Have you completely misunderstood the timing problem?

I have lost the count of how many GMAT aspirants call me and say that their main problem is timing. Yesterday, I got a call from one such aspirant. He explained me in detail that even though he can get questions right in an untimed scenario, his accuracy plummets in timed conditions.

After he had explained his problem, I asked him that till what speed he can drive a car without losing control.

He answered 120 kmph.

“What is the difference between you and a person who learned to drive the car a month back and feels uncomfortable at any speed beyond 40 kmph?”, I asked.

“Experience”.

“How has experience created the difference?”

“Probably, the experience has made me better in judging the relative position of the things on the road and in controlling the different elements (clutches, gear, steering wheel)”.

“So, in essence, you are more skilled than the other driver. Right?”, I asked rhetorically.

The problem the other driver is facing is not of timing or speed but of skills. Once his skills increase, he’ll be able to drive at higher speeds without losing control.

Isn’t it so?

Same is the case with learning musical instruments. When you have learned a musical instrument for some time, you can play it fine at slower speeds. However, as you increase speed, you fall out of tune. Why?

Is speed the problem?

No.

The problem lies in skills. You are not as skilled as a person who has trained for years and thus can play at very high speeds.

If you think about it deeply, you’ll realize that

TIMING IS NEVER A PROBLEM; IT’S ALWAYS A SYMPTOM.

If you try to treat it directly, you’ll always falter just as you’d falter if you try to treat physical problems such as pimples or muscle pain directly. Pimples are probably the result of some imbalance in the blood, and muscle pain is probably the result of lack of calcium in the body. You have to treat the cause, not the result. Isn’t it?

The skills gap is, I believe, the biggest cause of the timing issue. Thus, your biggest improvements in timing will come when you start focusing on building your skills.

Now, how to build skills?

Will practice build the required skills in us?

The answer is: It depends on how you practice. You can read my article for my thoughts on this: Practice won’t lead you anywhere!

However, there are two other reasons that contribute to the timing issue:

Approach: If the way you are holding the steering wheel is wrong, you will likely continue to face problems at higher speeds even if your skills improve. Similarly, if the way you read and solve a question is wrong, you’ll continue to face problems when you try to speed up the process. The approach is different from the skills. For example: in Reading comprehension, you may have the skills to comprehend the passage, but if you have always been told to read the passage superficially (some test prep companies suggest reading just the first line and the last line of each paragraph!!), you may keep shifting back and forth between the passage and the questions, leading to unnecessary time waste.

However, the approach problem can be easily solved by listening to and taking guidance from the right people.

Stress: Stress is a problem that impacts your concentration power, leading to increased time to understand the given material. If you are overly stressed, a part of the brain is always focussed on the end result, and only the remaining part can focus on the question at hand. Now, how to deal with stress? There are two ways:

  1. Increase your skills: I think we can agree that the biggest reason we are stressed out is that we are not sure of the outcome. We don’t believe in our skills. Our scores have fluctuated from one mock to another mock, and we don’t know where we’ll end up today. So, the root problem is skills. If you build your skills, you’ll have the confidence that you can score at your desired level on the test. Wouldn’t your stress level go down if you have such confidence?
  2. Let go: I still remember that on the day I took CAT (Common Admission Test for IIMs) in 2007, when I had the CAT paper in my hand (at that time, CAT used to be conducted in paper and pen format), I thought that if I didn’t clear it, I’d go for MCA. Now, it is not that I did not have confidence in my abilities; rather, I was consistently scoring in the higher end of 99+ percentile in mock CATs. The reason I thought so was that I wanted to let the pressure off my shoulders. I wanted to assure myself that the world wouldn’t fall if I couldn’t clear the test. I believe doing so was extremely important for me since it allowed me to take the test with a calm mind. And it worked. I ended up scoring 99.98%ile. I have used the same approach both the times I have taken GMAT, and it has worked till now. So, I’d suggest that when you take the GMAT, try to let go of the outcome as much as possible. This will allow you to focus on the question at hand in the best state of your mind. Logically, this should have a direct positive implication on your score.

To summarize the article, I’ll say:

  1. Timing is not a problem; it’s a symptom.
  2. The biggest cause of timing issue is the skills gap. Building skills take time, but there is no other way.
  3. The other two causes are Approach, which can be corrected with the right guidance, and Stress, which can be handled with better skills and the letting go of the outcome.

Feel free to share your thoughts on this article. I’ll be happy to discuss 🙂

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