Prospective students to MBA programs who have been unable to sit for either the GMAT or the GRE due to the COVID-19 pandemic can now take either test at home. GRE test takers have been able to take the test in their homes starting March 27, while GMAT at-home testers will get their first crack at the test on Monday (April 20th).
Already, the move from test center to home is upping the stakes for students waiting to take the tests. “In terms of the volume of questions I’m getting, it rivals the change from paper to computer,” says Stacey Koprince, content and curriculum lead at Manhattan Prep, the well-known test prep firm. “Everybody is talking about and everyone is concerned about it. And this is already a stressful experience in general.”
Either way, there are some substantial differences between the two exams. Three major issues a prospective test-taker might consider:
1) The at-home GMAT lacks the analytical writing section of the test. The Graduate Management Admission Council chose to drop it in favor of speed to market since the at-home version of the GMAT comes nearly a month later than the rival GRE. That omission makes the GMAT test shorter. You can complete the at-home version of the GMAT in just two hours and 37 minutes vs. the three hours and 45 minutes for the GRE at home.
2) The at-home GMAT test has a virtual whiteboard and does not allow test-takers the use of either a physical whiteboard with an erasable marker or paper with a transparent sheet protector and erasable marker which are allowed for the GRE test. This has already proven controversial.
3) The at-home GRE allows you access to your unofficial score at the end of the test and also allows you to cancel your score at that time if you prefer. Official scores would then be available online from the Educational Testing Service within 10 to 15 days. The at-home GMAT, however, does not allow you to preview or cancel your score right after taking the test. Instead, you will get your official score report by email within seven days.
TEST RESTRICTIONS: READ THE FINE PRINT
Another thing to consider is that it’s possible the human proctor who oversees your test can make exceptions to some of the rules for each of the at-home exams. For the at-home GRE, for example, a Manhattan Prep instructor told Poets&Quants she was able to use a spiral-bound notebook for notetaking during the test after gaining permission from the manager of the proctor (see She Took The GRE Test At-Home: Here’s What To Expect).
Meantime, there are a number of restrictions on test takers for both exams. ETS, for example, noted that prospective test-takers must be alone in a room with no one else entering during the test. Testing in a public space such as a park, internet cafe or restaurant is not allowed. You must sit in a standard chair and your tabletop and surrounding area must be clear. Food and drink are not allowed during the test.
The test administrator is also placing a series of restrictions on both the clothing and appearance of test-takers. “Your ears must remain visible throughout the test, not covered by hair, a hat or other items,” according to ETS. “You must be dressed appropriately for your test. You will be monitored via camera by the proctor, and your photo will be shared with institutions that receive your scores. Avoid wearing such items as jewelry, tie clips, cuff links, ornate clips, combs, barrettes, headbands, and other hair accessories.”
AT-HOME TESTS NOW A TEMPORARY SOLUTION BUT COULD BE HERE OVER THE LONG-HAUL
“The restrictions are very Big Brotherish but for that reassures me,” says Koprince of Manhattan Prep. I don’t want to know that other people are cheating and cheapening the value of the test. The restrictions are severe but it means that the integrity of the test will be what it has been.”
She will be taking the at-home version of the GMAT on the first testing day on April 20th. “My past experience with the GMAT has been that the test and testing experience are very consistent, so I’m hoping that will be the same when I take it,” she says. “Part of me is actually excited that I will be one of the first test-takers to take this historic version of the GMAT. I’m concerned, though, that it won’t be student-friendly enough for me to be able to recommend that our students take it in this form. If I come out of the test believing that it makes sense for students to wait until any technical kinks are corrected, or even to wait until this gets back into a physical test center, I will say so. It pains me to say that because we have students who are ready to take the exam right now and we don’t want them to have to wait months to take the GMAT. But in the business school admissions process, every point counts, and we wouldn’t want GMAT Online takers to be at a disadvantage compared to those who took it in a regular testing center.”
Both ETS and GMAC suggest that the at-home option is temporary as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak and the closure of test centers. But Koprince and other test prep tutors suspect that if the exams go well, this could be a permanent option when test centers reopen. “All of the language we have seen so far is that it is temporary,” confirms Koprince. “Depending on how long this goes on and how successful this will be, we’ll see. They are getting to test something on a massive scale on accessibility and technology. If this experiment works and they can keep the security where it needs to be, I can imagine them certainly thinking whether they want to keep this longer-term. If I were them, I would have to imagine they are having those conversations right now.”