Are test-takers exploiting the online GMAT system? And is it a system ripe for exploitation?
Those are the incendiary charges made over the holiday weekend by an anonymous Reddit poster, who declared he or she had found a “loophole” in the at-home version of the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT): namely, that test administrators only change their bank of questions every two months, allowing those who have taken the test to share the questions they have seen with those who are about to take it — with a high likelihood that the latter group will encounter known questions.
In a post that sparked spirited discussion before it was deleted about a day later, Reddit user “mbathrowawaycbs” wrote that question banks for offline iterations of the GMAT historically have been switched every 10 to 15 days, making profiting off shared questions more difficult (though by no means impossible — more on that in a bit). But since the advent of the online GMAT in the spring, the Redditor wrote, the Graduate Management Admission Council that administers both online and offline versions of the GMAT only changes the questions every 60 days or so — creating a much higher likelihood of encountering them on subsequent exam sittings, and therefore making question-sharing much more profitable for potential cheaters.
“Now with the GMAT online, GMAC decided for whatever reason to use a completely different test bank than their offline tests, and only change the bank every 2 months!” the Redditor wrote. “Granted it seems like that test bank is much larger than the offline ones (say if any given offline test bank has 300 questions total in quant and verbal, the online version might have 1,000 question total). However, by the end of month 1, the majority of the real test questions have already been captured and shared. People taking the test last month have been reporting that over 80% of the questions in the real test were in the compiled question list they had worked through already! You can imagine how much of an unfair advantage this is.”
The Redditor added that they, personally, had not availed themselves of the opportunity to cheat, having already taken the test offline and “gotten a top 1% score.” But “I just find it frustrating that GMAC decided to create such a loophole with the online version that would potentially dilute the higher test scores. Like why can’t they keep a consistent test bank and switch it every 2 weeks to prevent this kind of cheating that would obviously happen?”
NEW TOOLS AT CHEATERS’ DISPOSAL; GMAC RESPONDS
As long as exams have existed, people have tried to cheat on them. The axiom, “If you’re not cheating, you’re not trying,” is not exactly alien to the high-stakes world of graduate business education. The GMAT is far from an exception: in fact, the organization already has had to contend with well-organized efforts to cheat, including in one high-profile case in 2008 when it sued the operator of a website dedicated to sharing test questions. Working with the FBI, GMAC got the site shut down and assets of the operator seized, including a hard drive containing sensitive information about test takers and questions.
With the launch of the online versions of both the GMAT and the Graduate Record Exam, cheaters had new challenges — and new tools at their disposal. And the problem, some say, will only be exacerbated by the ability to take the test more than once.
Poets&Quants contacted GMAC for comment about the charge that GMAC hasn’t made their task more difficult, and may have made it easier by failing to rotate out old questions in a timely fashion. A spokesperson responded that the organization “places a premium on test security,” and has protocols in place to punish offenders. GMAC invests in and employs “appropriate security measures to ensure valid and reliable GMAT exam scores,” GMAC spokesperson Geoff Basye tells P&Q. “GMAC has a proactive and holistic approach to test security, adhering to protocols on prevention, detection and enforcement. Utilizing these pillars as the foundation of our security posture, GMAC has in place well-established processes that enable the organization to thoroughly investigate any inquiry received on potential wrongdoing.
“Should an internal investigation determine that cheating or test content compromise did occur, appropriate action will be taken. Such actions could include cancellation of scores, ban on future testing, notifications to schools and possible legal prosecution.” Of course, how long it takes GMAC to first detect and then find the culprits behind a cheating scandal is another matter. Years ago, in one of the most publicized scandals, a professional test-taker took the GMAT for others for more than two years before he was caught (see “He Conquered The GMAT & Went To Jail For It“).
‘GMAC HAS ALWAYS KNOWN ABOUT THIS’
The Reddit discussion that exploded into dozens of questions and responses began with the original poster’s assertion about “websites out there where certain internationals share real GMAT questions based on their memory after taking the test. The questions and answers are compiled and updated every day.” He was talking about a Chinese site called Chasedream.com.
Chasedream, which is about 10 years old, “is an open secret among internationals for some years now,” according to Redditor “bananaasteroid.” “When I took the test in 2015, there were Chinese forums where people submit and compile questions daily. It’s not on the dark web and the forum is actually quite popular among prospectives for sharing application tips, grad school advice, and different standardized tests (GMAT, GRE, etc.). In fact, I’ve met many internationals who were able to inflate their test scores this way and the resources are all free. The only reason you may not know about it is because the forum is all in Chinese.” However, the site can be translated into English via Google Translate.
As the original poster wrote: “GMAC has always known about this, and in the past it wasn’t too problematic because GMAC switches up the test bank every 10-15 days. The frequent switching made it really hard to capture a high % of any given test bank. Some people might see a few real questions during the last few days because the compiled question list gets more robust over time, but that tiny advantage usually wasn’t significant enough to move the total scores in any material way.”
Now things have changed, bananaasteroid continued: “People know how often test banks are switched because people voluntarily report and crowdsource information. Either you are naive … or you truly think people wouldn’t do anything to get ahead.”
WITH AT-HOME TESTING, ‘A HIGHER LIKELIHOOD OF CHEATING’
One Reddit commenter, MissilesToMBA, offered a troubling anecdote in response to the original post by mbathrowawaycbs. “Heck, people were posting GMAT questions to (a Reddit forum) right after they finished their online test,” he wrote. “I had to inform moderators to delete those posts. What you’re describing is an unfortunate consequence of the GMAT online system. With the convenience of having the ability to take your exam at home, you get a higher likelihood of cheating.”
Another commenter claimed to have taken the offline GMAT one week prior to taking the online GMAT, and saw identical passages in both. And yet another wrote: “I’ve made peace with the fact that people who cheat might have a small advantage that bumps up their score by 10 or 20 points in the regular offline version. What I’m NOT ok with is GMAC’s laziness in this online test method, where they don’t change their bank for 2 months, and people figure out most of the questions in the bank.
“Who knows how many points of an advantage that provides? And now GMAC is allowing people to take the test multiple times. That’s just unacceptable.”
And see the rest of Poets&Quants’ coverage of graduate business education testing: