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Effective time management is important for scoring well on the GMAT. Learning how to solve all of the major questions types tested on the GMAT is only half the battle; at the end of the day, you need to translate that knowledge into getting right answers on the actual test. And here’s the rub: you have to do so under a significant time constraint.

Specifically, you need to solve 37 questions in 75 minutes on the quantitative section of the GMAT. That works out to just over two (2) minutes per question. On the verbal section, you have another 75 minutes to solve 41 question, meaning that you have a little less than two minutes for each verbal question. Those two minutes can go quickly and leave an inexperienced test-taker wondering how he/she came up short of a desired GMAT score despite having learned all of the relevant content tested on the GMAT.

Here are some tips for helping you to effectively practice managing your time and put yourself in the best possible position on test day to maximize your knowledge and get the high GMAT score you desire:

1. Early in your GMAT preparation, don’t worry about time. Your focus needs instead to be on learning the necessary content. Spend as much time as necessary on all question types to learn how to solve them and cement that knowledge in your brain for future recall. You’ll notice that your first Dominate the GMAT practice test is an un-timed diagnostic test. There’s a good reason for that. It doesn’t do you any good to worry about running out of time when you don’t even know how GMAT answer choices work, what the directions are for different questions types, how best to attack Data Sufficiency questions, etc. A big part of getting to the point where you can more quickly solve all different types of GMAT questions is pattern recognition. You will eventually be able to look at a question and quickly “know” how best to proceed on that question. Before you get to that point, however, you need to see and work a lot of problems. Spending ample time on questions early in your studying will actually pay dividends and save you time down the road.

2. After several weeks of GMAT preparation, start working practice problems with a timer. Once you have worked practice problems for every type of GMAT question, learned all the directions, internalized what all of the answer choices mean (especially for Data Sufficiency questions), and started to practice different non-standard problem-solving techniques and guessing strategies, now it’s time to start increasing your speed. Before tackling harder practice problems in the GMAT Review Official Guide, set your timer for two minutes (2:00). If you get to 1:30 and you’re still not quite sure how to solve the problem, you need to practice cutting your losses and mentally switch your brain into “guessing mode.” In other words, you need to practice eliminating wrong answer choices, improving your guessing odds, and making the best possible educated guess under the circumstances. You won’t always guess right, but you’ll find that practicing time management on questions that you don’t 100% know how to solve will keep you calm on test day, and improve the chance that you’ll think clearly and logically under pressure, thereby increasing the chance you’ll make the best guess possible.

3. Take your computer-adaptive practice tests under actual testing conditions. It’s important that you develop an “internal clock” that tells you when you’re starting to run out of time on a particular questions and should start applying Strategy #2 (above): Cut your losses and start improving your guessing odds. The surest way to hone that internal clock is to take as many practice tests as you possibly can under actual exam conditions. Block out three hours of time, sit down at your computer, and go to work. There’s no substitute for watching that clock in the upper corner of your screen slowly tick down, eventually turn red, and eventually start flashing at you as it starts to expire! The first few practice tests you take, you may either have a bunch of questions left as you run out of time, or finish a section really early. Both are less-than-desirable outcomes. Over time, you’ll eventually fine-tune your internal clock so that you finish each section just about perfectly as time expires.

4. Improve your speed and accuracy in calculations on the quantitative section. Naturally, solving questions more quickly will make it easier to finish a section on time. However, you don’t want to sacrifice accuracy for speed — especially on the quantitative section. Here is an article with great tips on how best to boost your calculation accuracy and speed.

5. As a general rule, it is better to be pressed for time on a section than to finish early. Now, remember, you don’t ever want to actually run out of time on a section. If you have a question or two left as time is expiring, it’s important to at least guess and make sure you’ve answered all the questions; there is a stiff penalty for leaving questions unanswered on the GMAT. That said, working too quickly generally results in careless errors that cost you precious points — especially on earlier questions in a section. If you find yourself twiddling your thumbs at the end of a section waiting for the final few minutes to tick away, unfortunately you don’t have the ability to go back and double-check your work. If you made a mistake, it’s too late. Studies have shown that most students notice their own mistakes on the initial pass-through rather than on a second look anyway. So, take pains to do your best and avoid errors the first time.

6. Maintain the proper balance on different question types. Consider the quantitative section of the GMAT. A mistake I see a lot of students make is that they spend significantly more time on problem solving questions than on Data Sufficiency questions, to their detriment. For some reason they think that just because they don’t actually have to solve anything on Data Sufficiencies, they can make snap decisions about sufficiency and come up with an answer in about 30 seconds or less. That is a mistake. While some problem solving questions make take more than 2 minutes, and some data sufficiency questions can be solved more quickly to counter-balance that, in general you should realize that you do have plenty of time to really think through data sufficiencies, “chase it down the rabbit hole” as I teach in my video lessons, and avoid making careless errors that could have been avoided by spending a bit more time considering all possibilities.

I hope these tips help you as much as they’ve helped my former students. Remember to control your emotions, don’t panic, take deep breaths, and systematically work each question type the way you’ve been taught. Learn the actual GMAT content for sure, but be sure to practice time management as well so that you can dominate the GMAT on test day!