In my late teens, I came across a random article on time management on standardized tests. It had various links to articles and blogs that had different strategies to manage time on different tests like, JEE, SAT, GMAT and many more that I cannot recall.
Why I’m telling you this story is because at that point I believed time management on these tests was a gimmick. After all, if you knew the tricks to solve questions quickly, that would be enough. And this statement would be true for some standardized tests.
However, when I dived further into the algorithm for GMAT, I realized, time management on this test was a whole different ball game.
All the things I will be suggesting in this article cannot be absorbed theoretically. You will have to practice them and imbibe them as a part of your preparation DNA. There is no way you can use these skills just be memorizing them. They should become a part of your test strategy. As suggested in other blogs as well, GMAT is a skill-based exam, and not knowledge based.
Why is time management not a gimmick on the GMAT?
Like most standardized tests, the basic aim still remains to correctly answer as many questions as possible in the least amount of time possible. But the way the GMAT algorithm works makes careless mistakes more hazardous in certain questions than the others.
Since GMAT is a Computer Adaptative Test. This means that a high score on the GMAT isn’t dependent on how many questions you get right, rather it is dependent on which questions you got right. Every right answer on the GMAT is followed by a question that increases in the level of difficulty in each section. Thus, incorrect answers to some of the most difficult questions might not take away as many points as incorrectly answering an easier question early in a section.
Time management, on a test like the GMAT, is required to make sure enough time is allotted to the questions that matter the most as far as your scoring is concerned.
This also brings us to our most important point:
HOW TO ALLOT AVERAGE TIME TO DIFFERENT QUESTION TYPES?
Let’s start by throwing the idea of average time per question out of the window. It is the most redundant idea that is still floating in the GMAT community and does no one any good.
If you keep trying to allot around 2-minutes, the approximate average time per question across the GMAT, you will not score 700+. If you know certain concepts whether on the quant or the verbal section are more complicated than the others, how can you possibly think all the different question types on the GMAT are all solvable in 2 minutes?
For an Arts major, even Reading Comprehension might be hardly a 4-minute affair. But for an engineering student it might take almost double that.
This is why we need to find out the right amount of average time you should allot to different question types based on your performance.
Let’s first take a look at the number and types of questions one has to face on the GMAT.
Graphics Interpretation Data Analysis Two-part Analysis
Analysis of an Argument (Essay)
Rushing through questions in any of these sections, whether in the beginning or at the end, will result in either missing out on questions or answering them incorrectly. While the GMAT doesn’t penalize for wrong answers, the GMAT Official Guide 2019 does say that missing 5 questions on the Verbal section will bring a 91 percentile score down to 71 percentile.
So how do you calculate the average time per question type?
Note the time you spent in answering the correct questions of a particular time. Let’s assume you answered 10 data sufficiency questions but got only 5 right. You should only average the time spent of the five correct questions to find out ‘your’ correct average time per question.
In case this time is higher than you would like it to be, do not try to push yourself to lower it immediately as that would affect your accuracy. Strengthen the concepts that you’re struggling with and formulate better plans of attacks for those particular questions to slowly lower your average time.
If you practice this throughout your GMAT prep religiously, you will have the hang of your average time per question by test-day and won’t have to look at the clock after every question to find out if you’re on schedule.
USING THE SCRATCH PAD AS A TIMER
Although I don’t want you to keep looking at the clock every few seconds, I do want you to look at it in the right intervals to stay on schedule and not miss any questions since we already know how much penalty that carries.
Plus, looking at the timer after every question will be confusing as the timer on the GMAT counts backwards. You will be spending at least a couple seconds making the necessary calculations to see how much time you spent on a question. This is where your scratch pad comes in.
In the GMAT exam, you are given a laminated scratch pad, with five pages usable on both the sides except the first page which has writing on one side, that you can use as a rough sheet for the various sections.
As you take your GMAT you will come across 30 seconds of idle time right before every section.
This is idle time only because you would have already taken numerous mocks and would be familiar with the rules and instructions. Take this time to prep your scratch pad for the upcoming section.
For the both the Quant and the Verbal sections you can ask for fresh booklets. Once the idle time starts, divide your booklet into the number of questions in the upcoming section.
For example, Quant has 31 questions. Thus, we can divide the first 5 pages of the scratch pad into three sections each for three questions and the next 4 pages into 4 sections each.
Similarly, for Verbal, divide the 9 blank pages into 4 sections each.
At the space for the 11th question on the scratch pad for Quant, write 40 minutes. This is what the timer on the test should be showing roughly before you start attempting question 11.
Use the table below as a guideline for the rest.
40 minutes left
20 minutes left
2 minutes left
10 minutes left
27 minutes left
10 minutes left
This is called setting benchmarks. Writing these benchmarks on your scratch pad would mean that you don’t have to constantly worry about checking the timer and will also be reminded to check it whenever necessary in your exam.
If you’re too late on a benchmark, take this as a warning to pick up speed.
Now let’s look at a few more time management techniques for the GMAT that are individual to different sections.
GMAT Quant is one of the easiest sections to cut down the timing for. If you know your concepts of Quants well enough, you will hardly have to stop and think too much about the question.
However, there are still some ways you can cut down on the time you take during the quant section.
Use the Answer Choices
This point is the most effective in problem solving questions. It simply says that rather than making complex calculations right after reading the question, try to use the answer choices to solve the question.
