The GMAT Online allows test-takers to use both a physical whiteboard and an online whiteboard, built into the test interface. There are great reasons to use both—the key is to know when to use which. (Note: If you haven’t already read our main Time Management series, start there.)
For example, the physical whiteboard is great for math and other things that would be really annoying to do on an online whiteboard. But the physical whiteboard has (seriously) limited space. You’re going to need to keep erasing what you’ve written in order to do more. So things that you want to keep for the whole test—such as your time management strategy—are best recorded on your online whiteboard. We’ll talk all the specifics in this post.
Before we dive in: You’re going to need a physical whiteboard that meets the official requirements (more on this in a bit). Do your shopping early—you’re going to want to use your whiteboard on at least a couple of practice tests before you take the real thing.
One more housekeeping note. Be prepared to take the exam in both formats: in the testing center and online. Hopefully, you’ll have the choice when the time comes; if so, you can choose whichever format suits you best. But if you have only one option, you’ll be prepared, either way.
GMAC (the organization that makes the exam) has made a version of the online whiteboard available for free, but it has a significant drawback: It can’t be resized, as it can on the real test.
Our tech team replicated the same tool in a dedicated web page so you can practice under official test conditions in advance of the test, including the ability to resize the board and place it wherever you want on your test screen. If you have any type of syllabus with us, including a free syllabus, you’ll find the online whiteboard waiting for you on your CAT exam page. If you don’t have a syllabus, sign up for our free Starter Kit to get access to the whiteboard tool and one free CAT exam. If you already have a syllabus of ours, log in and navigate to the CAT exam page or just click this link (you have to be logged into your account already for this link to work).
Requirements for the physical whiteboard
The physical whiteboard has to be a maximum of 12 by 20 inches or 30 by 50 centimetres. It has to be a dry-erase board, not a wet-erase board (so the Yellow Pad that’s used in the testing centers, and that we make for our students, unfortunately can’t be used for the online exam), and it does have to have a plain white background (no grid lines or colors). It can be double-sided.
You’re allowed to have two dry erase markers and one eraser with you during the test. I’d use new or almost-new markers on test day.
GMAC has provided a partial list of what not to use; it’s not an exhaustive list, so go with the most boring, basic dry-erase whiteboard you can find that fits the size parameters given above.
How the online whiteboard works
Here’s a short primer that explains how to use each tool, in order from top to bottom and left to right; you can also watch me using the tools. You’ll probably use the Pen and Text tools the most.
Tips for getting the most out of the online whiteboard
The content you put on the whiteboard is persistent throughout the entire test. If you close the whiteboard and open it again during the real test, everything you wrote will still be there. (That’s not true for the practice versions.) The content also stays on the whiteboard even when you move to another section of the test. And you can pull up the whiteboard before the exam starts, while you’re still looking at the instructions.
Use these facts to your advantage. Pull up the whiteboard during the instruction period and set up your time management strategy (more on this below). Jot down any formulas, facts, positive mantras, or anything else you want to have available during the test.
When you want to move the whiteboard out of the way, you can either close it or drag it partially or mostly off screen, your choice. Pull it back up whenever you want to access that content again.
Time management and organization
The video I linked earlier (and, hey, just linked again!) also shows the below time management strategies for each section. Your choice whether to read or watch.
For the Quant section, you’ll likely do most of the actual work on the physical whiteboard—but that whiteboard is limited in size, so you’re going to have to keep erasing your work. Use the online whiteboard, then, for everything that you want to keep persistent for the whole section, including your time management strategy.
If you’re using our Yellow Pad time management strategy to get ready for the in-person test and don’t want to have a separate strategy for the online format, you can recreate a mini-grid on screen that represents the 8 faces of the yellow pad on which you would normally do your scratch work. Draw 8 plus signs. Count up from 0 to 56 by multiples of 8. (I wrote these numbers using the draw tool, but you can also use the text tool.) Finally, X off the very first box in the 56 group:
You’ve now got your 31 spaces, but you’re not actually going to do your scratch work here—you’ll do that on your physical whiteboard. Instead, put a check mark in each little area as you complete a problem:
If you forget to check off a problem or two at some point, you’re still ok. Glance at the upper-right corner of the test screen to see which problem number you’re on. Then start counting / making checks from the very first grid until you’ve got the right number of check marks. Check your time and carry on.
If you don’t want to draw all of that out, you could instead create a little table that tells you what time you want the clock to say when you’re on a certain question number. Here are two ways to do that:
The table on the left counts by 5s in the first column. In the second column, you just need to remember the number 52 to start and then count down by 10 each time. This one is easier to remember, but it’s not in the same cadence as the plan for the testing-center test.
A lot of people are going to want to stick to the same cadence, though. In that case, use the table on the right, which keeps you in the groove of 4 questions every 8 minutes. For this one, count up by 4s in the first column. In the second column, start at the bottom and count up by 8s.
Either way, the table option is faster to write out than the cross-method but the table doesn’t alert you as to when to look in the upper-right corner of the screen to check that you’re on time. If you don’t remember to check on problem 10 (for the first table) or 12 (for the second one) but it suddenly occurs to you on problem 13, that can interrupt your rhythm because you have to think a little more about whether you’re actually (approximately) on time.
If you struggle more with time management on Quant, I’d recommend investing more time up front to set up the more comprehensive tracking method—the eight crosses—and check off each problem as you go. If your Quant timing isn’t too troublesome, then feel free to use one of the faster table methods.
