Petition Launched For Pen-Paper Usage On At-Home GMAT

A petition has been created on asking for the Graduate Management Admissions Council (GMAC) to amend its rule allowing test-takers to only use a digital whiteboard on its at-home GMAT. Starting Monday, MBA applicants will be able to take the at-home GMAT through June 15, the GMAC announced earlier this week. But GMAC’s version of the at-home test quickly drew scrutiny and pushback because of its prohibition of traditional handwritten notes and usage of a digital whiteboard.

“GMAT in its online exam format has allowed the use of only Digital Whiteboard instead of (a) traditional Whiteboard + marker made available at the centers,” according to the petition, which was launched yesterday and at time of publication has gathered about 130 signatures. “We want the GMAC to withdraw this rule and permit students to use pen-paper in the exam.”

Online pushback began almost immediately after GMAC announced the test, which would use the OnVue Microsoft whiteboard that 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.


Manhattan Prep’s Stacey Koprince told Poets&Quants earlier this week that many understand the usage of the whiteboard versus the traditional pen and scratch-paper. “The reason they’re doing this is obvious,” Koprince said. “It’s for test security and validity and, frankly, it’s for fairness, too, although students aren’t going to see it that way.”

The authors of the petition acknowledge that early. “While the move is to implement enhanced security measures, it defeats the very purpose of the test,” the petition reads.

The issue? It’s an unknown tool and test-takers could use valuable time fiddling with the whiteboard instead of solving the exam’s 31 quant problems, many skeptics believe. “High digital proficiency is required to be able to draw and write on digital whiteboards,” the petition states. “In addition to this, using digital skills in the exam environment will reduce the speed of solving the Quants and IR problems.”


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.

Current MBA applicant Frederick Adenuga also told us earlier this week he’s been timing himself using a similar digital whiteboard. So far, he reports, it’s taken him about a minute longer on each quant question than it does when using scratch paper and handwritten notes. “That’s an additional 31 minutes of just taking notes in a new format,” he pointed out, noting the quant section’s 31 questions.

Koprince has been advising her students to wait a few weeks to see how this plays out. “I will basically be telling my students to hold on,” Koprince says, noting she’ll be taking the test herself on Monday. But it’s not always that simple for anxious applicants that have spent a year or more — and thousands of dollars — prepping for the exam. “It’s not like we can just wait this out,” Adenuga told us. “The returns a student gets on their studies diminishes the longer the student prolongs taking the exam.”

There’s a chance, Koprince says, the GMAC could amend the rule. “I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibilities that we see changes to the way this whiteboard works,” Koprince said. “This is another reason I’m telling students not to take it Monday. Because there is a chance they get some feedback and make some changes.”

When asked for a comment on our original reporting, GMAC’s Vineet Chhabra, the global product and marketing head for the GMAT exam said: “We value market feedback and like all our products, will continuously explore ways to make the GMAT Online experience one that helps test takers perform their best on exam day.”