Everything You Need To Know About Time Management (Part 2)


Manhattan Prep GMAT Blog - Everything You Need to Know About Time Management (Part 2) by Stacey KoprinceDid you know that you can attend the first session of any of our online or in-person GMAT courses absolutely free? We’re not kidding! Check out our upcoming courses here.

This is the original version of a piece that has since been updated. See Stacey’s latest series on GMAT time management.

In the first part of this series, we discussed time positions (positive, negative, and neutral) and addressed our first three major considerations for timing:

(1) understanding the scoring (and what implications that has for timing)

(2) per-question timing and tracking your work

(3) reflecting on your results so that you can improve

If you haven’t already read the first part, do so now before you continue with this article. Today, we’re going to talk about our final three major timing strategies.

(4) Develop Your 1-Minute Sense

While keeping a single-problem time log will help you become aware of your pacing on all question types, you can’t check the clock after every problem on the real test. You’ll drive yourself crazy before the test is over! What to do, then?

What we’re going to do is develop a time sense so that we can make appropriate, timely decisions as we move through the test. Let’s talk first about why and how we use this time sense; then, we’ll talk about what we need to do in order to develop it.

Note: Most people find it takes three to four weeks of regular practice with this in order to develop a time sense that is reasonably accurate most of the time.

WHY are we developing a 1-minute sense?

One of the key timeframes on this test is the 1-minute mark on a question. For Quant, Critical Reasoning, and some Reading Comp questions, this represents the halfway point, and there are particular things that we need to have accomplished by that time in order to have a reasonable shot at finishing the question correctly in 2 minutes. For SC and some RC questions, the 1-minute mark represents the wrapping-up point—we should be close to done with the problem.

For two-minute questions (Quant, CR, and Except or Roman Numeral RC), we spend the first minute actively trying to get to the right answer. By the 1-minute mark, we need to be on track. This means that we need to know what we’re doing, have a very good idea of what else needs to happen in the second minute, and have confidence that we’re capable of doing that work. If we’re not on track at the 1-minute mark, then we need to move from our best strategy (trying to find the right answer) to our second-best strategy (trying to find wrong answers). We spend up to 1 more minute eliminating wrong answers, then we guess and move on.

Note: when you’re on track, there’s no question in your mind. If I were to interrupt you on such a question and ask whether you were on track, you’d tell me, shhh, don’t interrupt me! I know exactly what I’m doing! If, instead, you are thinking, Well, I know this part over here…I’m not totally sure where that’s going, but with a little more time, I’m sure… or But I studied this! I should be able to do it! No. Stop. You are not on track.

For most other questions (SC and general or main idea RC questions), the 1-minute mark is almost the time’s up mark. If you’re getting that 1-minute feeling and you’re not on track, guess from among the remaining answers and move on. (Do not spend time trying to figure out how to guess at this point—time’s already up.)

Finally, for normal specific detail and inference RC questions (not Except or Roman Numeral), our expected timeframe is about 1.5 minutes. When you get that 1-minute feeling and aren’t on track, start to eliminate more aggressively. You have a little time to decide what to eliminate, but you can’t spend up to another minute on these.

HOW do we develop a 1-minute sense?

You need access to a stop watch (physical or electronic) that has lap timing capability. (Most electronic stopwatches will do this; only some physical stopwatches will.) When using lap timing, pushing the lap button will not stop the stopwatch; rather, it will mark the time at which you pushed the button, but the stopwatch itself will keep running. You can push the lap button multiple times, and the timer will record all of the times at which you pushed the button while continuing to run.

First, start with something non-GMAT-related that still engages your brain fully. Have to write up a report or memo for work, do some research, read a paper? Set up the stopwatch/program and cover the part that shows the timer so that you can’t see what it says. Start working, but push the button every time you think one minute has passed until you’ve pushed it ten times. Then check your data.

Anything between 45 seconds and 1 minute 15 seconds is great. Anything faster than 30 seconds or slower than 1 minute 30 seconds is too fast or too slow. Note your tendencies and, later on this afternoon, adjust accordingly when you do this again.

Now, try this out with actual GMAT problems. Set yourself up with a set of 5 Quant or CR practice problems. (It’s best to practice this with 2-minute questions to start.) Start your timer and cover it up again. Dive into the first problem; when you think it’s been about a minute since you began, push that lap button. When you’re done with the problem, push the lap button again. Start your second problem; when you think it’s been about a minute since you began, push that lap button. When you’re done, push the button again. Keep repeating this process until you’re done with your set. (Note: if you’re done with the question before you think the first minute has passed, check your work. If you were really that fast, you have the time to check, right? Make sure you didn’t make a careless mistake simply due to speed. While checking your work, remember to push that button when you think it has been a minute since you started in the first place.)

