What’s Next for MBAs: Slimmed-Down GMAT


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What is the GMAT?

The Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT) is a formal examination designed to assess how well a test taker might fare academically if enrolled in business school. The test is administered 100 percent electronically (in most areas of the world with consistent access to internet services). The GMAT is a computer adaptive test (CAT), which means that the difficulty adapts to the tester’s ability level in real time.

The GMAT is run by the Graduate Management Admissions Council (GMAC). This group determines what skills the GMAT test ought to address, and how to implement changes when and if they’re made.

GMAT scores are used by business schools around the country as an admissions prerequisite. Out of the nearly 2000 graduate universities around the world, about two thirds of them require GMAT scores prior to admission. The GMAT can be taken up to five times per year, no fewer than 16 days apart.

The GMAT is designed to assess four broad areas of skill: analytical writing, integrated reasoning, quantitative skill, and verbal reasoning. This is meant to ensure that business school candidates have a well-rounded skill set going into a more difficult academic setting. The four sections are presented to test takers as separate components within the whole exam.

Analytical Writing

In this section of the GMAT, students are tested on their ability to write an analytical summary of an issue. Testers will need to formulate and argue a valid stance on the topic selected for the exam. This section is scored twice after completion; once by a computer, and another by a human. These scores are averaged to determine the analytical writing score of the tester.

Integrated Reasoning

This section is designed to assess the test taker’s ability to analyze and evaluate data from multiple sources, in multiple formats. This portion of the exam consists of four parts: graphics interpretation, two-part analysis, table analysis, and multi-source reasoning.

Quantitative Section

This section determines the tester’s ability to interpret data and perform mathematical functions. Test takers must complete their work by hand without the use of a calculator.

Verbal Section

This section covers the skills of reading comprehension, critical reasoning, and sentence correction. Testers will need to be able to extract information from the passages they read and will need to show an ability to fully comprehend data presented in written form.

What Are the Changes?

In April of 2018, GMAC opted to make a change the overall format of the GMAT. According to the statement released by GMAC officials, this change was designed and implemented to make the testing experience more “candidate friendly.”

While the scorable content remained the same, the exam would now be a full 30 minutes shorter in length. In other words, the grueling four-hour test was slimmed down to a slightly less arduous three and a half hours.

Format and Duration Changes

Prior to the change, the quantitative section of the exam was made up of 37 questions and took 75 minutes to complete; the verbal section was comprised of 41 questions and also lasted 75 minutes. Now, the quantitative section is made of 31 questions and takes 62 minutes, while the verbal section has 36 questions and lasts for 65 minutes.

Out of the questions that were eliminated from the exam, none were questions that students had been scored on in previous years. The GMAT had included several questions that did not affect the exam score, and instead were included for research purposes. However, students in past years were not aware which questions did not count toward their overall score, so the scorable content will remain the same.

The analytical writing and integrated reasoning portions of the exam remain unchanged. There is no change in content, and no change in the types of questions asked on the test. The pace that test takers must keep consistent throughout the exam also remains overall unchanged. Basically, students can expect to take a slightly trimmed down version of the same exam.

The previous version of the test had a tutorial before the start of the exam. This has been eliminated, and students are expected to watch the tutorial online prior to the exam date. This tutorial is available on the website for GMAC.

Overall, the changes made to the GMAT have been made largely to ease the burden of the exam on test takers. Though pacing will remain the same and the test will continue to be notoriously grueling, the GMAT exam will now require slightly less stamina to get through.

However, exam takers will still need to pace themselves correctly to avoid running out of time while taking the GMAT. In the sections that are affected by the time change, students are advised to do their best to meet the following benchmarks when pacing themselves.

For the quantitative section:

  • By question 5, you should have 52 minutes remaining
  • By question 10, you should have 42 minutes remaining
  • By question 15, you should have 32 minutes remaining
  • By question 20, you should have 22 minutes remaining
  • By question 25, you should have 12 minutes remaining

For the verbal section:

  • By question 10, you should have 47 minutes remaining
  • By question 20, you should have 29 minutes remaining
  • By question 30, you should have 11 minutes remaining

Students should get a feel for the pacing they’ll need to maintain prior to taking the exam by using GMAT practice tests as a tool for studying.

Format Option Changes

Another significant recent change to the GMAT that has been less frequently reported is the format option feature.

Test takers now have the ability to choose between three different section arrangement formats at the start of their exam. Students will select one of the following options before beginning their test:

  • Analytical Writing Assessment, Integrated Reasoning, Quantitative, Verbal (the original format)
  • Verbal, Quantitative, Integrated Reasoning, Analytical Writing Assessment
  • Quantitative, Verbal, Integrated Reasoning, Analytical Writing Assessment

Two eight-minute breaks are offered to testers, at 60 minute intervals during the exam. In past years, opting to use the break periods meant that your first break would take place after the Integrated Reasoning section of the exam. When using one of the new format options, testers who use the second format listed above will get their first break following the Verbal section of the test; testers who use the third format can expect their first break after the Quantitative section.

