Back in the old days the GMATPrep tests did not break down your performance by question type on the Quant and Verbal sections. Nor was there an Enhanced Score Report that did so on the actual GMAT. Now, with the existence of practice tests that indicate your performance on each individual question type and the Enhanced Score Report that does the same for the actual test, it is possible to understand how your overall score is arrived at and what your score is for each specific question type.
With that, I have noticed a trend with my students that I could not have known in the past and that probably has relevance for many GMATers out there: they tend to score higher on Data Sufficiency than on Problem Solving. Now, I don’t mean to imply that everyone scores higher on DS than PS – people who don’t really understand Data Sufficiency tend to underperform there – predictably. But what I would say and what I will explain below is this: for people who are not naturally great at Math, there is an opportunity to really excel at Data Sufficiency and have that score pull up the entire Quantitative score.
First, let me explain a little bit about the scoring. When people take practice tests on the official software or when the look at their Enhanced Score Report (ESR), what they tend to look at are the percentiles. This is especially true on the ESR since the percentiles are what appear on the center of the page, but if you look at the bottom of each page in the “Summary” section you will see hidden down there a breakdown of what your score was for each question type, and this information is what is most telling. Your overall score tends to be roughly the average of your scores for each question type. So if you scored 40 on Problem Solving and 48 on Data Sufficiency, your Quant score will probably be 44.
What I started to notice a while back in reviewing practice tests and ESRs with my students is that they usually do better on DS, sometimes overwhelmingly so. Now, they don’t necessarily come to me in that state – often it is the opposite on the early practice tests that they take and DS is much worse. But as we start to approach their test date and they are ramping up and taking a lot of practice tests, most of my students just score higher on DS. A very common scenario for me is to see something like 49DS/42PS for a Quant score of 45 or 46. And at the end of the day they may end up at 49DS/45PS for a 47 Quant.
Here is what is significant about that. Many of these students are not great at Math and are probably not capable of getting really hard Problem Solving questions right on a consistent basis. But the beauty of Data Sufficiency is that it is much more about logic and reasoning than it is about Math. So if you really understand the question type well you can dominate on DS without really being master of the Math that underlies the questions. And what I have found with my students is that it is much easier to get them to a place where they are killing it on DS than on PS, in part because PS questions, especially at the higher levels, really do require a little bit more Math know-how or even innate Math ability.
It is outside the scope of this post to really get into the specifics of how to dominate on Data Sufficiency (though many of my other posts expound upon some of those strategies). And obviously if you are aiming for a 49 Quant, you need to be equally dominant on PS questions. That said, I would argue that if you are not naturally good at Math, Data Sufficiency really presents an opportunity to far outperform your natural Math ability and end up with a score that puts you above those who are innately better at Math!
I tutor plenty of people who routinely get scores of around 40 on PS and in my opinion are unlikely to ever be hitting scores like 44 and above (they are just not that great at Math and have come a VERY long way to even get to a 40 on PS). Yet they will routinely get scores of 47 to 49 on DS. So they come away with scores of 44 or 45 on Quant. Again, for someone aiming for a 49 or 50 Quant, that might not seem that impressive, but for people starting at 30 Quant who are not very good at Math, a 44 or 45 Quant is pretty damn impressive! And for the people I tutor who are able to get to 44 or 45 or 46 on PS (again often people who are not great at Math), they will often end up with a 47 or even 48 Quant, in part because of the higher DS score.
So if you feel like you are the type of person who is just innately not that good at Math, consider that, in Data Sufficiency, you have an opportunity to really dial into the logic of the question type (along with its common structures, traps, etc.) in a way that would allow you to far exceed what you might expect from your pure Math ability.