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# GMAT Tip: Pacing Yourself on Test Day

Photograph by Getty Images

This tip on improving your GMAT score was provided by Brian Galvin at Veritas Prep.

The questions on the GMAT are challenging enough in their own right. And most test-takers report that the clock counting down 75 minutes per section (for the quantitative and verbal sections) adds an element of stress and difficulty that makes test day more challenging than they expected. On the GMAT, time is seldom your friend.

There are many ways that the clock can work against you on test day, but there are also strategies to minimize its negative impact and turn it to competitive advantage. First, let’s look at the challenges:

• Most students report that finishing an entire section on time is challenging.

• Many students find stressful the constant reminder that time matters.

• What students might not notice—but which might most important—is that the clock makes people rush; in haste, students make “silly” or “careless” mistakes that cost them dearly.

How can you avoid these common pitfalls?

First, recognize that the clock is part of the game. With the exception of test-takers who have qualifying disabilities, everyone takes the test under the same circumstances. Know that you’re not alone: Even if you don’t beat the clock, manage it better than your competitors do and you’ve done your job.

Second, let’s tackle the stress issue. You’re given the opportunity on the test to “hide” the countdown clock for the section and to reveal it only when you want to see it. Particularly if you already know the clock can stress you, use this feature. Instead of keeping an eye on the clock at all times, give yourself benchmarks you’d like to hit and check in only at those points to see how you’re doing on time.

For example, on the quantitative section you have an average of about two minutes per question, so you might want to check in every 10 questions to see where you are. The clock counts down, so after 10 questions you’ll want to have approximately 55 minutes remaining. After 20 questions, you want to have about 35 minutes remaining. And after 30 questions, you’ll want to see about 15 minutes left on the clock. (More on this timeline later.)

This is helpful for a few reasons:

• An average of two minutes per question does not mean exactly two minutes on each question. Some will take a little longer and some should take a minute, or even less. It’s not  helpful to think of pacing on each question; pace yourself for the entire test.

• Calculating your pace-per-question or even just estimating how you’re doing at odd intervals (e.g., “I’m on No. 17 and there are 49 minutes left”) is time-consuming and can drain your mental stamina. If you jot down a quick “optimal pacing” chart with marked question numbers at the start of the test, you can avoid time/energy loss.

• Checking on your pace periodically, not constantly, will allow you to focus on the real task at hand: answering questions correctly. There are enough distractions on test day; make the pacing portion as easy as possible.

While you need to stay on pace, avoid making unforced errors—the ones that kill your score. People tend to rush through what they consider “easier” questions, and that’s where they make mistakes.

An important adage for the GMAT is that “if you can get a question right, you need to get it right.” You may have to spend an additional 10 seconds to 15 seconds double-checking your work against common mistakes you’ve made in practice. That’s O.K., even preferable. On an adaptive test such as the GMAT, you will undoubtedly get some hard questions wrong, but you can’t afford to get many (if any) easier questions wrong because those wrong answers prevent the system from even showing you the harder stuff.

How do you handle this from a pacing standpoint? Be honest with yourself about your practice test results. If you know you can comfortably answer 34 quant questions in 75 minutes, but trying to finish all 37 in a given section forces you to rush and risk “silly” errors, build a few guesses into your strategy.

Here’s how that would work, using the pacing of two minutes per question described above: If you know you’re two to three minutes behind schedule after 10 questions, pick one of the next few questions and guess. While the best strategy is to finish the test comfortably with time to spare, that’s not a realistic option for everyone. If you know you’re going to get a few questions wrong, you might as well make sure that you spend enough time correctly answering the questions you can get right.

So don’t let yourself make hasty mistakes because you need to answer absolutely every question on time. If three or four guesses over the course of the exam free you up to ensure correct answers and avoid unforced errors, they will pay off. You’ll lose a battle or two, but you’ll win the war.

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