In summary, the test can ultimately be taken in the following format options:

  • Analytical Writing Assessment, Integrated Reasoning, BREAK, Quantitative, BREAK, Verbal
  • Verbal, BREAK, Quantitative, BREAK, Integrated Reasoning, Analytical Writing Assessment
  • Quantitative, BREAK, Verbal, BREAK, Integrated Reasoning, Analytical Writing Assessment

When taking practice tests prior to sitting for the GMAT, students should try at least two format options to get a feel for what will ensure them the most comfortable testing experience.

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The Response to the GRE

Though not directly addressed as such by representatives from GMAC, some experts believe the move of cutting down the length of the GMAT was made in response to the rise in popularity of the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE).

Top business schools around the country are becoming increasingly accepting of the GRE, a previously shorter test with a reputation of being significantly less difficult overall than the GMAT. It has been marketed as a more user-friendly alternative to the GMAT, and is significantly growing in prominence each year.

The GRE is gaining popularity for good reason. The non-degree specific GRE may be an attractive option for students who aren’t sure what graduate path they want to take or may be considering an unorthodox career path. Since the GMAT is only applicable for students who plan to pursue business school, the GRE leaves the door open for more options to students working to further their education.

More than likely, the changes in the GMAT are in response to the increased threat to the test’s popularity presented by the GRE. Feedback from students in recent years had indicated that test takers felt rushed through the tutorial and pre-exam sections, to the point where it may have had a negative effect on the test scores that they ultimately received.

Ultimately, it’s up to students whether they prefer to take the GMAT or the GRE. Both tests have their own pros and cons, and students should consider their future goals when considering which exam is right for them.

Pros of the GMAT

Traditionally, the GMAT has held significant weight as the best option for students applying to a graduate business program. For many of the top ranked business schools in the country, the GMAT remains the gold standard of assessing a student’s business knowledge and aptitude.

According to a Kaplan survey, 21 percent of polled admissions officers stated a preference for the GMAT over the GRE; just one percent of the admissions officers preferred to see the GRE on a student’s resume.

This is likely because admissions teams have been poring over GMAT results for decades. They’re familiar with the skills brought to the table by students with a high GMAT score, whereas the GRE allows for a little additional leeway in interpretation.

Though the slimmed down format of the GMAT seems like it should pull ahead as a clear option, students should be warned that the test is still more difficult than the GRE and is assessed as such by admissions teams. However, students who take the GMAT and do well earn the advantage of having achieved a high score on a more difficult test, which does not go unnoticed. Admissions officers are aware that the Quantitative section on the GRE is significantly less difficult than that of the GMAT and will take that into consideration when comparing and assessing test scores.

Pros of the GRE

The less rigorous nature of the GRE means that while it takes endurance and stamina, it’s overall a reportedly much less stressful experience for testers. This means that it’s easier to get a high score that can lead to admittance into a good business school.

The GRE offers the ability to go back and answer questions left previously blank. This gives testers a great deal more flexibility in pacing, and leaves test takers feeling much more confident.

At this point in time, it’s the norm to business schools to accept both the GRE and the GMAT. If you’re confident in your ability to earn a higher score on the GRE than the GMAT, there’s no significant reason not to invest your study time preparing for the GRE instead.

For some schools, GRE scores on a student’s academic resume can indicate a broader range of student backgrounds, which in turn can lead to greater diversity in the student body. Many universities welcome MBA program applications from students who have taken the GRE, as it allows for a increased selection of candidates to choose from.

The trends and statistics back up the rise of the GRE as a student-friendly assessment of knowledge. As of 2015, just eight universities admitted at least 20 percent of their students into their MBA programs based on GRE scores. In 2017, that number had jumped to 23 universities.

What Schools Are Doing with the GMAT

For students who have their sights set on applying to any of the elite business schools in the country, the GMAT may still be the top choice.

When considering the overall ranking of the business school, the trend is undeniable. The lower the university is on the list of top business schools, the less likely they are to accept students who took the GRE instead of the GMAT. This preference of the GMAT in top tier schools is one of the major factors in the prominence of the test.

Among the top-level business schools in the country, University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business admits the highest percentage of students with a GRE, with just 19 percent. MIT’s Sloan School of Management is right behind, with an 18 percent GRE admittance rate. In 2016, only one school (Boston Questrom) had an acceptance rate of over 40 percent for students with a GRE. In 2017, three schools (all of which have lower rankings) had an acceptance rate of at 40 percent or higher; Ohio State University’s Fisher University (45 percent), the University of Texas-Dallas’ Jindal School of Management (45 percent), and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (41 percent).

Harvard, the top ranked business school in the country, didn’t even release numbers pertaining to the admission of GRE students prior to releasing their batch of statistics about their 2017 GRE numbers. Of the nation’s elite business schools, the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business is least likely to admit an MBA candidate who took the GRE instead of the GMAT; in 2017, just eight percent of admits were GRE test takers. Other top tier schools with low acceptance rates of students without GMAT scores include Columbia Business School (nine percent), UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business (10 percent), Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, and the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School (tied at 11 percent).