The First Five Questions Myth
A popular story that has been bandied about so much in GMAT circles that it has taken on a patina of truth is that the first part of the test is the most important. Many claim that the GMAT algorithm “knows” your score after only the first five questions, and the rest of the test doesn’t make too big of a difference.
While nobody—except for GMAC—knows exactly how the algorithm works, do not try to game the system by spending most of your time at the beginning of the section. Rather, you should spread your time out over the entire section, making sure you finish (lest you suffer a penalty for not finishing).
The lay of the land
Before I talk about some specific time management tips, it is important to know exactly how many questions there are in each section.
Verbal: 41 questions, 75 minutes
Math: 37 questions, 75 minutes
Time per question
The above gives you about 2 minutes per question, a little less in the case of verbal. Budgeting two minutes per question, however, is not a sound strategy. Some questions are more difficult than others. For instance, a rhombus inscribed into two overlapping circles is probably going to take a longer than 2 minutes. To give yourself time for more difficult questions, you must solve the easier questions in closer to one minute.
Of course knowing which ones are difficult and which ones are easy you should take practice tests.
If you have do not have a clear path to the solution, but are still flailing about after a couple of minutes, burn the question and move on. At this point, your nerves are going to make finding a solution very difficult.
On the other hand, if you worked your way to a solution and after two minutes it is not the right one, go back and check your steps. Very often one little arithmetic mistake can prevent you from getting the correct answer.
Finally, if you have a certain weakness and a difficult problem exploits it, you can save time by randomly guessing on the question. The logic is you are unlikely to get the correct answer even after a couple of minutes. Burning a question or two shouldn’t hurt you too much, and because you save time (and overwrought nerves), it can indeed help you.
If you are finishing early, but are still scoring below the 80% on either quant or verbal, then figure out in which areas you are making mistakes. For instance, if you are making careless errors in quant, some of the extra remaining time could have been used to review questions. If you notice you are missing a few questions on a long reading passage, then slow down your reading, or take more care when going back to the passage to answer the question.
Take Practice Tests
It is best not to first apply these tips on test day. Instead, refine a time management strategy by taking practice tests. Often you will arrive at a time management strategy that speaks to your strengths and weaknesses.