Can you use scratch paper on the GMAT? What does it look like, and how do you use it? Questions about the GMAT scratch pad are common for students preparing for the exam.
In this article, I’ll go over the details of the GMAT scratch paper, how to use your GMAT noteboard effectively, and how to simulate the official notepad at home as you prepare to take the test.
GMAT Scratch Paper: The Logistics
First off, the good news: Yes, you are given a notepad and marker to take notes on during the GMAT. It’s specifically created for use by GMAT test takers.
The GMAT scratch paper is a laminated scratch pad with five yellow grid double-sided pages. The pages are about the size of those on a legal pad (that is, significantly bigger than a typical sheet of paper). It looks like a cross between a dry erase board and a flip pad or sketchbook.
Here’s what it looks like:
The surface of the GMAT scratch pad is plastic, which will feel different from writing with pen on paper:
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The GMAT notepad is accompanied by a non-permanent wet erase marker, not a pen. The marker is around the size and shape of a regular Sharpie or a thin dry erase marker. While the GMAT noteboard looks a lot like a dry erase board, you cannot erase anything on it. So use your space wisely.
However, if you do start running out of room, that’s ok. If you need more scratch paper during the test, raise your hand and a proctor will replace it for you. There are no limitations on how much scratch paper you can use during the GMAT. Taking notes can take up precious time, however, so make sure that what you do write is directly useful to you.
Try to plan ahead so you don’t run out of room on the scratch pad before a section of the GMAT ends. The best time to ask the proctor for a new scratch pad is between sections, so you don’t have to interrupt your thought process or waste time during a section.
How to Use Your GMAT Noteboard Effectively
Remember, you can’t bring your own scratch paper or writing utensils to the GMAT. In fact, no personal items are allowed in the room except for pre-approved ‘comfort items’ like cough drops or a jacket. So you’ll want to learn how to use this specific tool comfortably so you won’t feel blindsided by it on exam day. Let’s go over some ways that you can make the GMAT scratch paper work most effectively for you.
General Tips for Using the GMAT Scratch Paper
Here are some general tips to help you use your GMAT notepad to your best advantage:
- Divide each page up into sections. Before you start each section, some students find it helpful to divide a scratch pad page (or two, or three) into squares corresponding to the number of questions. For example, the Integrated Reasoning section consists of 12 questions, so you’d divide a notepad page into 12 squares and label them 1-12. You’d write your notes or calculations for each question in its corresponding square. This can help you stay organized and focused during the test, or go back to a previous difficult question.
- If you have it, use extra time in another section to set up the next set of scratch pad pages. If you finish your Analytical Writing Assessment early, for example, you can use that extra time to set up your squares for the Integrated Reasoning section. You can also use a few minutes of your break time or a few minutes at the beginning of the allotted section time to ‘customize’ your scratch paper.
- Some students also find it helpful to keep track of their time using the scratch pad, especially if they struggle with timing. In each square, you can write the approximate time you should use for that question in a ‘countdown’ format. For example, you have around two minutes for each question in the Quant section and 62 minutes to finish the section. So your first question square would read “:62” at the top, and the second would read “:60,” and so on. This helps some students stay on top of things and confuses others, so don’t worry about it if this wouldn’t work for you.
- Don’t overuse your GMAT scratch paper. As much as you can, practice doing calculations and picking out main ideas from readings in your head at home. Using the GMAT scratch pad can be very helpful, but it can also take up time and energy that you’ll need for the test.
- Practice writing small at home when you take notes. Taking up too much space for each problem will make things more difficult and visually confusing.
- Some students prefer using the GMAT scratch pad horizontally rather than vertically. Try it at home and see what works for you. Experiment with various ways of setting up the pages. Remember, this is your space!
Quant Section Tips
- The GMAT scratch pad is especially important for the Quant section because the Quant section doesn’t have an onscreen calculator. Any calculations you do will have to be by hand on the laminated scratch pad.
- It can be helpful to jot down the ‘given’ information for each problem and clearly mark it as ‘given’ (with a line next to it or a circle around it, for example) before you start your calculations for that problem.
- For the Data Sufficiency questions, using the process of elimination and physically crossing out incorrect answers on your scratch pad can be especially helpful.
Analytical Writing Assessment Tips
Since you’ll write your essay for the Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA) in an onscreen text editor, you can keep your notes there if you want to save your GMAT scratch pad for other sections.
However, I recommend using the scratch pad to create an outline before actually writing your essay. Having a plan will make writing go faster, and it will be much easier to refer back to on your notepad.
Verbal Section Tips
Sometimes it can be difficult to know what to take notes on for the Verbal section. Your scratch pad can be used in two ways here:
- You can pull out major points, such as main ideas, evidence, and counterarguments, from each reading and jot them down for each reading. This is especially helpful for the longer Reading Comprehension passages, which are accompanied by several questions each. If you don’t find taking notes helpful, though, don’t feel like you have to.
- For all Verbal GMAT questions, you can use the notepad for process of elimination. You can write down “ABCDE” in each question square and cross out the answer choices you know are incorrect as you read.
Integrated Reasoning (IR) Tips
You’ll have a calculator onscreen for the IR section, but you can use your GMAT notepad and marker to keep track of your calculations or to eliminate answer choices. For example, many IR questions have several parts (I, II, and III, for example) and ask you to determine whether I is “True,” II is “False,” III cannot be determined, or any combination thereof. You can also use this space to create a visual diagram of those choices and keep track of them as you go along.
How to Simulate the GMAT Noteboard
In preparation for the GMAT, it’s helpful to simulate as many aspects of the test as possible. This will help you feel confident, do your best, and avoid wasting time and energy on exam day. There are two ways you can simulate the experience of using the GMAT scratch paper at home in preparation for the test:
Manhattan Prep has created a GMAT test simulation booklet that is nearly identical to the one you’ll receive at the GMAT. It also includes a corresponding marker. You can purchase it here. This will give you the most realistic experience and writing feel.
To create a DIY version of the GMAT notepad, just purchase a yellow grid legal pad and a slender Sharpie-sized marker. It won’t be exactly the same, but you’ll get the feel for the size and shape of the scratch paper.
It will be most effective to use your simulated GMAT scratch pad alongside the free GMAT prep software at MBA.com. This will help you simulate as many aspects of test day as possible.
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For a more detailed breakdown of each GMAT question type, check out our article on the GMAT format.
For practice questions to use alongside your simulated test booklet, check out our complete collection of GMAT sample questions.
If you’re ready to register for the GMAT, our guide to GMAT registration will walk you through the process.