As you progress in your studies, you can start to set up longer sets of questions, 8, 10, 12, 15.

Early on, you can also download what’s called an interval training program—this is a stopwatch that beeps at you when a certain interval has passed. You can set the interval to 1 minute, for example, and it will beep at you every minute. You’ve just set up your own Pavlov’s Dogs experiment with you as the dog (though we’ll skip the salivating, thanks). ? If you find yourself really struggling with the previous exercises, during which you have to decide when to push the button, try this interval training exercise so that you get used to being prompted when it has been one minute. (Just don’t get dependent on this, since you can’t do this during the real test. After a couple of weeks, you’ve got to wean yourself off of the interval timer.)

Once your time sense is relatively reliable, you’ll be effective in implementing your am I on track? and if not, I’m moving on, or I’m moving to guessing strategy. This also requires you to know how to make good educated guesses, of course. Check out these two articles for help: Educated Guessing on Quant and Educated Guessing on Verbal.

(5) Transition to Benchmarks

You probably noted that our timing is still a bit loose above; we might finish one 2-minute question in only 1.5 minutes, and another in 2.5 minutes. That’s fine, as long as we are generally spending long enough (at least 1 minute) to minimize careless mistakes and yet not too long (more than 2.5 minutes), which could cost us other questions in the section

On a full test or test section, it’s best to monitor time using Benchmarks. There are several ways to do this; try these out and use the one that works best for you.

Method 1: Checking the clock at certain times to see whether you’re on the right question (all question ranges assume +/- 1 question; that is, you’re on track if you’re within 1 question of the expected range):

Time Left Math”Near Question Verbal”Near Question
75 minutes 1 1
60 minutes 7-8 8-10
45 minutes 14-15 16-18
30 minutes 21-22 24-26
15 minutes 28-29 32-34

Method 2: Checking the question number at certain points to see whether you’ve used the right amount of time (all times assume +/- 2 minutes; that is, you’re on track if you’re within 2 minutes on either side); Note: check after finishing the listed question:

Q Number (after finishing) Math”Time Left Verbal”Time Left
10 55 minutes 56 minutes
20 35 minutes 37 minutes
30 15 minutes 19 minutes

Method 3 (Quant only): Doing a little math to calculate your position. Here’s how it works: Glance at the question number. Multiply that number by 2. Subtract the resulting number from 75. Now look at the clock. Are you within 2 minutes of that number?

For example, I’m on question 11. Multiplying by 2 gives me 22. 75 – 22 = 53. If the timer says 51 to 55 minutes left, I’m okay; if the timer is outside of that range, I’m going too quickly or too slowly.

For Integrated Reasoning, we’re going to use the first two methods in general as shown above, but the details are different enough that this section gets its own pair of tables.

Integrated Reasoning Method #1: Check based on time. You can check either once or twice, your choice. If you’re within 1 question of the question number listed, you’re on track.

Time left You’ve finished Q#
Check Once 15 minutes 6
Check Twice 20 minutes10 minutes 48

Integrated Reasoning Method #2: Check based on question #. Again, you can check either once or twice, your choice. If you’re within a couple of minutes of the timeframe listed, you’re on track.

You’ve finished Q# Time left
Check Once 6 15 minutes
Check Twice 48 20 minutes10 minutes

(6) Know How to Recover from Bad Timing

Okay, everything we’ve talked about so far has focused on what we do want to do. What do we do if things get off track? There are two levels to this: what to do immediately during an actual testing/timed situation, and what to do during your study afterward, before you take another test.

During a test

As soon as you notice a timing problem, you need to deal with it. Don’t ignore it and assume it will get better later; most likely, it will only get worse.

If you discover that you are behind on time (you are moving too slowly), you are going to need to sacrifice something in order to get back on track; you don’t have a choice about that. You do have a choice about what you sacrifice—and there are better and worse choices you can make. Do NOT sacrifice things you know how to do. Don’t tell yourself that you’ll do this question 30 seconds faster because you already know how to do it, so you can just speed up. You’re risking a careless mistake on a question that you know how to get right, plus you’re going to have to do that on several questions to make up the 3+ minutes that you’re behind, so you’re really giving yourself a chance to miss multiple questions that you know how to do.

