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Improve Your GMAT Time Management & Score Higher

Warning: This article is going to contain a LOT of sports analogies! (but it’ll be worth it)

When you think about what it takes to crack 700 on the GMAT, it goes beyond just knowing the content tested on the GMAT — the X’s and O’s, if you will. Indeed, proper time management becomes crucial as well. You not only have to know how to solve the problems correctly, but you have to be able to do so efficiently. With 75 minutes to complete 37 GMAT quant questions and 75 minutes to answer 41 GMAT verbal questions, that works out to, on average, about two minutes (2:00) per question.

So how do you get better at managing your time on the GMAT and answering the questions in the allotted time? You practice it! Here are two slightly unusual — but effective! — GMAT time management mindsets that will help you:

1. Run Faster! (well, sort of….)

run faster for better gmat time managementWhat’s the best way to get faster at solving GMAT questions? Solve them faster!

Okay, I know, that sounds weird, but let me explain. I’m a triathlete. I run all the time. I run almost every day, and yet I found myself in a situation where no matter how much I ran, I wasn’t getting any faster. But I wanted to improve my running times, so I hired a coach and asked him to help me run faster. Do you know what his advice was? He told me that I had to practice running faster! How do you get faster? You simply run faster, he said!

After thinking about it for a second, it started to make sense to me. See, every time I would go out for a run, I would always run at roughly the same pace. It may vary a little bit depending on whether I was running 3 miles or 10 miles, but the point is, it was always with roughly the same effort. I thought that by running every day it would help my times, but really, I wasn’t getting any faster.

So my coach had me start running sprints. I literally had to force myself to run faster! Even on the longer distances, he wanted me to run faster for stretches and hold that faster pace for as long as I could. In the beginning, I couldn’t “run faster” for very long. But eventually, I could “run faster” for longer and longer periods until one day, I realized that my 5K time was significantly faster than it had ever been before. “Running faster” worked!

You need to do the same on the GMAT. One of the things I notice with my students is that often, they work practice problems the same way all the time. There’s really no urgency to it. They sort of look at a problem, work on it for a while, try to apply a strategy or two, and then if they can’t get it, they look at the answer explanation in the back of the book. Sound familiar?

Instead, what you need to do is to force yourself to solve problems faster. You need to practice more intentionally. Get out a timer. Set it for 2:00 and resolve to get an answer, one way or another, within that timeframe. Doing so will force you to get creative. It will force you to apply non-standard GMAT math strategies more regularly. It will force your brain to speed up. And once your brain learns how to do that? It will continue to be able to do that, even on test day!

BONUS: If you haven’t watched it yet, I’ve posted a video below that talks about the interplay between time and efficiency on the GMAT. As you’re working on forcing yourself to come to some sort of resolution on a problem within that 2-minute window, keep the strategy I teach in that video in mind.

2. Sit In Complete Silence for 2 Minutes

learn to manage your time effectively on the gmatThe other thing I see happening with my students with respect to GMAT time management is that they start freaking out too early in the process. They get started on a question, and after just 15-20 seconds, if they’re not entirely sure how to proceed, they start getting stressed. Time speeds up for them. They tell me they feel like they’re running out of time and then start making careless errors or not thinking through the problem in a methodical, reasoned way. Does that happen to you?

To combat this, you need to get time to slow down for you. In sports, athletes talk about it all the time. I experienced it myself as the quarterback of my flag football team. I remember the first time the center hiked me the ball. It felt like all hell had broken loose! People were running all over the place, defenders were rushing at me, and I could barely focus on what I needed to do. Rather than cooly and calmly surveying the field and making a sound decision as to where to throw the ball, I started to panic. I ended up throwing the ball out of bounds long before I needed to. Time was simply moving too fast!

Now in flag football, the quarterback usually has about 5 seconds to make a decision on what to do. But I can tell you, on that first play? It felt like about 2 seconds! Man, I was panicking.

But slowly, over time, the game started to slow down for me. After several games (and now several seasons), I’m as calm as can be when the ball is hiked. Those 5 seconds? They feel like every bit of 5 seconds — and often more. I can think through what’s happening, look down the field, evaluate my options, and make a good decision nearly every time.

That’s what has to happen for you on the GMAT, too. You need to get time to slow down for you.

So how do you do it? You need to get a feel for just how long 2 minutes really is! And believe me, it’s longer than you think.

So here’s what I want you to do: I want you do find a nice, quiet place, and just sit down. Get a stopwatch and set it for 2:00. Then start the timer and just sit there. In complete silence. Doing absolutely nothing. Seriously. That’s what I want you to do. I want you to think about when it starts feeling awkward. Then continue to think about what you’re feeling. And when the timer finally does go off? I think you’ll be amazed at just how long 2:00 really feels!

But trust me on this: You need to DO it. Just reading about it won’t help. Go FEEL it for yourself. And if you want to make it really effective? Get someone to sit across from you while you’re doing it! It will be even more awkward, and the 2 minutes will feel even longer!

And then I want you to carry that feeling forward with you on the GMAT. When you start on each problem, remember just how long 2 minutes really is. There’s no reason to start panicking after just 15-20 seconds — or even 45 seconds for that matter. Two minutes is plenty of time if you can just get time to slow down for you. Practice and experience will help to make that a reality!