This is an easy fix as it will help eliminate the wrong answers till you reach the right one. For example, if you’re asked what the multiple of 345 and 587 is you would know that the answer would have 5 in the unit place. Looking at the answer choices you can eliminate all options that don’t satisfy this condition.
Substituting Numbers to Variables
This is a simple one that you might have unintentionally done many times before in your daily life. When a question has a complex equation and a variable, try substituting a smaller number instead of solving the complex equation.
The only thing you need to be careful about is that the number you pick to substitute fulfills any and all conditions that are placed on the variable.
Start by Identifying ‘All’ Strategies
Whenever you face a quant question, chances are it will require you to use multiple concepts to reach a definitive answer. The problem is that we have worked with single concept questions all our school lives and aren’t used to solving questions with concept cross-overs.
This is why starting by identifying what all concepts you would require in the question in front of you will save you from wasting time trying to find the answer using only one concept at a time.
GMAT Verbal is a complicated section for some, while it is a fun and easy one for others. But it will always be a lengthy section for everyone taking the GMAT.
With long Reading Comprehensions, confusing Critical Reasoning questions and tricky sentence correction questions, the Verbal section on the GMAT can be a real pain in the behind. There’s only so much you can do to save time on this section.
There are however a few things that have seemed helpful to top scorers.
GMAT verbal requires a lot of reading as you must already know. But this reading also requires two qualities that don’t exactly agree with each other. You need to read quickly and diligently. There is a solution for this though. Almost every coach or tutor advices their students to read on the regular if the plan to take the GMAT. This isn’t because you could run into a reading comprehension that you have read before, it’s to put you in the habit of reading and not getting tired. As you read longer excerpts from articles, novels, or blogs, you learn to skim through only the completely unnecessary information and absorb all the relevant data.
This will also ensure you don’t fee tired or lose focus after reading a long passage on the Verbal section.
Predict the Answer
While I would ask to restraint yourself from becoming a psychic in the middle of your GMAT for the most part, predicting the answer in sentence correction will actually save you time. It can easily bring down your time to just one-minute per question if you practice it enough.
The process to predict an answer on sentence correction is simple. Before looking at the option choices, find out the error in the question and then look for the answer choice that is exactly same or close to your prediction. This might not work every-time if you still have some weak spots in your grammar concepts.
The Integrated Reasoning on the GMAT requires a whole different approach than the verbal and quant sections. This section is also not Computer Adaptative and thus has only 12 questions which you’re expected to answer.
The biggest difference between the IR section and the Verbal or Quant sections is that the questions have multiple parts and a test-taker receives no marks for a question that even has one part wrongly answered. Thus, our time management techniques need to be more carefully crafted.
Analyze the Extra Steps You Take to Solve
When practicing for the IR section, analyze every step that you take while solving a question. Ask yourself if you really needed to work on a particular table, or pay attention to a given chart. If not, make sure you use these notes as you practice similar questions.
Don’t Try to Answer All Parts at Once
This point can be considered the extension of the previous one but still holds enough importance to be mentioned separately. IR questions are complex and have a lot of detailed information that can easily be misunderstood. This is why I advocate answering on part of a question at a time.
Trying to make sense of the complete set of tables, charts, or information provided to you and then answering all three questions will increase the chances of you mis-reading a unit or mis-interpreting a chart much higher.
The GMAT AWA section or the GMAT essay seems like an easy section to most test-takers. They often think it does not require any time management as it’s one question that you need to finish in 30 minutes. That should be enough time, right?
Unfortunately, after getting lost multiple times writing what I thought were small blogs and taking hours to finish them, I have come to realize writing precise material is much more strategic than based in your writing prowess.
In short, GMAT AWA does benefit from time management strategies.
Practice Essay Outlines
At this point I’m writing this in almost every blog, but I’ll still repeat it.
Do not start an essay right off the bat. Always prepare a blue print before getting to the writing part.
There is no doubt in my mind that most students taking the GMAT aren’t columnists and do not have years of experience streamlining their thoughts into a written piece. Digressing is a real problem when it comes to essays and you need to have a blueprint to stop your essay from digressing. Figure out exactly what thought process you wish to follow and what note you would end the essay on. These pointers will help you add meat to your essay without being too wordy. This will also keep your train of thought on track and you won’t waste time trying to think of new things to fill in blank spaces in your essay or to have smooth transitions.
Time the Introductory and the Concluding Paragraphs
Having an introductory and concluding paragraph will save your lives in the GMAT AWA section. When you have the beginning and the end of your essay, it becomes your choice whether you want to use 6 points from your blueprint and make it a short essay or use 12 points and make this a more informed essay.
This will also help you if you end up with close to a minute on the timer and are yet reach the middle of your analysis in the essay. With the conclusion already written, you spend the next one minute creating a segue to at least make your essay seem complete. This will make your result much better than if you had written all of your material in 30 minutes but without a conclusion.
A lot of students leave time management to the last week of their GMAT prep or even to the test day. However, it is crucial that most of your practice be timed. Even if you’re practicing just one section, practice sets with time limits.
Taking mocks regularly will also help you practice time management more effectively on the test.
If you still think it’s a gimmick, like I used to, try giving a mock without looking at the timer at all. The results will make you pick up a stopwatch for all your practice sessions.
In my experiences, you should be taking 25 mock tests and apply these on all of them. Once you are done with 7 to 8 tests, you will start to feel a very significant difference, and these tips will start to become your second habits.
Practice! Practice! Practice! It is the mother of developing any new skill set
Go get your target scores. Go get your target admits! Go build your careers.