The new GRE is going into effect on September 22, 2023, and there are some major changes on the horizon. Most importantly, the overall length of the test is being cut in half, from 3 hours and 45 minutes total for the old GRE down to 1 hour and 58 minutes for the new GRE.
However, while the overall length of the new GRE is shorter, timing is still going to be a major challenge, and something you’re going to want to focus on a lot as you go about your GRE prep. You’ll be working against the clock throughout the test, and if you’re not prepared for that, it’s going to significantly hurt your scoring potential.
In this article, we’ll walk you through some tips and strategies for improving your timing as you study for the new GRE.
Learn the (New) Structure
Whether you’re just starting your GRE prep, or whether you’ve been studying for the test based on the older model, the first thing you’re going to want to do is familiarize yourself with the structure of the new GRE. This will help you know what to expect and you can design your GRE timing practice around it.
As with the old GRE, the new GRE includes two Verbal sections and two Quantitative sections. On the new GRE, the first Quant section includes 12 questions and lasts 21 minutes, with the second section including 15 questions and 26 minutes. That adds up to an average of about 1 minute 45 seconds per Quant question. That’s your baseline of how much time you have to work with on Quant.
The first Verbal section also includes 12 questions and lasts 18 minutes, with the second section including 15 questions over 23 minutes. This means your baseline for Verbal questions is 1 minute 30 seconds.
The new Analytical Writing section only contains one essay prompt, which lasts for 30 minutes.
Another important thing about the structure is that it’s “computer-adaptive” from section to section. This means that in the first section of both Quant and Verbal questions, you’re going to encounter a mix of easy, medium, and difficult questions. Your performance on that first section will dictate the range of difficulty for your questions on the second section. This means that, if you’re aiming for a top score, you need to be prepared for the questions on the second section to become more difficult, and to take more time—even though the average amount of time allotted will be the same.
Another important note: unlike the old GRE, the new GRE does not include any breaks between sections. That means that you’ll need to build up your endurance throughout your GRE prep so you can concentrate for 2 hours straight without a rest.
Learn to Work With the GRE Format
It’s important to know what you can and can’t do within the GRE format. As with the old GRE, the new GRE does allow you to skip questions, to flag questions, and to return to questions later within the section. Note: you cannot return to questions from previous sections. There is a status screen where you can keep track of the questions you’ve skipped and flagged.
Now this is where it gets tricky. On the one hand, skipping questions can seem like a wise maneuver as part of your GRE timing strategy. If you’re noticing that you’re spending a lot of time on a particular question and you don’t feel you’re efficiently working toward a solution, it might make sense to move to the next question. Your overall strategy, after all, is to answer as many questions correctly as possible. Also: you don’t need to answer every question correctly to do well.
However, skipping questions can be time consuming as well. Also, skipping questions runs the risk of running out of time before even inputting a reasonable guess, which is a huge mistake. The GRE does not punish wrong answers—therefore, it’s absolutely in your best interest to answer every question.
For most questions, rather than skipping, consider trying to eliminate whatever obviously wrong answers you can, inputting an educated guess, and flagging the question to return to later if you have time.
Learn to Work With Your Strengths and Weaknesses
Your GRE prep and GRE timing practice isn’t just about learning the subject matter of the test—it’s also about learning yourself, including your own strengths and weaknesses.
One extremely helpful thing to do as you study for the GRE is to keep a log of the questions you work on, including information like question type, whether you answer it correctly or incorrectly, and how long it takes you to complete. Review this log regularly before test day, so you know where your real strengths and weaknesses are.
Then, as you begin a problem on the GRE, you should have a better idea of whether or not that particular question type is in your wheelhouse, and how much time it might take you to complete. If it’s a question type you struggle with, then be prepared to monitor timing and make an educated guess where necessary.
Train Your Inner Progress Clock
Another extremely helpful GRE timing strategy is to work closely with a clock as you go about your GRE prep. One thing you can do as you begin each problem is to set a timer for 30 seconds. After 30 seconds, you should have a good idea of whether you’re making efficient progress toward solving the problem correctly, whether you’re totally lost, or whether you might be able to solve the question but you’ll need significantly more time.
The GRE does offer an onscreen timer as you take the test, but you don’t want to be consulting this constantly, since it’s time consuming and it breaks your focus. It’d be better to develop an internal alarm, so about 30 seconds into each problem, you assess your progress and strategize about whether continuing to work with it or making an educated guess (and possibly returning later) is the right move.
Understand Timing Variation
While it’s helpful to know the average amount of time per problem on the GRE, it’s also true that every question will vary in how long it takes you to complete. For instance, some questions will solvable within 30-45 seconds—which “adds” time to your bank for future questions. Other GRE questions will take more like 3+ minutes to complete. Whether it’s worth investing the extra time in these questions or not is dependent on your performance on the rest of the section. Every time you answer a question more quickly than the average allotted time per question, you’re adding time to invest in more challenging questions later on. Every time you take more than the average amount of time per question, you’re leaving yourself less time for every subsequent question.
Assess Where You Stand Within the Section
Ideally, you’ll have developed your internal timer throughout your GRE prep to the point that you have a sense of how long a question is taking you. This will be more efficient than constantly turning your attention from the problem you’re in the middle of to the timer on your screen.
The most helpful way to consult the timer on your screen is at semi-regular intervals, where you can assess where you stand relative to the rate of progress you’ll need to maintain to answer every question. For instance, you should be attentive to the approximate halfway point in each section. That’s a good opportunity to check your progress. When you have about half your time for that section remaining, if you have half or fewer of your questions remaining, that means your timing strategy is working well. If you have more than half the questions remaining, that means you’re taking too much time per question, and you’ll need to work more quickly and strategically to ensure you answer every question before time runs out.
Get Smart About Calculating and Estimating
While the GRE Quant section does include an on-screen calculator, using it can be a tedious process. Many calculations can be performed much more quickly with a pencil and paper. This is one reason to also drill your arithmetic skills as part of your GRE prep.
You should also learn to harness the power of estimating. Let’s say a particular problem requires you to calculate something like 6.3 X 103.4.
Now, you could try to calculate this exactly, but that would take a bit of time. First you might consider estimating: 6 X 100 = 600. Then if the answers are, for instance, 6.5142, 65.42, 651.42, 6514.2, and 65142, it should be obvious that the correct answer is 651.42, even though you didn’t spend the extra time working to get the right answer down to the decimal.
Practice Practice Practice
The best thing you can do to improve your GRE timing is to commit yourself to a rigorous GRE prep regimen. Mastering the material is the most powerful way of improving your speed and accuracy, though the progress will be gradual and incremental.
And the best way to supercharge your GRE prep is to work with a GRE tutor. An expert GRE tutor—like those we employ at MyGuru—can help you assess your strengths and weaknesses and design a customized study plan that will help you improve your overall performance. Skilled GRE tutors are also highly attentive to the timing constraints, and they’ll work with you to make sure you’re making progress on that front, so you can maximize your score come test day.
It’s obvious that, in order to do well on the GRE, you need to learn the subject matter. But what keeps many students from achieving a top score is that they don’t learn how to implement their knowledge of the content within the timing constraints of the test. By focusing on the timing strategies we mention above, you should be able to combine your subject-matter knowledge with the specific skills necessary to perform at your best within the specific timing restrictions of the GRE.