GMAT Time Management: Tips and Strategies

Most students embarking on their GMAT preparation journey are under the mistaken impression that their biggest challenge will be mastering the content of the exam. They fret about having to return to the material covered in their high school geometry and algebra classes or about having to master the logic involved in the critical reasoning questions. And while this material is no doubt a major component of any GMAT online prep regimen, the biggest challenge that the aspiring business school student will have to face is time. How do you effectively manage the restrictive time element of the GMAT so that you can complete both the Quantitative and Verbal sections within the allotted time? Here are some GMAT time management tips and strategies to get you started.

The Crucial Time Management Element of the GMAT Adaptive Test

Unlike any other test you’ve ever taken, the GMAT is a question-adaptive exam. It evaluates your performance question by question—if you’re doing well, it will continue to challenge you; if you’re struggling, it will give you easier questions. And the GMAT will impose a huge penalty if you cannot finish the section on time. Keep in mind that any effective GMAT test prep program begins by building your knowledge of content and reviewing material. You cannot work on speed right away. Once you’ve gained a modicum of fluency with the content, though, you should start to work on pacing and timing, a skill which should only improve once you’ve increased your exposure to the material.

What follows is an overview of some of the most important ways to improve your pacing on the GMAT, pushing you towards the crucial goal of finishing each section of the test!

GMAT Time Management Tip: Pace Yourself!

While it’s impractical to think that you will sit at your test with a stopwatch timing every question, you should establish some general guidelines about how much time you should be spending on each question according to question-type. As you do more practice tests, you will hopefully establish an internal timing mechanism that will let you know when to move on to the next question. Here is a breakdown of the test by question-type, along with the average amount of time that should be spent per question:

  • Quantitative Section (31 Questions, 62 Minutes) – 2 minutes per question
    • Thus, a simple way to pace yourself is to take the number of the question you’re doing and double it. If you’re on question 10, you should be about 20 minutes into the section.
  • Verbal Section (36 Questions, 65 Minutes) – About 2 minutes per question, but here it’s more effective to distinguish among question-types as follows:
    • Sentence Correction – 1.5 minutes per question
    • Critical Reasoning – 2 minutes per question
    • Reading Comprehension
      • 2-3 minutes to read the passage
      • 1.5 minutes per question

Of course, it would be difficult to time yourself precisely, question by question, during the test itself, but you should at least try to adhere to the relative time differences of each question-type. Practice will make perfect.

GMAT Time Management Tip: Learn How to Let Go!

So many students who are new to the GMAT find it difficult to surrender. Midway through the Quantitative section, for instance, upon coming across a difficult Data Sufficiency question, they will sink 3, 4, or even 5 minutes into it with the misguided belief that if they just take another minute or two, by gosh, they will come up with that solution. Big mistake!! By consuming 5 minutes on a difficult question, they have sacrificed precious time that could have been used for later questions and thereby jeopardized their ability to complete the section. Consequently, we must be mindful of maximum time per question and, as a corollary, minimum time per question:

  • Do NOT spend more than 3 minutes on any one question
  • Do NOT spend less than 1 minute on any one question
    • By the same token, if you’ve found an answer too quickly, be careful that you have not fallen into a GMAT trap. Double-check your answer to be sure.

GMAT Time Management Tip: Frontload Your Time

The question-adaptive nature of the GMAT places a premium on early success in each section. It is crucial that you do well right from the start. The algorithm makes the most sweeping decisions about what your ultimate score will be early in the section, making it very difficult to play catch-up after a rocky start. Consequently, you can consider frontloading your allotted time per question:

  • Plan to spend 25 minutes on the first 10 questions of one or both of the Quant and Verbal sections.

Try to work this into your time management strategy once you’ve established some kind of rhythm with the initial time guidelines.

GMAT Quantitative Time Management Tip: PLUG IN, and then PLUG IN Some More!

For questions on the GMAT Quantitative section, your test prep must include methods to avoid doing algebraic calculations whenever possible. For many Problem Solving questions, this usually involves plugging in numbers in three different types of situations.

  • Plug in your own numbers for questions which specify a variable in the question and repeat that variable in each of the answer choices.
    • Establish a value for the variable in the question and arrive at your own solution, using that assigned value.
    • Then determine which answer choice delivers the same target solution for the value you assigned to the variable.
  • Plug in the answer choices for questions which require you to solve for a particular variable.
    • Start with the middle answer choice, which is usually the middle value. If that answer is too high or too low, you can easily determine whether to move up or down.
  • Plug in your own numbers for questions which establish values that are related solely fractionally or by percent.
    • Pick smart numbers based on the relationships given. For instance, if Audrey’s investment went up 10% after the first year, and then that decreased by 20% after the second year, pick 100 as her original investment. It’s quite easy from there:
      • 100 * 1.1 * .8

GMAT Time Management Tip: Practice, Practice, Practice

The best way to incorporate all of these tips is to adhere to the final tip: keep practicing, especially in the context of full practice tests. Any solid GMAT prep program should incorporate time management as an integral component of the preparation, the final stages of which are to take numerous practice exams under timed test conditions. Mastering the GMAT is like mastering a foreign language: the more you speak the language, the more fluent you will become.

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