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GMAT Section Selection: You Really Want to Do AWA First? Seriously?

By Ajay Amar, Ph.D., Jul 10 2017 01:00PM

If you took the GMAT on or before July 10, 2017, you took the exam in the following order: Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA), Integrated Reasoning, Quantitative, and Verbal. Today, you have the choice to rearrange the exam sections more in an order to your preference. You may decide to start with the AWA section, or you may choose to begin with the Verbal or Quantitative sections. You will make the section order selection at the test center, just before you start the GMAT, so choose wisely.

The test requires four hours of intense concentration. Your ability to focus may peak anywhere from 30 minutes to 90 minutes, and as fatigue, hunger, or stress sets in, that focus may waiver. This is why I believe that the order of your exam sections might be used as a strategic advantage, if you go in prepared.

Here's my opinion on some simple strategies to adopt (and check back with me in a year, after I get more feedback from my students).

Give yourself a boost at the beginning.

I suggest that you not start with the exam section that you have been struggling with the most in practice exams. Note how I assume that you have been taking practice exams as part of your GMAT preparation. If you have done so, you will have a realistic view of where your weaknesses lie.

Perhaps you were the kind of kid who, at mealtimes, preferred to choke down your most hated food item (say, Brussel sprouts) before rewarding yourself with a more delicious dish. However, in a test situation, you would be faced with 75 minutes of Brussel sprouts. And if you felt that you really did not enjoy the first part of the meal/exam, your desire to plow through the rest might decrease accordingly.

So, start with the tater tots, instead. As you warm up to the test-taking task, and feel that you're doing okay, your mental attitude to taking on a more difficult section could significantly improve.

But please, don't take my word for it. As you get closer to test day, take some practice tests, and try experimenting with different sections in the first slot. Brussel sprouts or tater tots first: you make the call.

Think "Total Score."

Consider what is most important to the business schools' Admissions Committees. Quantitative + Verbal = GMAT Total Score. And the GMAT Total Score is a simple, standardized measure by which the AdComs try to evaluate your ability to do well in core business classes. (A school's average GMAT score is also a factor in MBA rankings.) Therefore, I recommend that you choose the Quantitative or Verbal section for your first slot, and do not settle for the default setting, which begins with the AWA.

With the default setting, you will spend your first hour on sections that do not contribute to the Total Score. This does not seem like a wise use of your energy.

The choice is yours.

Whether you like Brussel sprouts, tater tots, or Brussel sprout tater tots (yes, those exist), my point is this: Do not allow the GMAT to choose the exam's section order for you, or you may end up with chopped liver instead of chocolate cake. GMAC has given you a tremendous opportunity. Don't throw it away.

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