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GRE Timing Strategies to Master Quant | TTP GRE Blog


Because the GRE is a timed test, we must become skilled enough at solving GRE quant questions to correctly answer them in the time allowed on the GRE. In fact, one common reason why people struggle to complete the quant section of the GRE on time is that they didn’t quite get themselves skilled enough to be able to answer quant questions in the allotted time.

So, getting yourself to a point at which you’re able to answer GRE quant questions easily is a great way to improve your GRE timing. In fact, one of the best GRE time-management strategies is to become so skilled at solving GRE quant questions that answering them accurately and quickly becomes second nature. 

Getting yourself to a point at which you’re skilled at answering GRE quant questions easily is a great way to improve your GRE timing.

At the same time, beyond being skilled in answering GRE quant questions, there are a number of GRE timing strategies that you can utilize on test day. Mastering them will help you to maximize your score on GRE quant, regardless of your skill level. 

14 GRE Quant Timing Strategies That You Can Use to Earn a Higher GRE Score

In this article, I’ll lay out 14 GRE timing strategies that you can follow to reach your target score on the quant section of the GRE. I’ll also discuss some important features of the GRE exam to keep in mind when honing your timing strategies.  

Tip #1: Understanding GRE Quant Scoring Will Help You Improve Your GRE Timing Strategy

If you understand how the GRE quant section is scored, you can make more strategic time-management decisions. 

GRE Section Structure

The GRE is a modified computer-adaptive test composed of five sections, the first of which is always the Analytical Writing section. The remaining four sections consist of two verbal and two quantitative sections. You may see a third verbal or quantitative section that is unscored. However, since test-takers are not informed which sections count and which don’t, you should strive to do your best on all sections. Attempting to determine which GRE sections are unscored is a waste of time and energy, and doing so can erode both your timing and your score.

TTP PRO TIP:

Attempting to determine which GRE sections are unscored is a waste of time and energy, and doing so can erode both your timing and your score.

The GRE is Adaptive at the Section Level

The GRE is adaptive at the section level, meaning that your performance on the first of the two quant sections determines the difficulty of the questions you see in the second quant section. So, correctly answering questions that appear in the first section gives you the opportunity to see more difficult questions, which are worth more points, in the second section. Conversely, if you don’t score well on the early questions, later questions will be less challenging and worth fewer points, and thus it will be more difficult to earn a top GRE score.

KEY FACT:

Correctly answering questions that appear in the first section gives you the opportunity to see more difficult questions, which are worth more points, in the second section.

The GRE Quant Sections

Each GRE quant section contains 20 questions that you have 35 minutes to answer. The first quant section contains a mix of easy, medium, and hard questions. If you answer most of these questions correctly, then the questions you see in the second quant section will be more challenging and worth more points than those that would appear if you were to incorrectly answer many questions in the first quant section. Think of this process as building a skyscraper, with the first quant section as the base. The more questions you answer correctly, the wider the base and the higher you can build your score. 

You can learn more about how the GRE is scored in this article.

KEY FACT:

Each GRE quant section contains 20 questions that you have 35 minutes to answer.

Skipping Questions: An Option to Use Sparingly

On the GRE, you don’t have to answer the questions within a given section in order, and you can mark questions for later review. A status screen that you can pull up summarizes the questions you’ve answered, those you’ve marked for later review, and those you have not yet answered in the section. At the same time, even though you can skip around within a section, you cannot go back to a previous section.

KEY FACT:

You can skip around within a section, but you can’t go back to a previous section.

That said, the ability to mark questions and to access the status screen comes with a steep price: it’s time-consuming. Answering 20 questions in 35 minutes gives you 1 minute and 45 seconds per question, on average. Time is precious! So, it’s best to use the skipping option sparingly, if at all, reserving it for particular cases in which you really think you’ll benefit from leaving a question and coming back to it later.

TTP PRO TIP:

Skipping GRE quant questions and using the status screen to go back to them is time consuming. So, it’s best to use the skipping option sparingly.

Let’s continue by discussing a key strategy for maximizing your GRE quant score, striving for excellence, not perfection.

Tip # 2: GRE Quant Questions Present New Challenges

Many test-takers believe that they must correctly answer all of the quant questions on the GRE to earn a high quant score. In reality, you can correctly answer far fewer than all 40 quant questions and still do well. 

