GMAT Structure – What Are the Different Sections About?

by Maximilian Claessens
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GMAT Structure – What Are the Different Sections About?

Preparing for the GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test) can be a daunting prospect, but it needn’t be too stressful. The GMAT is much like any other standardized test – millions of students have taken the GMAT, which means that there is a lot of data open to analysis and a lot of tips and tricks available to any diligent student who is serious about prepping for the test.
One of the most basic – but effective – steps we can take to prep for the GMAT is to look at the different sections of the test. Once we understand the structure of the GMAT, we can begin to get ready for them. In this article, we’ll cover GMAT exam structure and the different sections in detail, before giving you advice on the best order.

GMAT Exam Format: How Many Sections Are There? 

In total, there are four sections to the GMAT: analytical writing assessment, integrated reasoning, quantitative reasoning, and verbal reasoning. The length of time permitted to finish the various sections varies from 30 to 65 minutes, and add up to a combined time of three hours and seven minutes. In total, there are 80 questions.

Let’s take a more in-depth look at the structure and the various sections of the GMAT.

Quantitative Reasoning

The Quantitative Reasoning section of the GMAT features two types of questions: Data Sufficiency and Problem Solving. Arithmetic, simple algebra and some knowledge of geometry are required for both kinds of questions.

The difficulty of the questions in the Quantitative Reasoning GMAT section lies not in the requisite math skills (which are basic) but in the need for the candidate to apply logical and analytical reasoning. It’s important to note that calculators are not permitted during this section of the GMAT.

Problem Solving

These types of questions measure the candidate’s ability to solve quantitative problems using logic and analysis. For instance, you may be given a number of algebraic equations, from which you are required to infer further information. Each Problem Solving question is multiple-choice, with five possible answers.

Data Sufficiency

Each Data Sufficiency question consists of a question followed by two statements. The candidate is asked to assess the data given in each statement, and then determine if the data given is sufficient to answer the question. There are five possible answers, standardized across the whole sub-section:

  • A) Statement 1 alone is sufficient, but statement 2 alone is not;
  • B) Statement 2 alone is sufficient, but statement 1 alone is not;
  • C) Both statements combined are sufficient, but neither statement alone is;
  • D) Each statement contains sufficient data, independently of one another;
  • E) There is insufficient data in both statements, even when taken together.

How many questions are in the Quantitative Reasoning section of the GMAT?

There are 31 questions in total, and the candidate is allocated 62 minutes.

Verbal Reasoning

The Verbal Reasoning section of the GMAT comprises three types of questions: Critical Reasoning, Reading Comprehension and Sentence Correction. The Critical Reasoning and Reading Comprehension questions have further subtypes designed to assess the candidate’s verbal skills more precisely.

No expert knowledge is required for this section; a good working knowledge of the English language will suffice.

Reading Comprehension

These questions assess your capacity for understanding words and sentences, infer further information from available data, understand logical relationships between discrete points, and follow the development of quantitative points. The candidate will be expected to identify the main and supporting ideas of a text, draw inferences from the text, and appreciate the logical structure and style of the text.

Each passage of the Reading Comprehension discusses such topics as humanities, the social sciences, the natural sciences and/or a business-related topic. You may be asked to interpret the text or apply the ideas presented therein to a hypothetical context.

Critical Reasoning

The Critical Reasoning section measures the candidate’s capacity to make/evaluate arguments and formulate or assess a plan of action. Candidates are asked to read a short passage and then answer a question regarding it. Each question has five answers, which candidates must consider in the broader context of the passage.

Sentence Correction

Sentence Correction assesses basic language proficiency in two areas: correct expression – meaning sentences/phrases that are grammatically and syntactically correct – and effective expression, meaning that the idea is expressed clearly, correctly and concisely.

Each Sentence Correction question presents a sentence that is partially or wholly underlined. Candidates are offered five alternative ways of phrasing the underlined portion, and must choose the most appropriate.

How many questions are in the Verbal Reasoning section of the GMAT?

There are 36 questions, which must be answered within 65 minutes.

Integrated Reasoning

When talking about the structure of the GMAT, many people often focus strongly on the Quantitative and the Verbal sections. However, IR (Integrated Reasoning) and AWA (Analytical Writing Assessment) should not be overlooked.

Let’s start with Integrated Reasoning. This GMAT section comprises four types of questions: Table Analysis, Graphics Interpretation, Multi-Source Reasoning and Two-Part Analysis. All questions will require quantitative and/or verbal reasoning.

Uniquely to this section of the GMAT, candidates are permitted the use of an online (on-screen) calculator. A number of questions will also have more than one applicable answer, and in this instance all applicable answers must be selected – no mark will be given for a partially correct response.

Table Analysis

Assesses the candidate’s ability to analyze a table or similar source of data (e.g. a spreadsheet) in order to ascertain what data is pertinent or satisfies certain conditions.

Graphics Interpretation

Measures the candidate’s ability to read a graph or similar image (e.g. a pie or scatter chart) to draw inferences or understand relationships between disparate sections of the image.

Multi-Source Reasoning 

This section assesses the candidate on their capacity for analyzing data from discrete sources – whether text- or graphics-based – and using this information to answer multiple questions. The candidate may be required to infer from available data, locate discrepancies amongst the various sources of data, and/or determine which data is pertinent and which is not.

