How to Study for the Executive Assessment (EA) – Part 4

study for the executive assessment

Are you preparing for the Executive Assessment (EA) exam? In part 1 of this series, we talked about the major study materials you’ll want to use and some guidelines for planning the length of your studies. In part 2 and part 3, we dove more deeply into the question types and content areas for the Integrated Reasoning, Verbal, and Quant sections of the exam and we also talked about overall study planning.

In the final installment of this series (this one, right now!), we’re going to dive into time management on the Executive Assessment.

Time management on the Executive Assessment (EA): The basics

Each section is 30 minutes long and has either 12 or 14 questions, so you have a bit over 2 minutes, on average, to answer each question. 

As I mentioned earlier, you don’t want to try to answer everything. An average of 2 minutes is just not enough time! I’m actually going to recommend that you plan to bail on 2 or 3 questions per section—guess within the first 15-30 seconds and go spend that precious time elsewhere. If you follow this recommendation, then you can average 2.5 minutes per Quant and Verbal question and a whopping 3 minutes per Integrated Reasoning question.

As a reminder, the questions will be split into two panels per section, so you’ll have six or seven problems in each panel. Plan to bail on one question per panel; if you hit a second really annoying problem in one of the panels, give yourself the freedom to bail on one extra question (for a total of three across both panels).

Before you go in, have a list of Bail Categories—things you hate and know that you’re not very good at. In my case, I bail instantly on combinatorics and I’m also going to bail on what I call Too Annoying To Do problems. An example of the latter: A Roman numeral problem (3 questions for the price of 1!) that has 4+ variables (ugh) plus some other annoying feature, such as absolute value symbols on both sides of an equation. Basically, know what annoys you and, when you see too many annoying details in a single question, get out fast.

Marking questions for later

What if you’re not sure whether you want to bail? Or maybe you see something that you can do, but you think it will take you longer than average. As you work through any one panel, you’ll be given the option to mark questions to return to later (as long as you are still on that panel). At the end of that panel, you can see a list of any questions you marked and then jump right back to a particular question. This is a great feature as long as you know when and how to use it—and when and how not to use it.

First, note that you do need to make a distinction between marking and bailing. When you decide that something isn’t worth doing ever, don’t mark it for later “just in case.” Make the executive decision, put in a random answer, and move on forever. (Do put in a random answer—there’s no penalty for getting something wrong.)

Next, when you do decide to mark something, still put in a random answer right now. It’s possible that you might not make it back later, and you don’t want to waste a chance to get lucky.

Let’s see how this all plays out section by section.

EA time management: Integrated Reasoning

In IR, bailing on 2 or 3 questions will leave you just 9 or 10 questions to do, so you’ll be answering 4 or 5 questions per panel. You’ll have 30 minutes to do those problems and your goal is to use approximately half the time (15 minutes) for each panel.

First, let’s define “bail” questions. Don’t try to do it. Don’t try to make an educated guess. Don’t even mark it to come back later. Just pick randomly, move on, and forget about this one forever.

Bail on these kinds of questions:

  • This is a big weakness of yours
  • You’ve read the problem and don’t understand what they’re asking or telling you—or you have no idea what to do with that information
  • You think you might know how to do it, but it would take you way too long (>4 minutes)

Now, let’s talk about the ones you do want to mark for a possible later return. First, be stingy. Generally speaking, mark only one per panel; at the most, mark two. You’re not going to have a ton of time left at the end; the last thing you want to do is spend a minute trying to figure out which of 3 marked problems you should actually return to…and then run out of time before you can try any of them.

When you mark a question for a possible later return, also put in a random answer right now. You may not actually make it back to this problem later, so it’s better to have a guess locked in, just in case. As I mentioned, there’s no penalty for getting something wrong.

Mark these kinds of questions:

  • You know how to do this but it will take somewhat longer than average (3.5 to 4 minutes)
  • You’re thinking, “I know how to do this! I just did it last week! But I’m blanking right now.”

For the first category, you just want to make sure that you don’t prevent yourself from getting to the last two questions because you spent extra time on one long one earlier. Save that long one for last, just in case.

