What is the GMAT format?

The GMAT, or Graduate Management Admission Test, is a computer adaptive test (CAT). The GMAT is designed to test analytical skills, quantitative and verbal skills, and reading skills, and the scores are evaluated as part of your application to graduate-level business and management schools. So, how exactly is the GMAT exam formatted? What are the GMAT sections? Read on to learn more.


 

Table of Contents


 

GMAT Sections and Formats

The current GMAT format has four sections, with assorted breaks. You might know this as the “new GMAT test format,” since the test duration was reduced from 4 hours to about 3.5 hours in April 2018. Here’s a breakdown of the GMAT exam’s section pattern.

Section of the GMATHow many questions?Types of questionsTime limit
Analytical Writing Assessment
(AWA)
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

Here is our GMAT expert, Kevin, giving a breakdown of the types of questions you’ll encounter on the GMAT.

 
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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).

You also have the option to choose the order in which you take GMAT sections. See our post on choosing the order of 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.

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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.
     
  • 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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6 Facts You Should Know About the GMAT Exam Format

  1. Total Exam Time: 3.5 Hours

    These four GMAT sections, including the two allowable breaks, as well as the whole pre-exam security procedure, will run a little over 3.5 hours.

  2. The GMAT is Strictly Computer-Based

    All four GMAT sections are taken on 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 if you can find them. If not, there are now more digital practice tests you can use for additional practice).

  3. The On-Screen Calculator is Only Available for Integrated Reasoning

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

  4. The Questions Adjust in Difficulty Based on Your Performance

    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.

  5. No Going Back (on a Question)

    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.

  6. Your Composite Score is Determined by Your Quantitative and Verbal Scores

    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.

With the right resources, you can learn both the content and strategies you need to 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

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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Summing It All Up

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!

Ready to get an awesome GMAT score? Start here.

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