Timing and GMAT Practice Strategy

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Years ago, I read an article by a noted humorist about his experiences working with young writers. He found that they didn't think of humor as an integral component in the writing process; instead, it was something that could be tacked on at the end. He referred to one who brought him the draft of a novel, saying, "It's done, except I just need to add some humor."

If you've read very much comedic fiction, you know how ridiculous that is. Adding humor isn't like changing a tire on your car. To work, it has to be built in to the structure of the work. And yes, I'm getting to the part about the GMAT.

Timing is Integral

I've worked with a couple of students lately who have the same attitude about time management. They have the idea that you can spend weeks or months learning all the content, figuring out how to do all the problems, and then, towards the end, tack on some time management.

That's not going to work.

Sure, at some level, you can't focus on timing from day one. Especially if you have a lot of math content to learn, it's foolish to focus on the clock during every practice session. But it's equally foolish to ignore the clock until you feel like you're ready.

Predicting the GMAT CAT

As I've written many times before, the GMAT is as much a time management test as a content test. In many ways, it's more so. Time management is the one constant on an adaptive test. I can absolutely guarantee you that you'll be expected to complete 37 questions in the 75-minute math section, but I can't promise you that you'll see a probability question, or any other specific content issue.

What I can guarantee, content-wise, is that you will see something that you can't do. Or something that you can do, but you can't do in less than two or three minutes. You need to recognize those two things as more or less the same.

In other words, recognizing when to guess and move on is one of the key skills that the GMAT tests. And that is something that needs to be built into your practice strategy.

How To Practice

Once you've gotten to the point that most of the basic GMAT math concepts are familiar to you, start thinking about the clock. I wrote about a general technique to use in this article.

If a question takes you four minutes, treat it like a question that you didn't know how to do at all. You might be able to streamline the method you used and complete the question in two minutes, but it's just as likely that you don't know the right approach. No GMAT question requires four minutes of work. In fact, if you really know the content cold, no GMAT question even requires two minutes of work.

In short, you should always be cognizant of managing your time, whether you're four days or four weeks away from your scheduled exam date. Every time you see a problem and are unsure about how to do it, think to yourself: "Is this something I would try on the test, or would I skip it?" You may feel differently about that particular question on test day, but that isn't the point. The object is to get used to the thought process, weighing your likelihood of getting it right against the time it will take to do so.

The majority of people I work with aren't lacking in content skills (though everyone needs some brushing up). The issue is the way in which they choose to apply those skills. The more you can integrate those two things, the better your GMAT score will be.



About the author: Jeff Sackmann has written many GMAT preparation books, including the popular Total GMAT Math, Total GMAT Verbal, and GMAT 111. He has also created explanations for problems in The Official Guide, as well as 1,800 practice GMAT math questions.

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