Time management on the Verbal section can be a bit trickier because it takes longer to do Reading Comprehension and Critical Reasoning, on average, than it does Sentence Correction—but we don’t know in what order we’re going to see the different types of questions.
There are usually a total of four Reading Comp passages on the test and they’re often (though not always) roughly evenly spaced out, so it’s best to split the Verbal section into four groups of nine questions each and assume that you’ll start one new RC passage in each grouping.
Verbal is easier than Quant in one way: There are 36 problems, which divides nicely by 4. The Quant section has 31 problems—a prime number that divides nicely by nothing.
Here’s what to draw for Verbal:
Each tic-tac-toe board has 9 cells to represent the 9 problems you’ll do in that grouping. Your time counts down by multiples of 16. The letter R represents an RC passage. Each time you start a new passage, cross off an R. If you’re still in the first grouping but you start a second RC passage, cross off the R in the second group (next to the 32). Because you’re “ahead” on your R crossouts, you’ll expect your time to be a few minutes less than you’d otherwise expect when you finish the first grouping—rather than 48 minutes left, you’d only have about 45. That’s okay, since you are also “ahead” on your RC passage starts.
If, on the other hand, you finish a grouping without crossing off the R associated with that grouping, you’ll know that you should have a few minutes extra left on the clock—so maybe you have 51 minutes left rather than 48. You’ll use that extra time somewhere later in the exam, when you do finally get the extra RC passage that you didn’t get in this grouping.
Leave enough space between groupings to accommodate the volume of notes you typically take for 9 verbal problems. (How will you know? Figure this out as you take practice tests and adjust your grid spacing accordingly on your next test.)
And if you want to get really fancy, you can use the left side of the online whiteboard for your answer choice eliminations. Drag it partially off-screen next to the right-hand end of the answers and mark them up. I use X’s for my eliminations and squiggles to mean “maybe; look at this again.” No more writing out ABCDE on my physical scratch paper!
In the example above, I’ve crossed off A, D, and E and I’m going to look at B and C again. (Note: This problem is from the free official problem set found in your mba.com account.)
I first tried to place the whiteboard to the left of the problems, right next to the little bubbles for each answer…but then that meant I’d dragged the toolbar part of the whiteboard off-screen! I want access to the tools all the time, so that means placing the whiteboard to the right of the problems.
If I chose to do my answer eliminations this way, then I’d also put enough vertical space between my answer grids so that there would just be white space where the 32 grid is placed in that image above. That way, if I need to jot down some notes, I’d have space to type them there. (Alternatively, I could write notes on my physical whiteboard—I personally prefer typing, but that’s your call.)
Doing your answer choice eliminations on screen should work fine for SC, CR, and Two-Parts (in the Integrated Reasoning section). It may not work as well for RC or the rest of Integrated Reasoning, given that those problem types take up a lot more real-estate on the screen. For those, you may have to go back to doing your answer eliminations on the physical board.
Speaking of no more writing ABCDE though—on the physical whiteboard, you only need to write the 5 letters once. Just keep your eraser handy and erase your markings after each problem.
For IR, I’d use this same grid idea to keep track of time on the online whiteboard but it’s going to be even faster to set up:
This time, the big X represents a problem on which I chose to bail fast. We recommend bailing immediately on 2 or 3 problems out of the 12 problems you’ll see in IR. I assume that, on average, I’m going to bail on one problem per grouping.
I put an X when I bail so that I can factor the location of my bails into my time management analysis. If I bail once in that grouping, then I’m on track; I should be about on time (20 minutes) when I finish that group. If I bail twice, though, then I should expect to have an extra 2-3 minutes remaining (around 22 to 23 minutes left). If I don’t bail at all in that grouping, I should expect to have 2-3 fewer minutes left—something like 17 to 18 minutes. And I then also expect to bail on 2 problems in some later grouping.
Concentrate on the Pen, Text, and Straight Line Tools
Most of your scratch work will use these three tools. Use the pen or line tool when you need to do something really easy and quick—make a grid, jot down a single letter or number, or draw symbols for your answer choice eliminations. When you need to take more extensive notes, use the text tool.
If you find yourself making the careless mistake of solving for the wrong thing (especially on math problems), you might also put what you’re solving for on the online whiteboard—so that it’s sitting right there on screen to remind you, before you select your answer.
Taking a practice CAT to mimic the GMAT Online
You can use the Manhattan Prep online whiteboard while taking one of our own practice CATs or a CAT from any other company—we don’t mind.
Choose the test order starting with Quant, as that’s the order of the GMAT Online for everyone. (You can skip the essay if you like, but if there’s any chance at all that you’ll end up taking this in a testing center, I’d do it for the practice.) Don’t take a formal* break between Quant and Verbal—there’s no official break between these sections on the GMAT Online. Do take a 5-minute break between Verbal and Integrated Reasoning.
*Do also take an informal break between Quant and Verbal. Decide whether you want to take a little time from Quant, from Verbal, or from both; give yourself 3 to 5 minutes total. Don’t get out of your chair. (It’s really tiring to sit in the chair for a little over 2 hours straight. Practice it.) Roll your head and neck around, stretch a bit, take a sip of water. Meditate or practice mindfulness for a few minutes to get your brain out of the exam and calmed down. And then carry on.
Good luck and happy studying!
Stacey Koprince is a Manhattan Prep instructor based in Montreal, Canada and Los Angeles, California. Stacey has been teaching the GMAT, EA, 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.
Comments or questions about this article? Email us.