How to Drive Your GMAT Score Higher: Slow Down Your Practice.

Most people preparing for the GMAT are aware that, when they take the test, they will have two minutes per quant question and a little less than two minutes per verbal question to find correct answers. So, when they practice answering GMAT questions, they give themselves just two minutes to answer each practice question. While doing so may seem to make sense, and while many professionals recommend that approach, the truth is that using that approach generally does not really work very well, and here’s why.

Getting the correct answers to GMAT questions is not as much about knowing math or grammar rules as it is about seeing what you have to see in order to arrive at correct answers. In quant, you may have to, for example, see a pattern or notice that a seemingly useless piece of information provided in a Data Sufficiency question is actually sufficient for answering the question. In verbal, you may have to see a subtle reason why one sentence version is better than another, or you may have to notice a key detail in a Critical Reasoning answer choice that differentiates that choice from another one. So, driving your GMAT score higher involves learning to see these things, and you won’t learn to see them by rushing through question after question in two minutes or less each, and then going to explanations to find out what you needed to see.

Further, the process of answering a GMAT question has mental and emotional aspects to it beyond the reasoning tasks associated specifically with coming up with answers. You may see a question that looks complex at first, and you may start to think that there’s no way that you can answer it with the knowledge and skills that you have, even though, actually, you can. You may even start to become angry or anxious when you see such a question. Meanwhile, the truth in many cases is that, if you stay cool and keep looking at the question and playing with ideas, you can come up with a way to answer it. However, if you give yourself only two minutes per practice question, you will often cut this process short. Rather than get into the habit of keeping your cool and coming up with a way to execute, you see that the time has run out, and LET YOURSELF OFF THE HOOK. Then, you may go look at the explanation, and see how to answer the question, but the truth is that you already could have answered the question, and the explanation isn’t going to say, “You should have kept your cool and continued playing with ideas. You already have the skills to answer this question.”

What all of the above means is that, by giving yourself only two minutes per question when you are practicing, you are not really training yourself to do what you have to do in order to score high on the GMAT. You aren’t giving yourself time to learn to see what you have to see, and you aren’t giving yourself time to learn to deal with the mental and emotional challenges of answering GMAT questions.

So, what’s the answer?

The answer is that, most of the time, when you are practicing answering GMAT questions, you are best off taking as long as you need in order to find the correct answers. If finding correct answers takes you ten minutes, or more, per question, well, that’s the amount of time you need at your skill level, and taking two minutes per question is not going to change much. You have to learn to walk before you run.

When you are doing practice questions, you can shoot for these three levels of proficiency.

Level 1 – When you see a question, you know basically how to answer it. While you may not arrive at the correct answer, you have at least a general sense of how to handle the question.

Level 2 – When you see a question, you know how to handle it, and you will likely arrive at the correct answer, though, in many cases, arriving at the correct answer will take you more than two minutes.

Level 3 – When you see a question, you will likely arrive at the correct answer in two minutes or less.

Oftentimes, people seek to jump from Level 1 to Level 3. To drive your GMAT score higher, you need to get to Level 2 before you get to Level 3.

You can be sure of two things. Firstly, if you don’t consistently arrive at correct answers if you give yourself as much time as you need per question, you won’t consistently arrive at correct answers in two minutes per question. Secondly, if you learn to get right answers taking as much time as you need per question, as you develop more skill and practice more, you will learn to get them right in two minutes or less.

So, when you are doing practice GMAT questions, your best bet is to take your time, at least most of the time. Sit with the questions. Notice the tricks that that test-makers came up with, and come up with ways to execute. When you are answering quant questions, be very careful with your logic and make sure that you are really considering everything that you have to consider. If at first you are not sure how to answer a question, play with ideas and persist until you come up with at least some reasonable method that you can use. When you are answering verbal practice questions, go beyond seeking to quickly find correct answers to carefully considering the details of every passage and every choice and noticing the traps that the test-makers have set. Train yourself to notice patterns, traps, and subtleties. Once you get good at seeing what you have to see, you will naturally speed up.

Answering GMAT questions is like any other task that you do repeatedly. If you do it carefully, over time you learn to do it faster while still doing it well. So, to drive your GMAT score much higher, probably the most powerful thing you can do is take your time when practicing.

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