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GMAC® (the organization that makes the GMAT) announced today that they are going live with Select Section Order on July 11th of this year.
What is GMAT Select Section Order? You’ll have the ability to select one of three section orders for your GMAT exam!
What are the possible section orders?
They’re offering three possible combinations:
(1) Essay. IR. Quant. Verbal. (the original order)
(2) Quant. Verbal. IR. Essay.
(3) Verbal. Quant. IR. Essay.
If you choose either option 2 or option 3, then your two 8-minute breaks will come after the Quant and Verbal sections. Also, the order you choose will not show up on your score reports (that is, schools won’t know which order you selected).
How should I decide?
Good question! First, most people probably aren’t going to want to do the essay and IR first—that’s an hour of test-taking before you get to the sections that you care the most about, Quant and Verbal.
My colleague Chris Ryan pointed out one scenario in which someone might choose option 1: You’re seriously concerned about your writing skills when mentally fatigued and are worried that you might score something like a 2 on the essay after several hours of taking the rest of the test. Other than that…you’re probably going to go with one of the options that pushes IR and essay to the end of the test.
So, how to decide between options 2 and 3?
In general, it’s better to start with a strength… (caveat below)
Your first section is also your warm-up on the test, so it’s usually better for that section to be your strength. If you do your stronger section first, you can carry that confidence and momentum over into your weaker second section. And that weaker section will still come second on the test, not third or fourth, so your mental stamina will be higher than it normally is—giving you a better shot at lifting your score.
(caveat)…unless you really dread your weaker section.
If you are so worried about your weaker section that you know you will just be thinking about and dreading it all through your stronger section, then you may want to bite the bullet and get your weaker section over with first.
One student I spoke with told me that she feels that if she can just get Quant over with, then she will feel “free” for the rest of the test, and she’ll feel much more confident about her ability to do a great job with the other three sections, which are much stronger for her than Quant.
If this applies to you, too, then you may want to consider doing your weaker section first rather than your stronger one.
When do I have to decide?
In the testing center itself. ☺ You won’t be locked into deciding weeks before—you can see where you’re at on your last practice test and decide when you get in there.
Note: You will have 2 minutes to make your choice in the exam center. If you choose nothing when the options come up on the screen, the test will default to the original order of the exam (essay, IR, Quant, Verbal).
I’m already signed up—before July 11th. Should I postpone?
If you think that you’d feel a lot better being able to choose one of the two new options, then yes, you may want to consider pushing your test date to July 11th or later. Good news: GMAC is offering a 7-day grace period (starting today!), allowing you to reschedule without having to pay the normal rescheduling fee. They’ll even waive the normal $10 phone fee if you reschedule by phone.
You have to do this by June 22nd in order to have the fees waived.
What about practice tests?
Since you do have a choice, you’ll want to take practice tests a couple of different ways—at least once each way for your top two choices. That way, you can actually experience what it feels like to do Quant first, then Verbal, and vice versa.
That may make the decision obvious for you. And, if it doesn’t, fall back on the default position: Put your stronger section first unless you’re super-stressed about your weaker section.
(By the way, we recently updated our practice tests to incorporate Select Section Order so you can realistically simulate testing conditions!)
One more thing: Don’t let this add to your stress levels!
If you are feeling really stressed out about everything you have to do for this test (and who isn’t?), then this new choice may seem like just one more source of stress. I get that.
I encourage you to change that mindset to a positive one. This is a real opportunity to make the test just a little more comfortable for you—you can customize to help you feel your best when you get in there. Every little bit helps when taking a test like the GMAT!
And here’s one more thing to help de-stress this decision: When GMAC tested GMAT Select Section Order last year, it found that there were no systematic changes across the entire testing pool. In other words, this didn’t cause everyone’s scores to go up (or down!), although obviously there were differences at the individual student level. What does that mean? It means that this decision is not about, “OMG, I have to pick the right order for me or my GMAT chances are ruined.”
Rather, this really is about maximizing your own comfort level while taking the exam—the better you feel about the test, the easier it will be for you to get in there and show what you can do. So test out the two options that appeal most to you, make your decision, and move forward confidently.
Questions, comments, concerns? Let us know what you’re thinking, right here in the comments of this post or on our forums.
Good luck and happy studying! 📝
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Stacey Koprince is a Manhattan Prep instructor based in Montreal, Canada and Los Angeles, California. Stacey has been teaching the GMAT, GRE, and LSAT for more than 15 years and is one of the most well-known instructors in the industry. Stacey loves to teach and is absolutely fascinated by standardized tests. Check out Stacey’s upcoming GMAT courses here.