Time Management on the GRE

One of the most important skills tested in any exam is your time management for GRE skills. It is how well you are able to allocate your time so as to finish your exam, without missing out on any questions. GRE is no exception! In fact, GRE is designed in a way so as to “reward” exam takers with good time management skills. 

You will find yourself in a crunch of time during one of these sections but fret not. With some careful planning and strategies, you will find it easier to manage time 

So How Long is the GRE?

The overall GRE is three hours and 45 minutes long. It is divided into four main sections:

  • Analytical Writing section
  • Verbal Reasoning section
  • Quantitative Reasoning section 
  • Unscored Verbal/Quantitative/Research section

Analytical Writing section:

Within the Analytical Writing section, you will be given two tasks of 30 minutes each:

  1. Analyze an Issue
  2. Analyze an Argument 

So the GRE scorers understand the time constraint under which you write and, thus, consider your response as a draft. Still, you want to make sure that there are no surface-level errors of grammar, punctuations, and spellings in your essay. 

For that, you have to structure your time well. Do not begin writing immediately after reading the prompt because there is a chance that it will be more time-consuming if you have to go back and forth. Spend the first 5-7 minutes planning your essay in the standard format: an introduction, a thesis statement, arguments, and a conclusion. 

An ideal essay response in the Analytical Writing section is between 600-750. Planning beforehand will leave you ample time to write >600 words as well as proofread for errors and typos. In conclusion, you should spend the first 5-7 minutes planning, then 20 minutes writing the essay, and the last 5 minutes proofreading. 

Verbal Reasoning Section:

Within the Verbal Reasoning section, there are two sets of 20 questions each. Each set has a time limit of 30 minutes. That means you have to correctly answer 20 questions in 30 minutes. You can expect to read 4-5 passages in each set, of varying lengths.

There will be short and long reading comprehension, sentence equivalence, and text completion questions. 

Reading Comprehension:

While reading comprehension, mark anything important. This will save you time when looking at each question associated with the reading and allow you to answer quickly when you have understood the passage. Almost half of the Verbal section is composed of questions regarding comprehension. To ensure that you spend as little time as possible on reading comprehension WHILE understanding it completely, practice reading daily, even if it is just one page.

In the short passage, solve at least two questions within 3 minutes, while with the long passage, solve three questions in less than 5 minutes. 


Sentence Equivalence: 

For Sentence Equivalence questions, devote 1 minute to each. Around 4 questions will be for Sentence Equivalence, which means allocating 4 minutes on them. The rest of your time, around 15 minutes, will be allocated towards the passage questions. 

Text Completion:

There are around 6 Text Completion questions in one set of Verbal Reasoning. You can expect to allocate 8-9 minutes in total on them. Within the text completion questions, there are two types: ones that ask you to fill a single blank, and the other which have two to three blanks. For a one-black TC question, allocate 40 seconds. For the two-blank, 70 seconds, and for the three-blank TC question, 2 minutes. 


Solve all the SE questions in the first 4 minutes, for which you require a strong grip on vocabulary. Next, move to the TC questions: first complete the single blanks, then move onto the double blanks, and finally, the triple blank TC questions. 

Personally, I try to complete the SE and TC questions in the first 10-12 minutes, so I can allocate the maximum time to reading comprehensions. Within RC passages, tackle the shorter ones before you move on to the longer ones. 

Remember that there is no negative penalty for guessing wrong on the GRE. So make sure that you give yourself enough time to look at all 20 questions. If you find yourself stuck on any particular question, mark it and go forward. You can always come back to it later. 

As a golden rule, this is what your pace should look like:

Question# Time
5th question 5th minute (Finished SE)
11th question 13th minute (Finished SE, TC)
14th question 18th minute (Finished SE, TC, Short RC)
20th question 30th minute (Finished all questions)

Disclaimer: This overall verbal strategy works well for the majority of students but if this strategy doesn’t suit you, you can adopt what is more suitable to you during mocks.

Quantitative Reasoning section: 

Within the Quantitative Reasoning section, there are also two sets of 20 questions each. Each set has a time limit of 35 minutes. Some of the questions require choosing a single option, some require selecting multiple options, while others require inputting a numeric value. 

The types of questions you get in your Quantitative Reasoning sections are arithmetic and algebraic calculations, data, and graphs analyzing, and geometrical reasoning.


During your practice tests, assess your strengths and weaknesses. If you can do arithmetic calculations quicker but need more time analyzing a graph, make sure you allocate appropriate time to particular questions. In general, DI/graphs take longer to read so it is better to attempt them towards the end. Keep 7-10 minutes for graph questions (3 questions per section)

Furthermore, save time in your “Calculator” section by performing mental math. Most “Calculator” questions in the GRE actually do not necessarily require a calculator–that is there to test you. So make sure you do not spend precious time calculating through a calculator instead of doing simple mental math. 

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Most importantly, since all questions carry equal marks, solve the easy level questions first. Finally, after reading a question, you realize you do not understand it, mark it and move on. If you do not get the gist of a question in the first 20 to 30 seconds & you know it will take you more with, leave it for the end. Personally, if a question required me to go through the statement/expression more than two times, I skipped and marked it for later. 

As a golden rule, this is what your pace should look like:

Question# Time
5th question 8th minute
10th question 15th minute
17th question 25th minute
20th question 32-35th minute (last 3 questions for DI/graph)

Disclaimer: This overall verbal strategy works well for the majority of students but if this strategy doesn’t suit you, you can adopt what is more suitable to you during mocks.

Unscored/Research section: 

The last section in the GRE is the unscored section. This can be in the form of a research section OR another set of a Quantitative or Verbal Reasoning section. If it is Quantitative or Verbal Reasoning, it will appear in the exam in any order. 

Of course, you will not know which particular section is unscored–so you have to assume all sections of Verbal and Quantitative Reasoning as scored and do your best to answer all questions correctly. 

Furthermore, within a section, you are free to move around and even change or edit your answers. So do not assume that if you have answered a question and are unsure about it, you cannot alter it. Just make sure you are not spending 3-4 minutes on just a single question because it would mean that you will not be able to look at all the questions within a section. 

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There are options of “marking” the questions so you can go back to them through the “Review” button easily. Use as much of it as you require, and complete all the ones you find easy to answer.

Before the GRE: 

Most GRE centers ask exam takers to arrive at least 45 minutes before the exam for registration and scanning of IDs. Remember to keep all required documents and photo IDs with you when you leave for the exam. 

During the Break: 

During the 3 hours and 45 minutes of the exam, you get a 10-minute break, generally after your Analytical Writing and Verbal and Quantitative/Unscored sections. You will be allowed to leave the testing room, but not the testing center. Moreover, you will not be allowed to access the locker that you might have put your belongings in. 

Use that break to munch on a healthy snack like a granola bar, chocolate, or a biscuit. Drink water and eat some sugar as it will give you the energy to continue with the rest of the exam refreshed. If you need to, use the restroom so you return to the exam hall comfortable and ready to ace the exam!


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