As it has for everyone, the COVID-19 pandemic has introduced tremendous uncertainty into the lives of MBA program applicants. By mid-March, most countries and U.S. states had begun to take serious “shelter in place” steps to reduce the spread of the virus, and this soon included the cancellation of most upcoming GMAT and GRE exams in U.S. testing centers. For a few weeks, MBA program applicants were in limbo.
But by April, official, online at-home testing options were introduced. GMAC responded to the release of an at-home GRE by announcing that it too would be offering a temporary online, at-home exam option for MBA program candidates in need of a GMAT score. Registration opened for online GMAT exams on April 20. In this article, we’ll explore five topics that are important to understand if you are contemplating taking the GMAT at-home:
- Structure of the exam
- Note taking is restricted to an online whiteboard
- Test-day logistics
- Exam scoring and reporting
- Exam availability
We’ll conclude with a perspective on whether it’s a good idea to take the online interim GMAT (spoiler alert – you probably should). Hopefully this article provides much needed clarity and a helpful perspective, but GMAC also offers a very helpful online GMAT FAQ page as well.
The content tested and structure of the online GMAT is different.
The structure of the online, interim GMAT is different from the regular GMAT. If you were studying for the GMAT and planning to take it in-person (which, would be basically everyone), taking it online means you should stop studying for the AWA writing assessment immediately and probably drastically reduce the time you allocate to the Integrated Reasoning section. That’s because the online exam features:
- A set order of sections: quantitative, verbal, optional 5-minute break, then Integrated Reasoning
- Integrated Reasoning is optional
- No AWA writing assessment
- No break between the quant and verbal sections
You can’t take notes by hand in the online GMAT. You’ll use an online whiteboard.
A colleague of mine has taken the at-home, online GMAT, and his perspective is that the biggest issue students need to be aware of is the functionality of the online whiteboard you must use to take notes. To protect academic integrity, GMAC does not allow any form of handwritten notes. Any notes you take must be done using an online whiteboard.
For decades, GMAT tutors and course instructors have recommended that test takers write information down to avoid unforced errors and maximize performance. But on the online GMAT, styluses are prohibited, and handwriting is limited to a mouse drawing interface.
This is a big deal, as the online whiteboard is not the most functional tool; or at least, it takes some getting used to. In fact, after some aggressive early feedback that using the whiteboard to take notes was difficult enough that students should be provided with a way to practice, GMAC introduced a way to practice taking notes for the online GMAT exam. Simply knowing in advance that you are going to use an online whiteboard for notetaking and that it’s going to be a unique experience is probably half the battle. You’ll be able to write out equations, enter text, draw shapes (that feature is actually very intuitive and useful), pan across and zoom in or out, erase and start something new, and move the whiteboard around the screen. You can’t however use a stylus, your finger, or other writing apparatus. All in all, it’s a unique experience, but it’s manageable.
The experience on test day is only a little awkward.
Understandably, the test day experience is unique and perhaps a little awkward. But it’s not too bad.
You do need to calmly be prepared to work through the technology and interact with an online proctor. I will say that my colleague attempted to take the online GRE and experienced so much technical difficulty that he was unable to complete the exam and received a refund. The online GMAT exam experience was entirely positive relative to this very negative experience.
You’ll receive instructions via email to run a system test the day before, and also to log in 30 minutes early on test day to ensure everything is working. You’ll pair your cellphone to the system via a text message link. You’ll also take pictures of yourself, passport, and four sides of your surroundings, and upload the photos to Pearson VUE, which administers the exam and provides the online proctors.
Within a few minutes, a chat box will appear on your desktop, and a voice line will open to confirm who you are and ask some final questions about your environment. Soon after, a proctor arrives in the chat box and you’ll be granted access to the familiar GMAT exam interface.
How does the scoring work for the online GMAT?
You should know that no unofficial score is reported. You’ll receive an email within 10 days with your score. You also can’t cancel your score, although you can choose to send the score to desired MBA programs upon registration OR after you receive your score (in other words, you can choose not to send the score to certain programs).
Your score will also denote that you took the exam online. Because of the different testing environment, you’ll be graded on a curve relative to other online test takers, so if you feel the exam went particularly poorly, keep in mind that everyone else was dealing with this new environment too. Perhaps you did better than you realize.
When is the exam available?
It’s also important to note that for now, the exam is only available until June 15th and that you can only take the online GMAT exam once during that time. So, while we would rarely recommend taking the GMAT again within a month after getting a sub-optimal score anyway, this is something to keep in mind. For example, someone might take the exam, be surprised by the online whiteboard (or for some other reason), do poorly, and want to re-take the exam within a few weeks. But that’s not currently possible. So, we’d recommend learning as much as you can about the exam, practicing taking notes online, and preparing in full for the online GMAT specifically before taking it. It would certainly be annoying to take the exam in early May, have a strong desire to take it again, but have no option to do so.
The score will not count toward the 12 month and lifetime limits offered by the standard GMAT exam.
Conclusion: Should You Take the Online GMAT Exam?
We are recommending to our students that if they would have taken an in-person GMAT in the next two months had one been available, they should take the online GMAT exam. There is no real downside, since GMAC has announced that the Online Interim GMAT will be indicated as such on all score reports. You can also wait to send your score to MBA programs until after you receive it. Sure, the online whiteboard for note taking is probably a “downside” of the online GMAT. But everyone has to deal with it, and you can practice and prepare in advance. It’s also shorter and has fewer sections, meaning you can focus your prep on few topics in the weeks leading up to the exam.
If you happen to be both a) more comfortable with technology and b) more comfortable in your own home than in a sterile in-person testing center environment, you may do better, all else equal, with the online GMAT than with a GMAT exam taken in a typical testing center.
About the Author
Mark Skoskiewicz is the founder of MyGuru, a boutique provider of private GMAT tutors as well as tutors for many other standardized tests. Mark holds a B.S. in Business Management from Indiana University and an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, where he founded MyGuru in 2010.