‘I WOULDN’T RECOMMEND ANYONE GETTING ON A PLANE RIGHT NOW OR STAYING IN A HOTEL OR ANYTHING LIKE THAT’
Stacey Koprince of Manhattan Prep says that while she’s been hearing and seeing reports from students who are planning on traveling to a different state to take an in-person test, she hasn’t actually spoken with anyone who has actually done it yet. “I haven’t heard of anyone flying yet but have heard of people driving or planning on driving to a neighboring state,” Koprince says. “I wouldn’t recommend anyone getting on a plane right now or staying in a hotel or anything like that. But if someone feels more comfortable in a testing center versus online and they can drive a few hours to go take an exam, then sure, test-takers should within reason do what they can to make it comfortable for themselves. It’s stressful to do in the best of times.”
In general, Koprince wasn’t as concerned about the online GMAT or whiteboard. Koprince took the test on the first available at-home testing date back in April. And even though it didn’t go great then, with her score 30 points lower than the last time she sat for the exam at a test center, she now believes things aren’t as grim as they were–at least for test-takers who spend hours practicing with the tool. After taking the test, Koprince concluded that the tool would have cost her 100 points or more points if she had failed to prepare for it with hours of practice. l”We have had a number of good reports including students who are happy that they are done with it and in a couple of cases have gotten scores that are higher on the online exam than the practice tests,” Koprince says, adding “Many people are settling down and realizing that, as with anything, you just need to do some practice.”
Koprince, content and curriculum lead at Manhattan Prep, says some of that can just come down to temperament and current stress levels of test-takers. “Some people are more optimistic and some people are more stressed out,” she says. In some cases, the whiteboard can actually be a plus, Koprince explains, noting that the tool is right next to the problem on the screen. “You don’t have to copy down the whole problem before working on it,” she points out. “You don’t have to take the time to look from your scratch paper to the screen, it’s just right there.”
There is one group Koprince says probably should really consider traveling to find an in-person testing option.
“There is so much uncertainty in the world. And people are already nervous about these exams so having uncertainty around them is just not fun right now,” Koprince says. “For people who are not ready to take the exam right now, the best thing they can do is give themselves options. And the way to do that is to incorporate the whiteboard into their study and doing it a bit every day so in a month they’re comfortable with it. It’s a tougher conversation for those that are ready to go right now and have to put themselves into a holding period. As much as I hate to tell someone to travel long distances just for an exam, for that group, it is something to consider.”
IN-PERSON TESTING CENTERS ARE GETTING FILLED FROM ‘PANIC BOOKING’
The applicant flying from California to Austin for a June 29 in-person exam fits that category. She’s been studying for six months and was set to take the exam at the beginning of April. “Who could’ve guessed the testing centers would be closed when I was planning on taking it,” she says. According to the student, she’s been working with a one-on-one tutor for a while now and also took a prep course earlier this spring. She plans on completing all of her applications in Round 1 this fall. She signed up for an online test but also looked for in-person options. First she looked in both Northern and Southern California. No dice. Then she searched for an open center in Nevada and Arizona. “Every date through July and August was booked so the earliest test was September,” she says. Finally, she checked out Austin where she has family and locked in the date on June 29. “The online test is sub-optimal,” she says. “And I’ve put in a lot of time into studying. and I don’t want the inability to use scratch paper to impact my score.”
Koprince calls the new phenomenon of spots filling up in testing centers “panic booking.” If you’ve experienced frustrations trying to lock-in an Amazon Fresh or Amazon Whole Foods delivery, Koprince says it’s similar. “If you keep checking back, you’ll see more slots open up,” Koprince says. “But with the craziness of things right now it could be that people are just panic booking.” Naturally, with centers having to keep test-takers socially distanced, there aren’t as many slots available.
