The Real Benefit of Changing Your Answers on the GRE


Changing Your Answer

Let’s talk about students changing their answer choices on the GRE exam. Students may be likely to think that their first hunches are suspect, and so they might end up overanalyzing a question that they knew the answer to all along. The data in this ETS study shows that questions in which the student changed the answer— a potentially difficult question—tended to result in an increased score.

I urge students to think carefully about their current approach to the test before changing their answers. One reason for doing this: some students might actually do better by sticking with their original guess. That subset would clearly be in the minority but if you happen to be in that minority then applying the findings could actually work against you.

Hopefully, your head is not spinning with all the different possibilities and ramifications of these findings. And if it is—don’t fear. To get a better sense of how you do on questions in which you decide to switch your initial guess, take detailed notes while doing GRE practice tests. You’ll want to note all the questions in which you changed the answer and then the outcome of those questions. You’ll even want to make note of the questions that you weren’t a 100% sure on. So even if you don’t end up changing your answer, do you tend to go with the right answer when you less than certain?

Once you can determine a general pattern that fits you—that one test taker in a million—that you’ll start to improve. Blithely sticking with the answer choice you switched to, without actually going back to the original and without having a better understanding of your own approach, can hurt your score. So be careful how you decide to apply the findings of this study to your own test approach.


Does this mean I should not take the GMAT?

If you have no plans to apply to b-school, disregard this part of the post. If you are applying to b-school, then you might be wondering, after reading this, whether the GRE is the safer test—the better test—since it allows you to go back and change answers, if need be.

But knowing that students go back and changes their answers doesn’t tell us anything about those students who spent lots of time going back and looking over questions and not changing answers—regardless of whether those questions were right or wrong. In other words, students might have wasted time agonizing over questions that were right all along. In that case, the GMAT suddenly looks like the better test.

My recommendation: take plenty of mock tests across both exams, apply various strategies, and see which one you do better on percent-wise. Then, figure out the best GRE test date for you. Keep in mind that many business schools, while accepting both tests, continue to give greater weight to the GMAT than to the GRE. 

Chris Lele is the GRE and SAT Curriculum Manager (and vocabulary wizard) at Magoosh Online Test Prep. In his time at Magoosh, he has inspired countless students across the globe, turning what is otherwise a daunting experience into an opportunity for learning, growth, and fun. Some of his students have even gone on to get near perfect scores. Chris is also very popular on the internet. His GRE channel on YouTube has over 8 million views.

This post originally appeared on the Magoosh GRE blog.