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# How to Select the Best Section Order on the GMAT Exam

May 24, 2024

In an effort to give you some control over your testing experience on the GMAT Exam, a recent enhancement by the GMAC gives you the ability to select the order in which you complete the three sections of the exam. The feature is called Select Section Order (SSO), and you will have an opportunity to designate your preferred order before clicking "Start" on test day.

Here's a quick math primer for you: With three sections on the GMAT, that results in 3! = 6 permutations of possible section orders:

1. Quant → Verbal Data Insights
2. Quant Data Insights Verbal
3. Verbal Quant Data Insights
4. Verbal Data Insights Quant
5. Data Insights Quant Verbal
6. Data Insights Verbal  Quant

The question is, which of those section orders is best?

As nice as this flexibility to choose your section order is in theory, it's only useful if you take advantage of it by choosing an order that best fits your unique strengths and personality disposition.

The simplest way to determine that is to answer this question:

When do you eat your vegetables?

That may sound like a bizarre question through which to filter your SSO decision, but it will make a lot more sense after watching this short video:

Here's one more interesting note about section order in terms of its impact on your final score. I attended a conference at the GMAC headquarters in Reston, VA a few years ago, shortly after they unveiled SSO for the old version of the GMAT. Back then, the exam sections were Quant, Verbal, and IR/AWA. (Note: Even though Integrated Reasoning (IR) and the Essay (AWA) were separate sections, they grouped them together for the purposes of selecting section order.) During one of the talks, the presenter revealed the following telling bit of information about SSO based on thousands of exam results:

GMAT test-takers tend to score highest on the first section they take.

Now you might be thinking, that's great! I'm weakest in [Quant/Verbal/DI] so if I just choose a section order where I take [Quant/Verbal/DI] first, then my score on that section will go up.

But be careful. If you apply that logic to a Critical Reasoning question on the verbal section of the GMAT Exam, you'll likely get that question wrong. Remember that correlation doesn't equal causation.

So we need to ask ourselves, why might that be the case? Why would a test taker score highest on the first section they complete?

One possible explanation is that somehow the very nature of a section being first results in your doing better on it. In that theory, correlation does in fact equal causation. And it does make some sense, right? You're well-rested and mentally freshest for the first section, after all. That would seem to lend itself to a better performance.

But I don't buy it. Nerves and test anxiety also play a factor at the start of an exam, resulting in rushing, careless errors, and an overall lack of clear thinking for some test-takers. That would suggest a potentially worse performance on the first section. So I don't think the mere fact that a given section is first is the reason students do better on it.

Instead, I think the more likely explanation is that students tend to front-load the section they feel most comfortable with. To continue my analogy from the video above, they like to eat their pizza first. Naturally, you will perform better on sections that you're stronger in and feel better about. If you like Quant, and you're good at Quant, and you choose to complete Quant as your first section because you like it and are good at it, then it should come as no surprise that you score highest on it.

Ultimately there's not an objectively "best" section order on the GMAT. The best section order for you is the one that you feel most comfortable with and that best fits your personality. Thinking about when you eat your vegetables can help you settle on that, and taking full-length GMAT practice tests to try several different section orders can solidify your decision.

More than anything, going into the exam brimming with confidence will have the biggest positive impact on your results. Hopefully this way of thinking about choosing your section order contributes to your increased confidence.

To continue building your confidence, try our Complete GMAT Prep Course FREE for four days. Start boosting your GMAT score now, risk-free!

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