GMAT Timing Strategy: Your Ultimate Guide (2024)

a hand about to start an analog stopwatch to represent gmat timing strategy -image by Magoosh

This post was updated in 2024 for the new GMAT.

The GMAT’s instructions regarding timing strategy are simple:

  • Complete 21 questions in the Quantitative section in 45 minutes
  • Complete 23 questions in the Verbal section in 45 minutes
  • Complete 20 questions in the Data Insights section in 45 minutes

That gives you an average time of:

  • 2.15 minutes per question in the Quantitative section
  • ~2 minutes per question in the Verbal section
  • 2.25 minutes per question in the Data Insights section

If you stick to those averages, you will finish each section right on time. But for most test-takers, that’s easier said than done. Fear not! You can overcome this and reach your target score. In this post, we’ll discuss why timing is so tricky—but important—on the GMAT, some general best practices for proper time management, and specific tips for completing the quantitative and verbal sections in the allotted time.


Table of Contents

Why Time Management Is Tricky on the GMAT

GMAT questions are designed to test not only your math and verbal knowledge, but also your ability to reason under serious time constraints. That’s why the sections are called “Quantitative Reasoning,” “Data Insights,” and “Verbal Reasoning,” not just “math” and “verbal.” The questions are intentionally written to trick you into solving them inefficiently. You need to use your reasoning skills to figure out how to quickly solve problems by “outsmarting” questions that seemingly involve time-consuming calculations or unnecessary extra details. That’s why it’s so critical to always practice under timed conditions for the GMAT. If you prepare with no timer, you’re really studying for a very different test than the one you’ll be taking! On the GMAT, understanding a question and solving it efficiently are one and the same.

The First Five Questions Myth

A popular story in GMAT circles is that the first part of the test is the most important. Many claim that the GMAT algorithm “knows” your GMAT score after only the first five questions and the rest of the test doesn’t make too big of a difference. Only the GMAT test-makers know exactly how the algorithm works. Do not try to game the system by spending most of your time at the beginning of the section.

If this GMAT timing strategy actually worked, everyone would spend the entire time trying to get right answers on the first five questions, and pacing wouldn’t matter! The reality is that the best way to maximize your score is to spread your time out over the entire section, maximizing the number of questions you get right, and making sure you don’t leave unanswered questions (lest you suffer a penalty for not finishing). This is particularly true for the new shorter GMAT format: fewer overall questions means a stiffer penalty on unanswered ones.

General GMAT Time Management Strategies

Timing Benchmarks

There are a few best practices for managing time that can help you with your pace on all GMAT sections. If you often run out of time, knowing where you are in the test is often the most important! If you don’t know whether you’re ahead or behind, it’s almost impossible to implement the other pacing strategies effectively, because you don’t know how much to speed up. The solution to this problem is timing benchmarks, which are pace ‘check-ins’ or guides that-test takers memorize so they know how many questions should be completed by a certain point in the exam.

Count down, not up!

Since the GMAT timer starts with the total time you have for the section and counts down, it’s a good idea to learn your timing benchmarks that way too, so you don’t need to do extra math during the exam to figure out how much time has passed. Below are the guides I use for the quantitative and verbal sections. They are easy to remember and are spaced out so you check in often enough to make adjustments if needed, but not so often that you end up obsessing about the clock and becoming distracted.

  • VERBAL TIMING BENCHMARKS: 5 questions every 10 minutes
  • Finish this question # by the time the on-screen timer shows this many minutes remaining
    #5 35 minutes
    #10 25 minutes
    #15 15 minutes
    #20 5 minutes

  • QUANTITATIVE TIMING BENCHMARKS: 4 questions every ~9 minutes
  • Finish this question # by the time the on-screen timer shows this many minutes remaining
    #4 36 minutes
    #8 27 minutes
    #13 18 minutes
    #17 9 minutes

  • DATA INSIGHTS TIMING BENCHMARKS: 4 questions every 9 minutes
  • Finish this question # by the time the on-screen timer shows this many minutes remaining
    4 36 minutes
    8 27 minutes
    12 18 minutes
    16 9 minutes

    When to Guess and When to Let Go and Move On

    If you struggle with pace on the GMAT, it’s often better to guess on a challenging and time-consuming question than to spend so long on it that you run out of time to finish the section. This is especially true in the new, shorter GMAT format, where not finishing really hurts your score. Strategically guessing also helps you take control of your test and avoid rushing or panicking, both of which hurt your ability to think clearly.

    The GMAT Focus Edition offers a question review and edit feature, allowing you to guess on difficult questions and return to them later if time permits. This feature is a game-changer for time management. Here’s how to make the most of it:

    1. Identify Difficult Questions Quickly: As soon as you recognize that a question is particularly tough or time-consuming, make a quick guess and flag it for review. Don’t spend more than a minute trying to figure out if you should move on.
    2. Make an Educated Guess: If possible, eliminate one or more incorrect answer choices to improve your chances of guessing correctly. Even if you can’t eliminate any choices, making a random guess gives you a one in five (or 20%) chance of success.
    3. Flag for Review: Use the review screen to keep track of the questions you’ve guessed on and flagged. This helps you to efficiently use any remaining time at the end of the section to revisit these questions.
    4. Return Strategically: Once you’ve completed all the easier questions, return to the flagged ones. This ensures you’ve secured as many points as possible from the questions you can answer correctly with confidence.
    5. Set a Personal Deadline: Decide in advance how much time you’ll spend on each flagged question when you return to it. If you’re still unsure after that time, stick with your initial guess and move on.

    By incorporating these strategies, you can make the most of the GMAT Focus’s review and edit feature to manage your time more effectively and maximize your score.

