Big news in the standardized testing space! For a brief period of time starting next month, the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) will let GMAT candidates choose the order in which they take the GMAT. The “Select Section Order Pilot” will run from February 23 through March 8, 2016. The pilot was first announced via an email to candidates who recently took the GMAT, and it appears to be limited to “invitation only” status for some people who recently took the exam.
What Exactly Is The Pilot?
Currently, the GMAT is given one way and one way only: Analytical Writing Assessment (30 minutes), Integrated Reasoning (30 minutes), Quantitative (75 minutes), and Verbal (75 minutes). With the pilot, students may choose to take the GMAT in one of these four ways:
1. Quantitative, Verbal, Integrated Reasoning, Analytical Writing Assessment
2. Quantitative, Verbal, Analytical Writing Assessment, Integrated Reasoning
3. Verbal, Quantitative, Integrated Reasoning, Analytical Writing Assessment
4. Analytical Writing Assessment, Integrated Reasoning, Verbal, Quantitative
You will need to select your preferred order when you register for a new test date on MBA.com. If you choose one of the experimental options above, then you will need to find an available test center in the February 23 – March 8 period; if choose the normal order in which the GMAT is given now (AWA, IR, Quant, Verbal), then you will not be considered part of the pilot program, and you can register for the test on any date.
On its website, GMAC makes a point of saying that the pilot will be very small, involving less than 1% of total testing volume. So, your odds of being invited to the pilot are very small. Also, if you participate, your score will be considered just as valid as if you had taken the “normal” GMAT, and schools will not know that you were part of the Select Section Order pilot.
Why Is GMAC Doing This?
No doubt GMAC wants to innovate and make the GMAT more applicant-friendly in the face of increasing competition from ETS in the form of the GRE. In its email to recent test takers, GMAC wrote:
A launch schedule for any further release of this feature beyond the pilot has not been determined at this time. The wider launch of the Select Section Order feature will depend greatly on the results of the pilot. GMAC may decide not to launch the feature for any number of reasons, including candidate dissatisfaction with the feature.
It’s safe to assume that GMAC will only expand the program if it finds that pilot students don’t perform significantly better or worse than their counterparts who take the GMAT in its normal order. Focusing the test on retake students — who give GMAC a terrific baseline for comparing results between the normal GMAT and the pilot program — is how they will determine whether or not playing with section order has a meaningful impact on scores.
Should You Participate?
If you’re one of the approximately 1% of GMAT candidates who are invited to take part in the pilot, it will be very tempting to take part and try customizing your test day experience. However, we normally recommend that students play the real game just the way they do in practice (and vice versa)… If you’re taking practice tests in the normal order, then we recommend taking the real GMAT the same way.
If stamina is a real problem for you — e.g., you find that you always run out of steam on the Verbal section and start making silly mistakes or simply run out of time — then it may be worth trying a format in which you get Quant and Verbal out of the way first. If you’re not sure, then stick with the normal order that you’re used to.
Were you invited to take part in the pilot? If so, let us know in the comments below!
By Scott Shrum