How to Master GMAT Timing

How to Master GMAT Timing

As a major test for business school admission, the GMAT presents test takers with a wide array of challenges, including the relatively short time to complete the various sections. So improving your GMAT timing skills is essential if you want your quant and analytical skills to shine.

In order to develop your GMAT time management strategy, get to know the test structure.

Check out: GMAT Time Management Is Essential for Your Success

GMAT section timing

GMAC, the organization that owns the GMAT, has taken steps over the last couple of years to enhance the test-taking experience. In 2018, the exam was shortened by 30 minutes to 3.5 hours, including breaks and test instructions. The time savings were made by reducing the number of unscored research questions in Quantitative and Verbal Reasoning. In addition, several tutorial and instruction screens were simplified.

The GMAT has four sections:

Analytical Writing Assessment measures your ability to think critically and to communicate your ideas.

Time Limit / Number of Questions: 30 minutes, 1 question (essay)

Integrated Reasoning measures your ability to analyze data and evaluate information presented in multiple formats.

Time Limit / Number of Questions: 30 minutes, 12 questions

Quantitative Reasoning measures your ability to analyze data and draw conclusions using reasoning skills.

Time Limit / Number of Questions: 62 minutes, 31 questions

Verbal Reasoning measures your ability to read and understand written material, to evaluate arguments and to correct written material to conform to standard written English.

Time Limit / Number of Questions: 65 minutes, 36 questions

GMAT section order selection

Students are allowed to choose the order in which they complete the four sections of the exam. This option is especially popular in repeat testing, with over a third of test takers choosing a different order. GMAC is still trying to determine the impact this change has on scores. Since the introduction of the section order selection option two years ago, average GMAT scores in the United States, India, and China have increased slightly, yet scores in Europe have fallen.

Currently, test takers can choose from three options for your exam's section order:

  • (1) Analytical Writing Assessment, (2) Integrated Reasoning, (3) Quantitative, (4) Verbal
  • (1) Verbal, (2) Quantitative, (3) Integrated Reasoning, (4) Analytical Writing Assessment
  • (1) Quantitative, (2) Verbal, (3) Integrated Reasoning, (4) Analytical Writing Assessment

How GMAT CAT comes into play

The Quantitative and Verbal Reasoning sections of the GMAT are computer-adaptive, which means that the difficulty of the test adapts itself to your ability level. If you answer the first question correctly, the next question will be harder. Conversely, if you answer the first question incorrectly, your next question will be easier. Since the computer uses your response to each question to select the next one, you will not be able to skip, return to, or change your answers to questions.

Pacing guidelines to build a strategy

A high GMAT score requires knowledge, but also advanced test-taking skills, including strong time management abilities.

When it comes to timing, you will want to know the pacing guidelines. Here is an example provided by Magoosh:

Quantitative: two minutes per question.


  • Sentence Correction: 60-90 seconds
  • Reading Comprehension: six minutes for a set of three questions, eight minutes for a set of four questions, including two-four minutes to read the passage.
  • Critical Reasoning: 90 seconds-3 minutes

Integrated reasoning: two minutes and 30 seconds (2:30) per question set.

However, as the Economist points out, following these guidelines too strictly can be a mistake:

If during a ten-minute stretch, you find yourself falling behind schedule, make a strategic guess or two to catch up. Make strategic guesses on questions about which you aren’t confident or that would take you much longer than two minutes to answer. By making strategic guesses, you can recover precious time that you can spend on questions on which you have a better chance of answering correctly.

Many test takers, knowing that the first 10 questions are often the easiest, seek to deal with them as quickly as possible. This is a mistake because getting some of these questions will significantly affect your score.

Always time your practice

It’s extremely useful to always time your practice, even at the beginning of your preparation when you are still looking for the right approach to the exam. The idea is for you to develop a proper sense of time so you don’t constantly sneak glances at the clock to look at the timer.

Check out: Highlights from the 2019 GMAT Test Prep Summit

Developing an internal clock will also help you decide when to let go of a question if you are unable to solve it at the time. It is really difficult to dismiss a question after you have struggled with it for some time, but this is one of the challenges in the GMAT. Sometimes you just need to move on to the next question.

The GMAT is a timed exam and as such it tends to generate anxiety in test takers. Therefore, it’s essential to maintain a positive mindset throughout the exam and not lose your composure if things don’t go to plan. Just give your best, knowing that if you don’t nail it this time, you always have another chance.



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