Instead, the very next time you see a question that you know is a weakness of yours, skip it. Make an immediate, random guess and move on. There—you’ve only sacrificed one question, and it was a weakness anyway. Depending upon the question type and how quickly you moved on, you saved anywhere from a little under 1 minute to a little under 2.5 minutes. If that’s enough to catch back up, great. If not, repeat this behavior until you are caught back up. Don’t worry if you see two big weakness questions in a row. Maybe you got lucky and got that first one right. Maybe one is an experimental. Even if they both count, getting two wrong in a row won’t kill your score—you can recover because you still have more questions to come—and you’re not sure that you could’ve gotten them right anyway, because they were weaknesses.

What about going too quickly? In this case, you do need to slow down a bit, because you might be making careless mistakes simply due to speed. Make sure you’re writing everything down. Check your work on the questions that you know you know how to do. (On the ones you absolutely don’t know how to do, though, just go ahead and move on—you don’t need to spend more time on those.) Use your 1-minute sense! If you’re ready to move on before it’s been about a minute (and you think you got it right), now would be a great time to check your work.

After the test

Okay, the test is over, and you realize that you messed up the timing. Now what? Now you go all the way back to the beginning of this article and start practicing all of the things we discussed until you’re better able to balance your timing throughout a test section (and note that this can take weeks and even months, depending upon how severe your timing problems are and whether they are also related to holes in your content knowledge and skills).

That was a lot of information. Here’s a summary of our major tasks:

(1) Understand how the scoring works

(2) Know your per-question time constraints and track your work

(3) Reflect on your results

(4) Develop your 1 minute sense

(5) Transition to Benchmarks

(6) Know how to recover from bad timing

Now go get started! ?

Can’t get enough of Stacey’s GMAT expertise? Attend the first session of one of her upcoming GMAT courses absolutely free, no strings attached. Seriously. 

stacey-koprinceStacey Koprince is a Manhattan Prep instructor based in Montreal, Canada and Los Angeles, California. Stacey has been teaching the GMAT, GRE, and LSAT  for more than 15 years and is one of the most well-known instructors in the industry. Stacey loves to teach and is absolutely fascinated by standardized tests. Check out Stacey’s upcoming GMAT courses here.

  1. John November 7, 2016 at 6:10 pm

    GREAT JOB, STACEY! I love your articles so much that I shared it with my GMAT friends and highly recommended them to read all these articles.

  2. Manhattan Prep June 14, 2016 at 6:51 pm

    Hi, Rahul.

    Our GMAT Forum is a better place to have your question answered. Please feel free to inquire there!

    Manhattan Prep

  3. rahul June 14, 2016 at 4:12 pm

    Dear Stacey,

    I wrote GMAT today and score 510, in Manhattan CAT series I used to get in 630+range. The entire verbal was messed up. When I compare with Manhattan CAT series Verbal, I found actual GMAT question far tougher than i used to come across in CAT series. I used to score around 30-32 in verbal in actual GMAT I scored way to low like 19. I am not able to evaluate what went wrong, may be time management or strategy issue. I took Manhattan CAT series in actual time conditions.

    Thanks for your help


  4. Stacey Koprince January 7, 2013 at 6:03 pm

    You can definitely post on our forums to get more personalized help (I answer all of the questons in the General Strategy folder). Just note that I won’t look at your tests for you – you’ve got to learn how to read the data and analyze it for yourself. Use this article to help:

    Then you can post your analysis (not just the raw data – what you think the data MEANS) and what you think you need to do about it and I’ll tell you whether I agree with you. 🙂

    Note that tutors will analyze tests for you during a tutoring session… but that’s expensive (and we don’t offer this kind of analysis for free because it takes about 45 minutes to analyze a test!).

    By the way, first piece of advice: you already know you have time management issues. You’ve read the time management article. Start doing what it says! Good luck!

  5. daniel January 3, 2013 at 12:34 pm

    Hello Stacey, I read your articles whenever I can and I find them very insightful and practical. I’ve had issues with timing on the gmat quant from the very beginning and I’ve been unable to beat it thus far. It’s my biggest hindrance to reaching my target score at this point. I want to achieve a minimum of 49 on the quant but seem to be stuck at 46 primarily because of timing issues. I’ve been using MGMAT CAT’s to practice and although i’ve been stuck at a 45/46 I’ve actually been improving (on my last attempt I was at 98% percentile at #30 of 37 but guessed the last 7 and got them all wrong) in tackling the 700+ questions but my time management errors always erase any gains I make.

