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Pacing for Both the Current and New GRE


After you’ve learned all the necessary math concepts, are able to rattle off definitions with aplomb, and can handle a convoluted passage on quantum physics, you still aren’t guaranteed success on the GRE (new or old). The ability to perform on the test is almost a separate ability, and unless you learn how to pace yourself, much of your prepping could be for naught.

Know the Test

Current GRE :

Math: 28 Q/45 min, Verbal 30Q/30 min

On the current test, the difficulty differs between questions. If you are doing well, the test will become harder. This flusters many test takers, who end up running out of time. Even though some of these test takers are doing well, they will end up cancelling out their good scores, thinking that they ran out of time and had to guess on the last few.

So, if you are taking the test before it changes, remember that guessing on the last few, and getting them wrong, will affect your score very little. Indeed, a GRE section that seems difficult only means you are doing well.

The key to pacing goes beyond just knowing the number of questions in each section. Practice as much as possible at home with the PowerPrep software, and you should know where you need to speed up, and where you need to slow down. If your bête-noire are questions that sap up five-minutes, come up with a strategy that allows you to guess on a question. I usually tell students that if they are not on their way to a solution at 2 minutes, then they should guess and move on.

New GRE:

Math: Approximately 20Q/35 min. (Two Sections)

Verbal: Approximately 20Q/30 min. (Two Sections)

In terms of pacing, the New GRE may be less stressful. You will be able to navigate between questions, and (hopefully) avoid spending five minutes on a question. Still, make sure not to spend too much time on one problem.

Additionally, you will want to become adept at learning to scroll within a section so that you get used to the new format. Doing so will be part of your pacing. How you pace yourself throughout the section depends on in large part on how many questions you decide to leave blank the first time around.  As I mentioned above, you do not want to spend too much time on one question. You also don’t want to find yourself bouncing around from question to question, giving up as soon as you are unsure of the answer.

To really get a sense of how to pace yourself, you must practice on the PowerPrep software itself. And the sooner, the better. Many students leave the practice test a few days before the exam. If you are only prepping on paper-based materials, you are hurting yourself.

(The good news, especially for Mac users, is Magoosh GRE will soon have a simulated GRE test, so you can practice going through questions much as you would on the actual test).

Preparing for the Big Day

Now that I’ve emphasized the importance of taking the PowerPrep test—for either the new or the old GRE—let’s talk some advanced pacing strategy. If you want to prepare yourself even more for the big day, pay attention.

First off, taking a PowerPrep test in the comfort of you own home is very different from walking into a test-prep center; an experience very similar, I’m sure, to getting booked for a ten-year stint in the county jail. Notwithstanding the absence of an orange uniform, you must empty all your pockets and have your finger/palm prints taken before the “warden” escorts you into a room. Potentially humiliating experience aside, you must also contend with your nerves.

To prepare yourself, you may want to make the experience at home a little more stressful. One way to do this is to give yourself three minutes fewer on each section (27 minutes verbal, 42 minutes math). If you are able to finish the section and still score close to your target, then you will hopefully have the pacing down on the actual test.

Other ways to make the home experience more stressful is to have some background noise. Television or radio work pretty well (just think of an annoying reality T.V. show that you can’t believe others watch). Though this may sound excessive, the testing room is not always as hushed as a library reading room. Other test takers are busily hammering away at the keys as they try to write five-paragraph Issue Essays in less than 45 minutes. The test taker next to you may have a penchant for high-speed foot-tapping. Whatever the case, prepare yourself at home by providing distractions.


In the end, your sense of pacing will only improve with lots of real-time, computer-based practice.

By the way, students who use Magoosh GRE improve their scores by an average of 8 points on the new scale (150 points on the old scale.) Click here to learn more.

2 Responses to Pacing for Both the Current and New GRE

  1. Claire November 5, 2011 at 8:17 am #

    Where is this Magoosh practice test you mentioned? My test is on Tuesday, and I would love to take a practice test from you guys before then (preferably today or tomorrow) to see where I’m at with all the concepts I’ve been studying for the past two months. I do have a Mac, so I’ve only been able to take the paper test.


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