GMAT time management

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Here is another trick of the GMAT. Almost all the problems that are given on the GMAT are easy or actually, very easy. What makes it hard to solve them is that you have 2 minutes per problem regardless of the kind and difficulty level, and this also adds some stress and fear of not finishing in time.

In one hand, you will have to solve a vast variety of math problems in the same interval, but on the other hand, you can manage your time yourself, deciding how to invest it. You need to see for yourself what gives you the highest yield—the highest return on investment. For instance, you can be good in Geometry or Word Problems, and can save some time to deal with hard questions. Moreover, the second part of the Math section will be just average difficulty questions with some word problems and DS questions, but in general nothing special or difficult. Usually, everybody finishes them in 1:30 each.

You know the method of dividing the math part into three sections (50 mins left – 12 questions done; 25 mins left – 25 questions done; 1 min left –37 questions done). I have tried to follow it on my test in the test center, but when I had 33 minutes left, I realized that I still had a half of the questions to go; I was like on #15 or 18. I did not seem to have doubtful questions and had enough time to check my answers, in most of the problems, but got a bit nervous when I saw my time. You need to be prepared that the timing will not go as you wish; you may get a hard start or a few questions in a row that will get you down, but you need to be flexible and adjust to the test, just as the test tries to adjust to you. Except you are a human and you should be able to do that much better.

Try to use the timesaving techniques - back solving and plugging numbers. They can also be used to Check the result and see whether the solution makes sense. To save time, study the common percent values, square roots, powers, and fractions.

As I said, one advantage you have is that even though you have 75 mins to answer 37 questions, you can manage your time as you wish. The hardship is that there is pressure. Everybody who takes GMAT always has a thought in the back of their head that tells them that they are not going to make it. Do not rush. This does not mean that you should do everything you can to save time; what I imply here is that you should not let the test rush you. You need to be cold blooded (rus.) and very attentive, not trying to read the problem as fast as possible, but read it attentively – it deserves it, then take a look at it again and at the answer choices (how crazy they are, how far apart is the distribution, how precise the calculations need to be, etc.)

Sometimes, GMAT literally paralyses me when I realize that the problem I am reading is impossible to solve. Of course, there is a sweet feeling of encountering a difficult problem on the math section (you know that you are doing well if you get one and the harder it is, the closer to the top you are), but then there is an aftertaste that you get when you are not sure in the solution or an answer. Try to eliminate the answer choice in such cases. Seeking out “crazy” answers does not pay off in most of the cases because often logic takes just as much time as the solution, and is impossible but sometimes, it does help. You will need time to learn the cases when it does.

Another important timing point is to be able to feel when it is the time to move on. Kaplan has 4 wonderful and hard tests on the CD and it also offers statistics on the questions: the longest time spent on a question; the longest time spent on incorrectly answered questions, and the longest time spent on correctly answered questions. These should NEVER be more than three or three and a half minutes. If you use 3.5 minutes, you are using almost double the time you have for each question, and will need to save time on the next 3 or 4 questions. By stealing time from other questions, you only harm yourself. It is good if you stashed some minutes, but the ideal test is when you spend very close to 2 min on each question with an average deviation of 0.5 mins. What happens when you solve something for a long time, and you finally, after let's say 4-5 mins, come to the solution and it is right, you get a harder problem (the nature of the GMAT) and you, theoretically, will have to spend even more time on it (unless you are really good in that type of questions, but GMAT is very well tested and they know the difficulty of questions very well and there is perhaps 93% guarantee that you will spend more time on the current hard problem than you did on the previous.) Therefore, make it through to the question #15 in about 35-40 minutes (it is OK to use a bit more time in the beginning) and then, as the questions get a bit easier (they usually do after #15), take 1:30 for each one of them or on average. Whatever you do, don’t guess two questions in a row because it is very harmful for the score to get two in a row incorrect, and the probability that you guess two in a row correctly is 4%.

One suggestion, try to take an ideal test—when you spend no more time than you have. I did take one, and what I did was guess when I was overtime on hard questions. My results that day, perhaps, were the lowest of all, but I felt the timing more carefully.

