It’s been about a month since I took the GMAT Online and I was getting restless, so I decided to take the Executive Assessment (EA) Online. I’m still waiting for my scores, but overall, I felt really good about taking the EA Online—a lot better than I felt after I took the GMAT Online.
Why did the Executive Assessment feel easier?
First, I knew exactly what to expect. I’ve been practicing with the online whiteboard for a month now—I no longer have to think, “What’s this icon mean?” I didn’t even really have to look when I was changing tools; it’s automatic. Looking back on what I wrote a month ago, I was right: Just practice! You’re doing practice problems all the time, so just use the whiteboard and in a few weeks, you’ll be fine. (Reminder: We’ve made a browser-based version free and available to everyone; follow the link earlier in this paragraph for details.)
I also knew how the technology check and security protocols would work. I knew how to call the proctor when needed and where to place my whiteboard on the screen. Knowing what to expect really helps to reduce anxiety in a stressful situation.
Second, it’s just easier to take the EA. The exam is only 90 minutes long, half the length of the GMAT. I wasn’t in my chair long enough to get uncomfortable or have to go to the bathroom. In addition, while the EA is also an adaptive exam, it works differently than the GMAT. The EA offers a series of short panels of 6 or 7 questions each. Within one panel, you can answer the questions in whatever order you like. That’s a much friendlier exam experience than having to answer every question in the order given, as we do on the GMAT.
The GMAT is a more challenging exam—it really pushes me and I feel a strong sense of accomplishment when I’m done with it. There are legitimate reasons for that, based on how the test is constructed, and this is no doubt why the GMAT continues to be the gold standard for graduate management programs. But, hey, if I’m going to apply to programs that accept the EA, then it’s basically the best of both worlds—I get the cachet of taking an exam that is very similar to the GMAT but it’s easier to take. (The only drawback is that it does cost more upfront than the GMAT. But there are no fees for rescheduling or sending score reports, so I find that friendlier, too. Pay once, get everything.)
So how did the EA go?
First, I want to mention something that I heard from Pearson, the organization that runs the online exam (as well as the testing centers). Pearson claims that the vast majority of those who have tech issues during the exam also skipped doing the tech/system check in advance of exam day. Do run the tech check sometime before the day that you take the test. (You will also have to do so again immediately before the exam starts—but if a tech issue is discovered at that point, it could considerably delay the start of your exam.)
My EA Online ran exactly the same way my Test Center EA ran. You have a 12-minute instruction period, but if you’ve taken official practice EAs in the past, you’ll already know the instructions, so you don’t really need to go through them. Instead, pull up the online whiteboard (it’s available throughout the instruction period), and start testing out the tools and setting up your scratch pad.
This setup period allows you to make sure that everything is working properly—I did not do so, and then I did have a tech issue with my whiteboard when the first section, Integrated Reasoning, started. Every 20-30 seconds, my whiteboard would glitch and erase everything I’d typed! After the third time, I called the proctor, she rebooted the software, and the whiteboard worked perfectly after that.
I didn’t call the proctor until about three minutes into the section, and then I started typing a bunch of details to her. My brain went into “This is tech support, so I have to be really detailed and tell them everything” mode. By the time she rebooted my screen, I was about 5 minutes into the section. In hindsight, I should have just said “My whiteboard keeps erasing everything” and let her reboot immediately.
After that, I settled into the IR section and was able to answer every problem except for one, a pretty ugly Two-Part problem for which I would have needed the calculator—but I didn’t have time to finish it. I think I’d have been able to finish it with another minute or two on the clock, so the time I lost to the tech glitch earlier did cost me here.
The Verbal and Quant sections both went fine. I actually really like having the online whiteboard because I did all of my work straight down on the same “page.” When I got to the end of a panel of questions, it was easy to scroll back up to look at my work while I double-checked my answers. In the test center, everything doesn’t fit on a single page, so I had more trouble finding my work for the earlier questions.
At the very end of Quant, I had a panic moment again when I thought my screen had frozen—but it actually hadn’t. A five-minute-warning window pops up, but I’d placed my whiteboard over the middle of the screen, so I didn’t realize the warning window had popped up behind it. I tried to select my answer to the final problem but the screen wasn’t responding. I finally remembered the 5-minute warning from the earlier sections, found the window behind my whiteboard, clicked to dismiss it, and was able to select my answer. So just an FYI if this happens to you—move your whiteboard to see whether you also have that warning window in the middle of the screen.
So…about that tech issue…
After the exam, I spoke with GMAC about how tech issues are handled in general. Most tech issues are minor-ish, like the one I experienced; the proctors can restart the software very quickly and the timer will stay at the same time it was at when the system was rebooted.
So, lesson learned: If you have a tech issue, call the proctor immediately. They can reboot and get you going again quickly. And I can confirm that the reboot process does not take any of your testing time away from you. I glanced at the timer right before the proctor rebooted and, when the system came back up, the timer was in fact the same.
If you were to have a more serious tech issue and be unable to complete the exam, you’d be given a case number and the case would be investigated (which can take up to a week). The resolution generally seems to be that the test-taker is allowed to reschedule and retake the exam. This can happen in testing centers, too; sometimes things do just go wrong.
Online vs. testing center: Which is better?
A month ago, I was leaning towards testing online, but I wasn’t 100% sold yet. Now that I’ve had time to get used to everything, I’m feeling really good about the online exam option. Yes, testing at home probably has more potential for technology glitches, but that’s worth not having to travel across town and sit in a room listening to other people sniffle or feeling cold because the room temperature isn’t what I prefer. (And it’s not like the testing centers don’t have power outages or other glitches, too.)
A month ago, I was also concerned about privacy issues because the exam is recording me in my own home. I’ve since learned that Pearson automatically follows all data security and privacy laws in each test-taker’s country. In the United States, for example, the law requires the recordings to be deleted within 30 days of the date of the test. So I’m no longer concerned about this aspect either.
And now that the online whiteboard feels a lot more natural, I can unequivocally say that I hope the online exams stick around. If I have the option, I’ll take all of my standardized tests online.
Stacey Koprince, a professional test-taker, is content and curriculum lead at Manhattan Prep