    Practice Tests

    Don’t wait until test day to apply these tips! 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. Be sure to take them regularly, not just at the beginning and end of your GMAT preparation, because sometimes timing problems start once your score increases and the questions become harder.
    If you haven’t taken a practice test yet, get started with a free GMAT Practice Test/a> from Magoosh! Take any individual section for 45 minutes, or complete the entire exam to get

    Verbal Timing Strategies

    GMAT Verbal Time per Question: ~2 Minutes

    Remember that on the verbal section, you’ll have about two minutes per question. However, you don’t actually want to spend an equal amount of time on each problem! Each different question type requires a different timing strategy.

      Reading Comprehension questions make up about half of your Verbal questions. You’ll see 3-4 passages with 3-4 questions each on test day. Short passages have three associated questions, while longer ones typically contain four questions. Spend 2-4 minutes, on average, to read the passage, depending on its length. Don’t waste time reading and rereading details; your job on the read-through is to pick up the main idea of the passage and the attitude of the author. You can always go back to the passage when you’re asked about specific details. Some questions take about 30 seconds to answer, while more challenging ones may last up to 90 seconds.
      Critical Reasoning questions make up the other half of your Verbal section. They require you to read the question stem, the argument, and five answer choices. In order to correctly answer the questions, you must fully understand each piece of the argument and how each answer choice connects to the argument. Questions are full of trickily-worded information, including double negations and comparisons about numerical quantities, elements that can easily confuse even the best test-taker if he or she is rushing. Critical Reasoning questions should take no less than 90 seconds to complete. Longer or tougher questions may take upwards of three minutes.

    Quantitative Timing Strategies

    GMAT Quant Time per Question: 2.15 Minutes

    On the GMAT quantitative section, you have 45 minutes to answer 21 questions; that’s an average of 2.15 minutes per question. Budgeting exactly 2.15 minutes per question, however, is not a sound strategy. Just like in the verbal section, some questions require more time than others. To give yourself time for more difficult questions, you must solve the easier questions in closer to one minute. Taking practice tests and doing lots of practice questions with careful review is the best way to figure out which questions you can solve faster, and which require more time.

    To finish all 21 quantitative questions, remember the tips below:

      Get started quickly. Don’t agonize over how to get started on a particular question. Start factoring, or draw a Venn diagram; do something!
      Use all of the information you’re given. If you’re stuck, go back to the prompt and make sure you’ve used all of the information. You may have overlooked a little word like “odd” or “prime.”
      Know when to move on. Use the time you save on questions you complete quickly to tackle the tougher questions. Generally, no matter the level of difficulty, you should not spend more than three minutes on any one problem. If you’ve reached the 3-minute mark, and you’re not close to a feasible answer, take your best guess and move on. It’s more important to get to the next question than it is to dwell over the one you’re stuck on and unlikely to get right.
      Use the calculator wisely You don’t need to avoid the calculator entirely, but you do want to make sure you are using it only when absolutely necessary. Are there ways to estimate the answer without doing a calculation? How are your multiple-choice answers subtly guiding you? If you can deduce that an answer must be in a certain range and there’s only one answer that fits, it doesn’t matter if you get the exact calculation right. Make sure you are working on these techniques every time you practice DI.

    Data Insights Timing Strategies

    GMAT Data Insights Time per Question: 2.25 Minutes

    For Data Insights you will have 45 minutes to answer 20 questions; that’s a pace of 2.25 minutes per question. Like the Quant section, it is a mistake to assume all questions will take the same amount of time to answer. Figuring out timing for this section can be one of the biggest GMAT prep challenges you’ll face. Frequent practice is essential for building your internal sense of how long different question types take you.

    To complete the entire section, remember these tips:

    • Cross-out technique: Cross out techniques are usually not needed for Problem Solving questions are very useful for Data Sufficiency! You can quickly write your cross-out method in your scratch paper whenever you get a Data Sufficiency question. Check out this article for GMAT Data Sufficiency Tips, including a DS cross-out technique.
    • Don’t try to mentally download all the information: Data Insights questions can feature a lot of data whether it’s in graph, table, or Multi-Source form. Not all of this information will be essential for answering the question. When first approaching a question you should get a general sense of what kind of information is being provide and go back to details as needed. Let the questions, not the full data picture, guide you.

    GMAT Timing Strategy: A Summary

    Learn how much time you have on each section

    • Quantitative section: 21 questions, 45 minutes, 2.15 minutes per problem
    • Verbal section: 23 questions, 45 minutes, ~2 minutes per problem
    • Data Insights section: 20 questions, 45 minutes, 2.25 minutes per problem

    Finish the section

    The first five questions are important, but not more important than the rest of the test.
    Running out of time before finishing all the questions can hurt your score a lot, especially on the math section.
    Use timing benchmarks and page setup techniques to manage your time.

    Let go

    Strategically guessing on certain problems can be a powerful tool for taking control of your test. This is especially true in the quantitative section, and whenever you find yourself rushing or panicking.
    If you’re having trouble finishing a section on time, it’s a good idea to let go of questions that you tend to get wrong, take way too long to solve, or both.
    Take practice tests

    Be sure to take full-length practice tests regularly so you can figure out if you have any timing issues, and practice applying solutions if you do. Keep these pacing tips in mind throughout your prep to maximize your GMAT score—and minimize your stress—on test day!

    If you’re looking for more GMAT timing practice and prep, we’re here to help! Magoosh GMAT offers timed, full-length practice tests, plus over 800 practice questions and 200 video lessons to cover everything you need to know. Try us for free with a 1-week trial!


    • Kallee Davisson

      Kallee is a one-on-one GMAT Tutor who helps students reach their goals! She has a bachelor’s degree in International Business from Florida International University and a background in finance and administration. When Kallee isn’t helping her students prepare, she works as an amateur interior designer and artist.

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