How Do I Pace Myself During the GRE's Quantitative Section?

The quantitative section on the GRE can be truly intimidating to many students: after all, with 20 questions to answer in 35 minutes, you're left with less than 2 minutes for each question! That doesn't mean you should completely stress out though: with a little bit of strategy and a lot of practice, you'll be able to use your time to the utmost on test day.

Starting Off

If you're just beginning your GRE prep journey, you shouldn't focus on pacing right away. Chances are you haven't seen some of the question types before, you haven't seen some of the subjects it tests in a long time, or both! Know that speed comes with accuracy: as you become more familiar and begin to master the math tested on the GRE, the faster you'll be able to see what you need to do to answer a question correctly and perform all the necessary calculations.

Thus, at the beginning of your prep, don't worry about the clock: if you're using one of our study schedules, you'll see that there's timed practice throughout the plan. If you're not using one of our schedules, that's OK! You can start to add in timed practice later.

Save Time Whenever Possible

Now just because you have less than 2 minutes per question (1:45 to be exact) doesn't mean you should spend that amount of time per problem. Some questions will be simple and need less time, others will be really tricky and need more. Quantitative reasoning questions (the ones that have you determine the relationship between two quantities) will always begin a GRE quant section, and will generally get more difficult as you go. The same can be said for the problem solving questions that follow.

That means that if you know a couple of different ways a problem can be solved, you always want to choose the fastest way. The GRE isn't interested in how you got to the correct answer, it only cares that you found it. Thus, if you know that you can use either algebra or plugging in numbers to solve a question, except algebra will take much longer, plug in numbers. Plugging in numbers might not get you full credit for a question in a high school or university math course, but the GRE will count it 100% correct!

Skip to Win!

One of the most important things you can do to raise your score on test day is to skip questions you know are really difficult, will be lengthy, or both. If you think a question will take too much time, you should do the following:

  • Choose an answer that could be right (that is, if you know that an answer or answers cannot be correct, choose from the ones that might be the right answer)
  • Mark the answer
  • Move on to the next question

The more questions you get correct on the GRE, the greater your score will be. You don't want to spend 30 minutes on the first 10 questions only to leave 5 minutes for the last 10 problems. Answer the easy questions first, and worry about the hard ones later.

Practice, practice, practice!

By skipping questions that are difficult, you will essentially be seeing all the questions you know you can get correct quickly, and saving time you know you'll need later to complete those tough questions. You should do this not only on test day, but in your practice as well: the more you practice skipping and marking questions on your practice tests and your study sessions, the more easily you'll do it on your actual GRE. Thus, in the weeks leading up to your test, make sure a good amount of your practice is timed. Time management is just an important a skill to have along with your other math and verbal skills, so make sure you practice your pacing!


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