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3 Details to Look For When Your CAT Scores Are Not Significantly Improving

By Max Peterson On May 2, 2016 In  Quant Verbal Study Plans General GMAT 


Taking full-length CATs at regular intervals throughout one’s studies is an essential part of the study process. Each CAT, when properly taken in full (and in a realistic, test-like fashion) provides data that can be used to evaluate your progress and give you a better sense of your strengths and weaknesses.  For almost all Test Takers, there will be a point (or a series of points) in which the CAT results appear to show little-to-no actual score improvement. When those situations occur, it’s important to stop and truly evaluate how you are handling each section of the GMAT. It’s likely that one (or more) of the following details is WHY your CAT scores are not significantly improving.

To start, it’s important to understand what slight changes in score actually mean. GMAC has publicly stated that a Test Taker's Official Score is within +/- 30 points of actual ability. An overall score change of 10-30 points (with a corresponding change in the Quant/Verbal Scaled Score of 1-3 points) means that you’re performing in the same general ways as before. As an example, a 650/Q47/V32 and a 670/Q46/V34 are so close (relatively speaking) that earning these two results on two consecutive CATs in EITHER order does NOT mean that you improved or regressed – it means that you performed at the same general level.

With that in mind, here are 3 details to look for in your performances that will likely explain why your scores are not radically improving: 

1 - You’re missing the ‘gettable’ questions.

When reviewing a CAT, how often do you find yourself thinking “I SHOULD have gotten this question correct, but I made a little mistake…”? Between the Quant and Verbal sections, there are only 78 questions to deal with (and on Test Day, some of those questions are ‘experimental’ – and thus, do NOT count), so there are only so many opportunities to pick up points. To score at a higher level, you cannot afford to miss out on too many of the ‘gettable’ questions.  Just a handful of additional correct answers, in the proper spots, can lead to a big score gain.

2 – You’re spending too much time, on average, on questions that are too difficult.

When doing that same review, pay careful attention to all of the questions that took too long to answer. That would include any Quant question that took more than 3 minutes, any SC that took more than 1.5 minutes and any CR that took more than 2.5 minutes. Of THOSE questions, what fraction of them did you get wrong? Now, consider all of the time that you spent on those time-consuming, incorrect answers. All of that time could have been spent elsewhere – correctly answering ‘gettable’ questions. That extra time could have also been useful at the end of the section on questions that you had to ‘rush’ through (and likely got wrong) because you were low on time.

3 – You refuse to take notes.

“Pride” is a tricky character trait to have on Test Day. You should certainly be confident, but you cannot allow ‘pride’ to get in the way of doing the necessary work to correctly answer a GMAT question in an efficient way. The silliest mistakes that you will make on the GMAT will occur when you don’t take enough notes. The questions that take too long to answer will be due, in part, because you didn’t take enough notes. Some Test Takers believe that they’re “smart enough” to not take notes and THAT is remarkably dumb thinking. That type of pride actually HURTS their performances. You should NEVER do any work ‘in your head’ on Test Day. That process must be adhered to during your practice so that it becomes second nature. When reviewing your CATs, if you look at your notepad and realize that you didn’t write much down (or didn’t write down enough), then that is likely the root of ALL of the other issues that you’re facing. Your pride is getting in the way of your potential for improvement.

Thankfully, all of these issues can be improved on, but it takes a concerted effort (and a commitment to study in the proper way) to earn a significantly higher score during practice and on the Official GMAT. Working with the proper practice materials and receiving consistent Expert guidance is also a must.

To that end, we’re here to help. 

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


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