GMAT Exam Might Change (Again)


Would you rather tackle the most important sections (quant/verbal) of the GMAT first and leave the essay and IR for last? In the not too distant future you may have this option.

This past week, a number of MBA aspirants  received an invitation to take a newly formatted GMAT as part of the GMAT pilot program that will run for a limited time from February 23 to March 16. With this special GMAT the order of the sections is in your hands. You could do the quant first, the essay last, or any other ordering of the four sections. Provided that the results of the pilot program satisfy the higher ups at the Graduate Management Admission Council, this new GMAT may soon be coming to a test center near you.


GMAC has cited two reasons for the pilot: to improve test efficacy and to improve user experience. Many testers feel somewhat exhausted by the time the verbal (the last of the four sections – about 2.5 hours into the test) rolls around. If verbal is your weaker section then you might do better hacking at it while you are fresh. GMAC wants to test whether this is true. If it is, the test would need an adjustment so that all test takers are treated equally.

Why should a certain group do better because of the order of the sections? The GRE addresses this issue by randomizing the order of the sections. GMAC also wants test takers to feel positive about their test day experience. Does choosing your own destiny make you feel warm and fuzzy about the GMAT? I’d guess that having the option to boot the essay and the integrated reasoning to the end of the exam will make most people feel better.


Why is this change happening now? Isn’t it obvious that the order of the sections could make a difference in the outcomes? Isn’t it also clear that most people would prefer to choose the order of the test, attacking weaknesses while fresh and relegating the less important bits of the test to the end? This potential update may be a new chapter in the arms race that the GRE and GMAT have been waging for the past several years as the jack-of-all-trades GRE has encroached on the GMAT’s MBA terroir. In its campaign for MBA admissions relevance, the GRE has offered up a bunch of user friendly test taking features ( a calculator, the ability to return to questions, score choice). The GMAT has fired back with its own set of conveniences (score preview and cancellation without penalty, 16 day re-takes).


The new format could also nudge people to try harder on the IR section. Why? With the IR in the beginning of the exam it might make sense to take it lightly. Why burn energy when you have far more important sections ahead of you. With the IR at the end you no longer have the “I need to conserve energy” mentality and might be more willing to put your back into it for a better score and a slight advantage in admissions.

GMAC says that the sample size for this pilot is less than 1% of the total testing volume and was chosen as the minimum number of test takers required to obtain a meaningful analysis.  The chances of any single school receiving a substantial number of “pilot scores” is extremely low, according to the GMAC, so it is unlikely to impact the admissions pool at any given school.

Motives for the pilot aside, the competition for standardized test supremacy seems to be benefiting the consumer. This is a positive change that should make for a more pleasant if not fairer GMAT experience.

Andrew Geller of Atlantic GMAT

Andrew Geller of Atlantic GMAT

A tutor since 2002, Andrew Geller currently heads Atlantic GMAT, a leading private tutoring service that serves clients nationwide. Before that, he prepped GMAT test-takers McElroy Tutoring, where he held a 9.9 rating (i.e. “Exceptional”) from clients. A consummate teacher, Geller joined the Poets&Quants team in 2014, providing readers with expert advice on topics ranging from bumping up quant scores to setting priorities. 


  • Hi Nayak,

    I haven’t seen anything that supports this idea. It would also lead to a reliability problem as newer GMATs would be tougher to compare to older GMATs. There is already that issue with section ordering although GMAC has done a bunch of testing to ensure that it’s minimized. But again, because of the reliability issue, I can’t imagine that the question banks would shift based on the section order. In addition, those GMAT question banks are very carefully composed to have a specific balance of content, difficulty, validity, and reliability. My guess is that messing with that balance would be complicated and costly. That said, GMAC has indicated that different orders do seem to have some effect on individual scores (though in the aggregate things remain stable) so choose your order wisely;) Follow up with any questions!

    Happy Studies,


  • S Nayak

    Hi Andrew,

    Do you have any news on whether moving up one section might automatically lead to increase in difficulty level of that particular section?
    There are many rumors flying about that the GMAC is also thinking about changing theire bins of quastions as per the sequence in which the test os taken. I dont have any confirmed sources.

  • Hi there,

    Good question. I think a lot of people would prefer the option to do the essay and IR at the end. Likely it will take some time for GMAC to make a decision on the pilot program. I assume that they are crunching the numbers to see if in fact switching the sections makes a difference in the outcomes. If it does you have to wonder whether they will actually allow the change. I think the choice is a good thing but I could also understand why GMAC would want a GMAT taken next year to be equivalent to one taken last year.

    With your friend, it is possible that the order made a difference but it’s also possible that he:

    1. Saw a batch of questions that he was more familiar with
    2. Was less anxious because he’d already taken the exam
    3. Managed time better
    4. Got luckier with his guesses

    Also keep in mind that GMAC looks at GMAC scores as plus/minus 30 points. So swinging 30 points in either direction is within the “error” of the algorithm. I’m probably not representing that properly but that’s the gist of it.

    Hope that is helpful. Follow up with any questions!

    Happy studies,



    Does anyone know if GMAC is moving forward with these changes? My friend originally scored a 690 and then was invited to pilot the new exam. Without any significant studying between exams, he managed to improve his score to a 740 simply by moving the Quant and Verbal sections up front…