‘HUNTING DOWN OPEN TEST CENTERS’ COULD BE A WAY OF SHOWING ADCOMS ‘INGENUITY AND CREATIVITY IN THE FACE OF CRISIS’
Betsy Massar of Master Admissions also says she’s been asking her clients if they feel comfortable with crossing state lines to find an in-person test. “I’ve talked to students about it,” Massar says. “I’ve gotten answers from, ‘Are you kidding? I’m not that dedicated,’ to ‘Well, I am in Fort Lauderdale, so I should probably take it here before going back to Manhattan.”
Massar says she has had at least one person tell her he preferred the whiteboard, but that she is certain he’s in the minority. “I tried the whiteboard myself, and it took one second to see how unwieldy it is,” Massar says. “I haven’t had anyone actually take the final test yet. They’ve been practicing on the whiteboard and feeling uncomfortable, so they are thinking of other options or hoping that centers open up in their home states.”
It’s even possible that admission officers could find the practice of traveling to a test center as a positive in an MBA application. “MBA programs,” she muses, “are looking for ways that students have shown ingenuity and creativity in the face of the crisis, and hunting down open test centers certainly fits the bill.”
GMAC REPORTEDLY ALLOWING SEPARATE SCORING SECTIONS FOR AT-HOME AND IN-PERSON TESTING SCORES
Koprince still has faith that those not needing to take the test immediately can teach themselves how to navigate the whiteboard. But, “It does take some time,” Koprince says, noting that it took her a month of practicing before she felt “fine” with it. “It was absolutely natural and I knew exactly where to go. I didn’t need to use any brain-space for the whiteboard,” she says of recent practice tests. You’ll be used to it in a few weeks if you just incorporate it into your practice. Most people will find they will be OK with it in a few weeks.” Of course, that could be time better spent on prepping for the questions on the test rather than practicing how to use a tool so it doesn’t cost a person critical points on their score.
GMAC is essentially letting students “cancel” or hide scores from MBA programs. Koprince says GMAC has not announced this publicly yet, but they’ve now created a “different scoring place” for online scores versus test-center scores. As a result, applicants can keep the two types of scores separate and report them separately. “If you take the online test and you like your score, you can go ahead and report those scores,” Koprince says. “But if you don’t like those scores, you just don’t have to report them. And you can separately report the test center scores you have, and the schools will only get those test center scores. You can’t technically cancel it but you can just not share online scores with the schools.”
Not being required to report scores is a “game-changer,” Koprince says. “To me, it seems like a no-brainer. Like, why wouldn’t you just go ahead and try it this way? It’s cheaper, you can just never report the scores, you can do it from home. Yes, you have to practice with the whiteboard but this can almost just be like your dry-run.”
‘THE ONLINE WHITEBOARD WAS AN UN-LEVELING OF THE PLAYING FIELD’
But for some — like Schmidt and Vecsler — that still might not be enough.
“I wrote in my concerns and I think about a million people did and they said they heard our concerns,” Vecsler says. “And shortly thereafter they did give the ability to practice with the whiteboard. But that’s it and no other change, which was really a surprise to me because I love the GMAT. was really certain that it would be changed or fixed by this time. But it obviously hasn’t.”
Vecsler says she’s had students scoring 60 to 100 points worse while practicing with the whiteboard versus the pen and notepad version of the test.
“The online whiteboard was an un-leveling of the playing field,” adds Schmidt. “For me, it was just about what’s going to make me most competitive. At this point, I’ve invested two years of studying for the notepad version so this was just a handicap that I wasn’t willing to accept.”
Koprince maintains the schools will understand and students shouldn’t be concerned about potentially being in the same applicant pool with students that are or were able to take the GMAT at a testing center. “The schools understand this is a pandemic and they just want the scores to be available so they can continue with their normal application processes,” Koprince says. “The only difference is you’re not doing the essays (on the virtual exam) which I don’t think the schools paid much attention to anyways.”
Testing centers might continue to open and offer in-person dates, but even then, it could be tough for students to find a slot. “It seems like we’re getting to the point where we can get to some lower-capacity testing in the coming weeks in most locations,” Koprince says. “Most people will be able to go back in but it might be tougher to get an appointment because of lower numbers allowed in the testing room.”