Diagnosis vs prognosis: What a practice test can and can’t do for you

By - Sep 15, 12:00 PM Comments [0]

When talking to my students about their study plans to prepare for the GMAT, I always emphasize the need to take as many computer-adaptive practice tests as possible. A test-taker needs to experience what the real GMAT is like, and there’s no better to do that than to sit for four straight hours and experience the challenge (and joy?!) of facing progressively difficult questions.

So what will often happen is this: a student, heeding this critical advice, will take a first practice computer-adaptive test (the Kaplan GMAT Diagnostic for students in my class), get the instant feedback, and make a key error while interpreting the score: Diagnosis vs. Prognosis.

What’s the difference? Here’s an example. A medical diagnosis tells you what, if anything, is wrong. It identifies a condition; a headache, sprain, etc. A prognosis is a forecasting of the probable outcome, especially the chance of recovery.

A practice test score, whether or not it’s the first one you’ve received, is a diagnosis. The test gives you a score, which you can use to identify what is “wrong”. More important than the actual number, you review that test to see what your greatest areas of opportunity to improve are.

A practice test score is NOT a prognosis. It doesn’t tell you your chance to get better. You are not fated to any particular score based solely on what you’ve scored on a practice test. The greatest thing that students don’t realize is that their improvements are within their control.

So what’s the biggest takeaway from that very first practice test? This is the challenge I give every student, no matter what their goal is: the ultimate goal of the first practice test (assuming you’ll take more practice tests later on)… is to complete it, uninterrupted. Once done with that last question on the verbal section, pat yourself on the back and do something fun; remind yourself that you’re now closer to doing well on the GMAT because you just experienced what it will be like. There are many other test-takers who go into the GMAT having prepared without looking at full-length, computer adaptive tests.

Keep up with your tests, but remember that each test is not a prognosis, but a diagnosis, designed to identify your strongest areas and your not-quite-strong areas. Keeping this view will also keep you motivated to succeed --- no small task in itself.

Best of luck!
Arthur Ahn
Kaplan GMAT

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