15 - 760+: Defining Your Pacing Problem in the Quant and/or Verbal Sections (Part 1)
Over the years, one of the most common concerns that I’ve heard from GMATers is about their pacing – specifically, the fact that they have to rush through a number of questions at the end of a section just to finish on time. “How do I fix my pacing problem?” they ask (and you might be asking it too!).
First, you have to understand that a pacing problem doesn’t exist on its own – it’s the result of OTHER issues. In simple terms, something about how you handle the Quant and/or Verbal sections is CAUSING this pacing issue. To better define that cause (or causes), we have to analyze how you’re handling questions on your CATs. To properly do that, we need to look at one of your recent CATs and your NOTES for that CAT.
Certain practice CATs include information on how much time you spent on each question – and we need a CAT result that includes that information. THAT data is remarkably important, but we need more than just some numbers to solve your pacing issue. We also need to see what you wrote down, the ‘steps’ that you went through to try to answer each question, etc. For review purposes, you should always keep your notes from each CAT. At the very least, you’ll be able to reattempt questions that you originally got wrong. – which is a great way to measure your progress as you study and define how well you are improving. In addition, you can go back and see how you successfully answered certain questions (as those Tactics and patterns will likely be helpful on future questions.) At deeper levels, you can define WHY you got questions wrong in the first place – and that information can help you to change your tactics, improve your work and hone your skills.
“On a CAT, no Quant question is worth more than 3 minutes of your time - not even the first question.”
Say that quote out loud. Right now. Then say it again. I don’t care where you are (and I don’t care if anyone looks at your strangely). Say it a third time. Now start living by that rule.
Believe it or not, 62 minutes IS enough time to work through the Quant section, but NOT if you’re making silly mistakes (that you then have to go back and fix) or wasting time by staring at the screen and hoping that an idea comes to you.
If you had to rush through even a couple of questions at the end of the Quant section, then you ‘over-committed’ to certain questions earlier on and wasted a bunch of time. If you have a pacing issue in the Quant section, then here’s what we have to specifically look for in your CAT results:
1. Count up the number of times that you spent 3 or more minutes on a question. Write all of those times down in a row.
2. What fraction of those questions did you get WRONG? Circle the times associated with the ones that you got wrong.
Over time, for most GMATers, the long-term fraction of wrong answers on questions that took 3+ minutes is about ½… meaning that when you spend THAT much time on a Quant question, there’s a really good chance that you’re going to get that question WRONG anyway! So in addition to getting a bunch of questions wrong, you end up wasting a bunch of time AND you end up not having enough time for the questions at the end of the section (which you mostly get wrong too). In effect, you’re getting killed twice for the same mistake… so you need to stop making that initial mistake. To figure out how to do that, we have to start with your notes…
3. Take a look at your notes for the first question from your list of “3+ minutes” questions. If you were to hand that section of your notes to someone else, would that person be able to answer the following questions:
A) What information did the prompt include?
B) What question were you attempting to answer?
C) What ‘steps’ did you go through?
D) Were the numbers that you wrote down “labeled”?
If any of those 4 questions cannot be answered, then you’ve defined the first (and probably the BIGGEST) issue – you don’t take the proper notes. The GMAT will NEVER ask you to do work ‘in your head’ – that’s why you’re given a note pad and marker to work with.
4. Now, review each question that you spent 3+ minutes on. How many of those questions had ‘insufficient’ notes attached to them? By extension, how hard would it have been to write down those notes?
5. Try redoing each question, from scratch. Write down all of the notes (as defined above). How long did it take to JUST write down the notes? Not too long, I bet. Now, try to solve the problem. If you decide it’s too hard, then that’s fine… now dump it (take a guess and move on). Physically do it. Choose an answer. Accept that making that choice is in your best interests– there are questions at the end of the section that you almost certainly CAN correctly answer if you have enough time.
With this newfound perspective, you can start making changes to how you work through practice questions and how you take your CATs. Next time, we’ll talk though how to apply similar ideas to how you handle the Verbal section.
GMAT assassins aren’t born, they’re made,
If you have any questions about anything in this thread, then you can feel free to contact me directly via email (at [email protected])