Format of the GMAT
The GMAT includes four sections: analytical writing assessment, integrated reasoning, quantitative, and verbal. In the analytical writing assessment, test-takers must write an essay that analyzes a given argument. The essay task is strictly analytical rather than argumentative; students should not write their own opinions of the featured subject. Integrated reasoning questions require students to synthesize information from a variety of verbal, graphical, and numerical sources, using both quantitative and verbal reasoning skills. The quantitative section is based on problem-solving, quantitative reasoning, and interpretation of graphs and tables, using basic arithmetic, algebra, and geometry. The verbal section focuses on comprehension and evaluation of written texts as well as some vocabulary. Basic knowledge of the English language is assumed, but students do not need to be familiar with the specific subjects that appear in test passages in order to successfully answer the questions.
Every administration of the GMAT uses the same structure. The analytical writing assessment is given at the beginning of the test. Students have 30 minutes to write an essay in which they discuss the argument presented in a single textual passage. The integrated reasoning section is the next portion of the test; it includes 12 multi-part questions over 30 minutes. Answer choices for many of these questions are binary (e.g. true/false or yes/no), but some types of integrated reasoning questions include three or four answer options. The quantitative section, 37 multiple-choice questions in 75 minutes, is the third segment of the test to be administered. The GMAT concludes with the verbal section, which is 41 multiple-choice questions over 75 minutes. Total testing time is 210 minutes (3 and a half hours). Students are allowed to take 8-minute breaks before each of the last two sections, but are not required to do so.
All students will take the GMAT entirely on a test center computer (the GMAT paper test is no longer offered). The computer is used to write the essay for the analytical writing assessment, and it also presents questions and records answers for all of the other sections. The computerized GMAT requires only the most basic computer skills, such as familiarity with tabs and drop-down menus. The computer calculates raw scores for the multiple-choice sections, which are then converted to total scores. Essays are graded by qualified and trained college professors from several academic disciplines, and also by a computerized scoring program. Computer adaptation is a feature of the verbal and quantitative sections of the GMAT, in order to control for slight variations in test difficulty level and ensure that each administration is as fair as possible.
The computer-adaptive format of the GMAT adjusts difficulty level after each question, meaning that a correct answer produces a harder following question and an incorrect answer leads to an easier subsequent question. The computerized format of the test does not allow students to skip back and forth between questions (they must be answered one at a time, and once an answer has been entered, a test-taker may not return to that question). Computer adaptation therefore affects the order in which the computer gives questions. Each test draws from a question bank that includes the same types of questions, and each test will include the same combination of question types. The test bank also includes a limited number of questions at each level of difficulty. For example, students who have successfully answered all of the difficult questions in the bank will receive easier questions thereafter, but students who struggle with the harder questions may eventually exhaust the store of less difficult questions.
The predictability of the GMAT's format is helpful to student preparation. Unlike many other standardized tests, which present their sections in random order and often include unscored experimental sections, GMAT test-takers are able to know in advance the overall structure of the examination. This facilitates practice assessments that can rather closely duplicate the actual conditions that students will face on the day of the test. Many students will find the ordering of the GMAT's sections advantageous. The analytical writing assessment requires by far the most physical activity in terms of typing and computer usage. This section is dispensed with first, followed by the integrated reasoning section that draws on both quantitative and verbal skills. By the time students reach the quantitative and verbal sections, which are the most important parts of the test, they are done with the labor-intensive writing task and have warmed up their quantitative and verbal faculties.