    I don’t know if you will be able to help, but I was hoping you could take a look at my MGMAT tests or so to pinpoint exactly what I need to do strategy wise to achieve my goal. It may be that last piece of advice I need to turn things around for me with this issue.

    Thank you for the articles you share. I look forward to your next post. 🙂

    Username: daniel ibeto

  6. brand December 21, 2012 at 4:39 am

    Nice job on the pic

  7. brand December 21, 2012 at 4:39 am

    hotels in Philadelphia

  8. Rodrigo Valiente November 28, 2012 at 5:34 pm

    OK, thank you very much. Luckily, I have time to prepare a different strategy then.

  9. Stacey Koprince November 28, 2012 at 12:38 pm

    This is a myth – the earlier questions are NOT worth more and the later questions do not have less impact on your score! So, yes that is a bad strategy. 🙂

  10. Rodrigo Valiente November 28, 2012 at 12:34 pm

    Hi Stacey, I love your series of articles, they really helped me a lot.
    I am a little bit more than two weeks away from G-Day, I am starting to plan my timing strategy for the test. Is it a bad strategy in the Quant section to use more time in the first 10/20 questions that are the ones that really defined the score and leave the skipping and educated guessing for the last questions when the damage or impact in the score is less hurtful?
    Thank you very much

  11. Stacey Koprince November 5, 2012 at 9:24 am

    Yes, whichever strategy works best for you. You may need to try them out before you figure out which is easiest / most natural for you.

    If you are 2 to 3+ minutes behind, your strategy is to guess immediately and randomly (in 10-15 seconds) on the next question you see that you know is a harder category for you. Of course, you might get unlucky and skip something that you could have done if you’d had time… but the point is that you don’t have time. You’re sacrificing something. 🙂

    Ideally, you don’t put yourself in this position at all. But if you do get into this position, then you need to try to “save” yourself, and that means making a sacrifice (possibly multiple). Note that it’s okay to be a couple of minutes behind – you don’t need to be exactly on time.

    Also, as soon as you notice a problem, take action. If you do that, hopefully that will also mean that you don’t need to guess on more than 1 or 2 questions.

  12. Stacey Koprince November 5, 2012 at 9:18 am

    It’s further up on this same page. 🙂 You can only do it in the quant section. Look in Section 5 above (Transition), Method 3 (for quant only).

  13. Sam November 5, 2012 at 1:07 am

    Great article Stacey!!

    So do I follow the same strategy to be on time all the time. I am fine with following method 2 as indicated by you.

    So suppose I am 2 questions behind (eg Q 25) in verbal and I have to come back on track. Will my strategy be to skip one question after attempting 2 questions till I am back on track.

    The problem I have in this approach is aggravated in RC because I have to read the passage (max time) and skip a question which might turn out to be easier than thought sometimes.
    If I skip all 3 question of a single passage then my score tanks down in the mocks due to adaptive marking.

  14. shivani October 31, 2012 at 10:39 am

    Dear Stacey,

    I totally love your series of articles on the Manhattan blog,you do a wonderful job of breaking down and explaining concepts.

    Actually I happened to read a post from you on the timing strategy for the quant section wherein you suggested a process which went something like one could subtract the number 11 or 22 and arrive at the estimated time left on the section.

    I seem to have missed bookmarking that page and now I can’t find it.Could you please help me out?


  15. Stacey Koprince October 17, 2012 at 9:25 am

    For CR, first read this:

    That article sets up the general process for ANY reading comp question. Then, you need to learn (a) how to recognize a specific problem type, (b) what to expect from that type, (c) what kinds of characteristcs are found in the right answer, and (d) what kinds of characteristics are found in trap answers.

    Here are articles on the four main CR types:

    You can find more on both of these topics by searching our blog!

  16. Stacey Koprince October 17, 2012 at 9:23 am

    The first thing is to figure out what’s slowing you down. Are you taking too much time on the initial read-through of the passage or argument? Are you struggling to figure out what the question stem is asking or, in the case of RC, which paragraph to use in order to answer the question? Are you spending a lot of time going back and forth among the answer choices?

    For the RC read-through, you need to train yourself on what to read and what NOT to read.

    For the specific questions, you need to know how to recognize them and what you’re supposed to be doing for each one, in terms of both finding the info in the passage and assessing the answers:

  17. Vivek October 17, 2012 at 5:19 am

    Beautiful. Awesome article Stacey.Any specific suggestion you might have on improving timing on RC and CR would immensely help.

    Thanks again!