4 Steps to Analyze your CATs (part 2):

by on May 16th, 2018


Welcome back! If you haven’t already, start with part 1 of this series, where we discussed how to begin your analysis of your test data. Let’s continue with a deeper dive of the per-question timing data from your Problem List. (And grab pen and paper to take notes—this is going to be…geeky.)

Analyze your timing

Even if your cumulative time was fine, you might still exhibit a very common problem: up and down timing. This is when you spend way too much time on some problems and then speed up on others to catch back up. Your overall timing works out, but you still have a serious timing imbalance on individual problems.

The tables below show the rough timing categories to watch out for, by problem type, along with some commentary afterward about how to use the tables. (Don’t start your analysis till you’ve read this whole section.)

 Quant and IR

Too (?) Fast

“Warning Track”

Too Slow

 PS or DS

< 1m

approaching 3m

> 3m


< 1.5m

approaching 4m

> 4m

*IR assumes that you will bail (guess quickly) on 2 or 3 questions in that section.

Notice what I did for the “warning track”: it’s basically getting close to the Too Slow time. I’m just going to pay attention to how often I come close to Too Slow without actually going over.

It’s fine to have some Warning Track questions—just be careful not to have so many that you’re causing yourself big headaches elsewhere.

Averages for Verbal questions vary by type, so for Verbal, I recommend examining one type at a time.

 Verbal Type

Too (?) Fast

“Warning Track”

Too Slow


< 30s

approaching 2m

> 2m


< 1m

approaching 3m

> 3m

 RC: 1st question**

< 3m

approaching 5.5m

> 5.5m

 RC: general Qs

< 30s

approaching 2m

> 2m

 RC: specific Qs

< 1m

approaching 2.5m

> 2.5m

**The first RC question includes the time it takes to read the passage.

Now. How to use all of the above?

Too Fast has a question mark after the Too (?) because there are two great reasons to have a really fast problem:

(1) You knew exactly what you were doing and you got it right—fast.

(2) You knew you didn’t know how to do it and you guessed—fast.

However, if I miss something I knew how to do because I made a careless mistake—I have a timing problem. Or if I misread the problem because I was rushing through…ditto.

From now on, when I say Too Fast, I’m referring specifically to the not-good reasons. When you have a good reason to go fast, it’s not too fast.

Too Slow is too slow even if you got the problem right. When you take that much time, you just cause yourself problems elsewhere in the section.

Now, in your Problem List, click on the Time column header. This will re-sort the questions from fastest to slowest (you can click it again to sort from slowest to fastest). Examine the problems by time, using the tables as a guide.

  • How many “too fast” questions did you think you were getting right but you missed? Or you did get right but got lucky? Or you missed but think you could have gotten right if you’d only had time to try it properly?
  • How many “too slow” questions did you miss? Look at the problems—at what point should you have cut yourself off and guessed?
  • Did you have any crazy-slow problems (e.g. a minute beyond the Too Slow time)? Even if you got it right, maybe you should have gotten it wrong much faster and spent that time elsewhere.

How was your timing?

If you have more than a couple of questions in the too fast or too slow categories (regardless of whether they’re right or wrong), then you’ve got a timing problem. For example, if you had 4 questions over 3m each, then you almost certainly missed other questions elsewhere simply due to speed—that extra time had to come from somewhere. And chances are it came from a too fast problem on which you made a mistake.

Alternatively, if there is even one that is very far over the too slow mark, you have a timing problem. If you have one quant question on which you spent 4m30s, you might let yourself do this on more questions on the real test—and there goes your score. (By the way, the only potentially acceptable reason is: I was at the end of the section and knew I had extra time, so I used it. And my next question would be: what about saving that mental energy for the next section of the test? :) )

For each section of the test, get a general sense of whether there is:

  • not much of a timing problem (e.g., only 1 or 2 questions in the too fast or too slow range—and not way too slow),
  • a small timing problem (e.g., 3-5 questions in the warning track range, or a couple of problems in the too slow category, plus a few too fast questions), or
  • a larger timing problem (e.g., 5+ questions in the warning track range, or 3+ questions that are too slow or some that are way too slow, plus multiple too fast questions).

Note that I don’t specify above whether the warning track and too slow questions were answered correctly or incorrectly. It isn’t (necessarily) okay to spend too much time just because the question was answered correctly.

Next, what is that timing problem costing you? How many problems fit into the different categories? Approximately how much time total was spent on the “too slow” problems? How many “too fast” questions did that cost you or could it have cost you? Examine the problems themselves to locate careless errors. How many of your careless errors occurred when you were rushing or just plain tired out because you’d spent too much mental effort elsewhere?

Finally, are there any patterns in terms of the content area? For example, perhaps 80% of the “too slow” quant problems were PS story problems or two of the “too slow” SC problems were modifier problems. Next time, we’re going to talk about how to use the assessment reports to dive more into this data, but do try to get a high level sense of any patterns that jump out at you.

All of the above allows you to quantify just how bad any timing problems are. Now, I’m going to make a pronouncement that will wow you: You have a timing problem, don’t you?

Actually, we all have timing problems. The question is just what yours are and how significant they are. If you’re having trouble letting go on hard questions (and, really, aren’t we all?), learn how to make better decisions during the exam.

And one more thing: Take a look at part 1 of this article on Time Management. (It’s a 3-parter. You don’t have to look at all three parts now.)

Now we’re done looking at the problem lists. What have you learned about yourself? How do you think that should inform your studies for the next several weeks?

Join us next time, when we’ll analyze the detailed data given in the assessment reports.

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