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You will have exactly 3 hours and 30 minutes to complete the GMAT exam. There are 4 sections to work through, each with a fixed number of questions and a predetermined time limit.
This handy chart from mba.com breaks it all down:
If you decide to take the two 8-minute breaks you’re allowed during the exam, your total time gets closer to 4 hours. That’s a serious test-taking marathon!
In order to stay on track and finish on time, students need to manage their minutes very carefully. Without good pacing and time management strategies in place, it’s all too easy to rush unnecessarily (and make careless mistakes), or linger too long on tough questions (and be unable to complete the exam).
What kinds of time management techniques should you be developing during GMAT prep and implementing on exam day? Here are some straightforward approaches we recommend.
1. Budget a specific number of minutes for each question
When it comes to pacing, some students try to “wing it”, and never really nail down a time-budget for each question-type.
They figure they’ll simply move as quickly as they can through each section—perhaps spending a bit longer on some problems than others—but it will all even out in the end.
The problem is, under pressure, it’s very likely that your sense of time will feel distorted. If your go-to time management strategy is just glancing at the clock now and then, you’re in for a nasty shock on exam day!
If you want to get smart about pacing, you’ll need to be aware of your “time position” at every stage of the test.
In other words, whether you’re behind, ahead, or right on schedule, in relation to where you are in the exam.
To do that, you’ll need to set a maximum time limit for every single question, and get used to how those limits feel during GMAT prep.
This chart from TopMBA.com provides some helpful guidelines:
GMAT Time Management Per Question-type
2. Have a plan for when you get stuck
If all goes perfectly, your diligent GMAT prep will pay off, and you’ll know exactly how to tackle every single question that comes your way on exam day.
But since things rarely work out as planned, it’s safe to assume you’ll get stalled by a few really tough problems. Having a smart plan for these moments is key for managing time.
Getting “frozen” by panic, or stubbornly going around in circles without settling on an answer, are common—and very dangerous—time-wasters.
If you spend more than 3 minutes on a question, you’re in the danger zone!
In short, a tough GMAT question can be a real rabbit hole. Your GMAT test prep should include guessing techniques, answer analysis strategies, how to strategically skip questions to make-up for lost time, etc.
Remember: you can miss a few questions and still get a 700+ score. The biggest penalty of all comes from not finishing the exam.
3. Be on guard for pacing problems during GMAT prep
Good pacing is not something you’ll be able to master at the last minute. In fact, learning how to pace yourself effectively should be an integral part of your GMAT study plan—just as important as learning good problem-solving procedures.
How can you systematically improve your time-management skills during prep?
An obvious approach is to time yourself while doing practice tests and question sets. Use a stop watch app to track how long it’s taking you to complete problems, and compare results over time.
You’ll begin to get a sense of what one minute feels like (your halfway point for most questions), and when you’re getting close to your maximum time allowance.
Drilling with a timer is key for recalibrating your internal clock to “GMAT settings” so the process feels very familiar on exam day.
It’s also crucial to analyze every practice test (or mock exam) for warning signs of pacing problems and bad habits.
Look at the questions you got wrong. Were some of those mistakes caused by rushing? Could you have solved the problem if you took a bit more time?
On the other hand, did you get some problems wrong despite taking additional time? Did you fall down the tricky problem “rabbit hole”?
Did a particular section or question-type seem to drain your time more than others?
Being aware of your time position during practice tests, and analyzing your pacing after the fact, are key to understanding your individual time management strengths and weaknesses.
As always with the GMAT, your prep must be tailored to your unique needs.
Figure out where your time is going on each section of the exam, and you’ll be in a far better position to improve efficiency (and avoid stressful surprises!) on test day.
Looking for a little more help with GMAT test prep?
Check out Quantum’s free GMAT workshops and info sessions, coming up in January and February:
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