TTP PRO TIP:

You don’t need to correctly answer all of the quant questions to earn a strong GRE quant score.

Let’s suppose you perform well on the first quant section and are presented with very challenging questions in the second quant section as a result. You may find you’re unable to solve some of those challenging questions in a reasonable time, or you can’t solve them at all. If you’re wasting time and energy trying to solve questions that you have a very low chance of answering correctly — those that are above your current ability level — you’ll put yourself at a big disadvantage. What tends to happen in these situations is that folks run out of time. 

Accordingly, a solid GRE quant section time-management strategy is to not waste your valuable time attempting to answer questions that you have a low likelihood of getting correct. Rather, you should play to your strengths and acknowledge your weaknesses by guessing on quant questions that you find you can’t solve within a reasonable amount of time. By making an educated guess on these questions, you’ll be able to invest more time in the GRE quant questions that you’re able to solve. 

TTP PRO TIP:

A solid GRE quant time-management strategy is to not waste your valuable time attempting to answer questions that you have a low likelihood of getting correct.

Now that we’ve established that a solid GRE timing strategy is to be comfortable letting go of quant questions  you cannot solve, let’s discuss how you’ll know in advance what these questions are. 

Tip #3: Know Your GRE Quant Strengths and Weaknesses

You now know that you may need to let go of GRE quant questions that you’re unlikely to answer correctly in a reasonable amount of time. To know what these questions are requires that you be well-acquainted with your own personal quant strengths and weaknesses, down to the level of specific quant problem types. 

How does one accomplish this task? Let’s explore.

TTP PRO TIP:

Be well-acquainted with your own personal quant strengths and weaknesses, down to the level of specific quant problem types.

Regularly Practice With Tons of GRE Quant Questions

As part of your GRE preparation strategy, you should be solving a large number of realistic practice GRE quant questions on every tested topic, and carefully logging and tracking the questions with which you struggle. 

As you do so, patterns should begin to emerge as to which types of GRE quant questions are most difficult for you. In other words, you’ll begin to develop a self-awareness of your own personal GRE quant strengths and weaknesses. Of course, during your studying, many of your weaknesses will become your strengths, but as you near your GRE test day, some weaknesses will naturally persist. Most people find that these lingering weaknesses create timing issues on the GRE — a key reason why the aforementioned strategy of guessing strategically is so important. 

KEY FACT:

Lingering weaknesses tend to create timing issues on the GRE.

Review Your Error Log Carefully in the Weeks Leading up to the GRE

In the weeks leading up to your exam, spend time carefully reviewing which types of questions you’re continuing to answer incorrectly. For example, maybe you discover that you’re still very weak on remainder questions presented in the form of quantitative comparisons, or that you consistently incorrectly answer problems involving factoring. Or, perhaps you’re slow in answering data interpretation questions involving standard deviation. 

On test day, knowing what your “problem” questions are will help you to better manage your time on the quant section. 

TTP PRO TIP:

In the weeks leading up to your GRE exam, spend time carefully reviewing which types of quant questions you continue to answer incorrectly. On test day, knowing what these questions are will help you to better manage your time on the quant section.

Whatever topics plague you, when you’re presented with these quant questions during your actual GRE, you can immediately recognize them as questions that you have a low chance of correctly answering.

Using this Data to Help Craft a Sold Timing Strategy

Here is where your new GRE quant section time-management strategy comes into play. Give such questions your all for, say, 30 to 45 seconds. If, after that time, you find that a question is unfolding much the way similar ones did during your practice — that is, you’re confused and not close to an answer—make an educated guess and move on. Realize that you have a low chance of correctly answering that question, no matter how much time you spend on it. 

Using this method, you not only preserve energy and brainpower but also save time you can put toward solving questions that you are much more likely to answer correctly. 

TTP PRO TIP:

When you encounter a quant question you’re unlikely to correctly answer under the exam’s time constraints, your best time-management strategy is to work hard on it for 30 to 45 seconds, but then make an educated guess and move on if you’re not making progress.

Tip #4: Not All Quant Questions Take the Same Time to Answer

Given that each quantitative reasoning section of the GRE presents 20 questions to be answered in 35 minutes, you’ll have an average of 1 minute and 45 seconds for each quant question. 

KEY FACT:

On the GRE, you have an average of 1 minute and 45 seconds to answer each quant question.

