GMAT Tip of the Week: Larry Rudner is not Candy Crowley. Timing Matters!

There’s a lot you can learn about your GMAT preparation everywhere you look… even in the cutthroat world of American politics. Yes, even watching two Harvard grads snarl at each other can help you become a better GMAT student and, ultimately, a higher score on the exam.

If you watched the U.S. Presidential Debate this week, you hopefully saw a lot of similarities between you and the candidates:

  • As a b-school applicant, you’re also applying to get into an elite executive (management) branch
  • With your b-school application essays and interviews, you’ll also need to take the question asked and turn it into an opportunity to deliver your platform. “What are your three greatest accomplishments?” is a lot like “what will you do about gas prices?” – the direct answer is too narrow to improve your candidacy; the broader issue (“I’m an innovator who thrives on challenges” or “My energy plan includes solar, wind, coal, and fuel economy standards”) is much more compelling and useful to you.
  • You may not have a binder full of women, but by the end of the exam you’ll have a noteboard full of calculations.
  • You, like the candidates, will be under a fixed time-limit-per-question. The only difference? Your time limit matters.

Time limits will affect you in a few ways on the GMAT:

1) Most test-takers report that they take the entire allotted time per section, and many will admit they go over by quite a bit. This means that you’ll need to be conscious of the clock without letting it interrupt your “flow”. How should you manage this?

DO: Pay attention every tenth question to where you should be on your pace. On the quant section, for example, you have a little over 2 minutes average per question. So after 10 questions, your 75 minutes should be down to about 54. After 20, you should be around 33 minutes left. After 30, you should have about 13 minutes left for the last 7 questions. These numbers are “give or take” a couple, but if you realize that you’re falling significantly outside those boundaries, you should think about guessing on a hard question early to get back on track. Unlike the presidential debate, the GMAT won’t go overtime to hear your answers – when the clock runs out it’s over.

DON’T: Try to calculate your exact pace per question, or think about your timing on each and every question. The worst thing you can do if you’re worried about pacing is waste time thinking about things other than the questions in front of you.

DO: Take multiple practice tests before the big day, so that you have a pretty good idea before the test whether pacing will be a problem or not, and about which types of questions take you longest (if Geometry always takes you >3 minutes but everything else goes accordingly to plan, when you’re under timed pressure you may just want to wait for a Geometry question and give it a guess to save 3 minutes). And practice in conditions like the test itself – no cell phones, 8 minute breaks, noteboard for calculations, etc. Learn from the president – practice undertaken on a golf course in Vegas leads to a pretty lousy performance…

2) The 8-minute breaks are EXACTLY 8 minutes. This isn’t “okay everyone – take a five” where you can wander back in after 10-12 minutes and casually restart. If you’re gone more than 8 minutes, the test will start without you. So practice what you can accomplish in 8 minutes (restroom, granola bar, water, clear mind OR efficient ab workout…not both!). And make sure that you are cleared for your break – at least a few test-takers have reported standing up right after submitting their last answer without “accepting” the break on the computer, which then defaulted to “no break” and started the clock running after a minute. Cross your Ts and dot your Is – make sure you’re on a break before you walk away. And while we’re on the subject of breaks – please know that the GMAT is steadfast…you cannot study or exchange information with other test takers during the break. Scores will be and have been cancelled, so as much as you love your Veritas Prep “Advanced Verbal Strategy” book (we don’t blame you) leave it at home so you’re not tempted to pull it out of your locker during a break!

3) The GMAT takes a long time. Sure, you’re not standing up like the candidates at a town hall debate, and comedy writers aren’t scanning your answers for gaffes to Tweet around the globe, but you’ll still be under pressure for a good 3.5-4 hours. So recognize that you’ll need to build the stamina and demeanor that it takes to stay positive and focused for that long. Again, take practice tests to simulate the experience and to build up to it. And when you’re still struggling and worn down, remember the most famous debate of all – Kennedy v. Nixon in 1960. Kennedy, most said, won on demeanor alone – he was calm, able to smile, and looked “presidential” while Nixon, who had a cold, sweated and frowned his way through what many argue were actually better talking points. The lesson? Never let ’em see you sweat – simply smiling and telling yourself “I got this” can keep your energy positive for those last 10 questions.

Heed these lessons from the debate and you could be hearing someone else – perhaps the admissions directors at Harvard or Stanford – say those words we’ve grown so tired of. “I approve this message” – in this case with the message being “you’re accepted.”