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Format of the GMAT

The GMAT is a three-and-one-half hour computer adaptive test (CAT). There are four sections in the test.
Section Type Questions Time
1 Writing   30 minutes
2 Math 37 75 minutes
3 Verbal 41 75 minutes
4 Integrated Reasoning 12 30 minutes
The writing section begins the test. You will type your essay on the computer, using a very basic word processor.

Each question must be answered before you can go to the next question. Further, you cannot return to a question once you go to the next question.

The GMAT is a standardized test. Each time it is offered, the test has, as close as possible, the same level of difficulty as every previous test. Maintaining this consistency is very difficult—hence the experimental questions (questions that are not scored). The effectiveness of each question must be assessed before it can be used on the GMAT. A problem that one person finds easy another person may find hard, and vice versa. The experimental questions measure the relative difficulty of potential questions; if responses to a question do not perform to strict specifications, the question is rejected.

About one quarter of the questions are experimental. The experimental questions can be standard math, data sufficiency, reading comprehension, arguments, or sentence correction. You won’t know which questions are experimental.

Because the “bugs” have not been worked out of the experimental questions—or, to put it more directly, because you are being used as a guinea pig to work out the “bugs”—these unscored questions are often more difficult and confusing than the scored questions.

This brings up an ethical issue: How many students have run into experimental questions early in the test and have been confused and discouraged by them? Crestfallen by having done poorly on a few experimental questions, they lose confidence and perform below their ability on the other parts of the test. Some testing companies are becoming more enlightened in this regard and are administering experimental questions as separate practice tests. Unfortunately, the GMAT has yet to see the light.

Knowing that the experimental questions can be disproportionately difficult, if you do poorly on a particular question you can take some solace in the hope that it may have been experimental. In other words, do not allow a few difficult questions to discourage your performance on the rest of the test.

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