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Guide to GMAT Pacing

Many students think that to get a great score on the GMAT, they need to answer every question correctly. Although it’s logical to think that way, that’s not necessarily true! For example, consider these two hypothetical students:

  • Student 1 answers every question correctly, but they take 4 minutes per question to do so and have to guess for half of the questions.
  • Student 2 only answers 75% of the questions correctly because they guess on some questions, but uses solution behavior to make educated guesses.

Obviously student 2 would get the higher score, but many students fall into the trap that the optimal strategy is to answer every question correctly. If the student can work fast enough, this should be the case; however, most students aren’t going to be able to work through every question on the GMAT in enough time, so adopting a pacing strategy is crucial to test day success.

Of course, having a pacing strategy and executing said strategy can be tough! Here are some things you should do during your practice to ensure you have enough time on test day.

Adopt the right mindset!

Most GMAT test takers who score 700+ don’t get every question right, nor do they expect to. You can reach your target score by missing a few problems. If you focus too much on trying to get every question correct, you can easily fall behind your goal pace, which may lead to you taking random guesses on questions at the end. This can actually lead to more incorrect answers on your test than if you just skipped a few problems throughout the test.

Know the pacing guidelines.

For quant, this is straightforward: two minutes per question.

For the verbal section, you’ll want to follow these guidelines for each question type:

  • Sentence Correction: 60-90 seconds
  • Reading Comprehension: 6 minutes for a set of 3 questions, 8 minutes for a set of 4 questions, including 2-4 minutes to read the passage.
  • Critical Reasoning: 90 seconds-3 minutes

For integrated reasoning you should spend two minutes and 30 seconds (2:30) per question set.

Log the time you spend on each question in practice.

This can go in your error log! One of the great things about Magoosh is that we track how long it takes for you to answer each question, so you can just write that time in. If you’re using other material, make sure to use a stopwatch. Keep track of how much time you were off of the suggested time to finish each question above, and make notes of how you can not just complete the question correctly, but more quickly if you were to see it again.

Almost all of your practice should be timed.

It may seem counterproductive at the beginning of your prep -- especially when you’re just learning the concepts -- to time all your questions. However, since pacing is an integral part of GMAT success, the sooner you can start developing an internal clock, that will help keep you on track during the actual test.

You should almost always practice as though you’re taking the actual test, time limits and all! At the end of a set of questions, you should always review your mistakes, and if you need to skip a question, it’s OK to review it and work through it then.

It can be really, really hard to get away from tough questions once you’ve invested an amount of time in them. The more you develop a sense of when you need to move on from a question, the easier it will be to pace yourself on test day.

Don’t be afraid to guess early.

If you can’t figure out a way to get the question correct in the first 25-30 seconds, you’re better off eliminating as many answers as you can, making a guess, and moving on. You want to give yourself the opportunity to answer as many questions as you know how to answer quickly, so if a question completely confuses you, tell yourself that by moving on, you're sticking to a strategy to get you the highest score possible on the GMAT.

Don’t rush through the first 10 questions.

If you’re aiming for a 600+ score, the first 10 questions you see will most likely contain the easiest questions you’ll see on the test. Missing these easy questions will be damaging to your score, so don’t hurry through! Take a few seconds after you’ve answered each early question and be sure you didn’t make a silly error.

Break the test up into ten question sub-tests.

You don’t want to check the time after each question: later in the test it can become hard to see if you’re on track or not, and checking the clock too often wastes precious seconds! Instead, you should break the math and verbal sections up into quarters. After sets of 10 questions, you should have the following times left:

Math: 40-20-2

  • At question 11, you should have at least 40 minutes left.
  • At question 21, you should have at least 20 minutes left.
  • At question 31, you should have 2 minutes left, since you're on the last question.

Verbal: 45-27-10

  • At question 11, you should have at least 45 minutes left.
  • At question 21, you should have at least 27 minutes left.
  • At question 31, you should have 10 minutes left.

Lastly, STAY POSITIVE!

A positive mindset is just as important as many formula or grammar rule you need to know for the test! It’s important to not think of your mistakes during prep as signs you won’t hit your school and career goals: think of them as mistakes you’ll be sure not to make on the test! Going off that thought, don’t think of the questions you skip and guess on during the actual test as mistakes in the making: think of them as an integral part of your strategy for success on test day!

The GMAT can be a pressure cooker of stress. However, the more you practice your pacing strategy heading into test day, the better you’ll be able to know when to guess and move on from a question, improving your odds of hitting your target score!

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    Tomas Flynn93

    With the recent update to the GMAT (-30mins and less quant and verbal questions), which is the new amount of possible incorrect answers to get +700 score and what is the aprox penalty for not answering all the questions in time?

    Edited by Tomas Flynn93