Make no mistake about it. Evan’s experience with the online GMAT has been, in his own words, “an absolute nightmare”.
A 30-year-old European engineer who works in the energy field, Evan (not his real name) has been thinking about getting an MBA degree since 2016. Back then, in fact, he invested a few months to prep for the GMAT, using The Economist’s GMAT Tutor service. But as his job became more demanding and required a move to a new country, he put his MBA plans on hold.
Fast forward to earlier this year when COVID-19 hit. Evan decided the time had now come to apply to an array of European business schools. Now, however, with test centers shut down, his only choice was to take the GMAT online starting April 14th.
Since the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) allowed users to sit for the exam in their own homes, candidates from 124 different countries have scheduled appointments for the GMAT online exam and have sent scores to more than 2,000 different B-school programs around the world.
GMAC SAYS ONLINE EXAM SCORE OUTCOMES ARE ‘COMPARABLE’ TO THOSE IN TEST CENTERS
“GMAC’s primary driver in delivering the GMAT online exam is to provide business schools and candidates the opportunity to continue evaluating and discovering each other in a virtual environment,” said Vineet Chhabra, senior director and head of the GMAT product, in a statement to Poets&Quants. “We have also observed GMAT online exam score outcomes comparable to exams delivered in test centers.”
For Evan, at least, there would be an entirely different experience. He not only could not get a score on his test. He couldn’t even start it and his consistent appeals to customer service fell on deaf ears.
The young engineer had given himself plenty of time to crack open the GMAT practice books, scheduling to sit for the exam at his home on June 15th. This time, he wasn’t going to leave anything to chance, even as an engineer who had taken plenty of quant courses in the past and is also an English native speaker.
HE TOOK SIX DAYS OF VACATION TIME TO CRAM FOR THE GMAT JUST BEFORE SITTING FOR IT
“I had been studying for months but decided to take vacation time the week off work before the test in order to fully prepare to help me achieve a top score,” says Evan who typically works 50 to 60-hour weeks at his job.
During his study vacation, he took a full practice test every other day. In between, he would drill himself on his problem areas, focusing more and more attention on the harder questions typically asked on the test, the questions that are critical to scoring 700 or above. His study habits were methodical, evidence of his engineering background. His 650 scores on the practice exams would climb to 700.
“I purchased a new laptop to ensure no software interfered with the test. Ahead of the test date, I ran the practice test to ensure (that my) webcam, microphone and software all worked. The practice test was successful.”
HE CHECKED INTO THE TEST A HALF HOUR EARLY TO MAKE SURE ALL WOULD GO WELL
Then, the test day arrived. Evan checked in half an hour in advance, having submitted photos of his work station and passport via phone as required. And then, one by one, the frustrations started to mount.
A message popped up on his computer screen, asking him to wait until a proctor could check the information he submitted. He waited for a full hour. Still nothing. No other messages. No calls or chat messages from the proctor. “Eventually an hour later a chat window appeared but no message was displayed,” he recalls. “Then the screen changed and stated, “Oops, there has been a problem we will reschedule your exam free of charge.”
Evan followed the link to submit information and was informed he would be contacted within three-to-five days. He couldn’t immediately reschedule the exam because the initial test date was still displayed on his account. Evan admits he became frustrated and infuriated because he had taken six days of his vacation time to study and sit the test. Nonetheless, he resigned himself to the glitch.
SO MUCH FOR CUSTOMER SERVICE
Five days later, nothing. He had yet to hear back from GMAT so Evan emailed the test company again asking why the test failed, whether he could reschedule the exam and receive compensation for the inconvenience. The money, he concedes, would have been a nice gesture but not a must. “I tried calling the customer service center but I never got through to anyone in Europe,” he says. “I called the U.S. customer service team who said they would create a case study for review.”
Nearly two weeks after he had sat for his scheduled exam, he finally heard back on June 28th. The email simply stated that his exam fee would be refunded. But there was no explanation on why the online test had failed nor was he given a new date to sit again for the exam.
“I still need to sit the test,” he says, “but I am reluctant to do so until I know why the test failed. I have again tried to contact GMAT customer service but received no reply.”
‘I WAS VERY POSITIVE ABOUT THE OFFERING INITIALLY BUT IT JUST TURNED INTO A NIGHTMARE’
Evan is not typically given to complaining. He’s a reasonable and thoughtful young professional. “I understand that the conditions of business are unique with the COVID situation and I appreciate why GMAT is trying to defend its market position with the online test,” he says. “I was very positive about the offering initially but it just turned into an absolute nightmare. First, the test fails and then the customer service has been shocking. I’ve been very frustrated with my entire experience.”
Evan says he is still in the dark as to why the exam failed. He still doesn’t have a new test date. And his plan to study intensively for a full week, undistracted by work or anything else, so he could do his best on the test have been completely shuttled. “It is a weight around my neck that I want to get off,” he says. “I really could understand if there was a technical glitch on the day, but it has become a surreal part of my life to just wait there to be potentially contacted.
“I do understand times are tough, and I do think the online exam is a good contingency,” he says. “It strikes me more that they can’t deal with the sheer volume or their customer service demands. It needs to be re-evaluated in terms of how they manage people and queries. It is quite a convoluted system. My impression is that maybe they have taken on too many exams. It seems to me I am on the only problem. Because customer service can’t deal with the number of cases they have. They have bitten off more than they can chew. Test centers are opening up and the most likely solution is to go and sit the test at a test center.”
And after his nightmare experience, that is exactly what Evan plans to do.