GRE Quantitative Section: Time Management Tips

As is the case for most students preparing for the GRE, you probably have studied little or no formal math as an undergraduate.  Consequently, your GRE preparation has involved an unpleasant revisiting of high school algebra and geometry classes, forcing you to shake off many cobwebs along the way. But once you’ve conquered the math content, another test dragon rears its ugly head: time. Indeed, as you get closer and closer to test time, you discover that the greatest challenge you will face on test day is how to implement an efficient time management strategy. Here are some GRE Quantitative section time management tips to get you started.

GRE Quant: Two Sections, Adaptive by Section

Whether you’re taking the GRE At Home or in a Test Center, the Quantitative portion of the test consists of two 35-minute sections of 20 questions each. Because it’s adaptive by section (rather than by question, as is the case for the GMAT), students are free to skip over questions and return to them later. This ability to prioritize question order proves to be a powerful asset and should be a determining factor if you’re deciding between the GRE and the GMAT for business school.

GRE Quantitative Section Time Management Tip 1: Pick and Choose!

As indicated above, while working through the questions, be prepared to skip over any questions that do not appear immediately solvable. Work according to your strengths. If the block of data interpretation questions proves routinely challenging for you, for example, skip over them (you are permitted to “mark”, or flag, questions as you move along) and return to them later.

GRE Quantitative Time Management Tip 2: Plan for 1.5 Minutes Per Question

If you keep the mindset of 1.5 minutes per question (for the 20 total questions), you will spend 30 minutes, leaving a 5-minute buffer to return to the most challenging of the Quant questions you encountered. This does not mean you should use a stopwatch for every question (which you would not be permitted to do anyway!), but in your practice tests, you want to work on developing a sense of where you should be timewise at any given point in the section. Use the built-in section clock: if you’re on question #5, you should be about 7-8 minutes into the section; if you’re on question #10, you should be about 15 minutes in, etc.

GRE Quantitative Time Management Tip 3: Organize Your Scratch Work

If you want to take full advantage of the pick and choose approach, you must be super organized and keep track of any partial work you do on questions to which you will return later. On your scratch paper, make sure you number the questions and even box them off if need be. Keep in mind that this will be an even greater challenge for the GRE At Home, for which you will be required to use a whiteboard instead of actual paper. If you are returning to a question on which you began to work earlier in the section, you certainly do not want waste precious time searching for your previous notes.

GRE Quantitative Time Management Tip 4: Don’t Overuse the Calculator!

Yes, it’s quite a bonus that you have access to a calculator on the GRE. While this may seem like a time-saving advantage at first, however, this primitive, on-screen calculator may actually slow you down. The GRE Quantitative section is designed to measure your skills in analyzing mathematical problems and the ways in which you solve them. The calculator will not tell you how to solve a problem; it merely assists you along the way to the solution. Many GRE questions do not require a calculator, so use it only when you have to. When is that? For any calculation you’re not comfortable doing in your head—addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. Most students find the calculator most useful when doing data analysis questions, which often involve calculating percents. Overall, though, the calculator is not a panacea!

GRE Quantitative Time Management Tip 5: Don’t Omit!

Finally, there is no guessing penalty on the GRE, so you should answer every question, even if you have no time to review the problem. Of course, always try to eliminate as many answers as possible first, but even a wild guess may work to your advantage.

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