GMAT Troubleshooting: Running out of Time

A recent study showed that when waiting for a subway or a bus, passengers will often to overestimate their wait times by as much as 30%. Two minutes can feel like two hours when you’re late or particularly anxious to get where you’re going.

When you’re taking the GMAT, the opposite can occur. Two minutes can feel like two seconds.

Time management is hugely important when it comes to the GMAT. One common problem for test-takers is that their question times are  inconsistent. Sometimes they manage to stay within the recommended 1-2 minutes, but other questions stretch into 3-4 minute range. Which leads to a glut of questions at the end of the exam. And answering the last few questions at random can have a serious impact on your score.

Though two minutes is the commonly cited estimate, the ideal amount of time per question varies based on question type. As you can see from the chart below, sentence correction should take you just longer than a minute. For reading comprehension, your time estimates include time spent reading the question.

Question type Low Ideal High
Sentence Correction 45 seconds 1 minute, 15 seconds 2 minutes
Critical Reasoning 1 minute 2 minutes 2.5 minutes
Reading Comprehension 4 minutes 6 minutes 8 minutes
Data Sufficiency 1 minute 2 minutes 2.5 minutes
Problem Solving 1 minute 2 minutes 2.5 minutes


The first thing to do is to zero in on the types of questions with which you tend to have pacing problems.


If you’re struggling with your pacing on verbal questions, make sure you have a good understanding of the grammar rules normally tested on the GMAT to help you pick up on what the question is testing. With verbal, familiarity with the format of questions and passages can help you create mental shortcuts and throw out bad answers quickly. Students who struggle with RC and CR often find themselves reading and rereading questions, which adds far more time than they realize. Learning the keywords and taking careful notes can help speed things up.


With quant, look for patterns to see if there are certain questions (i.e., exponents) where you tend to be over 3 minutes. Often, you can speed up your time on quant by learning a new technique for those types of questions or refining the method you’re already using. You don’t want to waste valuable time trying to recall the next step in your calculation. Though plugging in answers can be effective, it’s rarely the most efficient way to tackle a problem.

You should also pay attention to your scratch paper when you’re moving through questions. Your scratch paper should be easy for you to read and at least somewhat organized. If you’re constantly backtracking because of you make a careless multiplication mistake or confuse a 1 and a 7, that’s costing you valuable time as well.


This post is part of our ongoing series on common GMAT Troubleshooting.