How to Study for the Executive Assessment – Part 3
Welcome to the third installment of our series on the Executive Assessment! If you’re just joining us, start with part 1 and work your way back here.
So far, we’ve talked about what’s on the exam, how it’s scored, and how the adaptive nature of the exam works. It’s time to talk about time management, including how to manage the fact that we can answer questions within one panel in whatever order we please.
Time management basics
Each section is 30 minutes long and has either 12 or 14 questions, so you have a bit over 2 minutes, on average, to answer each question.
As you work through any section, you’ll be given the option to mark questions. You can see a list of the marked questions and then click to jump right back to a particular question. This is a great feature as long as you know when and how to use it—and when and how not to use it.
First, when you do mark something, also put in a random answer right now. After all, you might not make it back later.
Next, you’re not going to know how to do everything, so you will want to guess on some questions as you go—and never return to these questions. Any time management strategy includes some “bail” categories: If you see certain things that you know are big weaknesses, you’re going to guess immediately, or bail—and that will give you a little more time to spread across the questions that you are going to try to get right.
We also have to account for the fact that IR is given all at once, while Verbal and Quant are given in sets of 2 panels each. Let’s see how this all plays out section by section.
Time management: Integrated Reasoning
In IR, bailing on 2 or 3 questions will leave you just 9 or 10 questions to do in 30 minutes. Further, you don’t have to worry about having two separate panels in this section, so just start working through in order, while looking for opportunities to mark questions or to bail on questions.
Let’s start with “bail” questions. “Bail” means: Don’t try to do it. Don’t try to make an educated guess. Don’t even mark it to come back later. Just pick randomly, move on, and forget about this one forever.
Bail on these kinds of questions:
- This is a big weakness of yours
- You’ve read the problem and don’t understand what they’re asking or telling you—or you have no idea what to do with that information
- You think you might know how to do it, but it would take you way too long (>4 minutes)
Now, let’s talk about the ones you do want to mark for a possible later return. First, be stingy. Don’t mark more than 2 questions in one section. You’re not going to have a ton of time left at the end; the last thing you want to do is spend a minute trying to figure out which of 4 marked problems you should actually return to … and then run out of time before you can try any of them.
When you mark a question for a possible later return, also put in a random answer right now. You may not actually make it back to this problem later, so it’s better to have a guess locked in, just in case. There’s no penalty for getting something wrong (vs. just not answering). And who knows—you might get lucky!
Mark these kinds of questions:
- You know how to do this but it will take somewhat longer than average (3 to 4 minutes)
- You’re thinking, “I know how to do this! I just did it last week! But I’m blanking right now. ”
For the first category, you just want to make sure that you don’t prevent yourself from finishing 2 questions at the end because you spent extra time on one long one earlier. Save that long one for last, just in case.
The second category is something that is in your brain somewhere, but you’re having trouble pulling up the memory right now. Sometimes, if we set the thing aside for 10 or 15 minutes, our brains will continue trying to figure it out subconsciously and then, when we look at it again, we’ll retrieve the memory: Oh, yeah! This is how to do this problem!
So if you run into one of those, “But I know how to do this!” problems, don’t waste time trying to retrieve the memory right now. Let it percolate in the back of your brain while you do other stuff—then come back at the end (if you have time) to see whether you can pull up the memory now.
Time management: Verbal and Quant
Verbal and Quant will work a lot like IR, with one twist thrown in: Your problems will be split into two separate panels and, when you move to the second panel, you can no longer go back to the first one.
That has two implications. First, don’t mark more than 1 question per panel.
Second, when you get to the end of the first panel, the test is going to ask whether you’re ready to move to the next one. Glance at the timer.
Recall that you have 30 minutes total, and each panel has 7 questions. So if you are “on time,” then you should have around 14 to 16 minutes left.
- 14 to 16 minutes left? Keep going to the second panel; don’t go back to any marked questions from the first panel.
- < 14 minutes left? Keep going to the second panel. In addition, keep an eye out for a Bail opportunity—don’t waste time on a harder question.
- > 16 minutes left? Then you have a decision to make: Should you return to a marked question in the first panel or move on to the second panel?
Go glance at your 1 marked question. If it’s in the “I can do this but it’ll take 3 to 4 minutes” category, then decide whether you actually have the time to do it right now (and still feel confident that you can do it!).
If it’s in the “I’m blanking right now” category, re-read the problem. Has your subconscious memory figured it out? If so, solve. If you’re still thinking, “But I should know how … ”—forget about it. Move on.
As with any test, have a goal score. Talk to the schools to which you plan to apply to see whether they’ll tell you the kind of score that that school considers competitive.
Study IR, Verbal, and Quant relatively equally. You’ll likely spend a bit more time on your weaker areas (it takes us longer to improve our weaknesses), but don’t neglect your stronger areas—they need practice, too.
Do practice problems under timed conditions. At heart, the EA is an executive reasoning / decision-making test, even while it tests you on math, logic, and grammar. As you do every day at work, you’re going to have to distinguish between good, mediocre, and bad opportunities and decide how to spend your limited time and mental energy accordingly.
Before you go in, know how you want to handle marking questions for later and bailing on questions during the test.
Good luck and happy studying!