one or two more 'steps' away, etc.). That issue can be compounded by the little 'details' that most Test Takers don't account for during their studies.

As an example… How long does it take you to get the Testing Center on Test Day, enter the waiting area and wait for your Test to start? 30 minutes? 45 minutes? An hour or more? Well, then you've just added another 30-60+ minutes to the day's activities BEFORE you even begin the GMAT. Energy must be spent on all of those tasks and all of that nervous energy (that you would focus into your CAT work) could be 'wasted' before the Test even begins. In this way, you'll be further 'depleted' by the time you start the Verbal section. Most Test Takers do not experience ANY of that when they take their practice CATs, so they're not prepared for it when it occurs on Test Day.

Since Quant questions are generally less 'wordy' than Verbal questions, it's often easier/faster to assess the concepts that are being tested in Quant questions than in Verbal questions (and again, you're likely more 'alert' and have more energy when the Quant section starts). So big Quant 'drops' are less likely to happen. 

To reiterate, you CAN train for all of these details during your studies, but it takes a high commitment to the task.

GMAT assassins aren't born, they're made,

Rich

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