Just in time: Managing time on the GMAT
Updated: Apr 3, 2018
How important is time management on the GMAT?
NEW! Updated for the changes to the GMAT format effective April 16, 2018.
Managing your time well on the GMAT is critical. A good time management strategy should help you in the following ways:
It should help you finish the test: the GMAT applies a penalty if the adaptive sections are not completed.
It should not encourage an early finish: if there is any scope for improvement in your score, you should not aim to finish early, so that you do not leave any points on the table.
It should not encourage guessing many questions in a row: guesses are likely to lead to errors, and the score drop is expected to be greater if the guesses are “bunched up.”
It should not involve micromanagement of time: looking at the clock itself takes time and looking at it too often adds to mental pressure, which can affect your concentration levels.
If you find that keeping track of time is too stressful, you should feel free to focus on accuracy in the beginning. However, as you get closer to your GMAT, you must focus on timing.
During sectional practice
We recommend that you aim for 2 minutes on an average for all question types in the Quantitative section of the GMAT exam. For example, if you are practicing 20 questions as part of a sectional exercise, you should aim to finish them in 40 minutes.
The range for individual questions is 30 seconds to 3 minutes. Generally, you should be comfortable taking between 1 and 2½ minutes on a particular question.
We recommend that you aim for different time targets for the different question formats in the Verbal section of the GMAT exam.
NOTE: RC time recommendations include passage reading time.
We recommend that you aim for ~2.5 minutes per question on the Integrated Reasoning section of the GMAT exam.
During the exam: even pace
This is our recommended strategy for most people taking the GMAT. It focuses on the following:
Finishing the test on time
Minimizing the probability of a sequence of errors
According equal importance to all questions
Not finishing early, so that no points are left on the table
Check the timer two times during the test (after the 10th and 20th questions). If you are behind after (let's say) the first set of questions (Q1-10), you must make up the time lost in the very next set of questions (Q11-20).
Let's take an example. If you look up after finishing 10 questions and your timer says 39:30, you will know that you took an additional 2½ minutes during the first ten questions, and that you will need to work faster or guess on a question to get back on track.
Remember not to leave everything for the final set of questions! You will make a lot of mistakes, and those mistakes will all be “bunched up.”
Your time targets for the Verbal section are 48, 32, and 16. That is, after the first 9 questions your timer should read 48 minutes (or thereabouts) left. After 18 questions, 32 minutes left, and after 27 questions, 16 minutes left.
Remember not to check the timer too often during Verbal: you could get an RC passage and might feel after that passage that you are behind time. Over more questions, however, the distribution of questions is much more likely to be even.
Also, remember that the GMAT does not have a preference for any one question format. For example, you should not prioritize any question format thinking that it is given greater weight by the GMAT algorithm. Take a look at this post in case you are not sure about this.
The IR section of the GMAT is slightly different from the Verbal and Quantitative sections in that it is not adaptive. That is, in the IR section, all the questions (and the sequence in which they are presented) are decided beforehand, and the difficulty does not change according to your responses. In fact, the IR score depends on only the number of correct questions, and does not take question difficulty into account.
Another important point is that there is no additional penalty for not finishing the IR section.
Both these points make the IR section less stressful than the Quantitative and Verbal sections: you can comfortably (a) guess on a tough question to give yourself more time for other questions and (b) take more time on a question you know you can get, without having to worry about attempting all questions.
Being on or ahead of time is usually a great situation to be in. However, if you are behind time, you must guess on 1 or more questions to get back on track.
Also, remember to apply your time management strategy in at least 4-5 full-length practice tests before using it on the real GMAT.
Fun fact: you can hide the timer by clicking it. It will then show only a clock symbol, which can be expanded back into the full timer with a click.