You’ve probably been introduced to the concept of time management at work or at university/college. Budgeting your time effectively is also essential for the GMAT. It’s foolish to dismiss the clock and, if you do so, you will most certainly regret it. Let’s say you’ve carved out a block of time (we advise at least two to three months of intense GMAT preparation) and are ready to begin studying. It’s unwise to think you can just dive in and start learning the content at a comfortable, leisurely pace. If you prepared in this way, you would only have to reorient yourself later, because your foundational test preparation wouldn't have been built on speed. The best preparation strategy is to strengthen your test muscles and track your progress in simulated real time. Let's break down several principles of time management on the GMAT, and correct some common misconceptions along the way.
1. On the GMAT, ‘understanding’ is not more important than speed
An entrepreneur is, at heart, someone who believes in the idea of carpe diem (seize the day). Savvy business people don’t want to miss an opportunity when they see one. Timing yourself on the GMAT is similar. You want to absorb the information and quickly get to the right answer. Although you might think it’s better to take your time to get comfortable with the concepts before racing through the questions, this is not strategic. Don’t contemplate things slowly and don’t concern yourself with understanding at the expense of figuring out the best pace.
2. Pay attention to how you practice pacing and monitor your progress
Obviously, speed is not everything if you’re getting careless errors. In your GMAT preparation and practice exercises, it’s important to keep track of how long it takes you to answer each question. When you review the answers, note which types of questions you spend a lot of time on and which you answer more easily (and correctly). As you practice more questions with time restraints and keep track of which categories are your strengths and weaknesses, you will gain a better understanding of how to organize your time most favorably, and your understanding of how much time you have left on the test will become more intuitive. Log your progress for the questions you answer both correctly and incorrectly, as well as how long it took you to answer each one.
3. Know your weaknesses when you’re behind
During the test, you might get the sense that you are behind. This will likely be due to questions on which you struggle. Questions that make you falter are sometimes not worth a lot of time and energy if there’s a good chance you will answer them incorrectly anyway. Use your best judgment. On questions that give you trouble, it's often best to save yourself time and make a strategic or even random guess. On average, you will miss around 40% of the questions on the GMAT, so it’s best to be tactical when deciding which questions to solve and which ones to guess. If you're behind schedule, this approach will buy you time and get you back to the right pacing.
4. Do not spend more than 3 minutes on a single question
This should be taken quite literally, and you’re already pushing it if you’ve spent three minutes on one question. Taking the GMAT requires flexibility, and this is where you need to adjust to the test as it tries to adjust to you. Know when it’s time to cut the cord, so you can free yourself to answer more questions. Do not leave any questions unanswered, as each unanswered question costs you more than questions you answer incorrectly. Know the specific time constraints of all test sections, as charted out in the next point.
5. Strike a balance: Don’t go too fast or too slow
In the novel, The Alchemist, the main challenge facing the character is getting through the castle and appreciating its majesty while making sure he doesn’t spill the oil drops in his spoon. Parable aside, if he were restricted by time, one would imagine that he wouldn’t be going too fast or too slow. In your GMAT preparation, always keep track of the time spent on each question, even if it’s a set of problems. You don’t necessarily need to time yourself for technique-building drills, but for every GMAT-format question, treat it as if it’s a question on the real test.
It’s paramount that you hit the average expected time per question. Even if you do go faster on some questions and slower on others, you should still average out by the end. As shown above, you shouldn’t spend more than 30 seconds beyond the expected average.
6. Be flexible
You can’t control the order of the questions on the GMAT, since it’s a computer adaptive test. What is guaranteed, though, is that some questions will take you longer than others. Trust that the question difficulty will be evenly distributed by the end, and focus on streamlining your performance by jumping over the hurdles. Be cognizant and flexible, so that you can keep up your stamina.
Time management is built into the structure of the GMAT itself, and the test is based on pacing just as much as it is on content. Once you realize how integral timing is to your success, you'll see that it's in your best interests to adopt all of the pacing techniques suggested above. Instead of diving headfirst into studying, make sure you understand the per-question timing, and make sure to track your progress and results. Once you’ve reached the point in your GMAT preparation where most of the test’s concepts are familiar, start thinking about the clock. The best way to help yourself is to get used to your thought process and avoid the pitfall of being stuck on any one question for too long. Learning effective time management strategies on the GMAT will lead to better scores and improved overall academic performance.