However, you should consider this average time a baseline — a reference point by which you can track your pace — not a fixed point to which you must adhere. Because of the varying levels of difficulty of questions on the test and your particular strengths and weaknesses, some questions may take you only 30 seconds to answer, while others may require three minutes. 

In fact, you should expect some variation in time per problem and consider that as part of your test strategy. If, for example, you answer a relatively easy quant question in 30 seconds, you’ve just “banked” an extra 1 minute and 15 seconds for a more difficult question in that section, or an extra 45 seconds each for two medium-level questions.

TTP PRO TIP:

You’ll be able to solve some quant questions more quickly than others. Don’t expect to spend exactly 1 minute and 45 seconds on each question. Be flexible with your timing.

Tip #5: A “Guess For Success” Mindset Will Help You Manage Your Time  

Although you may not have the time or ability to solve every quant problem on the GRE, a solid GRE timing strategy is to answer every quant question as you encounter it. 

Here’s why. If you leave several questions blank because you’re unsure of their answers, and then you run out of time before you revisit them, there’s no chance that you’ll get any of those questions correct.

Instead, if you guess an answer for each question you’re unsure of and then mark the question for review, even if you run out of time, there is still a chance you guessed correctly. Remember, on the GRE there is no penalty for an incorrect answer. Then, if you do have time remaining after you’ve gone through all the questions in a section, you can bring up the status screen and revisit the questions that you marked during the first run-through. 

Another benefit to this strategy is that you will be familiar with all the questions you guessed on, and thus you’ll better be able to decide which ones are worth spending your remaining time trying to solve. 

TTP PRO TIP:

On the GRE, there is no penalty for a wrong answer, so it’s in your best interest to make sure that by the time the section clock runs out, you’ve answered every question.

Now, if you find that you need to guess on numerous questions, it’s likely that you’re not prepared enough to score well on the GRE. So, you may need to do some more preparation. To assess your current GRE quant skill level, try our free quant diagnostic.

Tip #6: Don’t Expect to Have Time to Check Your Work 

Working carefully and accurately on the quant sections of the GRE is extremely important because you likely won’t have time to double-check your work.

Working carefully and accurately on the quant sections of the GRE is extremely important because you likely won’t have time to double-check your work.

Let’s say your answer to a question is among the answer choices, but you spend 30 additional seconds checking your work. If you were to double-check each question, you would devote about 20 minutes to double-checking your work — 10 minutes of each 35-minute quant section. Can you afford to spend nearly 30% of your time double-checking your work rather than solving new problems? 

Because you don’t have time to check your work, you must remain focused and methodical when completing GRE quant problems, so that your work is correct the first time around. Check out this article for some strategies to improve your accuracy on the GRE.

Tip #7: Sometimes You Have to Lose a Battle to Win the War

There may be times when you encounter a problem that you feel you can solve. But because you either make a calculation mistake or are just a little rusty with this type of question, you’re having a hard time getting the answer. The time is getting away from you. What do you do?

You May Need to Make and Educated Guess and Move On

In such a case, it’s tempting to continue investing time and energy into the problem. However, at some point, you may have to make an educated guess and move on because, regardless of whether you can answer the question correctly, you can’t afford to spend five minutes doing so. At that point, it wouldn’t matter that you got the question correct, because you’d likely end up running out of time to answer later questions that you could have solved had you not spent so much time on the earlier one.

This is not to say that if you are truly close to an answer, you should guess anyway at some arbitrary point in time. Maybe you understand the problem well, but you accidentally solved for x instead of y. Maybe you missed a step, but it’s a step you recognize and can quickly execute. 

It might make sense to finish answering the question, even if you’re behind on the clock. But if you’re clearly not close to an answer and you’re racking up the minutes, even if every bone in your body is telling you that you can answer the question given more time, you may have to make an educated guess, mark the question for later review, and move on. If you happen to have time at the end of the section, you can revisit the question.

After All, the Goal is to Solve GRE Problems in the Time Available

After all, the point is not whether you can solve a particular problem on the GRE, it’s whether you can solve that problem in the amount of time you have.

To that end, let’s look at some specific pacing techniques you can use to help manage your time during the quant sections of the GRE.

The point is not whether you can solve a particular problem on the GRE, it’s whether you can solve that problem in the amount of time you have.”

