Update Your Time Management for the New GMAT:
The GMAT is about to change! And in a great way: it will take us less time to take the test, starting this coming Monday, April 16th. We’ll have to answer only 31 quant questions (in 62 minutes) and 36 verbal questions (in 65 minutes).
For the most part, the new exam details don’t change your preparation, but there is one significant way in which things change: time management for the overall Quant and Verbal sections. That’s exactly what we’re going to talk about right now.
There is also one other, more minor change. Before, we used to recommend that people plan to bail on approximately 4 to 6 problems in each of the two sections. Because the proportion of experimental questions will go down a lot, we’re now recommending that people plan to bail* on approximately 2 to 4 problems in each section.
*What does “bail” mean?
You bail on a question when you decide not to spend any time on it—you just guess quickly (pick your favorite letter each time!) and move on. Of course, it’s going to take 15 to 30 seconds to decide that you want a particular problem to be a bail problem. But once you decide that, you’re out.
A bail question is *not* one on which you spend full time, but can’t figure it out, so then you guess randomly and move on. Likewise, a bail problem is not one on which you make an educated guess (narrow down the answers in a legitimate way before you guess). The Bail title is reserved specifically for “I’m not engaging with this problem and will save a big chunk of time to use elsewhere.”
Got it. So how about that section timing stuff?
On most quant and verbal questions (the non-bail ones!), you’re going to spend somewhere between 1 minute and 3 minutes.
And you’ll hopefully prevent yourself from spending much longer than 3 minutes on any one question, since that’s usually a big waste of time. (Think about it: there is a faster solution but you aren’t finding it. Better to let that one go!)
So how do you balance all of that to come out to 2 minutes on average? We’re going to use our scratch paper to help us keep track.
GMAT scratch paper is a bound booklet of 5 sheets of legal-sized paper (that’s the overly long paper often used for legal documents). This yellow graph paper will be laminated, so you’ll use a special marker to write on it. (If you’re in one of our classes, then you received your very own scratch paper booklet as part of your books and other materials.)
While the booklet technically has 10 faces (front and back of 5 pages), the first page has a bunch of writing and instructions on it, so in practice you’ll have 9 faces on which to write. You can have only one booklet at a time, but you are allowed to exchange the booklet for a new one during the test. Ask for a new booklet during each break so that you start each section with a clean slate.
Quant Section Timing
Just before each new section of the test begins, you will have a 30-second introduction screen (also known as a “breather” screen). You, of course, won’t actually need to read these instructions; you’ll already be prepared.
Instead, you’re going to use that 30 seconds to set up your scratch paper. (Note: you cannot set up your scratch paper during the break; you are not allowed to write anything or even sit in the testing room during your break.)
Here’s what to do:
Flip the booklet over (so that you’re on the back face of the very last page), and write Extra at the top. If you ever need more room, you can flip to the back.
Next, flip to the prior face (the front face of the last page) and write 0 or draw a smiley face or whatever message you like in the lower-right corner. This is where you’ll be done with the quant section! Draw two lines to split the page into quadrants.
Then move to the second-to-last page and write 8 in the lower-right corner. Again, split the page into quadrants.
Keep doing this, counting up by multiples of 8 and working from the back of the booklet to the front. When you get to the page where you write 56, split the page into 3 boxes, not 4. And now you’re ready to start!
As you take the test, the number in the corner of each page tells you approximately what the clock should read when you’re done with that page. If you’re within 3 minutes in either direction, you’re fine.
If you are more than 3 minutes behind (e.g., you get to the time-marker 40 but you only have 36 minutes left on the clock), then somewhere in the next set of 4, choose a hard question on which to bail immediately. As soon as you see that it’s testing a topic you don’t like, or the wording is confusing, or whatever, guess your favorite letter and move on. Boom! Now you’re within 3 minutes again and can continue normally.
(By the way, what is your favorite letter, A, B, C, D, or E? If you don’t have an immediate answer, pick one anyway. Congratulations, you now have a favorite letter! Whenever you need to guess randomly, always pick that same one. If you have eliminated that letter via educated guessing, then pick from among the remaining answers.)
If you discover that you are more than 3 minutes ahead (e.g., you get to the time-marker 40 but you still have 45 minutes left on the clock), then work more methodically. Make sure that you are actually writing all of your work down. Don’t rush so much that you start making a bunch of careless mistakes!
Practice setting up your scratch paper this way during your practice tests. You’ll need to be able to set it all up in 30 seconds (it’s harder than it sounds!) and you’ll need to practice how to react appropriately if you discover that you’re too far ahead or behind.
Verbal Section Timing
The different verbal question types have different average time lengths, so tracking your timing is not going to be quite as clean as it is on quant.
Here’s how to set up the scratch paper for verbal:
Since the verbal questions have different averages, you’re going to do more problems before you check the time. This allows you to better balance across the different kinds of questions you’ll see on the test.
This time, you’re going to use only the last 4 faces of your booklet. You’ll count up by multiples of 16 minutes, and you’ll do 9 questions on each page.
We have to account for one more thing: the time it takes to read passages for Reading Comprehension problems. We typically see 4 passages on the test. The timing shown here assumes that you will start one new passage on each of the 4 pages. In other words, you will start one passage somewhere in the first 9 questions. You’ll start the second passage somewhere in the next 9 questions. And so on.
The test could, though, space out the passages differently. So here’s what you’re going to do. First, you’re going to write a little R after each of your time-markers: 0R, 16R, 32R, and 48R.
When you start reading a new RC passage, go cross off that R in the corner of the page. You’re expecting one RC passage and now you’ve gotten it.
The “default” scenario is that you’ll get one new passage in each block or quadrant of your scrap paper, as in the top right example here:
If you start the expected one passage on that page, check your time against the expected 48 and carry on normally. If you’re within 3m you’re fine; if you’re not, take action. As on the quant, if you’re too far ahead (too much time on the test clock), slow down a little and make sure you’re working systematically. If you’re behind (not enough time on the test clock), bail on a question in the next set to get back on time.
If, on the other hand, you start a second RC passage on that page, write down another R (and don’t cross it off). That’s your signal that you should expect to be a little short on time compared to the time marker written on that page. Expect to be about 2 minutes down—so if the time marker says 48, for example, then you should really be at about 46. Check your time against that 46 to see whether you need to make any adjustments. If you’re more than a few minutes off, take action.
There’s one more scenario: What if you haven’t crossed off the first R? That means you didn’t start any new RC passage on that page, so expect to be a little ahead of your time marker. In the example above, you’d expect to be at about 50 minutes; if you’re more than a few minutes off, take action.
One last note for verbal: on the graphic above, we show the ABCDE written out for each question. If you prefer, you can write out the letters just once vertically and then continue tracking your work on subsequent problems to the right (without repeatedly writing the letters). Just continue to use your symbols to eliminate or circle the empty spaces that represent A, B, C, D, and E.
You will definitely need to practice this setup multiple times before you get into the real test. Use this procedure on all of your practice CATs from now on. You can also use this whenever you do problem sets. Make quant problem sets in multiples of 4 from now on (4, 8, 12, or 16) and verbal problem sets of 9 or 18.
Then, analyze your timing both globally and per-question. Where did you make good decisions? Where should you have made different decisions? Figure out exactly how you should have known to make that different decision so that you can re-train yourself for next time and master time management on the GMAT.
Good luck and happy studying!