If you’re a regular reader of this corner of the Veritas Prep blog, you should know that we like to take Friday mornings to identify something newsworthy and relate it to the GMAT. But this week, the trivial-enough-to-blog news cycle has seemed to take a break. Manti Te’o is old news, the NFL playoffs are in their bye week before the Super Bowl… When the world takes a break, what’s a GMAT blogger to do?
Take a break. Or, rather, write about the ever-important 8-minute breaks between sections on the GMAT. Here are 8 things you should know about your 8-minute breaks:
1) Eight isn’t a lot, but Eight is Enough
In the early 2000s, GMAT breaks were 5 minutes, but in that “take a five” Hollywood style where no one was really counting. Then they became hard-cutoff 10-minute breaks, in which if you came back to your computer after 11 minutes, a minute would have already elapsed from your next section. Then, around 2010, the folks at GMAC and Pearson/VUE (the set of test centers where the GMAT is administered) proved that they’re great at business – by cutting the breaks down by 20%, from 10 to 8 minutes, they could run more people through the test center more quickly. So now your break is a hard 8 minutes, which can seem pretty short.
But if 8 minutes is good enough for an ab workout, 8 is enough…provided you use it wisely. Don’t plan to do much more than grab a quick snack, a drink of water, and restroom break, but since that’s likely all you need anyway you can get it done. But word to the wise – practice 8-minute breaks in your study sessions and practice tests so that you know what it feels like and what you can accomplish. Eight minutes is enough, but not much more than that.
2) Eight minutes includes the time it takes to check out and back in
Here’s where practicing with eight-minute breaks can be extremely helpful. At least a minute of that is already spoken-for. You need to check out and then back in with the proctor (for security reasons), so you need to be mindful that you’re not dealing with eight minutes of “free time”, but rather eight minutes to accomplish the entire break, from leaving your chair to sitting back down.
3) Your break starts immediately when you click “yes” and ends immediately after eight minutes
When you’re eligible for a break, the computer will inform you of that and ask you if you want to take it. Once you click “Yes”, your break time starts. And when 8 minutes has elapsed, the break is over and the clock will begin counting down on the next section, whether you’re ready or not. On the plus side, however, your break only begins when you’re done with the previous section (or when the clock runs out on it), so if you do have a few minutes left in a section and want to let your mind rest a moment, you can create yourself a mini-break by waiting to submit your answer to the last question. So if you’re efficient on a particular section, you can earn yourself a small break before the official 8-minute break, and many test-takers find that it’s helpful to catch your breath and let your mind rest before you dive into the slightly-rushed 8-minute respite from your computer.
4) You cannot study during your break
GMAC has cancelled the scores of students who “use study aids” during a break, so don’t plan to bring any notes or books to the test center with you. Even if a proctor sees a GMAT book or notebook in your hand as you’re shuffling items in your locker to grab a snack or stow a sweater, that can be grounds for score cancellation. You don’t have time to study, anyway, so planning to do so wouldn’t help your score. Don’t even take the risk.
5) You cannot talk to anyone during your break
Talking to anyone about the test is also grounds for score cancellation, so don’t take the risk. Smile, hold a door – be polite, but don’t ask anyone “how’s your test going?” or comment “wow, that was a rough quant section”. If the proctor has reason to believe that you’re communicating about the test, she can cancel your score, so keep your break quiet and efficient.
6) Breaks can be extremely important for your mind and body
By the end of your test, you’ll likely have been testing for about four hours (the official test administration time is 3:30, but when you incorporate breaks, tutorials, checking in for the test, filling out the demographic info, etc. it will approach 4:00). And with the combination of nerves, mental focus, intellectual challenge, etc., that time can take a toll on you. Breaks are a good chance to relax your mind and change mental gears (from math to verbal, for example); breaks are a great opportunity to take in a quick snack to provide energy and keep your blood sugar up; and breaks provide you with the opportunity to use the restroom so that you can avoid that mental anguish that comes from nature’s call. With most students needing to take just about the entire time on each section, you don’t have time to lose during the test from dealing with bodily needs, so use the break wisely. Four consecutive hours at a computer terminal solving mind puzzles isn’t entirely natural for any of us, so the breaks can be essential for taking care of your mind and body.
7) You must click “yes” to take your break
When the computer asks you if you want to take a break, make sure that you click “yes” before you leave your chair. At least one student in the recent past has reported that he walked away too early, and the default setting after that question was up for a minute was “no”, so when he returned to his seat after his 8-minute break, the clock had been ticking for 7 minutes on the next section. Make sure you click yes and get clearance from the proctor so that your break doesn’t cost you any time.
8) Breaks make for great transitions
A four hour test can seem daunting and can get exhausting, and the GMAT is structured so that mental fatigue or doubt can cost you dearly. The verbal section comes last, and so you will undoubtedly need to read a boring Reading Comprehension passage after you’ve already been at the test center for >3 hours and your mind is at its least receptive to new information. But here’s where the break can help you – if you break the GMAT up into three completely separate sections (AWA/IR; then Quant; then Verbal) and use the breaks to flush your mind from stress/doubt/frustration/concentration on the previous section and set it fresh to the next section, you can make the test much more manageable. It’s not at all uncommon for test-takers to still be thinking about a frustrating Data Sufficiency question even after ten verbal questions, but by that point that quant question is long gone and can only be detrimental to your verbal performance. Make the breaks a major dividing line between sections – use them to forget the previous section and gear up for the next section, and the GMAT becomes a much more manageable test and your mind can become significantly sharper.