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So you’ve been studying for the GMAT for a couple months now and feel like you’re learning a ton and getting a lot better, but your score just won’t budge. Sound familiar? Or maybe your score is moving, but not getting where you want it to be. When you look at individual questions, they all more or less make sense, but when you try to put it all together on a practice test, the score still comes out the same as it always is. What gives?
Of course, there could be a variety of issues, but the first one to check is always your GMAT timing. Now, that might be even more frustrating, because on the first test you ran out of time and left a question or two blank at the end, but now you’ve gotten that under control and are tracking your time and finishing them all—but your score still won’t budge.
It might still be GMAT timing.
While you’ve figured out the first timing danger (running out of time), you might still be falling into the real GMAT timing danger. The real GMAT timing danger is stress.
See, stress does funny things to us. It causes us to make bad decisions and forget things we usually know. The stress of trying to stay “on time” during the GMAT can cause issues all throughout the test. In fact, the stress of trying to hit GMAT timing benchmarks and move quickly can actually cause you to take longer on each question!
I once had a student who could do almost any question individually in under 2 minutes, but anytime he took a practice test, he ran into GMAT timing trouble and was stuck in the low 600s. He tried hiding the timer during the test and saw his score shoot up nearly 100 points! For him, just the presence of that timer ticking down caused all kinds of problems. Now, I wouldn’t recommend that everyone hide the timer, but it does show just how much the stress of time management can affect you.
Another way to see the real danger of GMAT timing stress is to consider this scenario:
For a set of 20 questions, you have 40 minutes. If you just relax and don’t think about time, you’ll only finish 18 of those questions, but you’ll do pretty well on those 18. So you have two choices:
1) Relax, do the 18 questions, get 14 of them right, and skip the last 2. Altogether, you get 14/20 right.
2) Watch the clock and push yourself to get through all 20, but the stress causes you to miss several of the ones that you could have otherwise gotten. So you only get 10/20 right.
Which would you prefer?
Of course, that’s a simplified scenario that doesn’t fully account for the GMAT scoring algorithm, but it does illustrate the way that GMAT timing stress can impact your score and points to a way to mitigate the effects of that timing stress.
First, consider simplifying your GMAT timing approach by skipping questions when you fall behind. By skip, I mean take an immediate guess. Many students try to catch up by letting go of questions more quickly or just moving a little faster, but both of these approaches tend to increase stress and lead to mistakes. Better to just catch up on more time with less effort by fully skipping.
Second, limit how much you look at the clock. Keeping a constant eye on the clock tends to increase stress and doesn’t actually pay off in any meaningful way. Make a plan for when you’re going to check the clock and only check it at those points to see whether you need to skip a question to catch up.
Finally and most importantly, remember that skipping questions to catch up on time or getting out of hard questions to save time is not failure. Those are good decisions, and since the GMAT is a test of decision-making, they are essential to scoring well on the test. 📝
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James Brock is a Manhattan Prep instructor based in Virginia Beach, VA. He holds a B.A. in mathematics and a Master of Divinity from Covenant Seminary. James has taught and tutored everything from calculus to chess, and his 780 GMAT score allows him to share his love of teaching and standardized tests with MPrep students. You can check out James’s upcoming GMAT courses here.