The main way to develop GMAT time management skills is to practice taking the test. We cannot over stress its importance. You are strongly encouraged to take at least a few mock GMAT exams in the computer-adaptive format and to try to simulate the actual testing environment. (That means not taking food breaks, engaging in telephone conversations, etc. until you have completed a section.)
You are also encouraged to use actual questions from previous exams as you practice, as there is a material difference in the nature and quality of test questions prepared by ETS versus those written by GMAT prep companies.
Make sure you know what the different types of questions are and the directions for each. This way, you will not waste any time reading the directions.
Finally, you should spend most of your preparation time studying and practicing questions in your weakest subject area. While every test taker benefits by reviewing each GMAT exam section, focusing on your weakest areas will make the most efficient use of your time.
Since you cannot skip questions and return to them, there will be a tendency to get stuck on certain hard questions and end up wasting time. A good tip is to divide the number of questions by the time allotted, and keep an eye on the time. If being a constant clock-watcher gives you undue stress, you may wish to time yourself every 10 questions instead. Practice makes perfect here as well.
The GMAT CAT's underlying algorithm determines the difficulty of questions you are asked, based on your performance in answering previous questions. Difficult questions are weighted more heavily in scoring than easier questions. Therefore, the first couple questions in any GMAT CAT section are used to determine the range of questions that the program 'thinks' you are able to handle. After you have answered these first few questions, the testing software will give you questions to fine tune your score within that rather narrowly predetermined range. Thus, your answers to the first 5 questions will make a HUGE difference in your final section score.
It is imperative that you answer these questions with extra care. Always double-check your answers to these questions. Verify that the answer choices that you judged to be incorrect are indeed incorrect. If you are unsure of the answer to one of these first questions, at the very least, take a very good educated guess by elimination.
Even though the test is adaptive, about 1/3 of the GMAT questions are experimental, and are being tested for their suitability to appear in later exams. They will randomly appear throughout the exam. This means that you cannot measure your prowess according to the difficulty of the questions. Getting really easy questions after a bunch of hard questions is not a sure sign that you’ve gotten the hard questions wrong.
This advice probably sounds self-evident. But it is important that you recognize how to avoid wasting time, such as asking for extra paper or using the Help function BEFORE the test begins. If you have to do these after beginning the section, it will take time away from working on the questions.
This will keep your mind active. One of the traps in the GMAT is being lulled into a passive mode where you simply pass over the words and hope the answer jumps out at you. Writing all your working down for the Quantitative section and taking notes for the Verbal Section helps your thought process. If you tend to write big and use up scrap paper very quickly, there is no shame in telling the administrator this and asking him or her to keep an eye on you.
As silly as this advice may seem, it's worth remembering. An undisciplined test taker will feel the stress of the clock during the timed sections and will try to cut corners to save time, wherever and whenever possible. As a result, he or she often misinterprets questions. GMAT test writers are well aware of this dynamic, and happy to capitalize on it. You will definitely encounter questions on the GMAT that include incorrect answer choices that were designed to correspond to misinterpretations of what the question is really asking. The other reason for doing this is that you only see each question once - you will not get to go back to it and double-check your answer, so you have to be absolutely sure of what you're supposed to do.
Unlike in a written test, you cannot skip a question on the GMAT and return to it later. You must answer each question on the GMAT CAT before it will allow you to move on to the next question. Consequently, even if you don't know the answer to a particular question, you have to answer it. It is always in your best interest to take an educated guess rather than guessing randomly – even if you are running out of time on the section. Usually you will be able to identify at least one answer choice that is clearly wrong. Eliminating even one incorrect choice will improve your odds of answering the question correctly.
If you manage to eliminate two choices, you will increase your chances of getting the answer right by 65%. With practice, you will learn how to recognize answer choices that are deliberately deceptive – and wrong. There are a few common patterns that will become apparent as you prepare for the test.
One recognizable pattern is commonly found in the Problem Solving section. It involves an erroneous answer choice giving a value that would result from following a common computational error. You can avoid these deceptive choices by using scrap paper, checking your answers and using estimation to judge the general range of the correct choice.
Earlier, we mentioned under ‘GMAT Scores’ that unanswered questions significantly affect your test score. This also cannot be overstressed. There is a huge scoring penalty for failing to finish any section of the GMAT. Say you're in line to get a score that will put you in the 70th percentile of test takers, based on your test performance so far – but then run out of time and fail to answer the last five questions in the section. This will lower your score to the 55th percentile.
The lesson to learn from this is to prepare yourself to finish the test at all costs. Unlike, say, the SAT, answering a question incorrectly will hurt you, but not as much as leaving the question unanswered will. Train yourself to work your best within the time limits of the exam. But also train yourself to recognize when only a minute or so remains on the clock, and at that point to stick with one answer for the remaining questions. Random guessing is like shooting yourself in the foot, but failing to answer is like shooting yourself in both feet.
If you think you did really badly on the test, you have the option of canceling your score immediately after completing it, and neither you nor the schools you selected as your score recipients will ever know what it was. However, unless you made incredibly glaring errors such as running out of time before finishing the section, this is not a good idea. It is human nature to fixate on the problems you think you missed, instead of the (hopefully) more numerous questions that you answered correctly.
You shouldn’t count on taking the GMAT at the last minute. Should you need to retake the exam, you will need time both to register for the test again and to have the new scores submitted to schools in time for the application deadlines. Scheduling the GMAT well into the admissions season is bound to cause most test takers undue stress. With proper planning and insight, you can spare yourself the resulting panic and instead focus on maximizing your GMAT score.
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