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Top 10 Time Savers for the GMAT

Posted in Test Prep on July 19, 2010 by

Kyle Hausmann is a Content Developer at Knewton, where he helps students with their GMAT prep.

GMAT success depends not only on getting the right answer–but on getting it fast. Time management is key to conquering the GMAT: After all, test-takers only have an average of two minutes to spend on each question. Saving time isn’t just about answering the hard questions in less time–it’s also about answering easier questions faster. Every second you save is a second you can use on a hard problem. Taking only 30 seconds instead of 60 on one question means you’ll have 25% more time for a hard question later on. And believe it or not, there ARE easy ways to save time on many types of questions–without sacrificing accuracy.

Knewton’s course covers many strategies that will help you get the right answer, and faster. Our content developers and teachers are time-saving experts. Some of the tactics we rely on are commonly known (and too-commonly forgotten!), while others are much less widely utilized. The following is a list of Knewton’s top 10 great time management tactics. The list is a combination of the physical and the psychological, everything from test strategies to typing tips. All of these guidelines will help you bank time early, give you more time to concentrate on hard questions, and ultimately increase your score.

10. Don’t untangle complicated language unless you have to. If you come upon a few lines in a reading passage that are all “tied up,” don’t waste time untying them. Just get the gist and keep reading. If a question asks about those lines, you can always go back and figure out what is going on then; but if no question deals with them, untangling would have been a waste of time. Like all the time savers in this list, the idea is to keep moving–and go back only if you absolutely have to.

9.  Look at the verb. When a Reading Comprehension question asks for the primary/main purpose of a question, that purpose is often expressed by infinitives in the answer choices. For example, possible answers might include, a) to explain a complicated scientific concept, b) to suggest a new application of a scientific theory, and c) to advocate for a new application of a scientific theory. Before considering the complete answer choice, try to eliminate choices just by looking at the verbs. Verbs like encourage, argue, suggest, support, advocate, etc. represent a strong agenda on the author’s part. If the passage is only presenting information, you can immediately eliminate choices with those verbs. A choice with a verb like summarize or report could be the correct choice.

8. Learn keyboard shortcuts. If you don’t know what CTRL-X means, learn! Some particularly important shortcuts to know:  Copy by pressing CONTROL and C (CTRL-C) at the same time; paste by pressing CTRL-V. CTRL-X cuts. CTRL-Z is undo, and CTRL-Y is redo. If you are used to using keyboard shortcuts, note that not all of them will work. (I like to use CTRL-Up/Down Arrow to jump between paragraphs, but that won’t work on the GMAT.) So whether you are used to using the keyboard in this way or not, download the official GMAT practice test at and practice keyboard shortcuts as you write your AWA essays. You’ll definitely be moving things around in your essay. These shortcuts can help you do that faster, leaving more time to hone your diction and develop your ideas.

7. Guess and move on. Sometimes you just don’t know the answer. Or you know you would get it if you spent five minutes on the problem, but five minutes is too long. Staring at a problem you aren’t solving is a huge waste of time. If you’ve been working (really working) on a problem for 3 minutes, stop and ask if you will be done in 30 seconds. If the answer is no, guess and move on. And if you have been staring at a question for 60-90 seconds and still don’t know what to do, the same is true: It’s time to guess and move on.

6. Zoom out from reading comprehension passages. If a question asks about the “occipital lobe,” try literally drawing back the focus of your eyes to see the whole passage, registering each place the phrase “occipital lobe” appears. This is a skill that can be improved with practice. RC passages an take up a lot of time if you have to read through them again and again — this skill can help you find what you need without rereading.

5. Compare answer choices. Answer choices are often grouped together. Look at what makes the choices similar and what makes them different. So, if on a sentence correction question, two choices begin with “its” and three begin with “their,” you have a 2/3 split. The antecedent of the pronoun will either be singular or plural, and once you know which one is correct, you can eliminate the incorrect choices right away.

4. Pick a strategy. Sometimes there will be multiple ways to solve a problem. You can tell that testing cases will get you there, with a little work; and so will solving algebraically, although that doesn’t seem super quick either. Rather than wasting time debating the relative efficiency, just pick a strategy and stick to it.

3. Don’t solve. This one is obvious but often overlooked. Data Sufficiency problems ask you to say when you have enough information to answer the question in the prompt, not to actually compute the answer. Sometimes you need to work all the way to a solution, but often, all you need to know is how to get the solution–and whether you could do so with the information provided. In these cases, actually solving is a waste of valuable time.

2. Be confident. If you know the right answer, stick with it. Often on, say, a Problem Solving question, you’ll need to figure out the right answer before you even get to the choices. Don’t waste time second guessing yourself when you see a different answer that looks appealing; you studied for this, you did the question properly. Select your answer and proceed to the next question.

1. Know your s#!&. This one is on the obvious side, but too important to leave off the list. The most important things you can do to prepare for the GMAT is to understand all the concepts tested and to be familiar with all the question types. There is no magic formula–the best strategy is to spend a lot of time beforehand practicing and familiarizing yourself with the various concepts and question formats.