The Graduate Management Admission Test, known as the GMAT, is getting a makeover. The hope is that the new “GMAT Focus Edition,” set to launch in late 2023, will be a more streamlined and practical option for both business schools and applicants, says the Graduate Management Admission Council, which administers the test.
Perhaps one of the biggest changes is that the revamped test will be nearly an hour shorter, with just three sections. It will not include an analytical writing section, as the current version does. It will be hyperfocused on business principles and skills, shedding concepts from the current test that experts say don’t translate as practically to business school.
The changes come amid declining GMAT test-taking participation as well as a growing post-pandemic trend of business schools either accepting the Graduate Record Examinations General Test, known as the GRE, in lieu of the GMAT or going completely test-optional with their admissions decisions. From 2017 to 2021, the number of people taking the GMAT worldwide dropped from more than 250,000 to just over 156,000. At the same time, the GMAT saw a decline in the U.S. from nearly 104,000 test-takers to fewer than 48,000.
[Read: GMAT vs. GRE: Key Differences Between the Tests.]
With these trends in mind, plans to remodel the GMAT began about 18 months ago, says Ashish Bhardwaj, senior vice president and head of market development at GMAC.
“What we’re trying to do with the GMAT Focus Edition is really focus on the needs of business schools, what kind of talent they’re looking for and really focus the assessment on what best provides the opportunity to candidates to shine a spotlight on their candidacy,” Bhardwaj says.
It’s the biggest change since 1997, when the test moved from pencil and paper to a computer-adaptive format, says Stacey Koprince, director of content and curriculum for Manhattan Prep, a Kaplan test prep company. Though some details are yet to be fleshed out, GMAC has released some information about the new test and its features. Here’s what’s known so far:
New GMAT Structure and Features
Two sections from the current exam, Quantitative Reasoning and Verbal Reasoning, will remain on the GMAT Focus Edition and be joined by a new Data Insights section. This new section will test candidates’ skills in areas such as data analysis, data interpretation, data visualization and data-driven decision-making and will effectively replace the Integrated Reasoning section on the current exam.
Each section will take 45 minutes, but one new feature will be that test-takers can start with any section and go in any order they choose, Bhardwaj says. Another new feature is the ability to bookmark questions to review at the end, and test-takers can change up to three answers per section.
“The way the test works right now is you have to answer the question in order to get to the next question, and once you do that you can’t go back,” Koprince says. “So that’s a pretty stressful experience for most test-takers. The ability to go back and review any of your questions and choose up to three of them to change your answers is a different kind of stress, but it’s just a nicer way to take a test than knowing that every answer you put is done and you can never go back to it.”
The new features are designed “to put greater confidence and control in the hands of the candidates,” Bhardwaj says.
The scoring scale will change slightly on the GMAT Focus Edition, ranging from 205 to 805. The current GMAT is scored on a range from 200 to 800. The change was made so that test-takers and schools can distinguish which test a score is from. Because of the change, test takers and schools are encouraged to compare percentiles rather than scores, Manish Dharia, director of product development at GMAC, said in a press release.
“Because the Total Score scale and the score scale distribution have both changed, comparing total scores or section scores from the current version of the exam to the GMAT Focus Edition is not appropriate, accurate, or a meaningful comparison of performance,” Dharia said in the press release. “Scores of 600 and 605 may look similar, but they represent very different performance levels on different skills.”
More Detailed Score Reports
After the exam, the GMAT Focus Edition will provide test-takers with “performance insights,” which Bhardwaj says will include detailed score reports on each subsection. This will be particularly useful for students who decide to retake the test so they know which areas need improvement, he says.
“We’re also trying to get across some key metrics and information to you about how you managed the time,” he says. “We do recognize that candidates stress about lack of time management. That’s another big change that puts more power into the hands of the candidates.”
Access to Scores Before Sending to Schools
Like with the current GMAT, those taking the GMAT Focus Edition will still be able to send their scores to five business schools at no charge. However, one significant change with the new format is that test-takers will get access to their scores first and have up to 48 hours to decide which schools they’ll send scores to.
Currently, test-takers must choose their schools before the test, and once a school receives a score they must use it when assessing an applicant’s body of work, says Kevin Bender, executive director for MBA enrollment management and recruiting at Wake Forest University School of Business in North Carolina.
