GMAT Test Day, Minute By Minute

by on September 22nd, 2009

In reality, test day is not that different from any other day of preparation—test-takers must be attentive, focused, and fully prepared to bring their A-game. But for many test-takers, the term “test day” brings a variety of symptoms: cold sweats, night terrors, the shakes, and so on. Knowing the nitty-gritty of what to expect when you get to the testing center can help relieve some of that unnecessary anxiety. Here’s Knewton’s minute-by-minute breakdown of a typical testing experience.

1. Arrive early, but don’t plan on studying at the testing center. 30 minutes before liftoff.

Show up to the test center 30 minutes before the official time, as the GMAC suggests. Although this may mean waking up even earlier than expected, avoiding any feeling of being rushed is priceless. However, many testing centers don’t allow studying in the waiting room, so don’t plan on getting there early and reviewing notes. Use the time before the test to relax and focus on the task at hand.

2. Locker Room. 10 minutes before liftoff.

After presenting your identification and test reservation, you may be given a key to a locker, into which you must put everything on your person other than your identification itself. This includes pens, paper, books, cell phones, house keys, lucky rabbit’s feet… everything. All you are allowed to bring in is your identification and the locker key itself. Think of this as a cleansing ritual, or a locker room warm-up. Although some centers may be more lax than others, in no circumstances expect to carry anything into the testing room.

3. Entering the Testing Room. 2 minutes before liftoff

The testing room will be a room filled with computers. It will be shut off from the rest of the testing center and under constant video monitoring. You may feel like the subject of some strange scientific experiment entering this room, but fear not. No shocks will be administered, and you will be far too wrapped up in your computer screen to notice the cameras or the half-lidded gaze of the proctors. Also note that you will be not only starting the test on a different schedule than other test-takers, but that it is likely that the others in the room may be taking different tests altogether. Whispering or passing notes is neither an option nor a temptation; this is not high school.

4. Tools of the Trade. Seconds before liftoff.

You will be provided with several tools with which to conquer the GMAT. The scratch pad looks and feels like a laminated legal pad; it is lined, yellow and shiny, and you will be provided with a thin black dry-erase upon which to write. These both work well, and you are allowed at any time to raise your hand to get the proctor’s attention if you need replacement pads or pens. You may also be provided with noise-canceling headphones (like those used by jackhammer-using construction workers). These work like a charm, even though the noise you’ll be canceling is the clickity-clacking keyboards of a dozen other test-takers.

5. Liftoff. The argument essay (30 min).

After signing in (perhaps with the proctor’s input), you’re off! You begin with the argument essay, and are given a 30:00 ticking digital clock in the corner of the screen by which to measure your progress. Depending on your comfort with this time period, you may want to outline your essay on the pad before writing, especially noting which examples you expect to use and in what order.

6. Getting Personal. 30 – 60 minutes in. Issue Essay.

Same deal; you know the drill.

7. Eight is Enough. 60 – 68 minutes in. Break 1 (8 minutes).

You have the option to take an 8-minute break at this point. Keep in mind that the break starts the second you click “yes,” meaning that once you raise your hand to get the proctor, sign out by using your ID, and leave the room, you have less time than you might think to get back. This is enough time for a bathroom break or a breather, but no more. Up to this point, you have been at the test center for an hour and a half, and not yet seen one verbal or math question. So the first third of test day is all warming up and doing the essays; try to time your caffeine intake accordingly.

8. Test Day Begins. 68 – 143 minutes. Quantitative (75 minutes).

Test day begins in earnest.  The math section is considered (by many) more difficult to finish in this time period than is the verbal for most test-takers, so plan accordingly (and use timed practice to understand your own timing). The math section will have you using that scratch pad in earnest, and you may want to use it to virtually “eliminate” choices on the verbal section by writing out A, B, C, D and E and crossing out choices as you go. The number of each question (and how many are left) is provided at all times, as is the time.

9. Eight is Enough Part 2: 143 minutes – 151 minutes. Break 2 (8 minutes).

Just like Break 1, except it’s likely that you will need this break even more. Take it to get a breather and prepare for the next section. Shift from math to verbal mentally, with the different timing considerations in your mind.

10. The Home Stretch! 151 – 226 minutes. Verbal  Section (75 minutes).

Stay alert! You’ve been at the test center for almost 4 hours at this point, but your concentration and focus is as necessary as ever. Watch those questions count down as you go…

11. Getting Down to Business. Score Reporting Info. 226 – 234.

As your reward for finishing the test, you get to decide which schools get your (still unreported) score. Let visions of leafy campuses, whiteboards, and elbow-patched professors fill your mind as you enter the schools you’d like to receive your score reports.

12. Do or Die: Canceling Your Score. 234 – 236.

Last step: you have two minutes (with a ticking clock) to decide whether to cancel your score or report it. What’s your final answer? If you decide to report the score, you will immediately be informed of your scores and percentiles on the math and verbal reports. Either way, after four hours, almost half of which did not involve any math or verbal questions, test day has become history. It wasn’t so bad, was it?


  • Most of what you've mentioned, seems fine. But the BIGGEST mistake you have made is mentioning under point8. "You cannot know which section will come first on the GMAT, but you will have 75 minutes either way."

    I dont think you have ever taken the GMAT, if you haven't I dont think you're qualified to make such assumptions.

    NOTE : You always get the Quant section FIRST, and you'll never have a choice.
    1 hr-->75 mins-->75mins

    "The math section is considered far more difficult to finish in this time period than is the verbal for most test-takers, so plan accordingly (and use timed practice to understand your own timing)"

    Wrong again! It's the other way around for normal, genuine test takers. Verbal is considered tougher than Quant.

  • I also think that Quant always comes first and Verbal second. There is no choice or random selection here, I think.

  • Hello! The commenters here are exactly right. I took the GMAT before the GMAC officially released the information that the quantitative section ALWAYS comes first. They now have released that information, so the order of the GMAT is AWA, quant, verbal. Apologies for the misinformation. We will correct the article immediately.

    As to the comment that verbal is generally considered harder, we suppose that is subjective. In terms of time, we believe that the math section is much less likely to be finished in the time allotted than the verbal section is, but again, that depends on the test-taker.

    • Thanks Alex for clarifying!

Ask a Question or Leave a Reply

The author Alex Sarlin gets email notifications for all questions or replies to this post.

Some HTML allowed. Keep your comments above the belt or risk having them deleted. Signup for a Gravatar to have your pictures show up by your comment.