How—and what—to Study for the Executive Assessment – Part 4:
If you’re just joining us, head on back to part 1 and work your way back here, where we’re going to dive into timing strategies for the Executive Assessment (EA).
Time management basics
Each section is 30 minutes long and has either 12 or 14 questions, so you have a bit over 2 minutes, on average, to answer each question.
But we’re actually going to recommend that you plan to bail on 2 or 3 questions per section—guess within the first 30 seconds and go spend your time elsewhere. If you follow this recommendation, then you can average 2.5 minutes per Quant and Verbal question and a whopping 3 minutes per Integrated Reasoning question.
Before you go in, have a list of Bail Categories—things you hate and know that you’re not very good at. In my case, I bail instantly on combinatorics and I’m also going to bail on what I call Too Annoying To Do problems. An example of the latter: A Roman numeral problem (3 questions for the price of 1!) that has 4+ variables (ugh) plus some other annoying feature, such as absolute value symbols on both sides of an equation. Basically, know what annoys you and, when you see too many annoyances in a single question, bail.
Marking questions for later
What if you’re not sure whether you want to bail? Or maybe you see something that you can do, but it will take you longer than average. As you work through any one panel, you’ll be given the option to mark questions to return to later. At the end of that panel, you can see a list of the marked questions and then click to jump right back to a particular question. This is a great feature as long as you know when and how to use it—and when and how not to use it.
First, note that you do need to make a distinction between marking and bailing. When you decide that something isn’t worth doing, don’t mark it for later “just in case.” Make the decision, put in a random answer, and move on forever.
Next, when you do decide to mark something, still put in a random answer right now. After all, you might not make it back later.
We also have to account for the fact that IR is given all at once, while Verbal and Quant are given in sets of 2 panels each. Let’s see how this all plays out section by section.
Time management: Integrated Reasoning
In IR, bailing on 2 or 3 questions will leave you just 9 or 10 questions to do in 30 minutes. Further, you don’t have to worry about having two separate panels in this section, so just start working through in order, while looking for opportunities to mark questions or to bail forever on questions.
Let’s start with “bail” questions. Don’t try to do it. Don’t try to make an educated guess. Don’t even mark it to come back later. Just pick randomly, move on, and forget about this one forever.
Bail on these kinds of questions:
- This is a big weakness of yours
- You’ve read the problem and don’t understand what they’re asking or telling you—or you have no idea what to do with that information
- You think you might know how to do it, but it would take you way too long (>4 minutes)
Now, let’s talk about the ones you do want to mark for a possible later return. First, be stingy. Don’t mark more than about 2* questions in the IR section. You’re not going to have a ton of time left at the end; the last thing you want to do is spend a minute trying to figure out which of 4 marked problems you should actually return to … and then run out of time before you can try any of them.
*One exception: You might decide that you want to mark the entire Multi-Source Reasoning (MSR) question set for later. MSRs usually come in sets of 3. If you decide to mark this, then do mark all 3 for later.
When you mark a question for a possible later return, also put in a random answer right now. You may not actually make it back to this problem later, so it’s better to have a guess locked in, just in case. There’s no penalty for getting something wrong (vs. just not answering). And who knows—you might get lucky!
Mark these kinds of questions:
- You know how to do this but it will take somewhat longer than average (3.5 to 4 minutes)
- You’re thinking, “I know how to do this! I just did it last week! But I’m blanking right now. ”
For the first category, you just want to make sure that you don’t prevent yourself from finishing 2 questions at the end because you spent extra time on one long one earlier. Save that long one for last, just in case.
The second category is something that is in your brain somewhere, but you’re having trouble pulling up the memory right now. Sometimes, if we set the thing aside for 10 or 15 minutes, our brains will continue trying to figure it out subconsciously and then, when we look at it again, we’ll retrieve the memory: Oh, yeah! This is how to do this problem!
So if you run into one of those, “But I know how to do this!” problems, don’t waste time trying to retrieve the memory right now. Let it percolate in the back of your brain while you do other stuff—then come back at the end (if you have time) to see whether you can pull up the memory now.
Time management: Verbal and Quant
Verbal and Quant will work a lot like IR, with one twist thrown in: Your problems will be split into two separate panels and, when you move to the second panel, you can no longer go back to the first one.
That has two implications. First, don’t mark more than 1 question per panel.
Second, when you get to the end of the first panel, the test is going to ask whether you’re ready to move to the next one. Glance at the timer.
Recall that you have 30 minutes total, and each panel has 7 questions. So if you are “on time,” then you should have around 14 to 16 minutes left.
- 16 or fewer minutes left? Keep going to the second panel; don’t go back to any marked questions from the first panel. If you have fewer than 14 minutes left, keep an eye out for a bail opportunity or two—you need to catch up a little.
- More than 16 minutes left? Then you have a decision to make: Should you return to a marked question in the first panel or move on to the second panel?
If you’re in the second situation, glance at your 1 marked question for this panel. If it’s in the “I can do this but it’ll take 3 to 4 minutes” category, then decide whether you actually have the time to do it right now (and whether you still feel confident that you can do it!).
If it’s in the “I’m blanking right now” category, re-read the problem. Has your subconscious memory figured it out? And can you answer in a reasonable amount of time? If so, solve. If you’re still thinking, “But I should know how … ”—forget about it. Move on.
Practice under timed conditions
It’s important to do practice problems under test-like conditions, including timing. At heart, the EA is an executive reasoning / decision-making test, even while it tests you on math, logic, and grammar. As you do every day at work, you’re going to have to distinguish between good, mediocre, and bad opportunities and decide how to spend your limited time and mental energy accordingly.
You can use the Official EA Practice Questions tools to gain this test-like practice—and that’s exactly what we’ll talk about next time.