Major Changes To The At-Home GMAT: Writing Assessment, Longer Breaks & More

GMAC today (February 10) announced a series of changes to the at-home Graduate Management Admission Test, including the addition of the analytical writing section

Big changes are coming to the at-home GMAT. With a return to normalcy in graduate business education still largely conjectural, the organization that administers the Graduate Management Admission Test is responding to a rapidly evolving landscape roiled by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic with more tweaks, even as the once-dominant exam loses market share to competitors and more schools forego the test in their admissions.

The Graduate Management Admission Council today (February 10) announced a series of changes to its online version that it says will provide greater flexibility for test-takers and better emulate the test center exam experience, including restoring the Analytical Writing Assessment. Moreover, B-school candidates taking the GMAT will now have the ability to preview unofficial test scores right away, take more and longer breaks, and decide the order in which they take sections of the exam — changes characterized by GMAC as corrections after the features were omitted when an online version of the exam was hurriedly introduced in April 2020.

Registration for the enhanced GMAT online exam will open February 17, 2021 for appointment dates beginning April 8, 2021. Testing appointments remain available for the current version of the GMAT online exam through April 7, 2021.

The GMAT is evolving. But as its chief rival, the Graduate Record Exam, grows in popularity, the question is: Is it evolving enough?

“We’re focused on providing the flexibility and support to address the long-term needs of schools and test takers,” Joy Jones, GMAC’s chief product officer and general manager of assessments, said in GMAC’s announcement of the latest test changes. “As we continue to adjust to uncertainties of the new norm, our online exams become a vital standard option, providing test-takers around the world with the confidence to test in a test center or online to meet their business school application needs.”


GMAC’s Joy Jones

As the pandemic continues to upset traditional timelines and approaches for B-schools and applicants alike, GMAC faces an array of challenges unprecedented in its nearly 70-year history. Foremost among them: Fewer people are taking the GMAT because fewer schools than ever are requiring it, even as the GRE has been increasingly elbowing its way into the market for the last few years.

It’s been a bumpy ride since last spring, when the GRE got a head start by rolling out its at-home version nearly a month before the GMAT — and got much better reviews, too. One problem for the GMAT was its whiteboard feature, which was so controversial it actually sparked an angry petition. That problem has since been corrected. Over the course of 2020, GMAC tweaked other aspects of the test and its test-taking policies to adjust to the new reality of a global lockdown, including introducing disability accommodations and the option to retake the GMAT online exam; over 45,000 exams have been delivered online globally in the last 11 months. Comfort levels have clearly grown: Just last month GMAC announced that its at-home test will be a permanent offering, even after the pandemic is a thing of the past.

But the GRE has unquestionably grown in popularity, even at the elite M7 schools. One advantage it had was a smoother rollout. See details in our coverage here, here, and here. The GRE also is cheaper, at $205 compared to the $250 cost of the GMAT for U.S. test-takers.

For the moment, the biggest hurdle for the GMAT is that schools simply aren’t requiring that applicants take the test — or any test at all. GMAT and GRE scores are almost an afterthought at the top schools at the moment, a reality that may persist beyond the current admissions cycle. More than two-thirds of B-schools in the U.S. now offer some form of waiver to applicants; Cornell University Johnson Graduate School of Management and Notre Dame Mendoza College of Business are the latest to offer applicants the opportunity to eschew the exam; Tennessee-Knoxville Haslam, ranked 48th, announced Wednesday (February 10) that it will waive tests for all applicants, after previously only exempting military and veterans. See below for a table showing test waiver policies at the 68 schools in the top 100 U.S. B-schools.

Of the top 50 programs, 32 now offer applicants some path to avoid taking an entrance exam. That hits GMAC harder than Educational Testing Service, which runs the GRE, because GRE scores can be used to apply to other graduate programs.


The latest changes to the GMAT were clearly designed to respond to perceived shortcomings in comparison with the GRE. The at-home GRE allows test-takers to access their unofficial score at the end of the test, and also allows them to cancel their score at that time if they prefer. The at-home GMAT did not previously allow for a preview.

But the main difference between the two at-home tests had been duration. Omission of the Analytical Writing Assessment of the GMAT made the test much shorter — it could be completed in just two hours and 37 minutes versus the three hours and 45 minutes for the GRE at home. Now testing times will be similar for the two exams.

The GRE’s at-home test contains six sections with a 10-minute break following the third section and one-minute breaks between the remaining sections. Test-takers are required to remain in their seats for the one-minute breaks but are allowed to leave their seats during the 10-minute break; unscheduled breaks are not allowed. The GMAT at home will take 30 minutes for one question in the AWA, 30 minutes for 12 questions in the Integrated Reasoning section, 62 minutes for 31 Quant questions, and 65 minutes for 36 Verbal questions. And, according to GMAC, will allow for “more and longer breaks.”

GMAC’s Joy Jones says B-schools urged the addition of the writing test to the at-home GMAT. “There was an interest from schools to include the AWA online, and we worked to make this happen to support application cycle seasonality,” she says. “We’ll continue to make investments that support our schools and test-takers with enhanced and comparable online and test center exam experiences.” The AWA is “an integral part of the GMAT exam,” GMAC says in its announcement, “providing business schools with important insight and candidates with the opportunity to demonstrate critical thinking and the ability to communicate ideas.”

In one key way, the GMAT has always been superior to the GRE: GMAT test-takers get their official score report by email within seven days, while official GRE scores take 10 to 15 days to get online from ETS.

Regardless of how the latest changes are received, the evolution of the GMAT will continue, Jones says.

“The GMAT exam is a powerful tool for both business school candidates and admissions professionals to help make ‘right fit’ decisions for MBA and business master’s programs, which are seeing record numbers of applications,” she says. “We believe that test-takers globally should have the ability to choose how they test to achieve their best on exam day in pursuit of their goals. Our ongoing enhancements to the GMAT online exam help to ensure the options are consistent and that we continue to meet the evolving needs of candidates and business schools.”


Stacey Koprince, content and curriculum lead for test consultant Manhattan Prep, says test-takers should rejoice in the latest GMAT changes.

“These changes that make the GMAT Online a near apples-to-apples testing experience with the testing-center GMAT are not only great from a student perspective, but also a matter of fairness,” Koprince says. “Now no test-taker thinks another test-taker has an advantage in the admissions process based upon which version of the exam they take. Overall, this is a win for test-takers. Now everyone will have the ability to preview unofficial test scores right away, have the same amount of time for breaks, and be able to select the order in which they take each section of the exam. But as with any transaction in the business world, there is also a tradeoff. The changes also mean GMAT Online test-takers will have to take the Analytical Writing Assessment, which adds 30 minutes to their testing experience.

“The changes to the GMAT Online are also a boon to business school admissions officers who will now get to see AWA samples from all applicants. This is the only surefire way for the schools to really know how an applicant writes. There’s no chance that applicants had it edited or reviewed, for example, as they can do for their admissions essays.

“The one major difference between the two exam experiences has to do with the scratch paper. If you take the exam in the center, you are provided with five sheets of laminated scratch paper. With the GMAT Online, you’ll have access to an online whiteboard, as well as the option to use your own dry erase board. For some students, this may be a differentiator, but not for most.

“Now that the GMAT Online is a permanent option and the two testing experiences will be so similar starting April 8, it’s really just about personal preference. Many test-takers don’t live very close to a test center. Also, with the pandemic ongoing, if you register to take the exam at a center two months from now, there’s no guarantee that the center will be open on test day. So much of what we do now, including test taking, is dependent on the status of the pandemic in your area. Having the same test experience available online is one less variable to worry about — it simplifies things.”


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