GMAT Insider: GMAT Pacing The Jeff Bezos Way

by on May 29th, 2010

jeff-bezosWhat would possess someone to leave a sought-after hedge fund job at D.E. Shaw, nearly on a whim, to take a flier on e-commerce in its infant stages?  For founder Jeff Bezos, it was a strategy he calls his “regret-minimization framework.”  As he (quickly) analyzed his options, he realized that he would be far more likely to regret having not taken the risk on Amazon than to regret having given up his job in search of his dream.  With his goal to minimize his regret, Bezos struck out on his own and created one of the world’s most successful businesses.

Bezos’ “regret-minimization framework” can also be applied to the way that you take the GMAT (after all, in your quest to go to business school why wouldn’t you want to emulate one of the business world’s finest?!).  People are often conflicted on how to pace themselves on the exam, and there is quite a bit of poor information in circulation regarding this strategy. Do you spend an extra 50% on each of the first 10 questions because “they count more”? (Note: they don’t, and GMAC has said so).  Do you cut yourself off after two minutes so that you can get to every question?  Do you guess early, hedging that the unscored, experimental questions won’t be among the last 3-4 questions?  (Note: This is actually kind of a smart bet, but far from a foolproof “strategy”.)

When pacing yourself on the GMAT – and, please, please, please on multiple practice tests beforehand so that you can develop an internal clock for it! – consider Bezos’ regret-minimization framework as a guide.  Ask yourself which regrets you could live with and which would drive you crazy, and you’ll likely come up with the following pacing principles:

  • Spend the extra 5-10 seconds per question in the early going to make sure that you didn’t miss anything or make a silly mistake.  You’re sure to regret having an extra 5-6 minutes at the end of the test with no chance to check your work; you’re less likely to regret having to guess once or twice at the end to compensate for having been careful, particularly if that extra pause helped you fix a mistake.
  • If you’re a little over the average pace that you should keep for that question, but can see a direct path to the correct answer if you invest another 30 seconds, do it.  You’re much more likely to regret having guessed too early if you save time on the next few questions and end up back on track knowing that you missed a question based on haste.
  • That said, if you’re on the verge of spending an extra minute or more than you should on a question, cut your losses and move on. You’re quite likely to regret having spent so much of your allotted time on the previous question when you are on the next one, particularly if that time loss compounds on you and begins to create speed/carelessness errors.

(NOTE: a good rule of thumb is to take an extra 30 seconds or so on those questions that require it, knowing that you’ll probably make it up on other questions, but don’t take anything more than 45-60 seconds extra on any problems…you should practice to have a pretty good internal clock to let you know when it’s time to make that decision.)

  • Take at least a handful of GMAT practice tests before you take the actual GMAT.  You’re much more likely to regret having a limited understanding of what a comfortable GMAT pace feels like than you are to regret not having taken the extra time.  The GMAT is an important – and expensive – test, so be sure to invest the necessary time up front to have an innate feel for how to pace yourself on test day.

As Bezos knew when he made his decision, the regret-minimization doesn’t guarantee that you’ll be free of regret, but it helps you make decisions that you can live with.  Ideally, you’ll be quick and accurate enough on test day that a pacing strategy doesn’t really matter, but for most of us it pays to think about pacing ahead of time.  Regardless of your strategy, be sure to practice it using practice tests so that you know how to react on test day; believe me, you won’t regret it.


  • Thanks Brian for that neat comparison to Jeff Bezos--he's one of my heroes!

  • Very nice article Brian, I can kinda relate to the third bullet point, yea and I am trying to work on the internal clock, I can tell, it is crucial since the GMAT traps you into spending more time on one question, messing up the rest of the test.

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