What Should You Do If You Start Running Out of Time On The GMAT?

by on January 10th, 2013

Today’s post comes courtesy of Veritas Prep GMAT instructor and BTG expert, David Newland.

There is a famous quote from Rudyard Kipling that goes something like: “If you can keep your head while those about you are losing theirs then you can outscore them on the GMAT.” Okay he wasn’t talking about the GMAT 100 years ago, but the sentiment is correct. Read on:

So you’re running out of time. This happens to most people, especially on the Quant section but also on the Verbal section. What do you do if you have, for example, 12 minutes left and 10 questions to go on the Quant section? The short answer: spend the time needed to get as many right as you can and guess at the rest. Say, 2 minutes each on 6 questions and guess at four. Or perhaps you get some shorter questions and you can do 1:30 on 8 questions and only guess at the last 2.

The two things not to do are

  1. Panic and spend 1 minute rushing through each question and likely miss most of them.
  2. Panic and spend 4 minutes each on the next three questions and leave 7 of them blank.

In other words,  make sure you “don’t panic!”

If you do wind up running out of time on the last few questions, hopefully this is  because you have gotten many questions right already. Even if you are down to 5 minutes for the last 5 questions you still do not change the strategy. It is better to fully address two or three questions out of the last 5 and then to guess at the others rather than spend a minute rushing through each and likely missing all 5.

Just make sure to get an answer in for all questions. GMAC has released the research and high-scoring students (above 600) like you are much better off guessing (even guessing incorrectly) as opposed to leaving the questions blank. The reason for this is fairly complicated but here is my plain language take: When you fail to answer questions the GMAT penalizes you by taking that percentage off of your score. If you fail to answer 4 questions you lose 10% of your score. If you have a pretty high score you have a lot to lose.

On the other hand, questions that you do answer, even by guessing, help or hurt you based on how tough the questions are. So if you are doing well on the last several questions leading up to the ones where you have to guess then you will be guessing at questions that are considered difficult and even if you miss a difficult question it cannot hurt your score that much since it was at or above your ability level.

This is why it is crucial to stay in the game even if you feel like you are running out of time. The degree to which guessing at 3 or even 5 questions will hurt you really depends on how you do on the questions before those. If you are already missing questions at a high rate in those last 10 or so and you then have to guess (presumably incorrectly most of the time) then the computer will be offering you lower and lower levels of difficulty so that the questions that you guess on at the end will be at a level that you could answer easily given the time – but you will be missing them since you do not have time. And GMAC confirms that missing questions below your level of capability has a bigger impact on your score than any other type of question.

So what to do if you are running out of time at the end of the test? Don’t panic; don’t change your strategy. Do the best you can on as many questions as you can and then guess at the remainder.

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