The GMAT should be an easy test. After all, it addresses concepts that most people learned during their early high school years (examples: algebra, geometry, grammar). In my experience I’ve found that most test takers have no problems learning the material tested on the GMAT. But they do have lots of problems finishing the test.
After working with thousands of GMAT test takers over the last several years, I’ve noticed that pacing tends to be a challenge for most people. There are a lot of questions on the GMAT and too little time to answer them all with 100% confidence. And because of the time pressure, it’s easy to panic and lose focus.
Thus, every good GMAT study plan should emphasize mastery of pacing. With enough practice, the GMAT test taker should have no problems answering questions quickly and/or guessing at the appropriate times to move on.
You Don’t Have Much Time on the GMAT
The GMAT Quantitative section features 37 questions that must be answered in 75 minutes. That averages to about 2 minutes per question. In the GMAT Verbal section, you will find 41 questions that must be answered in 75 minutes—about 1 minute 50 seconds per question.
As you get into your practice you will find that certain question types are easier to answer quickly than others (sentence correction vs. reading comprehension). The appropriate pace for each question type will vary depending on the individual.
What is most important though is to find a pacing strategy that will allow you to finish all the questions on the GMAT on time. Any questions left blank will be a huge penalty against your final score!
How to Practice Pacing
I recommend that all GMAT test takers go down to their local sporting goods store and purchase a cheap stopwatch. It’s a worthy investment. Alternatively, you can also use the free timer that’s built into all the Verbal and Math forums on Beat The GMAT.
When you go through your practice problem sets, be sure to practice with a spreadsheet or use this one from Beat The GMAT. Do practice sets of 40 questions, timed. Every 10 questions, write down your time to get a sense of how well you’re progressing through the test. If you encounter a question that you feel you’ve answered too slowly, be sure to mark that question for review later.
After going through your set of 40 practice questions, review your answers against the answer key. Pay close attention to your errors and thoroughly review the explanations. And of course, take notes on the questions you marked as ‘too slow to answer.’ Over time you will likely notice that certain question types/concepts consistently make you slow. With this information at hand, you can then adjust your prep to build in extra practice and review of these ‘slow’ questions/concepts.
Finishing a GMAT Section Early is Not Good
Obviously, running out of time on a GMAT section with several questions to go is really bad. But finishing a section with plenty of time to spare is also bad. The perfect pace you should strive for is having almost zero time left by the time you hit the ‘submit’ button on the last question of each section.
If you find yourself finishing a section early, it’s usually an indicator that you are rushing, and you may be making careless errors as a result. In this scenario, be sure to slow down or double-check your answers to make sure they are absolutely correct.
Need More Help with Pacing?
Check out this great article on pacing by Elia Zashin, a GMAT Instructor for The Princeton Review. The article features a great case study of a student who was struggling with pacing.
If you need additional help with your own pacing, feel free to ask the Beat The GMAT community. And be sure to check out the free timer available in Beat The GMAT’s Math and Verbal forums.