Aesop’s Fables and GMAT Timing

As I listen to the bloggersphere and twitterverse, attend conferences, and talk to test takers, there is a consistent concern about timing on the GMAT and how much it impacts their performance on the test. Survey GMAT test-takers and I bet that 90% of them will claim their biggest challenge is finishing the test (especially the Quant section). This fear is further propagated by test prep “experts” who cite the lofty goal of answering all Quant questions in 2 minutes or less and all Verbal questions in 1:45 minutes or less. I, however, have not drunk of that particular flavor of Kool-Aid and don’t recommend you do so either.To all those of the 2 minute cult, I’d point you to the wisdom of Aesop and the story of the Tortoise and the Hare.

In context of the GMAT, the moral of the Tortoise and the Hare fable tells us that the advice so many people give regarding timing and pacing overlooks the inherent differences in the cognitive strengths of different people. Not everyone can be or should attempt to be the Hare. Many people will perform their best by working more methodically. The key factor in your personal success on the GMAT is knowing which you are, and maximizing your strategy accordingly.

Let’s consider the strengths of the GMAT Hare. The GMAT Hare generally has the following characteristics:

  • is generally comfortable with the material
  • tends to just “get” questions, so if he does not understand how to begin a problem immediately he likely never will
  • has strong intuitive grasp on how to approach the problem
  • will get started on an effective approach to a problem within 30 seconds
  • is well informed about problems he can and cannot do
  • does not linger on a problem trying to figure it out

These characteristics generally are associated with a perceptive, intuitive, and confident test-taker.If he has these characteristics he will be well positioned to finish the test in the allotted time, thus if he is solidly grounded in the content tested his test result will look like this:


On the other hand the Tortoise is not strong in the above areas. The GMAT Tortoise has other strengths and characteristics, such as:

  • is generally comfortable with the material but acutely aware of the areas of trouble
  • tends to be patient and careful, so she makes few of the careless errors that tend to plague the Hare
  • will “work” a problem, so she may not see the most efficient approach right away but will instead walk logically from point to point or approach to approach until she discovers an efficient way to access the problem
  • is committed to finding the correct answer, so she tends to stick with a problem a bit longer to either double check or figure it out
  • is logical, methodical, and fairly formal, and tends to shy away from test taking “tricks” and “shortcuts” in favor of more solid approaches

These characteristics generally are associated with methodical, logical, and careful test-takers. This test-taker, as long as she is solidly grounded in and knowledgeable of rules and facts tested, will often end up rushing at the end of the test but with a high level of accuracy early on and her test result will look this:


In the examples above both the Tortoise and the Hare received a score of 49!

To maximize your performance, your best strategy is to learn who you are as a test taker. If you are the Tortoise, be the Tortoise. If you are the Hare, be the Hare. Just be all you can be given your personal strengths and weaknesses. Remember that “slow and steady wins the race,” but what slow and steady means is very different for the Tortoise and the Hare!

Best of luck with your studies.

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