Land Your Score: GMAT Sections Switcheroo

July 5, 2017

What do the latest changes to the GMAT mean for your Test Day strategy?

There’s big news from the GMAC: Beginning on July 11, 2017, test-takers will be able to change the order of the sections they see on the GMAT. This is a dramatic change to the Test Day experience, and I’ll walk you through some factors to consider when deciding the best order in which to tackle the different GMAT sections.

How to order your GMAT sections

The long-standing (default) section order is Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA), Integrated Reasoning (IR), break, Quantitative Reasoning, break, and Verbal Reasoning. Because this is a long test, many of my students worry that they will be too brain-drained to perform well on the Verbal section. Now, Verbal does not have to be the last section they face.

GMAC will offer three section arrangements, and you will “Select Section Order” before your test begins:

 Option #1 Option #2 Option #3 Analytical Writing Assessment Verbal Reasoning Quantitative Reasoning Integrated Reasoning 8-minute break 8-minute break 8-minute break Quantitative Reasoning Quantitative Reasoning Verbal Reasoning 8-minute break 8-minute break 8-minute break Verbal Reasoning Integrated Reasoning Integrated Reasoning Analytical Writing Assessment Analytical Writing Assessment

Deciding which arrangement is best involves a number of factors. There are pros and cons to each arrangement, and I’m sure there are plenty of test-takers like me who would prefer to have IR and AWA last, but in the other order.

Prioritizing the sections that matter most

Most schools value your Quant/Verbal composite score more than your IR or AWA scores. Therefore, pushing these sections to the end allows you to face the Quant and Verbal sections while you are fresh, or at least more fresh than you would be with AWA and IR appearing first.

Remember, however, that you should take the actual GMAT in the same order that you practiced. So if you’ve been pleased with your scores on practice tests that use the default arrangement, then Option #1 is a safe bet. This is the order the GMAT has had since 2012, when Integrated Reasoning was added. Kaplan has also introduced the Select Section Order option in its full-length practice tests.

Optimizing your strategy to gain points

There may be situations in which changing the order could positively impact your score, and these are worth considering. Do you struggle with remembering formulas? Does math make you panic? If so, choosing Option #3 to approach your GMAT sections might serve you best. You will be able to tackle Quant first, which will let you get that behind you before fatigue sets in.

Do you tend to drift off or lose focus in Reading Comp? Then Option #2 might be your best bet. With this sequence you will be able to tackle Verbal right away, leaving the lesser-value sections for the end of the test.

When funding is a factor

Does your AWA score impact your chances of receiving a fellowship? This is not a common situation, but some programs factor the AWA score into funding decisions. If this applies to you, you may want to stick with Option #1.

Clearly there is no best way to order the GMAT sections, and you may see reasons that each option would work for you. Think through the potential reasons for and against each and decide which is best for you.

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Jennifer Mathews Land has taught for Kaplan since 2009. She prepares students to take the GMAT, GRE, ACT, and SAT and was named Kaplan’s Alabama-Mississippi Teacher of the Year in 2010. Prior to joining Kaplan, she worked as a grad assistant in a university archives, a copy editor for medical web sites, and a dancing dinosaur at children's parties. Jennifer holds a PhD and a master’s in library and information studies (MLIS) from the University of Alabama, and an AB in English from Wellesley College. When she isn’t teaching, she enjoys watching Alabama football and herding cats.

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