Practicing for the GMAT: Timed vs. untimed
1. The Good Things about Untimed Practice
Particularly in the early stages of your preparation, untimed practice is beneficial. On test day you will have to spend time solving questions that tend to be just that little bit above your comfort zone in terms of difficulty. This is the nature of computer adaptive tests. The computer quickly works out your ability and pitches the questions just above that level. The more time you spend replicating the test situation of solving difficult questions, the better. If you just give yourself 2 minutes to answer every question in your practice, and then read the answer and the explanation, you are missing out on some valuable practice. It is a different process to reason back from a known answer to understand the question. On test day you will never be able to work backwards from an answer you know is correct.
2. Hard Critical Reasoning Questions
Let’s take the example of difficult critical reasoning questions. I don’t mind if at the start of your preparation you are taking 5 or even 7 minutes to solve a hard question. As long as you are thinking logically, the speed will come. It’s much harder to teach someone to think logically than it is to increase their speed in answering the questions. As you continue your preparation, speed will increase.
3. The Benefits of Timed Practice
As you move closer to test day, you need to replicate the testing situating as closely as possible. This means a heavier emphasis on timed practice is necessary. This comes from using practice tests. More information on practice tests can be found in this blog post we published on when to take practice tests.
Many students simply go through material quickly. If you are making unnecessary errors, then you are going too fast! While doing practice items, do not worry about tackling questions within a certain amount of time - that is the wrong approach and the wrong way to go about time management. Of course, you want to be aware of how long questions take, because on the exam, the time in your head may go at a different rate than actual time does, and you do want to know when to cut your losses, if necessary. That is what the clock is for in practice tests: to become aware of your internal clock.
More importantly, you should always make sure you are careful about what is in front of you. It's alright if a question takes longer than you anticipate. Obviously, on the exam you will not want to take four minutes or more per question (unless throughout practice exams you know you have that kind of time at your disposal), but here and there, realize it is o.k. to take 3:00 to 3:45 on a question, and it is o.k. to give up on a question you are not comfortable with. But in practice sessions, really fight for the questions! Lastly, be sure to read the explanations for each answer if you can.
In summary, timed and untimed practice both have their benefits for you. Adjust your use of them as test day approaches.