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What is the GMAT format?

The rumors are true! As of July 11, 2017, you can choose the order of your GMAT sections. Find out more about what this means for the format of your GMAT below.

First, Some GMAT Basics

The GMAT, or Graduate Management Admission Test, is a computer adaptive test (CAT). This exam is designed to test analytical skills, quantitative and verbal skills, and skills in reading. The GMAT is used for admission into graduate-level business and management schools.

But what do those basics mean, in terms of how the test is formatted? Read on for details.

Table of Contents

GMAT Sections and Formats

Section of the GMATHow many questions?Types of questionsTime limit
Analytical Writing Assessment
1 essay promptArgument Analysis30 minutes
Integrated Reasoning12 multiple choiceMulti-Source Reasoning
Graphics and Table Interpretation
Two-Part Analysis
30 minutes
Quantitative31 multiple choiceData Sufficiency
Problem Solving
62 minutes
Verbal36 multiple choiceReading Comprehension
Critical Reasoning
Sentence Correction
65 minutes
TOTAL EXAM STATS1 essay prompt,
90 multiple choice
3 hours, 7 minutes

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GMAT Structure: A More Detailed Explanation

What is the GMAT format? Well, first off, the exam has four sections: Integrated Reasoning (12 questions), Quantitative (31 questions), Verbal (36 questions), and Analytical Writing (1 essay topic).

Prior to July 11, 2017, all test-takers had to take the GMAT in that exact order. However, this is no longer the case. You can now choose the order in which you take GMAT sections. This is absolutely groundbreaking news! See this post on Picking Order of the Sections on the GMAT for more details.

Nevertheless, what’s contained within those sections is going to stay pretty much the same, so it’s still well worth knowing the format of each GMAT section. 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

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GMAT 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.
  • As mentioned before, you now have a choice of the order in which you approach the sections. Here they are in the “classic” order, for simplicity, as you learn what each section tests and the kinds of questions it presents.
  • 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: At two points during the exam, you’ll have the option of a break as long as 8 minutes. Where this break falls will depend on the order in which you choose to approach the GMAT sections. Remember: 8 minutes isn’t much! This is enough time for a quick snack (from your locker) or a quick bathroom trip.
  • GMAT Section #3 = Quantitative (62 minutes) — 31 questions, either standard five-choice multiple choice (called “Problem Solving”) or Data Sufficiency.
  • Break #2: Again, you’ll 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 (65 minutes) — 36 five-choice multiple choice questions, of three types: Reading Comprehension, Critical 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.
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    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. 🙂

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    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.

    A great—and free!—supplement is our Hassle-Free Guide to the GMAT. Aside from the format of the GMAT, it covers everything from how a GMAT practice test can help (and where to find one) to how to score 700+ on the test.

    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

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    Pacing, Skipping, and Guessing

    GMAT vs. GRE

    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.

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    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!

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

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