The Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC, makers of the GMAT) launched a new exam in 2016: the Executive Assessment, a “readiness assessment” for certain kinds of specialized business masters programs. Initially, the test targeted Executive MBA (EMBA) programs, but now it’s used for many regular MBA programs and specialized degrees (e.g., Master’s of Finance or Data Analytics). If you have the option to take the EA, that’s almost always the way to go—and we’ll talk about why in this post.
What is a readiness assessment?
The Executive Assessment (EA) contains all of the same problem types as the GMAT; in addition, the EA tests most of the same kind of content. However, it differs from the GMAT in a few important ways. In contrast with the GMAT, the EA was designed as a readiness assessment—that is, a way to assess your readiness to tackle grad-school-level work. This is very different than the GMAT (or the GRE); the EA is specifically not intended to function as a “the-higher-you-score-the-better” test. For this reason, it generally takes less time and effort to prepare for the EA.
You may have heard that most EMBA programs are saying they want to see a score of 150+ and most other programs that accept the EA are saying they want to see a 155+. (The official scoring scale is 100 to 200.) I’ve heard lots of people complain that they can’t find information such as average scores for each school, but schools generally aren’t publishing the same information that they do for the GMAT and GRE—on purpose. Nor does GMAC release percentiles associated with your scores.
The EA is not the usual standardized test that we’re all used to. You don’t have to earn a ridiculously high score in order to be a strong candidate at your desired schools. Rather, the EA is used as a sort of threshold indicator: If you score above a school’s threshold, they know you’re prepared for the academic rigor of the program. (Of course, in order to be admitted, the rest of your application also has to impress them.)
So: GMAC hasn’t been publishing the percentiles.* The schools aren’t publishing their average EA scores. EA scores aren’t included in school rankings. As a result, you don’t have to put your entire life on hold for months on end in order to hit some arbitrarily high standard. You will need to do some real study, of course, but it won’t be as onerous as what people typically do for the GMAT or GRE.
*A percentile is essentially a ranking measure: If you score in the 60th percentile, for example, on a test, then you scored better than 60% of the people who’ve taken that test in a certain timeframe. (That timeframe is 3 years in the case of the GMAT.) For the EA, I’ve seen GMAC release one official percentile ranking: A score of 150 is about the 50th percentile. (I’ve also heard people report seeing a certain percentile added to their school application once they enter their scores into that application. But you really don’t need to worry about percentiles. Ask your desired schools what scores they want to see and work towards those scores.)
So how does the EA work?
The EA is only 1.5 hours long—about half the time of the GMAT or GRE.
The exam contains three sections, and they are always given in this order:
Integrated Reasoning (12 problems, 30 minutes)
- Tests quant and verbal skills together
- Four problem types: Tables, Graphs, Multi-Source Reasoning, Two-Parts
Verbal (14 problems, 30 minutes)
- Tests grammar and meaning as well as logical reasoning and comprehension
- Three problem types: Sentence Correction, Critical Reasoning, Reading Comprehension
Quant (14 problems, 30 minutes)
- Tests math as well as your ability to reason, or think logically, about quant topics
- Two problem types: Problem Solving, Data Sufficiency
- Does not test most geometry topics (unlike the GMAT and GRE)
You can create a free account on the official site to see official sample questions of each type. (You can also create a free account on our site to get access to our free EA Starter Kit study syllabus.)
Each section of the exam is presented in two panels, with half of that section’s problems in each panel. For example, the first section, Integrated Reasoning (IR), consists of two panels of 6 problems each, for a total of 12 problems. Within any one panel, you can move around and address the problems in any order you like. (Do answer them all; there’s no penalty for incorrect answers.) The first panel of the IR section will include easier, medium, and harder problems.
After you submit your first IR panel, you’ll get the second IR panel of six problems. The mix of problems you see will depend upon how you did on the first panel. If you answered everything correctly, the problems in your second panel will be significantly harder. If you missed every problem, your second panel will be significantly easier. Most likely, you’ll fall somewhere in the middle of those two extremes.
After you finish the two IR panels, you’ll go straight into the Verbal section. This time, your panels will have seven problems each. In addition, the level of difficulty in your first Verbal panel will not be a mix of easier, medium, and harder. Instead, the mix of problems in your first panel will be determined by your performance in the IR section. In other words, you don’t start off with a “clean slate”—if you do well on IR, you’ll start higher on Verbal; if you don’t do well on IR, you’ll start lower on Verbal. Then, your second panel of seven Verbal problems will be based on how you did on the first Verbal panel.
Quant will work the same way as Verbal: Your first panel difficulty is determined by your IR performance, and your second panel is determined by your performance during the first Quant panel.
You’ll receive four scores for the exam. First, each of the three sections (IR, Verbal, Quant) has its own score on an official scale of 0 (low) to 20 (high). The highest practical score for each section appears to be 18. (If you answer every single problem correctly on any section of an official EA practice test, you’ll receive a score of 18 in that section. I’m not sure why, but maybe they’re giving themselves room to expand the scoring range in future.)
You’ll also receive a Total score, which is comprised of your three individual section scores. This score is calculated by adding up the three section scores and then adding 120 to that total. For example, if you score a 10 in each section, you’ll score 10 + 10 + 10 + 120 = 150 overall.
The official scale for the Total score is 100 to 200 but in practice, the scoring range appears to top out at 174 because 18 + 18 + 18 + 120 = 174.
