In our previous article on effective GMAT time management, we covered how the GMAT is scored. We noted that due to its adaptive nature, effective time management is critical. We also discussed how the test is not primarily about academic skills, but rather the ability to appy those skills and use critical reasoning and logic to allocate your time and arrive at the best answer. Hopefully, that created a foundational of effecive GMAT time management. In this article, we’ll more specifically discuss how to manage your time when answering questions on the GMAT test itself.
CULTIVATE YOUR INTERNAL 1-MINUTE CLOCK WHILE PRACTICING YOUR READING SKILLS
Most people fail to realize that you can intentionally increase your reading speed through practice. This is why we recommend students intentionally cultivate an independent reading practice alongside their formal GMAT prep. Reading periodicals with GMAT-level information—including publications like The Economist, The New York Times, The New Yorker, Fortune, and more—can help you increase your reading comprehension and, just as importantly, your reading speed. This is integral for your GMAT prep, as building your reading speed and comprehension will help leave you more time on the test for actually working on problem solutions.
To score well on the GMAT, you should also intentionally build not only your reading speed but your sense of time. You can use various timing apps, including the timer and lap function on your cell phone, to build an internal clock. By setting a timer to go off at one-minute intervals while doing the independent reading we mention above, you can condition your inner clock to ding at one-minute intervals, which will be extremely useful as you take your official GMAT.
Why is the 1-minute mark important?
For the multiple-choice questions on the VR, QR, and IR sections, 1-minute represents the point at which you should have an informed idea of how difficult a question is, whether you think you’ll be able to arrive at an accurate solution, and how much time it will take.
Generally speaking, if a question takes more than 3 minutes to answer, make an educated guess and move forward.
Time is at too much of a premium to spend more than 3 minutes on any given question, especially since the 2-minute average means any question you spend more than 2 minutes on takes time away from other questions, which will compel you to rush and guess even more in order to finish all the questions on time.
LEARN YOUR LIMITATIONS
It would be great if GMAT prep were as simple as mastering every single concept. But as we’ve said, the GMAT actually isn’t designed to be 100% mastered. Rather, the test is designed to gauge your decision-making skills while working at the edge of your comprehension, which means you need to study where that edge is for you.
While there are many areas of life where dogged determination is valuable, on the GMAT, your persistence can work against you. By the time you’ve done all your GMAT prep, you should have a solid sense of what kinds of problems give you the most trouble and require the most time for you to answer, if you can even answer them correctly at all. You might be surprised to realize that to achieve a score above 700 on the GMAT it might be more important to learn how to manage your weaknesses by quickly guessing on problems you know are difficult than it is to build your skills so that these types of problems aren’t as difficult. Of course, if you don’t understand probability or ratio problems at all, you’ll get a great return on learning these principles so that you can at least find your way around those types of problems. However, if you can learn to identify that you are facing a very challenging ratio problem and those always seem to trip you up, you can then guess intelligently and move on to problems you have a much better chance of answering correctly.
If and when you encounter a kind of problem you know you tend to struggle with—and you can usually tell if a given problem falls into this category within the first 30 seconds of reading through it—make an educated guess and move on.
LEARN TO GUESS EFFECTIVELY
Making strategic guesses with limited resources and incomplete information is an integral component of GMAT success and success in other managerial contexts.
There are several strategies you can implement to make stronger guesses on the GMAT.
The first is to eliminate wrong answers before guessing. This may not always be possible or efficient, but you can often quickly get rid of one or more obviously wrong answers even if you don’t know how to solve the problem in its entirety, or if you just don’t have enough time to do so.
After quickly eliminating whatever wrong answers you can, the other strategy you can use is to always choose the same letter to guess whenever you don’t have time to work toward a single solution. This will help distribute your guesses and increase the likelihood of some of them being right. Before you even begin, just pick your favorite letter from A to E and stick with that one for the duration of the test.
This is also an area where knowing yourself comes in handy. By the time you’re ready to take your official test, you should have a sense of how much you tend to struggle with the time limit from your timed practice tests. This should give you an idea of how much guessing you’ll have to do in order to answer all the questions effectively. Let’s say you find you typically only have enough time to fully work through 24 of the 32 Quant problems. This means 1 out of every 4 questions will require an educated guess. Rather than waiting to guess on the final 8 questions, keep your guessing strategies close at hand and be ready to implement a guess on roughly every fourth question as you go, selecting the most difficult ones you encounter.
You should also keep in mind that the GMAT penalizes you more heavily for answering easy questions incorrectly and for answering several consecutive questions incorrectly. Therefore, if you have had to guess on multiple questions in a row, be on the lookout for an easier question, which might be worth investing slightly more time in to try to get a correct solution and to avoid steeper penalties. This means breaking up your guesses effectively.
FINALLY, WORK WITH AN EXPERT GMAT TUTOR
While there are virtually limitless resources for conducting GMAT prep—from a variety of test-prep texts, many of which specialize in certain sections and problem types, to test prep software and group classes, there is no better way to prep for the test than working one-on-one with an expert tutor. A skilled and experienced GMAT tutor will not only be familiar with all the concepts the GMAT tests—they will also have an intricate understanding of the necessary time management skills you’ll need. And most importantly, expert tutors like MyGuru’s will be able to work closely with you to help you design a personally tailored GMAT prep plan so you can learn to implement those time management skills yourself.