When Stacey Koprince sat down to take the online GMAT earlier today, she was able to approach the grueling exam with the confidence and assurance of few test-takers. After all, Koprince knew this would be like a professional poker player at a Vegas table of amateurs.
She has been teaching the GMAT, GRE, and LSAT exams for more than 15 years, having already taken the GMAT five different times, always scoring in the 99th percentile, since 2012 when the last major test change occurred. Koprince achieved a top score of 780 on the GMAT, a perfect score of 800Q and 800V on the GRE, and a 172 on the LSAT that comfortably put her in the top 1% of all test-takers in the world. All of those scores were achieved in test centers where she sat amidst anxiety-ridden young people knowing that their scores would play a crucial role in the admission decisions of schools they desperately wanted to attend.
For Koprince, content and curriculum lead at Manhattan Prep, the stakes wouldn’t be all that meaningful. She has no intention of applying to the MBA programs at Harvard, Stanford or any other prestige business school. She was among the first batch of people to register for the virtual version of the GMAT on April 14th so that she could experience first hand what it would be like to take the exam at home.
THE TEST STARTED AT NOON EST TODAY
In the past, she would sometimes aim for a lower score specifically to see the kinds of questions her students might see, since the test is adaptive. “If I score lower on the online version of the exam, even by a little bit,” she says, “then I would interpret that as a strong possibility that the test format contributed to my inability to score at my usual level. And that, in turn, could mean that it’s not as student-friendly as many of us were hoping for.”
Koprince spent part of her Saturday stuffing a bunch of stuff in the closet and setting up a clean workspace for today’s test in her home office in Montreal. She did a technical and security check-in on Sunday to make sure there would be no glitches but otherwise followed her normal routine to do no additional prep work the day before the exam. Going into the test, she was both hopeful and anxious, surprising nervous, even.
The test was to start exactly at noon EST so she logged in ten minutes early on her 15-inch Macbook Pro to make sure everything would go smoothly. Koprince took a picture of herself and every part of her room with her webcam and then sat patiently for the proctor to arrive.
A FEMALE PROCTOR POPPED UP ON CHAT TO WISH HER ‘GOOD LUCK’
“I waited between five and ten minutes for her to come,” recalls Koprince. “She popped up on chat, relaunching the chat window so I could hear her. The proctor was nice. She said, ‘Good luck,’ and I think she really meant it. The proctor did not feel rushed in any way. She did not display any impatience. She actually helped me feel comfortable with what was going on. So the setup was really smooth.”
The proctor asked Koprince to take off her glasses and show her the front and back of them. She then oriented Koprince back to the screen to start the test.
“I was surprised that she didn’t have me show her the room live,” adds Koprince. “But my eyes were locked on the screen all the time. The artificial intelligence software they are using is going to know if you are looking away from the screen for any sustained period of time. I looked around a few times when my neck started to get tense.”
‘I WAS EXTREMELY NERVOUS, REMINDING ME OF THE FIRST TIME I TOOK THE COMPUTER ADAPTED GMAT’
“I was extremely nervous,” she concedes. “It reminded me very much of the first time I took the computer adapted GMAT for the first time. Back then, everyone was freaking out and no one knew what to expect. It really reminded me of that. I haven’t been this nervous since that first time in 1997.”
The first section of the test was her hardest section: quant reasoning, 31 questions over a 62-minute timeframe. What immediately became apparent was the most controversial aspect of the test: a virtual whiteboard to work out problems on the exam. The online tool is a replacement for a whiteboard or scratch paper that would be allowed in a test center.
“I was not enjoying the first ten minutes,” confesses Koprince, “because I was aware of the fact that someone was watching me through my webcam, and I was wary of the online whiteboard. I found it really hard to concentrate on the first few problems, distracted by myself on the video, and by the fact that I was annoyed that I hadn’t noticed that I could have opened the whiteboard earlier while going through the instructions. I didn’t open it until just shortly before I started the section.” Next time, she says, she would open up the whiteboard as soon as the toolbar appears on the screen.
‘MY SCORE WOULD HAVE BEEN 100 POINTS OR MORE LOWER IF I HADN’T PRACTICED USING THE ONLINE WHITEBOARD’
Manhattan Prep had recreated the tool last week from open source software, and Koprince had been practicing on it since Thursday, logging in five to seven hours of practice with the tool. She was glad she did it. In fact, Koprince adds, “I would say students should take more time to practice. I don’t think that is going to be enough for most students and I don’t know if my time was enough because I don’t know my score.
“It would have been a disaster if I hadn’t practiced with the whiteboard before the text,” she concludes. “My score would have been 100 points or more lower than her typical score. GMAC provides no tutorial for how to use the tool, and the version we made was slightly different from the one I found on the test. In our practice version, you can scroll your mouse over a button and a little label pops up. There is no label on the real test. So if you don’t have the practice, it would be a huge time suck.”
And yet, Koprince also could see how the virtual whiteboard could actually be turned into an advantage of sorts. “When GMAC moved from the paper test to the computer adaptive exam, people screamed bloody murder because you now had your scratch work on the table and had to look back at the screen to solve the problem. We just reversed that with the whiteboard. It changes what you choose to write down. When you were in a test center, I found myself having to write more than I needed to. So that was an advantage I wasn’t expecting. It’s not all bad.”
NO MAJOR TECH GLITCHES BUT A FEW ANNOYING BUGS
While there were no major technical glitches during the exam, she did encounter some slightly buggy issues with the virtual whiteboard. The GMAT version of it was more stable than Manhattan Prep’s practice tool, but a zoom-in, zoom-out function can freeze and “pop you to a place where all your work is gone which is very freaky. But you have to zoom-in and zoom-out many times to make that happen. So you need to be judicious with that feature.”
The text box in the tool also could prove buggy. On at least three occasions during the exam, it was only four or five characters wide. “You have to stretch it or it will start wrapping automatically,” says Koprince. “But even then, it will go back to four of five characters. Once I played around with it, I said, ‘Good. I don’t have to worry about it. Then I took a deep breath and got into it. I was able to start appreciating certain questions that were nicely written.”
As it turned down, Koprince finished the quant section two minutes early but guessed on two to three questions, deciding not to work out the problems with the whiteboard. “I literally decided it was too annoying to use the whiteboard on screen,” she says.