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The Best Timing Strategy For The GMAT

Admissions expert, Cara Skikne, tells you how best to pace yourself to get a top GMAT score

Tue Aug 28 2018

Timing is just one aspect of the GMAT, but it’s an important one. The GMAT is a time constrained test. You have less than two minutes on average to solve questions so there is a constant tension between time and accuracy.

Why the time constraint?

It’s important to realise that the time constraint is designed to force you to find innovative solutions to problems. The GMAT is testing your reasoning ability not your ability to do long complicated maths problems.

If you are taking too long to solve problems, it’s likely that you are using the wrong method entirely. The more you practice, the more you will be able to build the cognitive skills and flexibility you need to spot shortcuts and apply different strategies.

The timing constraint also introduces an element of pressure. Keep calm. For the verbal section, keep your thoughts organised by writing A to E on the paper you are given for your rough workings out. Keep calm and work methodically through the answer choices.

Build timing into your study plan

Don’t focus too much on timing at the beginning of your studies. You’ll want to focus on learning the concepts. You can introduce timing as you practice and build up to taking full timed tests.

Building mental stamina is an important part of your timing strategy. You could make mistakes two and a half hours into the test that you would never make in the first ten minutes. At some point during the test there is going to be a trade-off between time and accuracy.

You should experiment during your practice to see what checks and balances work for you and what helps you avoid common traps and careless mistakes. Your go-to approach may change depending on question type or level.

Experiment with short cuts and strategies to help you solve questions quickly. Make sure you also know the basics like your timetables, decimal tables, and answer choices for data sufficiency questions to save time.

Understand GMAT scoring and how timing fits in

The GMAT is a computer-adaptive test which means the level of the test changes throughout in order to generate your score. Not finishing the test will kill your score. There is also evidence to suggest that getting multiple questions in a row wrong hurts your score more than if those questions were spaced out throughout the test. This info will inform your timing strategy.

Timing strategy for the test

It’s helpful to think of GMAT questions as taking on average two minutes to solve. Some will take you longer and some much shorter than two minutes.  So instead of obsessing over the clock, check in to make sure you are meeting milestones.

It’s useful to know when you are falling behind, but you also need to know what to do about it. It’s counterintuitive, but you should not rush through the questions you normally get right to spend more time on the questions you normally get wrong. You don’t want to make avoidable mistakes by rushing through questions you should be getting right.

Also—and this can be hard lesson to learn—you need to walk away from some questions. If you have not solved a question in three minutes, your method is wrong. You need to stop and move on. Keeping your eye on milestones will help you spread out rushed questions so you are not rushing all the questions (in a row) at the end.

The definition of rushing really depends on you, the question, and how likely you are to get to the right answer by guesstimating and narrowing down the answer choices. It may be a case of spending a minute giving yourself a shot at getting the right answer. It might also mean quickly choosing an answer and moving on.  

If you are battling to finish full practice tests within the time you are given, it’s likely you need more practice and to hone your methods. The more you practice, the more you will be able to take a nuanced approach. If you are finishing tests well ahead of time, use the extra time to double-check your answers.

Lastly, make sure to practice this timing strategy during practice tests rather than memorising it before test day. The more you practice with it, the more you will be able to tweak this strategy to suit your own strengths and weaknesses.