With multiple sections and a new online format, many prospective GMAT exam takers may wonder exactly, “What is on the GMAT?” and “How long is the GMAT?”
For most students, the in-person exam will last 3 hours and 23 minutes while the GMAT online exam will take only 2 hours and 45 minutes to complete. In this article, I’ll give a complete overview of the distinct GMAT sections and their respective question types.
How many questions are on the GMAT?
Three sections are common to both the in-person and online format of the GMAT exam: Quantitative Reasoning (Q), Verbal Reasoning (V), and Integrated Reasoning (IR). Note, the in-person GMAT includes an extra section: the Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA). Let’s take a look at the GMAT section times and structure below.
The Quantitative Reasoning section allocates 62 minutes to complete 31 multiple-choice questions. There are two types of Quantitative Reasoning questions: Problem Solving (PS) and Data Sufficiency (DS).
The majority of the Quantitative Reasoning section consists of Problem Solving style questions, which are like the math questions you likely encountered on past standardized exams such as the SAT or ACT. You will see approximately 20-23 Problem Solving questions testing your ability to use logic and analytical reasoning in solving arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and word problem/application style questions. Select the best of five choices and move on.
The rest of the Quantitative Reasoning section consists of Data Sufficiency style questions. This question type unique to the GMAT and maligned (often unnecessarily) by many. You will need to answer around 8-11 Data Sufficiency questions assessing your ability to:
- Recognize which data is relevant and
- Determine at what point there is enough data to solve the problem.
Every Data Sufficiency question will include two statements, labeled (1) and (2), containing discrete data. Rather than answer the question directly, you will decide whether the data in the statements are sufficient to answer the question. Understand and memorize the five Data Sufficiency answer choices as they are the same for every question. This will save valuable time and much needed mental energy.
For the Verbal Reasoning section, GMAT test takers will have 65 minutes to complete 36 multiple-choice questions. There are three types of Verbal Reasoning Questions: Reading Comprehension (RC), Sentence Correction (SC), and Critical Reasoning (CR).
You will face approximately 11-14 Reading Comprehension questions, which will be like the reading questions you likely came across on college entrance exams. Keep in mind that you may encounter short, medium, or long passages, so be sure to practice passages of various lengths and note your average times accordingly for pacing purposes.
Other than practice questions, the best way to improve your Reading Comprehension score is by consistently reading in detail across a wide variety of subject matters. A trial subscription to The Economist or other major newspaper such as The Financial Times or Washington Post is a worthwhile investment in the months leading up to your exam.
Sentence Correction is the most common question type on the Verbal part of the exam, and you will want to work quickly, spending around 60-90 seconds to answer the 13-16 Sentence Correction questions. Your aim is to select the best version of the underlined section of a sentence (often lengthy) that may contain flaws.
Unlike Reading Comprehension, there’s really only one way to improve your score for this type of question: practice questions – a LOT of them. Also, if you only remember one thing about Sentence Correction, it’s that the first answer choice always repeats the question stem, i.e. select the first choice if there are no flaws in the underlined part of the sentence.
On the GMAT exam, you should expect to answer about 10-13 Critical Reasoning questions. If you previously considered law school, or perhaps took the LSAT, you may find that these questions fit right in your comfort zone. There are eight types of Critical Reasoning questions, but the following four categories account for around 75% of all GMAT Critical Reasoning questions:
- Weaken the argument
- Strengthen the argument
- Find the assumption
- Draw inference/conclusion
This is a question type where strategy can play a huge role. An online GMAT review course or dedicated Critical Reasoning strategy book will be beneficial to those looking to ace this style of question.
Unlike the core Quantitative and Verbal sections, the Integrated Reasoning (IR) section of the GMAT test is non-adaptive. Exam takers will have 30 minutes to complete 12 questions testing their ability to develop key insights by analyzing data in a wide variety of formats. If you’re a data visualization nerd and love looking at charts and graphs, you may enjoy this section.
Also unique to the IR section, the answer choices can involve multiple answers or drop down menus. Personally, I didn’t spend too much study time dedicated solely to this section for two reasons:
- Your score on this section is reported separately and not factored into your main GMAT composite score (200-800)
- You will learn the basic knowledge needed to do well in this section by studying for the GMAT Quant and Verbal sections
Additionally, a subscription to a business publication such as The Wall Street Journal will provide you with plenty of charts and infographics to hone your data interpretation skills.
Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA)
GMAT takers who opt for the in-person exam will need to complete a 30-minute Analysis of an Argument writing task. Your essay will be graded by both a person and a computer algorithm on a scale of 0-6. Good structure and thoughtful analysis of the argument are paramount. Make your essay grader’s job easy and increase your chances of a high score by avoiding fluff and structuring your analysis in a cogent manner.
GMAT Section Order
One significant perk of taking the GMAT versus other standardized exams, such as the GRE, is the ability to customize the order of the exam sections to align with your personal test-taking strategy. Specifically for the in-person exam, you will be able to choose from the following three section-order options:
- Default: Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA), Integrated Reasoning (IR), Quantitative Reasoning (Q), Verbal Reasoning (V)
- Verbal Reasoning first: (V), (Q), (IR), (AWA)
- Quantitative Reasoning first: (Q), (V), (IR), (AWA)
Note, that if you are taking the online GMAT, the section order is fixed: (Q), (V), (IR).
GMAT Break Options
If you are taking the in-person GMAT, you will have two optional 8-minute breaks. The table below outlines your section and break flow options:
However, if you sign up to take the GMAT exam online, you will only have one optional 5-minute break following the Verbal Reasoning section.
GMAT Length vs. GRE Length
Regardless of whether you choose the in-person or online GMAT format, you can be certain you’ll spend fewer minutes on the exam than the 3 hours and 45 minutes GRE test takers must endure. Additionally, the GRE contains an experimental, unidentified Quant or Verbal section which will not count toward the total score. Despite the longer length and experimental section, some prospective business school applicants find the GRE better suited to their strengths. Given that an increasing number of top programs are accepting the GRE as an alternative to the GMAT, it may be worthwhile familiarizing yourself with both exams before making a commitment.
Should you take the GMAT in-person or online?
Ultimately, GMAT exam takers should choose the format that best suits their personal circumstances and preferences. While the online GMAT is shorter and excludes the Analytical Writing Assessment, it does demand test takers to power through the Quant and Verbal sections of the GMAT from start to finish with no break in between. For those who could benefit from a “warm up” period to shake off exam day jitters, the in-person GMAT may be a good option. See this post by Mike McGarry at Magoosh Online Test Prep for a detailed timeline of what it’s like to take the GMAT exam in-person.
By familiarizing yourself with the various GMAT sections and understanding the new options, you can select a format that will best enable you to achieve your desired exam results.