Tip #8: Develop a Progress Clock

An internal progress clock allows you to intuitively understand how far you’ve progressed in a GRE quant question. Are you close to getting a correct answer? Halfway? A third of the way? Knowing your approximate progress in solving a quant problem can help you determine whether you should keep working or make the best possible guess and move on to the next question.  

Much of this comes down to being familiar enough with the various GRE quant question types to know, in general, the steps that it will take to solve a particular question. This is yet another reason why ample, methodical practice with realistic GRE questions is essential to your GRE prep. 

TTP PRO TIP:

By developing an internal progress clock, you can intuitively understand how far you’ve progressed in a GRE quant question and whether you should keep working on it.

Tip #9: Get a Feel For Your Target Time

In addition to developing an accurate internal progress clock, it’s very helpful to have an intuitive understanding of what 1:45 feels like. 

You don’t want to be checking the clock during and after every question you solve. Doing so would be incredibly distracting and potentially nerve-racking. It’s better to have a general feel for how long you’ve spent on a question. 

One way to develop this intuition is to practice timed sets of GRE quant questions in the latter portion of your prep. Start a timer when you start work on a question. When you think 1:45 is up, look at the timer to see how close you were to the actual time. Your goal is to get a comfortable intuition for what 1:45 feels like. The more you practice this simple exercise, the easier it will be for you to accurately gauge how much time you have to continue working on a problem. 

TTP PRO TIP:

Practice timed sets of GRE quant questions in the latter portion of your prep, so you can develop a general feel for how long you’ve spent on a question.

Tip #10: Use the “Time-Remaining Approach”

At the top left of your testing screen will be a countdown clock, and you should use that clock to help you keep pace both during your practice exams and your actual GRE. 

Since you have 35 minutes to answer 20 questions in each section, you’ll want to complete half of those questions with about 18 minutes remaining on the clock. If you have more than 18 minutes remaining, that’s great! You’ll probably have plenty of time to finish the questions if you continue at your current pace. However, if the clock indicates that you have fewer than 18 minutes, realize that you’ll need to hustle a bit in order to answer every question.

TTP PRO TIP:

After question 10, if the GRE countdown clock indicates that you have fewer than 18 minutes, realize that you’ll need to hustle a bit in order to answer every quant question.

Know the time you should have remaining at a few key points in a quant section, so you can effectively track and adjust your pace without having to constantly check the clock or calculate how many questions you should have already answered. Your calculations during the GRE should be focused on the questions, not the clock.

TTP PRO TIP:

Know the time you should have remaining at a few key points in a quant section.

Tip #11: Learn When to Use the On-Screen Calculator to Answer GRE Quant Questions

While prepping for the GRE (and while taking the actual test), you should not automatically default to using the GRE on-screen calculator. The reason you shouldn’t over-rely on the calculator is that some processes, questions, and calculations can be completed more quickly using your pencil and scratch paper than using the on-screen calculator. 

TTP PRO TIP:

Some processes, questions, and calculations can be completed more quickly using your pencil and scratch paper than using the on-screen calculator.

To determine which types of questions and calculations you can do faster by hand than by using the on-screen calculator, practice using both when you’re studying. By using both the on-screen calculator and working the math by hand on scratch paper, you’ll be able to determine what processes are faster for you to do using the calculator and what steps are more efficiently done by hand. This knowledge will be powerful come test day. 

By knowing which types of questions and which processes you’re able to solve more quickly using the on-screen calculator, you won’t have to fumble around on test day. You’ll know exactly when you should (and shouldn’t) use the on-screen calculator. 

For example, maybe you find that it’s much faster for you to calculate decimals and percentages using the calculator. That’s powerful information, because when you encounter GRE quant questions involving decimals and percents, you’ll be sure to use the on-screen calculator to help you quickly solve these problems. However, perhaps you determine that you save a bunch of time by working complex fractions by hand. That’s additional powerful information!

TTP PRO TIP:

By knowing in advance which types of quant questions and which processes you’re able to solve more quickly using the on-screen calculator, you’ll be able to maximize your time on test day.

A Secondary Benefit to Learning When to Use the On-Screen Calculator

The other benefit to judiciously using the on-screen calculator is that, during preparation for the GRE, it’s important for GRE test-takers to develop an intuitive understanding of math. However, if you’re always relying on the on-screen calculator when practicing GRE quant, you’ll probably find it hard to develop that understanding. So, while prepping for the GRE, in addition to using the on-screen calculator, it’s important to spend a large amount of your time working calculations by hand. 

