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What is the GMAT format?

Wondering about the format of the GMAT?  Well here are some rough-and-ready facts about the GMAT exam format and common GMAT topics.  The current incarnation of the GMAT has four sections, with assorted breaks. Here’s the layout of the overall GMAT format.

GMAT exam format

GMAT Sections Overview

Intro = check in a Pearson VUE, surrender all your worldly possessions into a locker, get escorted to a computer in a hermetically sealed room, work through the few screens of introductory material.  After this you are ready to start the actual GMAT itself.

GMAT Section #1 = Analytic Writing Assessment (30 minutes) — one essay, analysis of an argument.

GMAT Section #2 = Integrated Reasoning (30 minutes) — 12 multi-part problems on data interpretation and combined Verbal/Math reasoning.

Break #1: the AWA and IR are given back-to-back.  Once you finish your IR, you have the option of a break as long as 8 minutes.  This is enough time for a quick snack (from your locker) or a quick bathroom trip.

GMAT Section #3 = Quantitative (75 minutes) — 37 questions, either standard five-choice multiple choice (called “Problem Solving”) or Data Sufficiency.

Break #2: Once you finish the Quant, you have the option of a second break as long as 8 minutes.  It doesn’t matter how much time you used on your first break: you get a fresh new 8-minute allotment for this second break.

GMAT Section #4 = Verbal (75 minutes) — 41 five-choice multiple choice questions, of three types: Reading ComprehensionCritical Reasoning, and Sentence Correction.

Denouement = See on the computer the BIG composite score of the test you just finished.  Walk out, get handed a preliminary GMAT score report, with every score except the AWA.  Collect your worldly possessions and depart.

GMAT Exam Format Facts

Fact: these four GMAT sections, including the two allowable breaks, as well as the whole pre-exam security procedure, will run over four hours.


Fact: all four GMAT sections are taken at a computer, a computer at the Pearson VUE testing center.  During the GMAT, the only break you get from staring at an electronic screen is to take one or both of the optional breaks (and we highly recommend that you do so!)  In the past, there was a paper-based GMAT, but that is long gone.  (BTW, those old paper-based GMATs had a slightly different GMAT format but they still provide excellent practice.)


Fact: on the Integrated Reasoning section, you will have access to an IR on-screen calculator; on the Quantitative section, you get no calculator.


Fact: both the Quantitative and Verbal sections employ Computer Adaptive Testing.  As you move through each of those sections, the algorithm adjusts the difficulty of each new questions based on your overall performance thus far.  If you are doing well, on average you get more challenging question.  If you are having trouble, on average you will get easier questions.  Only the final two sections employ the CAT.  On the Integrated Reasoning section, you just get a batch of 12 questions, and those are the ones you do: nothing is adapting to you as you move through the IR.


Fact: As part of the GMAT format, on no part of the GMAT can you go back to a question once you are done with it. Among other things, this is an unavoidable feature of the CAT.  Once you submit your answer, that question is gone forever.  Because of this, and because of the time constraints, it’s important to understand when to guess and when to skip questions.


Fact: your BIG composite GMAT Score (200 – 800) is determined only by the Quant & Verbal sections.  Your full score report has several components, but the BIG score depends only on these two sections.  The full GMAT score report has the BIG composite score and a subscore for each of the four GMAT sections: the admission committees of business schools will see everything when you send them your score report.


Fact: with good resources, you can learn both the content and strategies you need, and improve your performance on the GMAT.  🙂

GMAT Format Resources

If you are just getting starting in your GMAT studies, take heart.  I know this can all feel overwhelming when it’s all new.  Be patient with yourself: step by step, you will make this new world your own.  We definitely recommended getting an official guide: you don’t necessarily need the latest edition, if you can find last year’s edition at a much cheaper price.

We provide a variety of study schedules and we provide a GMAT Diagnostic Test that helps you place yourself in these study plans.  If you would like a more detailed introduction to the GMAT format, the various GMAT sections, and other important introductory material, we share these ten free videos.

Overview of the GMAT

Quantitative Section Breakdown

Verbal Section Breakdown

AWA and IR

Computer Adaptive Testing

GMAT Scores

Pacing, Skipping, and Guessing


Study Plans & Resources

Test Day

These will provide a great deal of information about the GMAT format and answer many common questions about the GMAT.

GMAT Format Summary

The GMAT is a long and hard test.  Knowing the GMAT format is just the first piece of the puzzle.  The GMAT requires critical thinking skills, mastery of several math & verbal content areas, a host of test-taking strategies.  Magoosh can help with it all: we can guide you from your first tentative steps to your final bold strides toward the GMAT.  We can help you solve the entire GMAT puzzle, from the first piece to the last!


Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in March, 2013, and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.

By the way, sign up for our 1 Week Free Trial to try out Magoosh GMAT Prep!

8 Responses to What is the GMAT format?

  1. Mikebike February 28, 2016 at 11:37 am #

    hi Mike, how many questions each of type PS and DS can I expect from Quant section and how many each of type SC, RC and CR from verbal?

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert March 1, 2016 at 5:08 am #

      That’s a good question! I don’t have satisfying information for the verbal section, but we have done a systematic breakdown of the GMAT quant section you can see here. For the verbal section, I would say expect each type of question to occur in roughly thirds, though based on anecdotal experience, there are slightly fewer RC questions than CR and SC.

      I hope that helps! 🙂

  2. David May 13, 2014 at 2:08 am #

    Hi Mike,
    On the IR section, 12 problems mean 12 sets of situations with possibly multiple questions each yes? Which mean that the actual number of questions on the IR will be more than 12.

    In comparison to RC section, I have read that there are around 12-13 questions for RC. Does this mean that there are 12-13 passages with multiple questions each, resulting in definitely more than 12 question on RC alone (seems to be too much stress on time), or does this mean that there are X number of passages with a total of 12-13 q?

  3. Piyush Jain March 19, 2013 at 6:51 am #

    How long are the breaks in middle of each sections ?

    Thank you

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