MBA Applicants Frustrated With At-Home GMAT Exam

When the Graduate Management Admissions Council announced this week that it would open registration for the first-ever at-home GMAT, the reaction from would-be test-takers was largely … frustration. The reason? GMAC’s conditions. Test-takers are not allowed to use a pen and scratch paper, nor a physical whiteboard, but instead must use an online whiteboard feature. Soon after Poets&Quants broke the news of the at-home exam, the comments poured in.

“‘GMAT at home’ will not allow test-takers the use of a whiteboard (as well as physical notepads) during the exam. That’s CRAZY!!! No human brain is able to solve math problems without writing down notes, in particular under the <2min GMAT time restrictions,” one commenter wrote.

Another responded: “You are completely right…this whiteboard feature is so confusing and completely impractical for solving math problems…these einsteins at GMAC/Pearsons are just trying to make a quick buck in a would be great to see people’s feedback.”


As the testing outcry mounts, would-be test-takers have begun an online petition to GMAC that in less than 24 hours attracted more than 130 signatures (see Petition Launched For Pen-Paper Usage On At-Home GMAT). Meantime, Manhattan Prep announced that it has recreated the online whiteboard that GMAT takers will likely see. A spokesperson for the firm says the screen shot released by GMAC shows an open source software program that Manhattan Prep was able to find and recreate.

“There may be some slight differences, but we will know for sure on Monday and update it accordingly, if need be,” added the spokesperson. “This will give GMAT takers some practice before they head into Test Day and should make what will be an anxious experience a little bit easier. The tool can be used as part of a regular CAT exam or as a standalone tool for practice. To access the tool, usersmust set up a free account at Manhattan Prep.  Once logged in, a user can either navigate to the CAT exam page or click this link.

The OnVue Microsoft whiteboard was created by Pearson VUE, which administers online tests. According to Pearson Vue’s factsheet, the whiteboard allows users to “enter text and draw shapes and lines,” “change the stroke size of lines, the fill and background colors of shapes, and the size and font of text,” and “erase or clear the working space to start something new.” But that’s not enough for some GMAT test-takers.

“The GMAT has truly dropped the ball on this one,” another commenter said via a direct message on Twitter. “There has to be a way for test-takers to be able to use pen and paper.” The commenter went on to mention the other main standardized test accepted by business school admissions: the Graduate Record Exam, which unveiled its own at-home exam in March. “The often-labeled ‘ugly duckling’ of standardized tests, the GRE, has implemented a great way for test-takers to be able to use pen and paper,” the commenter wrote. “They’ve mentioned that as long as the pen and paper are in sight of the proctor, you’re good to go with the test. Do the people at GMAC not know you can pull back your laptop so the field of view is increased?”


One disgruntled MBA applicant said he has invested too much not to go forward with taking the at-home GMAT. But he’s less than thrilled with what he’s heard about the experience.

“With this new online format, the GMAT is about to become the first major standardized test to not allow students to take some form of handwritten notes,” says Frederick Adenuga, who is scheduled to take the online version of the GMAT on May 30. He ticks off all the other current tests that have either remained canceled or moved online amid the coronavirus outbreak, each still allowing handwritten notes: LSAT, MCAT, SAT, and GRE. “This is the first time a major standardized test is preventing its test-takers from taking hand-written notes,” he says.

Adenuga, who is based in Ohio, plans to apply to a handful of top-10 MBA programs this fall. “That’s how unprecedented this is. The GMAC is underestimating how critical the hand note element is to attempt to succeed on the GMAT.”

He first took the GMAT in September and was ramping up to take his second — and hopefully final — attempt at the test. Like countless MBA applicants to top schools, Adenuga predicts he’s spent more than 900 hours and thousands of dollars to boot, prepping for the GMAT. He’s purchased test prep materials from a half-dozen major GMAT-prep companies and most recently hired a personal tutor. “I have invested a lot of capital in preparing for the GMAT a certain way,” he says.

“It’s comparable to asking an artist who’s spent months perfecting their painting technique to suddenly create their best work using an iPad and Apple Pencil in 1 weeks notice. Yes, it is possible they could create something admirable, but their results could still be better if they had time to practice with the tool.”


Adenuga certainly isn’t alone in his concerns.

“I was really upset because of the requirement to not use written notes,” an MBA applicant who wished to remain anonymous tells Poets&Quants. “I say that because I’m a very visual learner — notes and handwriting are how I learn. When I go through a typical quant problem, I use up to a third of a piece of paper because there’s no calculator allowed.”

The applicant says she also has spent the past year prepping for this specific two-month window of testing and was signed up to take the normal GMAT this Saturday (April 18). Like Adenuga, she’s spent “thousands of dollars, for sure” on prep materials, including a personal tutor. After learning her original test date was canceled, the MBA applicant says she’s been waiting anxiously for the updated online format.

But now? “It’s not even worth attempting with the whiteboard situation,” she says. “This is not a fair assessment. That’s the thing that’s most frustrating.”


Besides that, Adenuga says there’s an obvious timing issue. He’s been timing himself using the whiteboard on practice quant questions and so far reports it’s taking him about a minute longer on each question to use the similar whiteboard feature he’s found online compared to his notepad. “That’s an additional 31 minutes of just taking notes in a new format,” he points out, noting the quant section of the exam has 31 questions.

Plus, before starting the exam, Adenuga says he writes out all the prime numbers on a corner of his notepad to reference during the exam. “That is now impossible,” Adenuga says. “Because if I run out of space, I have to clear the entire notepad to make room to do a new calculation. GMAT is greatly underestimating how essential a tool a handwritten notepad is. And that’s what’s leading to all of the frustration.”

Adding to the frustration is that the GRE does allow for handwritten notes. “Business schools allow for both the submission of the GMAT and GRE so why is there a discrepancy in one test allowing hand-written notes and others that are not,” Adenuga reasons. To top it off, there is no way of even practicing with the GMAT’s version of the whiteboard, Adenuga says. “It would be great if the GMAC could recommend some sort of sanctioned simulator tool that students can use to practice this new tool if they’re going to force students to take the exam with this new digital note-taking format,” he concludes.


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