Bowing to considerable pressure over an awkward whiteboard tool for its online GMAT exam, the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) today announced that it will allow the use of a physical whiteboard for home test-takers starting June 11. GMAC also extended the availability of the online exam, which was meant to be an interim solution due to the pandemic, to July 17th from June 15th.
The prohibition on either a physical whiteboard or a pen and scratch paper to takes notes and do calculations on the test has caused many business school-bound test-takers to switch to the online GRE, which was available nearly a month before the GMAT’s online exam — and which allowed note-taking on either a whiteboard with an erasable marker or on paper with a transparent sheet protector and erasable marker. Fearful that the online whiteboard could cost test-takers valuable scoring points, some prospective students have even traveled hundreds of miles to take the test in person, at an open test center (see Planes, Trains & Automobiles: MBA Applicants Traveling Great Distances For In-Person GMAT).
“As COVID-19 continued to shut down test centers around the world, we made a conscious choice to focus on speed and quality, delivering online assessments that met our quality and test security standards while also empowering candidates to meet tight admissions deadlines in a virtual environment,” Vineet Chhabra, senior director and head of the GMAT product at GMAC, said in the announcement. “While we have seen GMAT Online exam score outcomes comparable to exams delivered in test centers, we’ve heard the market and are excited to provide candidates with options and additional flexibility, helping ensure they can be at their best on exam day.”
Test-takers will now be able to use the online whiteboard, a physical whiteboard, or both. The physical whiteboard comes with some requirements. According to GMAC, test-takers will be able to use one erasable whiteboard no larger than 12 inches by 20 inches, one dry-erase marker, and one marker eraser. GMAC said it will continue to run the online version of the test through July 17 and will “open additional appointment dates as needed.” The Executive Assessment Online will also offer the option of a physical whiteboard.
CHANGE COMES AFTER NEARLY TWO MONTHS OF ANGER, FRUSTRATION AMONG TEST-TAKERS
The announcement comes after loads of pushback from test-takers. It’s been nearly two-months since GMAC first announced an online version of the GMAT without either a way to practice the tool in advance of the test or a tutorial on how to use it. Days after the announcement, frustrated and angry MBA applicants came out in droves voicing their frustration with the online whiteboard portion of the test, which replaced the traditional scratch paper and notepad. “The GMAT has truly dropped the ball on this one,” one person told Poest&Quants.
“It’s comparable to asking an artist who’s spent months perfecting their painting technique to suddenly create their best work using an iPad and Apple Pencil with one week’s notice,” another MBA applicant told us in an interview. “Yes, it is possible they could create something admirable, but their results could still be better if they had time to practice with the tool.”
Nearly 2,500 test-takers signed an online petition, demanding the allowance of using pen and paper to take the test. GMAC responded by creating an online practice whiteboard less than two weeks after the original announcement. But several test-taking experts counseled prospective students to spend ten to 20 hours of practice with the tool before sitting down to take the actual GMAT. Even with the additional practice whiteboard, test-takers still grew frustrated with glitches, software bugs, and poorly trained test proctors. But test-takers still weren’t having it and as in-person testing centers began opening up in certain states many MBA applicants were flying or driving to states with open testing centers.
POSITIVE EARLY FEEDBACK FROM TEST PREP EXPERTS AND FUTURE TEST-TAKERS
The immediate reaction to the news from professional test-takers who help with exam prep was positive. “I’m not shocked by the update but I am surprised,” says Andrew Geller, founder of AtlanticGMAT.com. “If a physical whiteboard is OK then why wasn’t it offered at the start? Now the GMAT online late adopters have a potential advantage over the GMAT at home early birds. Did the early birds get screwed? Yes and no. But it’s hard to argue that having the option of either physical or online isn’t a good thing.”
Manhattan Prep’s Stacey Koprince agrees. “We’re thrilled to see a physical whiteboard option added to the GMAT Online,” she says. “This is a student-friendly move that will make aspiring MBAs a lot less anxious going into Test Day. In fact, you can use both the physical and the online whiteboard, so this is the best of both worlds. Use the physical whiteboard for math but use the online whiteboard to type notes and to keep track of your answer eliminations on verbal and integrated reasoning.”
Marissa Samuel Vescler of 99th Percentile Tutoring, who had been recommending that her students switch to the GRE or get to the few open test centers, also is excited about the change. “This is amazing! I’ve been messaging students to let them know about the change and all of their responses are filled with excitement,” Vecsler says in an email exchange with Poets&Quants. “I’ve never seen so many texts in full caps; all are responding immediately. ‘I’M SO HAPPY!” “YAY” “AWESOME” “I’M GOING TO GET A WHITEBOARD NOW!’ I keep hearing beep after beep as texts fly in, and it’s truly invigorating. I’m so happy GMAC made this change. It’s a great thing for the students and for the exam itself.”
Geller also praised the extended timetable for the online test, saying it was more positive news. “Test centers are reopening,” he says. “Slowly and not transparently. But reopening. And, likely, come July 17th GMAT online will drift into history. We think.”
According to a spokesperson from GMAC, candidates who tested without access to the physical whiteboard will be allowed to test again. “We have reached out to those test takers to ensure they’re aware of this development,” the spokesperson says.