Timely Advice From The Guru Of The GMAT

The Guru of the GMAT has some important advice to offer MBA applicants: If you haven’t yet taken the exam but plan to do so, go and sit for it before the launch of the newly revised test in three months. Doing so, says Andrew Mitchell, Kaplan Test Prep’s director of pre-business programs, can mean the difference of scoring a 680 or a 710 with the same amount of prep time.

The Graduate Management Admission Council, which administers the GMAT, is adding a half-hour “integrated reasoning” section to the test starting June 5th. The time to take the test will remain the same: three and one-half hours. To make room for the new section, GMAC is cutting the analytical writing portion of the test in half from one hour to half an hour. GMAC says it is changing the test because “today’s managers need to integrate data into meaningful information” and the new section measures your ability to work in a more data-driven world.

“To do well in an MBA program,” believes Mitchell, “you have to be a little bit of a poet and a quant. These new questions may reflect that more accurately than the total score on the GMAT.” He says the new section won’t make the test harder, per se. But generally test takers will have to spend more time preparing for the new test if they want to get the same score they would be able to achieve on the existing exam.

WHY YOU SHOULD TAKE THE TEST BEFORE THE NEW SECTION DEBUTS IN JUNE

“If you spend the same amount of time practicing for the test, you are therefore spending less time on quantitative and verbal practice, assuming you spend any time on integrated reasoning,” believes Mitchell. “So on average, you won’t do quite as well on your total score. This is true regardless of how you do on integrated reasoning.

“You could call this an arbitrage opportunity–because you have the opportunity to get a 710 with an amount of overall effort that will only get you 680 after the test change,” he adds in an interview with Poets&Quants. “One way to think about this is that you are buying your 710 with X amount of practice. The price is cheaper because to get a 710 on the new test will require that you study more. Someone who has 100 hours to prepare before June actually has a little advantage over someone with equal skill over someone who prepares after the test change.

“Is it a crushing advantage?,” asks Mitchell. “No. But it is a significant advantage if you have time to prepare before the test change. It’s also true that when June comes around it will be moot because no one will be able to exercise this option anymore.”

THE GMAT PREP COMPANIES AREN’T AS GOOD AS THEY WILL GET IN PREPARING PROSPECTIVE TEST TAKERS FOR INTEGRATED REASONING

Add to all this the fact that test scores tend to go down slightly when a change is introduced. “It might be the fact that there is always some uncertainty when the test changes,” believes Mitchell, “and it also takes us a little bit of time to truly perfect our own prep materials until we know more about the new questions on the test. It’s very true that we have to extrapolate and draw some inferences, which are not guaranteed to be correct about what we think the questions will be like.” Translation: It will take a little time before any GMAT prep firm can best prepare a test taker for the new section of the exam.

Mitchell is the grand Pooh-Bah of the GMAT at Kaplan, which has been preparing prospective MBA students for the three-and-one-half-hour test for more than 40 years and is acknowledged as the market leader among GMAT prep companies. Over the past few months, ever since attending a Test Prep Summit put on by the Graduate Management Admission Council last September, he pulled together a team of more than 100 experts in text design, psychometricians and computer types to bone up for the changes in the test. The work of that team will come out in changes to Kaplan books, prep courses and online efforts. On Friday (March 2), the firm launched its update to the GMAT prep courses to help prepare test takers for the change.