It’s a cliche, but it’s true: Timing is everything.
In business: Did you buy or sell when the price peaked? In relationships: Did you meet a guy just when he was getting out of a long-term relationship? In science: Did you publish an article on the heels of similar research?
The GMAT is no different. Timing — and an understanding of how best to pace yourself on the test — can potentially impact your score by up to 100 points. Here’s how to make sure you’re a master of timing on the Reading Comp section.
Computer Adaptive Tests (CATs) have time constraints beyond what you may be used to from taking other standardized tests. Namely:
- You can’t go back. If you finish a section early you cannot return to previous questions to double check your answer.
- You can’t skip a question and plan to return to it later. You have to pick an answer choice (or guess) and move right along.
- You are penalized more for unanswered questions than for questions you get wrong.
For many test-takers, the clock in the corner of the screen is a constant source of concern while taking the GMAT. “How much time should I spend on this question? At what point should I just guess and move on? How much time can be sacrificed per question if it means getting the right answer?”
Don’t let stress over the clock have a negative impact on your confidence or your GMAT score! You do not want the time crunch to take focus away from answering the questions correctly.
Consistently practicing time management skills will allow you to become more comfortable with this aspect of the test and refocus your energy on reasoning skills necessary to pick the correct answer choice.
At Knewton we recommend spending around 6 minutes on a reading comprehension passage with 3 questions, and around 8 minutes on a passage with 4 questions.
In 2-3 minutes you need to read the passage carefully, absorb the information, and take notes.
During your GMAT prep, put yourself on the clock. Start getting used to reading a passage in 2 minutes (if the passage is between 25 and 40 lines) or 3 minutes (if the passage is more than 40 lines). After your time is up, force yourself to move on to the questions. For each question, time yourself once again. After 1 minute 30 seconds has passed, force yourself to choose an answer, even if you’re guessing.
While practicing pacing skills, you can return to the questions later and see if you would choose the same answer if you had unlimited time. As you continue to practice, the answers you choose in the time constraint situation should more and more begin to mirror what you would choose if allowed unlimited time.
My high school basketball coach used to say, “Practice makes permanent.” Why didn’t he say “Practice makes perfect?” If you continue to practice for the GMAT without forcing yourself to pay attention to time constraints, you may get really good at answering questions — you might even get close to perfect. But you would be practicing wrong! “Practice, Practice, Practice” only works if you are practicing the right way. And on the GMAT, time matters!
Start getting used to spending 6-8 minutes reading and answering questions for a passage and it will become easier to work with the time you have without feeling pressured.
One more note: be mindful not to focus exclusively on pacing too early in your study preparation. First, focus on developing the skills necessary to pick the right answer in the Reading Comprehension section. Then, practice applying these skills in a timed environment.