The 7 Best Tips for Time Management on the GMAT Exam

Many test takers will agree that one of the most difficult aspects of taking the Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT) is simply finishing the test on time. Properly managing one’s time on the GMAT is very difficult to do, but there are several steps you can take to make sure you finish the exam in the amount of time you are given. We have compiled seven of our best GMAT time management strategies, and we’re ready to share them with you today. Let’s dive in!


How much time do you get to finish the GMAT?

The GMAT only gives you 75 minutes to finish all 41 questions in the Verbal section and 75 minutes to finish the 37 questions in the Quant section. It also allows you 30 minutes to complete the Analytical Writing Assessment, as well as 30 minutes to finish the 12-question Integrated Reasoning section. Combined, this means you will have about three and a half hours to finish 90 multiple choice questions and one essay.

This may seem like plenty of time, but keep in mind that the GMAT is a complicated higher-order thinking exam, and even the best test takers can have difficulty completing all of the questions in time. According to Larry Rudner, former Chief Psychometritian at Graduate Management Admission Council, only 86% of test takers finish the Quant section, and 92% finish the Verbal section. You don’t want to be among those that don’t finish.


Now, let’s review seven of our best tips to help you improve your speed on the GMAT:

1) Use the answer choices
A great way to save time when answering GMAT questions is to use the answer choices for each question to your advantage. This is especially true for Problem Solving questions in the Quant section. For example, you may be asked to complete a large computation, such as “What is the square root of 3249?“ that that would take too long to complete without the aid of a calculator. In instances, it is a good idea to look at the given answer choices before you move any further - glancing at the answer choices, you may notice that a few of the options are obviously too large, or a few of the options are too small. By looking at the answer choices before you even attempt any difficult calculations, you can save yourself a lot of time and hassle.

2) Pick numbers on Quant questions
This Quant strategy is a tried-and-tested technique and is a favorite among GMAT test takers for a reason. Why? It really works and, when used properly, it can save you an enormous amount of time on test day. This is especially true for questions that ask you to deal with variables or “mystery” integers. Sure, you could try to use complicated algebra to solve these problems, but this can waste valuable time. If you start by just picking random numbers and using them in place of the unknown variables or integers, and try to look for patterns that may arise, more often than not you will find what the problem is asking for while saving time in the process.

3) Learn when to connect strategies
One big reason that GMAT test takers run out of time on the exam is they spend too long trying to use single strategies to answer questions. The GMAT is a test of higher-order thinking, meaning that most of the questions you encounter will require you to use multiple strategies to answer them. For example, you may be asked a geometry question that requires you to use your knowledge of the Pythagorean Theorem and your knowledge of Difference of Squares to answer the question correctly. By going into the GMAT understanding that you will probably need to combine various strategies and concepts, you will be ready to do so when the time comes, which will keep you from wasting time trying to use a single strategy to answer questions on test day.

4) Know when to skip a question
Sometimes on the GMAT, you need to know when to buckle down and focus on answering a question and when to call it quits and move on. Of course, it is ideal to be able to answer every question on the exam, but if you spend too much time struggling to answer one question, you run the risk of not having enough time to work on questions towards the end of a section (questions that you may have actually known how to answer). As such, if you find yourself spending 30-40 seconds staring at a question and not even knowing where to begin, take that as your cue to just skip the problem and move on. Even at the 700-level, the GMAT will allow you to get 5-10 questions wrong on each section, so don’t worry if you have to just skip a couple of them. You’ll give yourself more time to work on questions that you can answer, which will ultimately increase your odds of a higher score.

5) Keep up with your reading
One of the reasons the GMAT Verbal section is so difficult is that it requires you to read A LOT. You will be asked to answer Reading Comprehension questions (which involves reading long passages) as well as Critical Reasoning questions (which involves you reading shorter passages), and you must do it all in a very short amount of time - 75 minutes, to be exact. Many test takers struggle with all of this reading, as they need to worry about not only getting through the passage quickly while still retaining what the passage is about, but also about coming across vocabulary words in these passages that may be difficult to understand. As you prepare for the GMAT, it is important to read books, newspapers, and magazines as often as possible, especially if English is not your first language. Practicing reading in this way will naturally hone skills necessary to finishing the Verbal section on time, such as your ability to read quickly, digest information, and understand unusual words in context.

6) Practice writing outlines and essays
When is the last time you wrote an academic essay? If you’re like most GMAT test takers, it has probably been years. Many GMAT test takers fall into the trap of not doing anything to prepare for the Analytical Writing Assessment of the exam because they think, “Hey! If I don’t know the essay prompt ahead of time, there’s nothing I can do to prepare for it, right?” Wrong! You are only given 30 minutes to write your essay for the Analytical Writing Assessment, so there is not a lot of room for error - if you spend too long writing an outline for your essay, or if you can’t formulate your thoughts in a concise manner, you will find yourself running out of time. For this reason, it is important to write practice essays and time yourself to make sure you can finish your thoughts in time.

7) Take a practice test (or several)
We cannot stress enough the importance of taking practice tests before you take the official GMAT exam. And by practice test, we don’t mean answering a few practice problems while watching TV - in order to take a practice test effectively, you need to replicate as many of the elements you will encounter on test day as possible. That means taking your practice test in one sitting, giving yourself the same amount of time to complete each section that you will get on the official test, and removing yourself from distractions such as your phone or the TV.

Now you may be asking yourself, “How will taking a practice test affect my time management skills?” Well, for starters, taking a practice test will also allow you to better learn the instructions of the GMAT, as well as how the GMAT is scored before test day. Knowing this information means you can spend less time on test day reading the instructions for each section, and more time diving into the questions themselves. Additionally, practice exams give you the opportunity to test the time management strategies above before test day. This means you will already know which strategies work for you and which do not, so you know which ones to use when you encounter a tricky problem on the official exam.

If you need a more focused approach to tackling your time management skills, you’re not alone. Managing one’s time on the GMAT is something that many test takers struggle with, and it is something that can be improved with the right guidance. Speak to one of Veritas Prep’s friendly course advisors at 310.456.8716 to learn how we can help you improve your time management skills before you take the official GMAT exam.