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Time slowing down for GMAT time management

Ho to get time to slow down for you on the GMAT

Albert Einstein, when asked to expound on his idea that time is relative, put it this way:

“When you sit with a nice girl for two hours you think it’s only a minute, but when you sit on a hot stove for a minute you think it’s two hours. That’s relativity.”

How true — especially when it comes to GMAT pacing and proper time management.

Faulty GMAT Pacing Strategy

The way most students think about pacing on the GMAT is on a per-question basis. Specifically:

  • On the Quantitative Reasoning section you have 62 minutes to answer 31 questions. That works out to exactly 2 minutes per question.
  • On the Verbal Reasoning section you have 65 minutes to answer 35 questions. That works out to 1 minute and 52 seconds per question.

Yet, it’s incredibly stressful to worry about the clock after every question. First of all, the clock on your computer screen counts down instead of up. How many of us are good at quickly subtracting 1:52 from a given time in our head? Not many.

More importantly, it’s very distracting to think about your pacing after every question or two. It throws off your rhythm and concentration to be sure. But it’s also like Einstein’s analogy of sitting with a nice girl — time seems to speed up when you’re constantly worried about how long it’s taking you to do each problem.

More Effective GMAT Pacing Strategy

Instead, the better GMAT pacing strategy is to only check the clock at certain benchmarks of longer time increments. Doing so will enable you to put your head down and go to work on larger blocks of questions at a time. Then you can pop your head up, look at the clock, and see whether you’re on pace (keep up the good work!), a little behind pace (pick it up a little over the next block of questions), or a little ahead of pace (now you know you have the leeway to spend a little extra time on a particularly challenging problem).

Here’s a table showing the pacing benchmarks that my students have found incredibly helpful to keep them on track to finish each section of the GMAT on time.

After Question Number Quantitative Section – Time Remaining Verbal Section – Time Remaining
10 42 minutes 47 minutes
20 22 minutes 28 minutes
25 12 minutes (Don’t worry about checking)
30 (Only 1 question left, finish strong!) 10 minutes

By employing this strategy, I think you’ll find that it relieves a lot of the question-to-question stress and that time will slow down a little for you — much like sitting on a hot stove for only a minute! Your mental transition from worrying less about the clock and more about the task at hand should result in heightened concentration and thus more right answers.

Additional GMAT Pacing Tips

While the benchmarks above are helpful, how do you get back on track if you’re behind pace? How can you practice this? And what else can you do to improve your GMAT time management?

Here are a few additional thoughts for you:

  1. Remember that the way the GMAT scoring algorithm works, wrong answers early in a section are more costly than wrong answers on harder questions later in a section. As such, don’t be afraid to spend a little extra time on the first few questions. If that puts you behind the pace at the 10-question benchmark, don’t freak out. It’s actually probably a good thing — provided that you’re not too far off schedule. You’ll be able to make it up on the remaining questions.
  2. If you do find yourself in a situation later in a section where you need to make up time, don’t rush through questions that you have a good chance of getting right. I know that probably sounds counterintuitive, but you want to make sure you get questions in your wheelhouse correct — even if it means taking a little more time. Instead, you should speed up on (or even flat-out skip) really hard questions that you don’t immediately know how to solve. Even people who score really high on the GMAT get a lot of questions wrong. The key is to recognize when your approach to a problem simply isn’t working, and then cut your losses by making a strategic guess and moving on. The time you save will enable you to spend more time on questions you have a better shot at getting right, or catch up if you’re behind pace.
  3. Not all question types require the same amount of time. On the verbal section, for example, Sentence Correction questions generally take less time (1 minute 15 seconds, on average) than Reading Comprehension questions (2 to 3 minutes to read (depending upon length); 1 minute for general questions; 1.5 to 2 minutes for specific questions). So account for that when checking the benchmarks. If you had a long reading comprehension passage at the very beginning of the verbal section, it will be normal for you to be a little off the pace at the 10-question mark. You’ll be able to make up that time on the Sentence Correction questions that will no doubt pop up during the next block of questions.
  4. Don’t wait until test day to implement this pacing strategy. Practice it at home first. In fact, your time management will naturally improve the more full-length GMAT practice tests you take and the better you get at the shortcuts and strategies we teach for getting right answers in less time. As your pattern recognition improves, the time it takes you to answer each question will naturally go down. So practice, practice, practice… and by test day, your internal clock should be a well-tuned machine!


The time constraints placed on GMAT test-takers by the running clock are hard for everyone. That’s part of what makes the GMAT the GMAT, and it’s part of what the test-makers are trying to measure — your ability to reason effectively and perform well under pressure. So embrace the challenge! Rather than viewing it as a potential stumbling block, commit to making time your friend. You don’t have to be Einstein to figure it out. Just use this benchmark pacing strategy and I think you’ll be pleased with the results on test day.

Comments? Questions? What did you find most helpful in this article? Share your thoughts below!