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Which Section Order Should You Choose on the GMAT?

Effective July 11, 2017, the GMAT will start offering a new feature called “Select Section Order” designed to make the GMAT test-taking experience more enjoyable for candidates by providing them with an element of control over the testing process.

“Select Section Order” is exactly what it sounds like: Instead of proceeding through the four major sections of the GMAT exam in a pre-determined order, you’ll get to choose the order that best suits you.

Well, let me clarify that. Whereas in theory there are 4! combinations of section orders you could create (check out our GMAT Probability & Combinatorics lessons if that’s unclear to you!), the GMAT will offer you exactly three (3) section-order options to choose from. They are:

Option #1 Option #2 Option #3
AWA Verbal Quantitative
Integrated Reasoning
Optional 8-Minute Break
Quantitative  Quantitative Verbal
Optional 8-Minute Break
Verbal Integrated Reasoning Integrated Reasoning

For the sake of thoroughness, here’s what the selection screen will look like (more or less) on test day:

What the screen will look like on the GMAT where you select the section order you want to use

It will be the last screen you see before your GMAT exam officially begins.

So this is pretty exciting news, right?

But it begs the question: Which section order should you choose?

Considerations for Choosing Your GMAT Section Order

The first thing to say about which section order to choose is, there’s not enough anecdotal evidence yet to suggest that one section order yields a higher GMAT score than another.

While the GMAC has been piloting this new “Select Section Order” feature since early 2016, all they’re currently revealing about the results of that pilot is that the “integrity of the GMAT scores remains in tact” regardless of the order chosen, which is why they’ve decided to unveil it worldwide starting on July 11th, 2017.

That said, there are a few considerations that will help you decide which order is right for you.

  1. Choose Option #1 if… your GMAT exam is already scheduled for around July 11th, you’ve put in most of your preparation time and things are going well, and you’re hitting your target scores on your GMAT practice tests. As the saying goes, “If it ‘aint broke, don’t fix it.” There’s no sense in paying $50 to reschedule your GMAT just so that you can select a different order of the sections, especially if the current order is working just fine for you.
  2. Save IR and AWA for last. Let’s call a spade a spade: For the admissions officers at most business schools worldwide, your 200-800 point GMAT score that consists of your Quantitative and Verbal sections is viewed as more important than your Integrated Reasoning and Essay scores. So tackle the more important sections early in the exam while you’re still fresh and save the less-important sections for last. Unless you have a strong reason to front-load IR and AWA, go with either Option #2 or #3.
  3. Start with whichever section, Quant or Verbal, is weaker for you. It’s good to tackle your weakest GMAT section first for two reasons. Psychologically, you get it out of the way early and have the feeling on the rest of the exam that “it’s all downhill from here.” Furthermore, you’ll do better on your weaker section when you’re mentally the freshest, which is at the beginning of the exam. Imagine you’re really good at riding a bike. You can do it in your sleep. Now imagine you’re not as good at riding a unicycle. You can do it, but it requires a lot more concentration. Which would you rather do when you’re fresh and well-rested, and which would you rather do when you’re already a little tired? Obviously you’d prefer to ride the unicycle when you’re freshest. The same logic applies on the GMAT.
  4. [Caveat to point #3] Start with your stronger section if… test anxiety is a concern for you and you’d prefer to build confidence early in the exam by “knocking it out of the park” on the section that’s more in your wheelhouse. Confidence is an important component of doing well on the GMAT, so if you think you’ll be shaken if you struggle through the first [weaker] section, then ease into the GMAT by leading with your strengths. You may end up doing better on your weaker section second if you know you already got off to a great start and your confidence is high.

How do you know what your strengths and weakness are on the GMAT? Make sure you’re preparing adequately! Work lots of practice problems from the new GMAT Official Guide 2018. Take numerous full-length GMAT practice tests. And of course, take one of our online GMAT prep courses to work on your weaknesses.

More Details About Select Section Order

I recently did a Facebook Live discussion about this new Select Section Order feature where I touched on many of the points discussed here, but I also went a little deeper in certain areas.

Here’s the video playback if you’d like additional details:

Final Thoughts

Let me close by saying that there’s really no right or wrong answer when it comes to which section order you select. It shouldn’t be an extra source of anxiety for you on test day. Instead, view this as an opportunity that didn’t exist for the hundreds of thousands (even millions) of people who have taken the GMAT before you. Ultimately your score won’t be determined by the order you choose for navigating the sections. It will be determined by how well you execute the content, strategy, and time management of the exam. That’s where your time and attention should be directed between now and test day.

If you’d like any personal assistance with deciding which section order to choose, post a comment below or contact us. Good luck and let us know how else we can help!