GMAT Structure—The Format of the Exam and How to Approach It

The beginning stages of GMAT preparation can be intimidating. The GMAT exam syllabus can be overwhelming for a newcomer, and fitting in study around an otherwise full schedule is no mean feat.

The last thing you should have to worry about is finding comprehensive, reliable information on the structure of the GMAT exam.

In this article, you’ll find everything you need to know about the current GMAT exam pattern and format—as well as the structure and format of the GMAT Focus Edition.

The GMAT is designed to test important skills for successful MBA graduates, including the ability to analyze data presented to you in a case study

GMAT Structure Overview

The GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test) exam consists of a total of 4 sections:

The GMAT exam is a computer adaptive test, meaning that the difficulty of a given question is determined by how well you have already performed within the exam. Applicants have a choice between sitting the GMAT in person or taking the GMAT online exam.

Because the GMAT was designed by business schools for business schools, each section is deliberately designed to test a different facet of your MBA preparedness.

Exam SectionTime LimitNumber of QuestionsScore Range
Quantitative Reasoning62 minutes31 questions6 – 51
Verbal Reasoning65 minutes36 questions6 – 51
Integrated Reasoning30 minutes12 questions1 – 8
Analytical Writing Assessment30 minutes1 question0 – 6
Total3 hours 7 minutes80 questions200 – 800

Quantitative Reasoning Section

The Quantitative Reasoning section includes both problem solving and data sufficiency question types, which are mixed together and not presented as separate blocks.

Test takers are allotted 62 minutes to answer 31 questions, averaging 2 minutes per question.

Of the 31 questions, test takers can expect:

Both question types rely on an understanding of arithmetic, algebra, and geometry concepts, appearing in both word-problem and non-word-problem formats. Some questions, however—especially the more challenging ones—incorporate multiple concepts.

You can learn more about approaching these types of questions by taking a look at our Free Official GMAT Sample Questions and Answers.

Verbal Reasoning Section

The GMAT verbal section consists of three question types: sentence correction, critical reasoning, and reading comprehension.

Test takers have 65 minutes to address 36 questions, averaging 1 minute and 48 seconds per question.

Similar to the Quantitative Reasoning Section, sentence correction and critical reasoning questions are not separated by question type and will be presented in no particular order. Reading comprehension questions related to a given passage, however, are presented consecutively.

Of the 36 questions on the GMAT Verbal Reasoning section, test takers can anticipate:

The process of elimination is particularly crucial in the GMAT Verbal Reasoning section, as it requires you to find the best answer rather than a single definitive answer.

Unless you are pressed for time, it’s advisable to review all five answer choices, even if you initially favor one. Eliminating three choices can often make the decision between the remaining two less challenging.

Integrated Reasoning Section

The Integrated Reasoning Section of the GMAT is designed to test important skills for successful MBA graduates, including the ability to analyze data presented to you in a case study.

In the Integrated Reasoning (IR) section, test takers will encounter four question types:

Test takers have 30 minutes to tackle 12 questions, averaging 2 minutes and 30 seconds per question. Most questions are accompanied by two or three sub-questions.

While business schools do take the Integrated Reasoning section of the gmat into account when reviewing an applicant’s official score report, your Integrated Reasoning score will not affect your total GMAT score.

If you want to calculate your total score, you can do so by using our GMAT Score Chart.

Analytical Writing Assessment

The Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA) segment comprises a single 30-minute writing task, assessing your ability to provide a coherent analysis of an argument.

The arguments on the test involve topics of general interest, and while they often relate to business, the Analytical Writing Assessment can also include arguments on a variety of other subjects.

Test takers do not need to have a specific knowledge of the topic: only the capacity to write analytically is assessed.

MBA programs value an applicant’s ability to think critically and to communicate their ideas, so although the Analytical Writing Assessment doesn’t factor into your total score, business schools can refer your official GMAT score report to evaluate your verbal communication and critical thinking skills.

Experimental Questions

The Quantitative Reasoning section contains 3 experimental questions, and the Verbal Reasoning section includes 6 experimental questions. These experimental questions do not contribute to your total score and do not contribute to the difficulty of the questions you are asked throughout the rest of the test. 

Additionally, the Integrated Reasoning section has three experimental questions.

These experimental quant and verbal questions lack assigned difficulty levels, which means you might encounter questions that seem unusually easy or difficult compared to your prior performance; such questions may be experimental.

