GMAT has gone through various changes in the past few years. The one concerning us today is one of the changes made in 2017 regarding the section order on the test.
This change in particular has brought me to my laptop due to its importance for a test taker. Yet, the discussion on this topic is lacking some important points.
Without further ado, let’s dive into this topic to understand how it affects a test-taker.
WHAT IS THE SECTION ORDER ON THE GMAT?
The section order on the GMAT refers to the order in which a student gets to attempt the 4 sections on the test.
Before 2017, the section order wasn’t a choice for the test-taker. Anyone taking the GMAT had to comply with the pre-set order of section that the GMAC had provided. In July of 2017, the students were given three different choices of section orders
While, a student can still not customize the order of the sections that they attempt on the GMAT, they still get a pretty good selection.
Sections on the GMAT
There are four sections on the GMAT that test the students on various aptitudes and skills.
Two of these four sections are Computer Adaptative. In simpler words, the difficulty of the succeeding question is determined by your answer to the current question.
Thus, if you answer a question wrong, the next one would be easier.
This is a CAT section, thus your response weighs heavy on the next question you would receive
There are 31 questions in this section which you will have to answer in 65 minutes.
Quant has 2/3 problem solving and 1/3 data sufficiency questions. Problem solving questions are the ones that require you to simply solve the question, whereas, data sufficiency requires you to answer whether two given statements are sufficient to solve the given question or not.
You also get an optional break after this section.
The second and last CAT section of the test is the Verbal section. The verbal section requires you to complete 36 questions in 65 minutes.
The composition of this section is: 1/3 Sentence correction, 1/3 Reading comprehension, and Critical reasoning.
One of the optional breaks are given after completing the Verbal section.
Integrated Reasoning (IR)
The Integrated Reasoning is a non-CAT section that the candidate has to complete in 30 minutes.
It consists of 12 questions which judge the candidate on Graphics interpretation, Table analysis, Multi source reasoning, and 2-part analysis.
An on-screen calculator is also available for this section.
Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA)
This section contains of one writing assessment and gives you 30 minutes to complete it. The writing assessment will ask you to present the analysis of a given argument and will not be scored in the initial report.
Blueprint of the different section orders
Before diving into the details of these section orders, let’s look at a blue-print of the options of said order available for a student to choose from.
|Order|| 1 Order 2 ||Order 3|
|AWA ||Verbal ||Quant |
|IR ||Quant ||Verbal|
|Quant ||IR ||IR|
This is the original order in which the GMAT has always been available. The placement of the two 8-minute optional breaks in this order are after the IR and the Quant sections.
The problem that students face with this section is that even though they have been giving the GMAT for almost an hour, they haven’t solved any question on the Quant or the Verbal section whose composite scores matter the most.
The benefit that this section provides is that a student can have a warm up and get mentally prepared before actually getting to the Quant and Verbal sections.
This is one of the two new section options provided by the GMAC. The two 8-minute breaks on this order are placed after the Verbal and the Quant sections.
The problem with this section could be the fact that Verbal is the first section. Thus, you cannot attempt Quant with a completely fresh mind. Also, by the time you reach the AWA you could already be very tired.
The benefit however is for students who have a weaker verbal aptitude. They can finish off Verbal quickly, and then focus only on the sections they are good at, like Quant, and IR.
The second new choice provided by the GMAC is the Quant, Verbal, IR, and AWA order. Similar to Order 2, the optional 8-minute breaks are provided after both Quant and Verbal sections.
The con for this option is that a student trying to avoid Quant would have to face it first. Thus, a bad performance might affect their performance throughout the rest of the sections.
The pro is also for a student who is better at Verbal. Once you have Quant out of the way, you can easily focus on the sections that are much easier according to you. Also, students who wish to attempt Quant with a fresh mind, so as to avoid any mistakes, can choose this option.
HOW DOES CHOOSING THE SECTION ORDER MAKE A DIFFERENCE?
Choosing the section order wouldn’t make much of a difference to those aiming for a perfect score. They will be prepared for Quant and Verbal equally well. For everyone else who is trying to score the highest possible score for them on the GMAT, you will have a section preference.
Whether you’re better at Verbal or Quant, most people would prefer taking the AWA and IR sections in the end.
Just the choice to take the test as you wish, would already put you at much more ease while taking the test, even if you select the original order.
Helps in dealing with anxiety
The first most important thing this choice to select the section order does is help ease the anxiety in a lot of test takers.
Many test-takers dread either the Verbal or the Quant section, and wish to get done with it as quickly as possible. Previously, a test taker had to endure the anxiety of how they would perform on either of these sections throughout their AWA and IR tests.
Now, if you have a section that you wish to avoid for as ling as possible, or get done with as soon as possible, you can do that.
Helps in dealing with fatigue
A lot of Indian engineers will be able to attempt the GMAT Quant section even if they are tired form attempting Verbal. Similarly, someone form a background like liberal arts would be able to figure out sentence correction even after 2:30 hours on the test.
Previously, whether you could attempt the Verbal section after being tired from the whole test or not, you had to attempt it in the fatigued state.
An engineer could now save the Quant section for seconds while he/she attempts the Verbal section with a fresh mind.
HOW TO SELECT YOUR SECTION ORDER?
The section order you select should be based on your weaker section. whichever section on the GMAT needs the most improvement for you, should be the first section you attempt on the test.
As I explained earlier, if your Quant skills need more work than your Verbal skills, you should choose Order 3. Similarly, if your Verbal skills need more work, choose Order 2.
There is a reason I want you to not choose the first option.
Take the essay last
Firstly, let’s accept the fact that a bad score on your essay might create some problems for you during MBA admissions, but not more than a bad score in Quant or Verbal would.
So, considering that, your essay is important, but not enough to put first in the test. if you take the essay first, you would tire yourself out before you even begin to score on the composite score scale of 200-800 on the GMAT.
And we all know how much this scale matters. Also, a good essay score cannot carry your application into the shortlisted pile at a business school, while a good composite score can. Thus, set your priorities right by attempting the essay section last.
Which to take first: Verbal or Quant?
If all this discussion has also not made things clear for you and you’re stuck on whether to take the Quant or the Verbal section first, go for Verbal.
If you feel like you’re equally good at both the Quant and Verbal sections, then choosing an order might get difficult. However, the Verbal section of GMAT requires a lot of reading passages and critical thinking to find nuances throughout the section. thus, a fresh and sharp mind would help you maximize your score on this section.
Overchoice is a cognitive process which defines a state of a person’s mind when they have too many choices and can’t pick one. Don’t enter Overchoice. While GMAC has made test-takers’ lives easier by providing these choices, students often complicate things by being fickle amongst these choices.
When in doubt about which section to choose, just choose the original section to make a safe choice. If millions of people scored well on that section order before 2017, you will be able to get a good score too.
However, trying various order choices during your mock tests can also be a great way to select which order suits you the best.