GMAT Test-Takers Can Choose Their Section Order
The Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) has announced an interesting change to how the GMAT will be administered: Beginning July 11, 2017, GMAT test-takers will be able to choose the order in which they take each section of the official exam. This is big news, as it presents an opportunity for GMAT takers to strategize around individual academic strengths and weaknesses. It also presents an opportunity for new sources of test anxiety. No other major standardized test that we can think of has ever offered such a choice, so only time can tell what the impact on test experience will be. That said, GMAC was testing this feature out throughout 2016 and noted that “the quality and integrity of the GMAT scores” was maintained. In other words, GMAT scores weren’t significantly affected by the change.
Note that you will not have complete control over section order. For example, you won’t be able to start the exam with Integrated Reasoning. Your three options will be:
- Analytical Writing Assessment, Integrated Reasoning, Quantitative, Verbal (original order)
- Verbal, Quantitative, Integrated Reasoning, Analytical Writing Assessment
- Quantitative, Verbal, Integrated Reasoning, Analytical Writing Assessment
How should you order your GMAT sections?
Don’t over-think this. We understand that the ability to choose the order of your GMAT sections may feel like a huge responsibility, that if only you choose the “right” section order, you’ll have a significantly higher GMAT score on the horizon. Ultimately, the vast majority of your score will still be determined by how knowledgable you are in the subject matter, how strong your GMAT test-taking skills are, and how confident you are feeling. We encourage all of you to see this new choice as a simple opportunity, rather than turning it into a source of test anxiety.
So, what strategy should you use in ordering your GMAT sections? Our head tutor Isaac has some general advice with one notable exception:
General advice: Start with either Quant or Verbal and end with IR/AWA
For most of you, the decision is simple: Start your official GMAT with either Quant or Verbal, depending on which subject is your strongest—whatever section causes your brain the least amount of strain should generally be the first section you tackle on your official GMAT. Doing so will preserve your mental energy for the toughest portion of the test, and it will also allow you to head into your tougher section with confidence after an assumably successful first section. Your IR and AWA scores definitely matter, but not in the same league as Quant and Verbal, so most of you will appreciate being able to save them for last, when your brain is already tired.
You can semi-invert this strategy by keeping IR and AWA last but starting with your weakest section if you don’t struggle significantly with test anxiety and think you will do best by utilizing your full mental energy for your weakest section. Make sure that you only use this strategy if, through practice, you notice that you still have enough mental energy to do well in your stronger section after going full throttle against section 1.
Exception: If you have significant test anxiety but don’t get fatigued by AWA and IR
It isn’t necessarily common, but some of our students struggle with serious test anxiety to the extent that it can take 30-60 minutes to really get into the groove of the GMAT. If this is your situation, starting off with Quant or Verbal probably sounds like a nightmare, and you’re right to think so. If you need to use IR and AWA as a warm-up that helps you shake off test anxiety, then run with what works for you and stick with the GMAT’s original order.
Optimizing your GMAT prep and GMAT test date
It is, of course, most fruitful to practice any section order that you’re considering using on your official GMAT in advance, as test day is not the time to experiment. That said, even GMAC doesn’t appear to have updated their official practice tests yet. We’re working with our developers to allow all of you who use our program to choose your section order. In the meantime, as hard as it may be, remember that choosing section order should not significantly impact your score. If your official GMAT is coming up before July 11 and you’re wondering whether you should reschedule to take advantage of the new section ordering options, our advice is:
- If you’ve been practicing in the traditional order for a while and are hitting your target GMAT score in your practice tests, why risk it? Stick with what is working.
- If the idea of choosing your test order causes you anxiety, then definitely do not reschedule. Stick with your planned GMAT date.
- If your admissions deadlines leave enough room for a later GMAT date, you don’t get anxiety from the perceived responsibility of choosing your section order, and you haven’t been hitting your target GMAT score by practicing in the current section order, sure, go ahead and reschedule if you’d like to.
Just remember, the way to hit your target GMAT score is by being prepared to answer the questions themselves with accuracy and speed (which, as many of you know, the Economist GMAT Tutor program strongly prepares you for). Focus on this above all.
This post appeared first on the Economist GMAT Tutor blog.