Good news! Starting July 11, 2017 the GMAT will allow you to select the order in which you take the sections of the test (from a menu of three options). This new “Select Section Order” feature gives you more control over your test-day experience and an opportunity to play to your strengths.
The bad news? Now in addition to the 37 Quant questions, 41 Verbal questions, 12 Integrated Reasoning questions, and Essay, you have one more question you have to answer. But don’t stress – here’s an analysis of how to make this important decision:
Most importantly: statistically, the order of the sections on the GMAT does not matter. GMAC ran a pilot program last year and concluded that reordering the sections of the exam had no impact on scores. So there is no way you can make this decision “wrong” – choosing Quant first vs. Verbal first (or vice versa) doesn’t put you at a disadvantage (or give you an advantage). The only impact that this option will have on your score is a psychological one: which order makes you feel like you’re giving yourself the best shot.
Also hugely important: make sure you have a plan well before test day. Select Section Order has great potential to give you confidence on test day, but you don’t want the added stress of one more “big” decision on test day or even the day before. Make your plan at least a week before test day, take your final practice test(s) in the exact order you’ll use on the real thing, and save your decision-making capacity for test questions. A great option for this is the Veritas Prep practice tests, which are currently the only GMAT practice tests in the industry that let you customize the order of your test like the real exam.
And now for the ever-important question on everyone’s mind: in what order should I take the sections? Make sure that you recognize that you only have three options:
- Analytical Writing Assessment, Integrated Reasoning, Quantitative, Verbal (original order)
- Verbal, Quantitative, Integrated Reasoning, Analytical Writing Assessment
- Quantitative, Verbal, Integrated Reasoning, Analytical Writing Assessment
Note that you don’t have the option to split up the AWA and IR sections, and that the AWA/IR block comes either first or last: Quant and Verbal will remain adjacent no matter what order you choose, so you can’t plan yourself a nice “break” in between the two.
Also, recognize that all test-takers are different. As there is no inherent, universal advantage to one order versus the other, your decision isn’t so much “Quant vs. Verbal” but rather “stronger subject vs. not-as-strong subject.” You can fill in the names “Quant” and “Verbal” based on your own personal strengths. For this analysis, we’ll use “Stronger” and “Not as Strong” to refer to your choice between Quant/Verbal, and “AWA/IR” as the third category.
YOU SHOULD TAKE THE AWA LAST
Traditionally, one of the biggest challenges of the GMAT has been related to stamina and fatigue: it’s a long test, and by the end people are worn out. And over the last 5 years, the fast-paced Integrated Reasoning section has also proven a challenge – very few people comfortably finish the IR section, so it’s quite common to be a combination of tired and demoralized heading into the Quant section. Plus, let’s be honest: the IR and AWA scores just don’t matter as much as the Quant/Verbal scores, so if stamina and confidence are potentially limited quantities, you want to use as much of them as possible on the sections that b-schools care about most.
Who should take AWA/IR first?
Non-native speakers for whom the essay will be important. The danger of waiting until all the way at the end of the test to write the essay is that doing so increases the difficulty of writing clearly and coherently: you’ll just be really tired. If you need your AWA to shine and you’re a bit concerned about it as it is, you may want to attack it first.
Not-morning-people with first-thing-in-the-morning test appointments. If you got stuck with a test appointment that’s much earlier than the timeframe when you feel alert and capable, AWA/IR is a good opportunity to spend an hour of extended warmup getting into the day. If you have a later test appointment and still want a warmup, though, you’re better served doing a few practice problems before you head to the test center.
REASONS TO DO YOUR STRONGER SECTION (Q vs. V) FIRST
1) You like a good “warmup” to get started on a project. At work you typically start the day by responding to casual emails or reading industry news, because you know your most productive/creative/impactful work will come after you’ve taken a bit of time to get your head in the game. Playing to your strength first will let you experience early success so that your mind is primed for the tougher section to come.
2) You want to start with a confidence booster. Test-taking is very psychological – for example, studies show that test results are significantly impacted when examinees are prompted beforehand with reasons that they should perform well or poorly. Getting started with a section that reminds you that “you’re good at this!” is a great way to prime your mind for success and confidence.
3) You need your stronger section to carry your overall score. Those with specific score targets often find that the easiest way to hit them is to max out on their better score, gaining as many points as possible there and then hoping to scrounge up enough on the other section to hit that overall threshold. Doing your strength first may help you hit it while you’re fresh and gather up all those points before you get worn down by other sections. (Be careful, though: elite schools tend to prefer balanced scores to imbalanced scores, so make sure you consider that.)
REASONS TO DO YOUR WEAKER SECTION (Q vs. V) FIRST
1) You’re a fast starter. If like to hit the ground running on projects or workdays, you may want to deal with your biggest challenge first while you’re freshest and before fatigue sets in.
2) You hate having stress looming on the horizon. Similarly, if you’re the type who always did your homework immediately after school and always pays your bills the day you get them, there mere presence of the challenge waiting you could add stress through the earlier sections. Why not confront it immediately and get it over with?
3) Your test appointment is late in the day. If you’ve been waiting all day to get the test started, you’ve likely been anxious knowing that you have a major event in front of you. Warm up with some easier problems and review in the hour before the test and attack it quickly.
4) You’re retaking the test to specifically improve that section. In some cases, students are told that they can get off the waitlist or will only be considered if they get a particular section score to a certain threshold. If that’s you, turn that isolated section into a 75-minute test followed by a couple hours of formality, instead of forcing yourself to wait for the important part.
5) You crammed for it. We’ve all been there: your biology midterm is at 11am but you have to go to a history class from 9-10:30, and all the while you’re sitting there worried that you’re losing the information you memorized last night. If you’re worried about remembering certain formulas, rules, or strategies, you might as well use them immediately before you get distracted. Note: this does not mean you should cram for the GMAT! But if you did, you may want to apply that short-term memory as quickly as possible.
CAN’T DECIDE? THE CASE FOR DOING VERBAL FIRST
If the above reasons leave you conflicted, Veritas Prep recommends doing the Verbal section first. The skills required on the Verbal section are largely about focus – noting precision in wording, staying engaged in bland reading passages, switching between a variety of different topics – and focus is something that naturally fades over the course of the test. The ability to take the Verbal section when you’re most alert and able to concentrate is a terrific luxury.
Ultimately it’s best that you choose the order that makes you personally feel most confident, but if you can’t decide, most experts report that they would personally choose Verbal first.
Because, statistically, the order of the sections doesn’t really matter, the only thing that matters with Select Section Order is doing what makes you feel most confident and comfortable. So recognize that you cannot make a bad decision! What’s important is that you don’t let this decision add stress or fatigue to your test day. Make your decision at least 2 practice tests before the real thing, considering the advice above, and then don’t look back. The section selection option is a great way to ensure that your test experience feels as comfortable as possible, so, whatever you choose, believe in your decision and then go conquer the GMAT.
Getting ready to take the GMAT? Prepare for the exam with a computer-adaptive Veritas Prep practice test – the only test in the industry that allows you to practice section selection like the real exam! And as always, be sure to follow us on Facebook, YouTube, Google+, and Twitter for the latest in test prep and MBA admissions news.