With the current version, some test-takers feel they have to be cautious with where they choose to send their scores, Bhardwaj says. Unsure of whether they’d score highly, some tend to be more conservative and avoid choosing top programs, only to find out they scored much better than expected. This change allows test-takers to be “more aggressive” in deciding where they send their scores, he says.
Further, those who aren’t happy with their scores can wait 30 days and retest rather than go through the current process of canceling a test before it’s sent to schools. With every attempt, test-takers will be able to send their scores to five schools for free within 48 hours of receiving scores, Bhardwaj says, but they should be aware that they must choose their best total score to send. In other words, test-takers aren’t allowed to “superscore” and combine the best scores of each section like on the SAT or ACT.
Projected Timeline for Changes and Test Prep
Registration for the GMAT Focus Edition will open Aug. 29, with the test set to debut toward the end of 2023. The current GMAT will be phased out starting in early 2024, but scores will still be good for five years.
“Anyone who is either studying right now or is planning to take the test this year because they are applying this fall, they’re fine,” Koprince says. “They don’t need to worry about or stress about this new version.”
Test prep materials for the GMAT Focus Edition, including the new Data Insights section, will be available through mba.com on June 6. This includes a free six-week study planner, 70 GMAT-style practice questions and two full-length practice exams.
Because two sections will remain from the current version, those unsure of which test to take or those considering taking the GMAT Focus Edition will benefit from studying existing test prep, particularly the Quantitative and Verbal Reasoning sections, until new materials are released, experts say.
[READ: MBA Application Deadlines: When to Apply to Business School.]
“They’re still going to have statistics, they’re still going to have basic algebra and arithmetic, subtraction and ratios — topics that are applicable to business school,” Koprince says. “Study that and that analytical content in the verbal section.”
She says once information is released on test prep for the new version, Manhattan Prep and other test-prep providers will take practice tests to get as much information as they can and as early as they can to start helping students prepare.
Prices vary around the world, but the current online version of the GMAT costs $300 in the U.S., while the testing-center version costs $275. Although the GMAT Focus Edition will be nearly an hour shorter, the cost will remain the same as it is for the current test, GMAC announced.
Response to GMAT Changes
Experts hold differing opinions about the effect these changes will have on the big picture of business school admissions. While some schools tie GMAT scores to scholarship dollars, which may incentivize students to take the test, the growth of test-optional admissions and the prevalence of the GRE are hard trends to ignore, Bender says. Applicants are also becoming increasingly “test-averse,” he says.
“We live in a world where every applicant we see is requesting a waiver,” he says. “Nobody wants to take either test. From our applicant population, I don’t know that saving time and making every question multiple choice will result in us seeing an increase in the number of applicants.”
A test waiver allows candidates to bypass submitting either GMAT or GRE scores after meeting certain requirements, which may vary by school. Many schools automatically grant waivers to candidates based on previous work experience or GPA. At some programs, candidates with an advanced degree may also automatically be granted a waiver.
At Wake Forest, “applicants meeting GPA and work experience parameters may be eligible to waive the standardized test requirement,” according to the school’s website. Nearly half of the class that began in the fall of 2021 received a test waiver, Bender says. Based on current trends, that number will likely reach 75% for the class set to start in the fall of 2024, he says.
Those numbers are on par with what he’s seen at other business schools, and he adds that elite programs are starting to award waivers at a higher rate.
Bender estimates that, among the quarter or so of next year’s applicants at Wake Forest who take an entrance exam, about 60% will submit a GRE score and the other 40% will submit a GMAT score.
“What we’re seeing, and I think my peers at other schools would say the same, is more and more GRE scores coming in every year,” he says. “This move could move that needle, but I don’t think it will.”
Koprince thinks differently, noting that the new GMAT is more approachable and practical.
“This could be a game changer for this test,” she says. “You won’t find yourself spending months having to learn a bunch of stuff that you will then just forget about immediately after taking the test, and it can actually be something that’s preparing you for business school.”
Bhardwaj says the test still holds significant value, especially for students coming from outside the U.S. He adds that at some schools, the requirements to obtain a test waiver are so stringent that some students might find taking the GMAT Focus Edition a more suitable route.
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The GMAT Is Changing: Here’s What to Know originally appeared on usnews.com
Update 05/09/23: This story was previously published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.