As discussed earlier, you don’t have to try to max out your score—very much not like the GMAT and GRE. You just want to score at or above a school’s threshold. Many schools have set that threshold at a score of 150 (for EMBA programs) or 155 (for other programs) overall. But of course, check with your desired schools—not all schools are the same and one school could change its requirements over time.
An EA score of 150 to 155 appears to correlate roughly to a GMAT score in the upper 500s to lower-to-mid 600s. So this is why I said earlier that, if you have the option to take the EA, there’s a good chance that you’re going to want to go with this test. You don’t have to get the crazy-high GMAT or GRE scores that have become the norm.
There are some reasons why someone might prefer either the GMAT or the GRE, though—we’ve addressed these factors in another post.
What kinds of programs accept the EA?
The EA was originally intended for Executive MBA (EMBA) programs, but the exam has become very popular in the last few years and is now used for many other types of programs.
Most of the top EMBA programs in the world accept the EA, including Booth (UChicago), Columbia, Duke, Haas (Berkeley) INSEAD, Kellogg (Northwestern), London Business School, MIT, Stanford, Wharton, and Yale. In addition, many of these schools (and other schools!) also accept the EA for full-time and/or part-time MBA programs.
The EA is also a growing standard for such specialized degrees as:
- Master of Finance
- Master of Accounting
- Master of Data Analytics
- Healthcare MBA
You can see a full list of schools accepting the EA here; you can also check directly with the schools to which you plan to apply.
What else do I need to know about the EA?
All information in this section is as of February 2021.
As with the GMAT and GRE, your test scores are valid for 5 years from the date of the exam.
While the EA does cost more than the GMAT or GRE—it costs $350. But that extra cost includes a bunch of things that you may end up paying extra for on the other exams:
- Really flexible scheduling: If you need to reschedule, there are no fees (as of this writing) as long as you reschedule online more than 48 hours before your test date.
- Second, all of your score reports are already included in your fee. You don’t have to worry about extra fees later; report to any schools you want, whenever you like, for free.
- If you take the test more than once, you can choose which set of test scores to send to your schools. (In other words, you don’t have to send your scores for every exam.)
There is one minor drawback to the EA: There is a two-test lifetime limit for an EA given in a testing center and a two-test lifetime limit for EA exams taken online. (The GMAT has an 8-test lifetime limit across the two testing formats combined.)
It’s rare to take these types of exams four times, though—and that’s especially true for the EA, since it was built as a readiness assessment. You just need a good-enough score, not a GMAT-level score.
What official study materials are available?
GMAC has released four practice exams and two different question bundles. One bundle has a total of 300 problems (100 for each of the three sections of the exam). The other bundle has 50 Integrated Reasoning questions.
The practice tests look and feel just like the real thing and they’re the only practice exams available for the EA. Definitely get these.
While the EA is growing very fast, the market is still very small—in 2019, there were something like 5,000 EA practice tests taken worldwide, so the actual number of students studying for the exam is slightly less than that. As a result, test prep companies haven’t invested in making EA-specific materials yet*. You can study from materials made for the GMAT as long as you know the differences between the two exams.
*Well…actually, we (Manhattan Prep) did publish a new Integrated Reasoning & Essay guide—and while the front cover refers only to the GMAT, the guide was actually fully built out for both the GMAT and the EA. Every time we talk about any IR test strategies that differ between the two exams, the guide addresses the situation separately for both the GMAT and the EA. (The sections are clearly laid out so that you know which parts you can skip reading if you’re taking the other exam.)
How do I study for the EA?
I would definitely plan to buy at least two of the four official practice tests, as well as the 300-question bundle. (I would probably go for all four official practice tests, in fact.)
At the risk of showing my own bias: I do recommend using our Integrated Reasoning guide for the IR section, since that guide does fully incorporate EA-specific time management and other strategies that take into account how the IR section functions on the EA specifically. Make sure to get the edition that was published in 2019. (And you can then adapt those same timing strategies for the Quant and Verbal sections of the EA.) You can use GMAT materials to get ready for quant and verbal (that book set includes the IR guide I mentioned above). We do also have EA classes that are customized specifically for that exam…but I’ll stop trying to talk up Manhattan Prep now.
Roughly speaking, plan to spend about 4 to 12 weeks getting ready for the exam. First, take about 1-2 weeks to get familiar with the different question types in each section of the exam. Then, take a practice test to find your baseline strengths and weaknesses. (You won’t feel ready! Take the practice test anyway.) Make sure to take the test under full official testing conditions. Turn your phone off. Take it straight through in 90 minutes without stopping. Don’t look anything up.
Use that baseline score to figure out how much more study time you think you’ll need and how to spend that time. If you need to pick up about 5 points overall (1-2 points per section), you may only need about 4 to 6 weeks. If you need to pick up more like 10 or 15 points (3-5+ points per section), you will likely need to spend more time studying.
Your scores in the different sections of the exam will give you an idea of where to concentrate your studies. Many schools are saying that they’d also like to see double-digit scores (10+) in each section, so if one section is already at 12 but another is at 8, you know you need to prioritize the section that’s currently at 8.
Good luck and happy studying!
Stacey Koprince is a Manhattan Prep instructor based in Montreal, Canada and Los Angeles, California. Stacey has been teaching the GMAT, EA, GRE, and LSAT for more than 15 years and is one of the most well-known instructors in the industry. Stacey loves to teach and is absolutely fascinated by standardized tests.