However, identifying which questions are experimental is not feasible, nor is it advisable to spend time attempting to do so.

Treat each question as if it counts towards your total score and provide your best response within the scheduled exam time.

GMAT Focus Edition

Based on feedback from MBA applicants and in response to the growing popularity of the GRE for MBA applications, the GMAC recently announced to rollout of the GMAT Focus Edition.

The new GMAT Focus Edition is set to be rolled out at the beginning of November, 2023. As was the case for the original, the exam can be taken online or in-person.

The GMAT Focus Edition is a condensed version of the GMAT, totaling 2 hours and 15 minutes, compared to the current version’s 3 hours and 7 minutes. 

The GMAT Focus Edition syllabus will still evaluate candidates’ Quantitative Reasoning and Verbal Reasoning abilities, but it will place greater emphasis on higher-order reasoning skills—especially within the Verbal Reasoning section.

SectionTimeNumber of questionsPurpose
Quantitative Reasoning45 minutes21 questionsEvaluates problem solving skills
Verbal Reasoning45 minutes23 questionsAssesses critical reasoning and reading comprehension
Data Insights45 minutes20 questionsAssesses data literacy

GMAT Focus Edition Structure

The primary difference between the traditional GMAT exam format and the Focus Edition is the elimination of the Analytical Writing Assessment section.

However, although the GMAT Focus Edition won’t include the Analytical Writing Assessment, Quantitative and Verbal Reasoning sections will continue to test an MBA applicant’s aptitude and readiness for a graduate business education.

These changes to the exam mirror the evolving requirements of business schools and employers, who seek candidates with advanced critical thinking and data literacy abilities. 

In addition, the GMAT Focus edition will introduce an innovative Data Insights section. This component is designed to assess candidates’ competence in data analysis and interpretation.

This change is a sensible one, considering how relevant this skill is in today’s rapidly evolving business landscape. It combines Integrated Reasoning and Data Sufficiency question formats to gauge an applicant’s digital and data literacy.

Data Insights section

Comprising 20 questions, the Data Insights section requires applicants to evaluate and synthesize information presented in different formats—such as visuals, numerical data, and text—in order to make well-informed decisions.

Some of these questions might involve mathematical calculations, data analysis, verbal reasoning, or a combination of these elements. For this section only, an on-screen calculator is available.

There are fives types of questions in the Data Insights section:

GMAT Focus Edition vs Traditional GMAT Structure—at a glance

Compare the GMAT Focus Edition with the traditional GMAT exam format.

GMAT Focus Edition GMAT
Exam Duration2 hours 15 minutes3 hours 7 minutes
SectionsQuantitative Reasoning (45 mins)
Verbal Reasoning (45 mins)
Data Insights (45 mins)
Quantitative Reasoning (62 mins)
Verbal Reasoning (65 mins)
Integrated Reasoning (30 mins)
Analytical Writing Assessment (30 mins)
Section orderQuestion types could appear in any orderQuestion types will appear in one of three orders:
Order 1: AWA and IR – QR – VR
Order 2: VR – QR – IR and AWA
Order 3: QR – VR – IR and AWA
FlexibilityBookmark and review as many questions as you like
Change up to 3 answers per section
No option to bookmark, edit, or review questions
Score SendingSend scores to 5 schools for free
You can review your score before sending it to your schools
Send scores to 5 schools for free
You cannot review your score before sending it to your schools
Performance InsightsImproved Official Score Report with detailed insights into your performanceAdditional insights available by purchasing the Enhanced Score Report


The structure of the GMAT exam is less complicated than you might imagine. In the traditional exam, there are four sections:

The total exam takes 3 hours and 7 minutes, although each section of the GMAT is afforded a different amount of time.

In the case of the GMAT Focus Edition, the exam is considerably shorter at 2 hours and 15 minutes. The exam is also composed of only three sections:

Understanding the structure of both exams can help you make a decision about which test to target while you prepare for your MBA applications. If you’re still unsure, it could be worthwhile to speak with a GMAT tutor who can help you devise a plan.

To get a sense for what score to target, you can start by reviewing the Average GMAT Scores of Top MBA programs

You can also prepare for the GMAT by taking a look at our GMAT Study Plan, which we’ve specifically designed to help you prepare for the exam in only 10 weeks.

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