In the old days, when there were no sectional cut-offs in many exams, some people would choose to be “specialists”. In other words, they would strive to be really really good at one section and devote most of the time in the paper to that section, thus clearing the overall cut-offs despite a negligible score in one section.
However, colleges quickly realised that by such a criterion they ran the risk of getting people who spoke impeccable English but could not do a back-of-the-envelope calculation to save their lives (or their jobs), or others who could be human computers yet could not string together two consecutive grammatical sentences. Either type would go on to be less-than-ideal manager material. So nearly all the top colleges have moved to a scenario where there are sectional cut-offs; thus ensuring that one needs to spend a significant amount of time on each section.
Having said that, one can still choose to be flexible about time allotment. Very few people are equally proficient in both sections; and it is an established fact that the overall cut-off exceeds the total of the individual or sectional cut-offs (the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, after all!). So it is generally necessary not only to clear the cut-offs in each section but also to totally ace one section. You need to create a strategy which plays to your strengths; one of the most important things benefits of the SimCATs is that they allow you to experiment with different strategies and work out what suit your style.
For example, let us assume that practice tells you that your stamina is average, but your preparation is solid enough that you are tolerably confident of clearing both sectional cut-offs. You could start with your weaker section, planning on giving it a little less than half the time (say 70 minutes) and then taking stock after that time. If you are confident that any reasonable cut-off would be crossed, then you could shift to the other section and give it your best for the remaining time, thus ensuring that your overall score will be maximised. If you are not confident, give the first section a little more time to be safe!
Another strategy which a lot of people found handy in the old paper-based days could also be adapted to suit here. Initially, give maybe 70 minutes to each section. If at the end of that you feel sure that you have done well in both sections (and confident of clearing realistic cut-offs), then devote the remaining 30 minutes to your strongest section and aim to maximise your total score. If, on the other hand, you feel that you haven’t done justice to either one of the sections, then go to that section and ensure that you clear its cut-off. An advantage of this strategy is that it doesn’t require you to modify your existing strategy much, as you are already used to giving 70 minutes per section initially.
Note: all the above assumes that the test-taker has adequate ability and preparation in each of the sections! Without that, all the strategy in the world will avail nothing.
In the next couple of posts, my friend T will delve deeper into time-allocation at a micro level, rather than the broad generalisations I have made here.