On Short Notice, The GMAT Just Got Shorter

GMAC has announced a reduction in the number of questions in both the Quantitative and Verbal sections of the GMAT, and a commensurate reduction in the time permitted for each section. If you’re planning to take to GMAT after April 16, 2018, you might be wondering what this change means for you.

The Details

The Quantitative section will go from 37 to 31 questions, and from 75 to 62 minutes. This is a very slight reduction in time per question, from about 2 minutes and 2 seconds per question to exactly 2 minutes per question.

The Verbal section will go from 41 to 36 questions and from 75 to 65 minutes. This is also a slight reduction in time per question, from about 1 minute and 50 seconds to about 1 minute and 48 seconds per question.

The overall decrease in time per question is small; in fact, the GMAC does not even acknowledge this 2-second-per-question change in timing, stating “The number of questions and section time has been reduced proportionally, so the average time per question in each section has not changed.”

Though time per question is, in fact, slightly less in this new version, the change should be more than counterbalanced by the relief of a shorter test.

The Questions Removed

The GMAC’s explanation for the change is that:

The Quantitative and Verbal Reasoning sections are being shortened by only reducing the number of unscored items. Unscored questions (sometimes referred to as “research or pre-test questions”) are used by GMAC as part of the question development process before they become scored GMAT questions. A number of unscored questions will still remain in each section so that we can continue to research and pre-test our exam questions and ensure their quality before counting them as scored questions.”

What the GMAC calls “research” questions we have long referred to as experimental questions. GMAC claims such questions are used as part of the development process, which is true. What they don’t explicitly mention here is that such questions cannot be identified as unscored by the students. Therefore the claim that these questions don’t impact student score is dubious, because such questions often test concepts not previously seen on the GMAT (and can thus shake the confidence of test-takers).

There will still be experimental questions, but this change represents a significant reduction in number of these questions for both sections. Over 50% of the experimental math questions will be gone, as will nearly 50% of the experimental verbal questions. But ultimately, from a test-taker perspective, any question encountered can still be experimental; we can probably still expect to see a couple of unusually hard experimental questions early in each test section.

What This Means for Students

Exams administered on or after April 16, 2018 will be subject to this change. If you are currently scheduled to take the GMAT on or before May 6, 2018, you are eligible to reschedule your GMAT free of charge — either for earlier than April 16, in order to stick with the previous GMAT format, or for after April 16, in order to take advantage of this change.

Per the GMAC: “If you would like to reschedule your GMAT exam as a result of this change, you can call GMAC Customer Service to reschedule your exam. Both the reschedule fee (depends on early or late reschedule) and phone fee ($10) will be waived if your request is received on or prior to April 11, 2018, and your exam is scheduled for on or prior to May 06, 2018. When you call, you must indicate that you are rescheduling as a result of the new shorter GMAT exam. Limit one free reschedule per candidate.”

A shorter test is good news for most students. Beyond that, this change shouldn’t substantially change your approach to the test: earlier questions are still the most important and still deserve extra time and attention. Questions towards the end of the section are still much less important. The underlying score algorithm remains unchanged.

Talk to your tutor if you have questions about this new format, or need help adjusting your individual pacing strategy.

Noodle Pro Dan Edmonds has 20 years of tutoring experience. He has led R&D for two major test prep companies, written or contributed to innumerable test prep and admissions books, trained or mentored hundreds of tutors, and worked with thousands of students.