Exam Tips : Don’t Worry About Difficulty Levels

“What’s the difficulty level of this problem?”

I see this question A LOT on the forum. Almost every day, someone asks it.

Here’s the answer: You don’t care.

If you’re a test taker — which, if you’re reading this, you probably are — then difficulty levels are irrelevant to your strategy.


Ironically, the best reason is provided by the fact that you’re asking the question itself: “What’s the difficulty level?” In other words, you won’t know — and there’s no way to tell. Needless to say, you have to plan your strategy around things that you can actually see! If you let your mind wander to “difficulty levels”, you’re engaging in a completely unproductive thought process — and, worse diverting mental energy away from solving the problems!

That’s already enough reason to ignore difficulty levels — but there’s more. If you’re thinking about difficulty levels while you study, then you’ll abandon the skills that actually matter. Remember, the purpose of studying is to discover general principles and techniques — things that will solve not only the problem at hand, but also other, future problems. In other words, you should focus on the similarities between problems, especially in terms of strategy.

These similarities cut across topics — and difficulty levels. You’ll often be able to take principles from “easy” problems and apply them to “hard” ones — or vice versa. You should study everything with the same degree of intensity.

Thinking about “difficulty levels” will prevent you from seeing many of these connections! If you think of “easy problems”, “medium problems”, and “hard problems” as completely different animals, you’ll be very unlikely to notice strategic similarities across those groups of problems.

To sum it up in a single word: Monotask. Don’t multitask.

Whether you’re practicing, reviewing, or taking the official test, your entire universe should consist of just one thing — the content of the problem in front of you. You want to use 100% of your brainpower to solve the problem. If you’re thinking about anything else — whether it be “difficulty level”, your personal life, or those birds singing outside the window — then you’ve got less than 100% of your brainpower left. Oh, and your stress level will be higher, too. Not good.

This test is all about focus. You want to achieve a level of single-minded concentration that’s almost meditative. Shut everything else out — including the idea of “difficulty level” — and engage.

Written By Ron Purewal, Manhattan GMAT Instructor & Curriculum Developer.

Manhattan Prep is the world’s leading GMAT test prep provider, offering in-person and live online courses, private tutoring, study books, and digital learning resources.

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