A question of time

Last updated: 13 Oct 2008

Effective time management is one of the key factors for achieving a respectable GMAT score and making the best of your skills.

Take too much time and you will find that your time runs out half way through an essay or that you have just 5 minutes to complete the last 15 questions of a multiple choice section.

Rush through in a panic and you will find that you make a great deal of silly mistakes (not reading the question correctly, forgetting a sign change, finding the right answer and then marking a different one). Once you are well prepared for the GMAT silly mistakes will account for between 50% and 90% of the questions you get wrong and so it is essential to avoid them.

How do you make sure that you are using the right amount of time in the test?

In each of the sections there will be a clock in the top left hand corner of the screen. This clock counts down the time you have to finish the test. It counts down in minutes until you have just 5 minutes left int he section and then it counts down in seconds.

I am sorry to say that our practice questions do not have a clock like this yet but any practice CAT test you do will have one.

You should, of course, not spend your whole time with your eyes glued to the clock but a glance at it every 5-10 questions will give you a good idea where you stand.

General Timing Tips

Don't get stuck on a question
This is one of the golden rules to abide by while taking the GMAT, on average you have about 2 mins a question in the GMAT and spending much more than 4 minutes on any individual question is a cardinal sin. If you spend 10 minutes on a question then the chances are you spent that long because you didn't know how to do the question and you got it wrong anyway. Guess questions you don't know how to do and save those precious minutes for the questions you can do.
Don't panic
Rushing through the questions will just increase themistakes you make.
Pace yourself
You should aim to finish a section either with less than 4 minutes left on the clock or within 3 questions of finishing the test. You will find that this is difficult at first but it practice should make perfect.
Write yourself a schedule
Before the test begins you will have time to write yourself some notes on how long you should take before you start, this avoids having to do calculations about how much time you whould have taken in the middle of the test.
Check the time regularly
If you are behind then be quicker to guess a question if you are't sure how to do it and try to be more decisive when you think you have the answer. If you are ahead then try to relax, reread questions, check your answers when you have finished them. You should never get yourself into the position where you have only 5 minutes left to answer 15 questions.

Lets go throught the sections and see how you should be dividing up your time.

Analytical Writing Assessment

2 essay questions, 30 minutes each

The GMAT begins with the Analytical Writing Assessment, consisting of 2 essays that you must complete within 30 minutes for each one.

You should:

  1. Take 2 to 4 minutes to write down on your scrap paper all your ideas and arguments, and then organize them before you start typing.
  2. Make sure to periodically check the clock (every five minutes or so) to assure that you will complete the essay on time.
  3. Give yourself a couple of minutes at the end of the 30 minutes to do a quick review of what you have written, making sure the essay has a minimum of spelling and grammatical errors, and that the whole thing makes sense and flows smoothly.

Quantatitive Section

37 math questions in 75 mins

We're going to stick to the rule of KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) for the schedule we give you here. You can of course adjust the schedule to suit yourself and we will talk more about that once we have gone over the basics. Since you have about 2 mins per question you should be pretty much sticking to the following schedule.

Question
Number
Time left
(hrs:mins)
1 1:15
10 0:55
20 0:35
30 0:15
37 0:00

Which gives you about 20 minutes to do each 10 questions. We can break this down further by looking at the different sorts of questions.

  • Problem solving: approx 2 mins 15 secs
  • Data sufficiency: about 1 min 15 secs

With data sufficiency questions you don't have to do any calculations and so inevitably they should take you less time and once you are well practiced 1 or 1.5 minutes should give enough time to complete this sort of question.

The time you save on data sufficiency questions will give you more time to work on the calculations involved in problem solving questions.

Verbal Section

41 Questions in 75 mins

The Verbal section keeps you working at a slightly fast rate than the quantitative section although it is still just under 2 mins a question.

Question
Number
Time left
(hrs:mins)
1 1:15
11 0:55
22 0:35
33 0:15
41 0:00

Yet again the different sorts of questions will probably take you differentamounts of time.

  • Reading Comprehension: about 3 minutes to read the passage and then 1 min 30 secs per question.
  • Sentence Correction: about 1min 30 secs per question.
  • Critical Reasoning: about 1 min 45 secs per question.

Concentrating On The First Few Questions

Due to the way that the GMAT CAT is scored the first questions in each section make more difference to your final score than do questions later on in the section.

For this reason many people would advise you to spend the most time on the first 10 questions in each section.

Our feeling is that only once (or if) in practicing you are able to finish each section without rushing then you should think about taking a little longer (i.e. being a little more careful) with the first questions. This is only a good strategy if it is not making the rest of your question answers suffer.

This Business Week interview with Fred McHale who was the lead developer on the GMAT Computer Adaptive Test outlines the official view on this strategy.

Comments (1):

  1. The time element is extremely important for your achievement. There are some questions, which when solved in a specific manner, saves time.
    best gmat prep

    mikee on 31 May 2012 (permalink)

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