One way to think about the GMAT is that it is a test designed to differentiate between highly qualified applicants. It does this by testing a variety of analytical skills, both verbal and quantitative. A more useful way to think about the test is to think of it as a game in which all test-takers have to follow the same rules. Everyone who takes the GMAT must deal with the same materials under identical time pressures. Because of this feature, there are two important things to learn for achieving a high GMAT score.
- Learn the rules of the game – the GMAT is a computer adaptive test, and you must account for this feature in your GMAT preparation
- Learn to manage your time wisely – everyone has the same amount of time, so the test-takers who make the best use of their time will get the highest scores.
The GMAT is a challenging test, and the clock is one of the most challenging aspects of the test. Because the test adapts to your ability level, even the most accomplished test-takers will have their time management skills challenged as the test adapts to their ability and shows them more difficult questions.
Although the time pressure may seem daunting to many test-takers, it is a feature of the test that can be exploited if you learn some tricks to better manage your time. Between two test-takers of equal ability, the one who manages their time better will achieve a significantly higher score based purely on time management skills alone. Even a test-taker with lower analytical ability can achieve a higher score than someone with higher analytical ability if they are better at managing their time.
Also, the GMAT is a test of analytical ability, not information recall, making the time aspect of the test even more important.
At Manhattan Review, one of the most important things we do is reviewing past performances of students who come to us looking for ways to achieve a higher score. What we hear over and over again is that many test-takers had trouble completing the test on time, and that the time pressure caused them to make careless errors that they otherwise would not have made. These are both time management issues, so here are a few of our best tips for improving your time management on test day.
- When you’re right, you’re right.
On straightforward questions, once you’ve arrived at an answer that you are confident is correct, don’t waste any additional time double-checking the other answer choices. You will need those valuable seconds on the more difficult questions at the end of each section.
- Use short cuts in the quantitative section.
One skill that is extremely important to acquire in your GMAT preparation is the ability to make quick mathematical estimates. You don’t have to be able to multiply two digit numbers in your head, but it will be very helpful to know that 4pi is a little larger than twelve. Making quick estimates will often allow you to eliminate answer choices, saving you valuable time.
- Read for concepts and ideas rather than specifics
The reading comprehension section often gives you challenging passages on obscure scientific topics with unfamiliar vocabulary. Instead of getting bogged down in the details, read for the bigger picture – what is the author saying? How does he feel about his topic? You won’t be able to trust your memory for detail so you’ll return to the passage anyway when asked specific questions. Don’t waste extra time trying to understand every last detail the first time through.
- Engage the critical reasoning section critically.
Don’t trust your instincts on the critical reasoning section. Often times, the test writers will include answer choices that are attractive because they sound good, or they are worded elegantly. Instead, break down the structure of the argument, predict the correct answer choice, and then look for it amongst the choices provided.
Above all else, finish the exam! There is a big penalty for unanswered questions, so you must finish the test at all costs, even if that means guessing on eight straight questions. Make sure you take plenty of timed practice tests so that you get into the habit of pacing yourself and being aware of how much time is left in each section. Finally, make sure you have all of the details down before you work on each section – this means having ample scratch paper, and being familiar with the directions on each section so you don’t have to waste valuable seconds visiting the help screen. Time management is a separate skill from verbal or quantitative ability – master it, and you will see dramatic results on test day.