Two-Part Analysis

This section measures the candidate’s ability to solve complex problems, whether verbal, quantitative, or both. A wide range of content may be covered in this section, and it is perhaps the most demanding subset of Integrated Reasoning. The candidate is expected to perform simultaneous equations, assess the impact and value of trade-offs, and ascertain the nature of relationships between discreet entities.

How many questions are in the Integrated Reasoning portion of the GMAT?

There are 12 questions to be answered in a 30-minute period.

Analytical Writing Assessment

This section of the GMAT is the only free-writing portion, in which the candidate is asked to assess the strength of a given argument. The candidate will be required to analyze the reasoning used in the argument and how effective it is in using evidence to support its assertion.

This section necessitates excellent time-organization skills on the part of the candidate, as they will only have 30 minutes in which to structure, draft, revise and finalize their response.

AWA answers are assessed by both machine algorithm and human assessors. Should there be any notable disparity between the scores arrived at by both parties, a third opinion is rendered by a further human assessor. This ensures that each answer is assessed as fairly and objectively as possible.

The candidate is required to assess the argument on its own merits, but may also draw upon their own real-world knowledge to support their argument or refute a part of the original argument. Spelling, punctuation and grammar are not particularly relevant in this section, provided that the answer is legible and clear.

See here for our complete guide on getting full scores on the AWA.

What if I’m not happy with the mark I received for my AWA? 

It’s possible to submit your AWA answer to an independent assessor for a $45 fee. Only one rescore is possible (i.e. you cannot repeatedly submit the same answer for rescores) and the rescore may result in a higher or lower score than initially received. The rescore is received in approximately 20 days, and no refunds are possible.

How many questions are there in the Analytical Writing Assessment?

As mentioned above there is only one question, which must be fully completed within 30 minutes.

What is the order of the 4 different sections of the GMAT?

While the structure of the GMAT is fixed, you can actually choose the order in which you take the different GMAT sections. There are three potential ways to take the test:

Order 1

Analytical Writing Assessment, Integrated Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, Verbal Reasoning.

Order 2

Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, Integrated Reasoning, Analytical Writing Assessment.

Order 3

Quantitative Reasoning, Verbal Reasoning, Integrated Reasoning, Analytical Writing Assessment.

No matter what order you opt for to approach the structure of the GMAT in your preferred way, you can take two eight-minute breaks at various stages of the GMAT. These can help you to decompress and reassess.

What’s the best order to choose when taking the GMAT? 

It’s really up to personal preference, but some orders are better for certain personality types than others. Let’s take a look at which order might best suit you.

Order 1

The original GMAT exam format, you can take a break after the Integrated Reasoning and Quantitative Reasoning sections.

Some students are not fond of this GMAT format because it means that you haven’t tackled the two most important sections score-wise – the Quantitative and Verbal Reasoning sections, which account for over half of your score – until you’re almost an hour into the test. However, if you’re the kind of person who likes a mental warm-up before getting to the meatier sections, this will be perfect for you.

Order 2  

This order places its 8-minute breaks after the Verbal and Quantitative Reasoning sections, and is one of two new formats for the test.

This format places the GMAT section that requires the most creativity and expression – the AWA – in the home stretch, meaning that you may be tired and thus stressed out by the time you hit it. On the other hand, you can quickly get Verbal Reasoning out of the way – perfect for students who do not favor this section and would rather power through it to the sections in which they feel more confident.

Order 3

The second of the two new choices, this order places its breaks after the Quantitative and Verbal Reasoning sections.

Students who feel that they might struggle with Quantitative Reasoning should probably avoid this GMAC format; a bad performance on that section (first in this format) may tank your confidence and carry through to other sections.

Conversely, those who favor Quantitative Reasoning may find this format the best for them, as they can approach their strongest subject with a fresh mind and gain momentum going into the other sections.

Note that this order also finishes with the AWA, meaning that Order 1 is the only way to tackle the writing assessment in any other order.

Does choosing the order of the GMAT sections really matter?

To most students, absolutely. Test anxiety is a real phenomenon, and exercising control over how you take the test can make a big difference. While the GMAT structure itself is set in stone, it can make a big difference how you approach it. Whether you’ve struggled with Verbal Reasoning or the AWA in mock tests and revision, it can make a huge difference to your test – if you prefer to meet problems head on, get those difficult sections out of the way and sail through to calmer waters. If you’d rather focus on your strongest sections first and head into the problem categories with a much-needed confidence boost, you can do that too. Make no mistake – choosing the order places the power squarely in your hands, and you should make use of this tool to maximize your chances of a strong performance in the GMAT.

Don’t fall prey to analysis paralysis!

Something that is very easy to do, however, is to end up falling into a loop of indecision and be unable to choose one of the three options. In that instance, you can do one of the following:

Seek advice from a mentor, lecturer or peer: sometimes an outside perspective can really help, especially from someone we trust. There’s no shame in asking for help, so ask for help!

Go with Order 1: it’s the original for a reason. If in doubt, go with the tried-and-tested original GMAT and be done with difficult decisions. You’ll have enough of them on the test!


We hoped we’ve shed some light on the structure and format of the GMAT, and helped you in making some sense of the whole affair. Remember that by having a firm grasp of the different sections of the GMAT – and the various orders available to you – you increase your understanding of the test, demystify it, and thus make it more accessible and less intimidating. Get prepared and good luck!

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