GMAT Tricks: When to Read Answer Options Backward

by on August 23rd, 2015

The GMAT test makers are constantly trying to slow down your progress through the test. I always think that if I’m taking the test the way they want me to, then I must be adopting a poor strategy. Instead, I should be taking the test the way I want to. The test makers are aware of the strategies most people use, and they adapt their questions accordingly. For example, the overwhelming majority of people read their answer options from A-E. The test makers know this. When is it advantageous to read the options in reverse order?

1. Reading Comprehension

The most difficult and time-consuming questions in Reading Comprehension are those worded something like: “All of the following can be found in the passage EXCEPT…”

This type of question requires you to look for four things. This means you may need to check all the paragraphs or many parts of the text. For any question that requires a lot of checking, it is better to read the options from E-A. The test makers know that a lot of time can be consumed by people who read Option A, check that that is mentioned in the passage, move to B and so on. Why not start with E?

2. Critical Reasoning

If the question is worded something like: “Each of the following, if true, would weaken the conclusion drawn above EXCEPT”, then similar to Reading Comprehension example above, this question involves a lot of checking. If you start with Option A and the answer is towards the end of the options, say Option D or E, you will have lost a lot of time.

Another question wording to watch out for is: “Which of the following statements must be true?”The test makers can slow you down by getting you to check a number of wrong answers in the early options.

3. Problem Solving

If the question is worded something like:

If 3 < x < 4, and 8 < y < 9, which of the following expressions will have the largest value?

You will notice the pattern that a lot of checking is involved in getting to the right answer. Test takers who start their checking process with Option E may find the answer more quickly than those who adopt the conventional order.

That said, do not get carried away with this strategy. All five answers occur throughout the test with the same regularity. However, if test makers know for which questions it is better to “hide” the answer at the end, why shouldn’t test takers take advantage of this knowledge? If it helps you get to even one answer more quickly on test day, then it is a valid tool to have in your toolbox. Try it out during your studies to see if it works for you.

This post appeared first on the Economist GMAT Tutor blog.

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