TTP PRO TIP:

If you’re always relying on the on-screen calculator when practicing GRE quant, you’ll probably find it hard to develop an intuitive understanding of math.

Tip #12: Use Estimation to Get Faster in GRE Quant 

In many cases, when you encounter a GRE quant question that you’re having a hard time solving, it makes sense to try using estimation to solve it. You can use estimation to quickly determine whether an answer is reasonable. For example, if you had to multiply 4.17 by 199, you could estimate 4.17 to be 4 and 199 to be 200, and so your estimated answer would be 4 x 200 = 800. This estimate would allow you to include or exclude some of the answer choices. For example, if the answer choices were 8.30, 83, 830, and 8,300, then estimation would actually provide all the information needed for correctly answering the question.

Estimation is a great tool because it is a time-saver and a solid strategy for identifying blatantly wrong answers, as discussed in the next tip.

TTP PRO TIP:

Estimation is a great time-saving tool and a solid strategy for identifying blatantly wrong answers.

Tip #13: Save Time by Crossing Out Blatantly Wrong Answers

One nice feature of GRE quant is that most of the questions will contain one or two answer choices that are blatantly wrong. 

One nice feature of GRE Quant is that most of the questions will contain one or two answer choices that are blatantly wrong.

If you’re having trouble finding the correct answer to a GRE quant question, a time-saving maneuver is to eliminate any answer choices that you know could not be correct. By crossing off blatantly wrong answers, you’ll be left with only a few choices that could be correct. 

Once you’ve narrowed the answers down, you may have a clearer vision of how to arrive at the correct answer, or you’ll be better able to make an educated guess and move on. Either way, you’ll save yourself time, especially on questions that are giving you trouble.

TTP PRO TIP:

By getting rid of blatantly incorrect answer choices in GRE quant questions, you’ll see improvements in your speed, efficiency, and timing.

Tip #14: Use GRE Practice Tests to Master Your GRE Timing

Don’t expect to master your pacing on GRE quant overnight. In addition to everything we’ve already discussed, it’s not unusual for students to take six to eight practice tests before the real test day. Use those practice exams to hone your timing strategy and fine-tune your internal clock. With each practice GRE, you should be better able to manage your pace so as to maximize your score.

TTP PRO TIP:

Don’t expect to master your pacing on GRE quant overnight!

GRE Quant Timing in Conclusion

In summary, the GRE takes about 3 hours and 45 minutes to complete. Each GRE quant section contains 20 questions that must be completed in 35 minutes, giving you an average of 1 minute and 45 seconds to answer each quant question. 

Although many GRE students worry at some point about the time pressure on the GRE, we have seen that there are a number of effective strategies you can utilize to improve your GRE timing. Here are the key takeaways:

  1. You don’t need to answer every question correctly to earn a high GRE quant score.
  2. Don’t spend a lot of time on questions that you have a low probability of getting correct.
  3. Understand that 1 minute and 45 seconds is an average, not a mandate.
  4. Know when to guess and move on.
  5. There is insufficient time to double-check your work.
  6. Learn to use the test clock to assist with timing.
  7. Know when to use the on-screen calculator and when to use pencil and scratch paper.
  8. Practice your timing strategies on practice tests, prior to test day.

What’s Next?

Have more questions about timing strategies on GRE Quant? This article covers a bunch of strategies to improve your speed and timing on GRE quant questions

Seeking more comprehensive strategies for maximizing your performance on the GRE? In this guide, we break down how to score 330+ on the GRE

Want to learn more about how to increase your GRE Quant score? Here are some great tips for how to maximize your GRE quant score

Got a specific question about GRE quant timing strategies that you’d like answered by our GRE experts? Send us an email. We’d be happy to help you.

Want to attend our live, online GRE webinars? Join us each Thursday and Friday for our TTP GRE Webinar series! 

You’ll learn tons of high-value GRE quant and verbal strategies, tactics, and tips. We cover GRE problem solving, data interpretation, quantitative comparisons, Sentence Equivalence, Text Completion, Reading Comprehension, GRE timing, and much more!

Rizwan Ahmed
Rizwan Ahmed
AuditStudent.com, founded by Rizwan Ahmed, is an educational platform dedicated to empowering students and professionals in the all fields of life. Discover comprehensive resources and expert guidance to excel in the dynamic education industry.
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