The second category is something that is in your brain somewhere, but you’re having trouble pulling up the memory right now. Sometimes, if we set the thing aside for 5 or 10 minutes, our brains will continue trying to figure it out subconsciously and then, when we look at it again, we’ll retrieve the memory: Oh, yeah! This is how to do this problem!

So if you run into one of those, “But I know how to do this!” problems, don’t waste time trying to retrieve the memory right now. Let it percolate in the back of your brain while you do other stuff—then come back at the end (if you have time) to see whether you can pull up the memory now. 

How does this play out? The first panel pops up. On your first run through the problems, you’re going to bail fast on one and save one for later, so you’re going to try to answer four. (And maybe you bail on two or save two for later, so you try to answer three.) 

When you get to the end of the first panel, the test is going to ask whether you’re ready to move to the next one. Glance at the timer, which will be counting down from 30 minutes. How far are you from 15 minutes left?

IR questions typically require 2-3 minutes, so we’re going to be pretty strict about timing. If the number is higher than 16 or higher, notice how much time you still have before you get to 15, then go to your marked question (or, if you marked two, glance at each quickly and pick one) and get to work. When you’re done, glance at the timer again and decide from there whether to try another problem or to close out this panel and move to the next panel.

If you have fewer than 16 minutes left, however, it’s time to move to the next panel.

EA time management: Verbal and Quant

Quant and Verbal will work very similarly, except that you’ll be answering 7 questions per panel rather than 6—so you’ll have a little bit less time per problem, on average. (But Q and V problems are also not as complicated—usually—as IR problems.)

Still bail on one problem per panel (and you can bail on one extra in one of the panels). Still mark one problem to come back to (or maybe two).

Some Quant and Verbal problems can be answered in 1-2 minutes, so you’ve got a judgment call to make:

  • 14 or fewer minutes left? Go to the second panel; don’t go back to any marked questions from the first panel.
  • More than 14 minutes left? You have a decision to make: Should you return to a marked question in the first panel or move on to the second panel?

If you’re in the second situation, it will depend both on how much time you have and what your marked problem looks like. 

If you’re already below the 15-minute mark, give yourself 10 seconds to look at your marked problem. If it falls in the category, “Oh yeah, I remember how to do this now, and it’s something I can do in a minute!” then go for it. Otherwise, move on.

If you have more than 15 minutes left, still take a look at your marked problem. If you know how to do it but it’s going to take 2+ minutes, only move ahead if you still have the time to do it and move to the second panel with 15 (or more) minutes left.

If you’re blanking on it or you find yourself thinking any variation of, “But I should know how to do this…”—forget about it. Move to the next panel.

In sum

If you’re coming to the EA from the GMAT, make sure you educate yourself on the major differences between the two exams. There aren’t many—but you will need to make some adjustments, especially in the area of time management.

Plan for a minimum of 4 weeks and probably closer to 6 to 8 (since you have lots of other things going on in your life too, right?). If you need a higher-than-average score or are extra-busy and can’t study much, you may need closer to 3 to 4 months.

Study IR, Verbal, and Quant pretty equally—you’re looking to get fairly even scores across all three sections, as much as possible. If you’re going for an EMBA, your total score goal (as of this writing) is 150+, and if you’re going for a regular MBA, your score goal is 155+—but do some research yourself whenever you are reading this to make sure things haven’t changed.

You’re going to want to practice from the official EA tools available—but you’re also going to need some test-prep-company materials to teach you the underlying skills and content for the exam. And you’re going to need to set up a study plan for yourself.

Good luck and happy studying!

KEEP READING: What the Executive Assessment Really Tests

For information about our Executive Assessment Complete Course click here.



Stacey Koprince is a Manhattan Prep instructor based in Montreal, Canada and Los Angeles, California. Stacey has been teaching the GMAT, GRE, and LSAT  for more than 15 years and is one of the most well-known instructors in the industry. Stacey loves to teach and is absolutely fascinated by standardized tests. Check out Stacey’s upcoming GMAT courses here.

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How to Study for the Executive Assessment (EA) – Part 4