Again, the ideal way is when you solve all the questions, but that happens very rarely. What you and I should do in the testing room is accept the idea that we will meet a question that will totally smash us. The goal of the GMAT is to break you and me. If we proceed with one question, the test attempts to give us a harder puzzle simply for one purpose -- to stop us from advancing. And let me tell you, it will find that question sooner or later. The limit of our knowledge/logic will come sooner or later and the least evil thing we can do is not waste time on trying to breach it, but instead try to concentrate on the next question because as soon as we have met our wall, the test will give us a bit easier question, and then in one or three questions a hard one again. You just never know, maybe the second wall will actually be easier for you than the first one, and you will be able to advance even further.

It is very recommended that during your GMAT test you not think about school rankings and the schedules of classes that you will have in your MBA program. What I mean is you should not worry about your overall standing or your chances for a scholarship, but deal with questions as they appear. You should totally forget about the last question you worked on and not think about what will come up, rather do your work on the problem that you see on the screen. You won’t be able to tell the score until you see it anyway. If you think that since you made too many mistakes, and now you need to concentrate more on the problems, then, sorry, your strategy is wrong! You need to concentrate all the time – squeeze all the juices out of yourself. You should always work at the top of you abilities, using all your power, strength, and logic. Stick the earplugs as far as you can, and let the rest of the world stop existing for a while. Everybody knows that GMAT is an important part of the application process and that it is the only thing left, but you should forget that for the testing day because thoughts like that only build up pressure and worries.

In turn, worrying is not good not only because it still did not help anybody, but also because it is destructive – it prevents your brain from functioning at full capacity and exhausting you faster, contributing a handful of careless mistakes to the GMAC records.

It is good NOT to panic when we meet the dead end. It is about just as helpful as when you dive and panic under water: you immediately run of oxygen and instincts of self-preservation turn your brain off—not very helpful for a meaningful result. Don't give up too early on any of the questions. Some of them sound extremely bizarre and sometimes make NO sense, but often, a second reading reveals an easy answer. Some questions, such as counting, position, last digit, simply require you to do the math. This may not sound too intelligent, but sometimes GMAC wants to see how fast you can count, multiply or divide. However, do not waste time on the puzzling questions either. LEARN how to identify GMAT tricks fast so that you would know that if you did not figure something out after 2 minutes, perhaps it will not come to you even in 5.

Some of the hardest questions you will meet will be experimental questions. About 1/4 or 1/3 of the questions are experimental. These questions are not evaluated and are given just to measure their difficulty level for the future test inclusions. Therefore, don’t worry if you missed a super hard question and had to guess because there is a good chance it was an experimental question. These crazy things are hidden throughout the test and there is no way to identify them. Sometimes they throw off track by being too easy and you start thinking that you have made too many mistakes, and got back to the very basic level of the 50th percentile. Do not worry, sometimes GMAT may ask you to do an addition question such as y=2x+8, y=1 x? Not that anybody doubts your addition skills after solving that permutation or probability problem, it is just that GMAT wants to see how you deal with problems of various difficulty thrown together. GMAT is not only a test of your knowledge of elementary math principles, but also a test of logic, time management, ability to deal with unfamiliar and non-standard questions, and of course a test of concentration and nerve.

Again, if you seem to think about the process too much or catch yourself concentrating on your global standing in the top 10 MBA programs rather than on the individual question, try to turn your fear and emotions off for the test; just for 150 mins. Try to be a logical machine that has no personality because if emotions mattered for the GMAT, my ex-girlfriend would have easily scored 810.

Anyway, it is good that you have read this far. Now, how about following and practicing all of this and putting it to use? It does not help to read unless you exercise and follow what you preach (amazing isn’t it?). Below you will find the summary that I would advise to be one of the things to go through on the test because what often happens is we are very smart before and after the test, but during it, GMAT hypnotizes us as a snake mesmerizes a rabbit, and we no longer can act, but only react, saying “ouch” when the snake devours us.


  1. Read through the problem (take 5 seconds to look at it and the answer choices)
  2. See if you can apply any of the time saving techniques, else?
  3. Read again and write out all the info you will need.
  4. Do not miss an important detail in the beginning of the question; you will need it.
  5. No panic, you can solve it easily, just make sure you solve it 
  6. If you realize that the test’s got you (just as Matrix had Neo), take away your eyes from the screen and try focusing them on your nails or the seam of your pants.
  7. If it is hard, try to associate the problem with what you have solved before
  8. Have the absolute control over the time. Know how much you can spend, how much you have left.
  9. Finally, the secret of the gmat: to get a good score, you need to answer questions correctly, don’t pick the wrong answer choice!
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