GMAC (the organization that makes the GMAT) launched the Executive Assessment (EA) in 2016 as 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). For those who have the choice, the EA is the best option in almost all cases—and we’ll talk about why.
What is a readiness assessment?
The Executive Assessment (EA) has all of the same question types as the GMAT; in addition, the EA tests most of the same kind of content. However, it is different than the GMAT in several important ways. Unlike the GMAT, the EA was built to function as a readiness assessment, which is an assessment of whether you’re ready to tackle the level of work you’ll need to tackle when you get to grad school. The EA is specifically not meant to function as a “the-higher-you-score-the-better” test, which is what the GMAT and the GRE seem to have evolved into (and this is why it’s such a pain to study for those exams).
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.) People have complained to me that they can’t find more precise information, such as average scores for each school or percentiles for specific scores, but such averages and percentiles haven’t been released—on purpose.
The EA is very deliberately not the typical type of standardized test that we’re all used to. You don’t have to get a crazy high score in order to be competitive at the top schools. Instead, the EA is used as more of a threshold indicator: Anyone who scores above that school’s threshold is fine. (At least, as far as the test is concerned. Obviously, the rest of your application has to be solid!)
Since GMAC doesn’t publish percentiles* and the schools don’t publish average EA scores, nor are EA scores used in school rankings, nobody has to worry that there’s some crazy-high scoring level that you need to hit (and you don’t need to put your entire life on hold for six months to study). You really do just need to get a score—any score—above your desired program’s threshold and you’re done.
*A percentile is essentially a ranking measure: If you score in the 50th percentile on the GMAT, for example, then you scored better than 50% of the people who’ve taken the GMAT in the past 3 years. For the EA, GMAC has released one official percentile ranking: A score of 150 is about the 50th percentile.
So how does the EA work?
The exam takes 1.5 hours, which is about half the time of either the GMAT or the GRE.
There are three sections on the exam, always given in the following 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 given to you in two panels. For example, the Integrated Reasoning (IR) section has two panels of six problems each. Your first set of six problems will be of mixed difficulty. Within that panel of six, you can jump around and answer the questions in any order you want. (Do answer them all; there’s no penalty for incorrect answers.)
After you submit your first panel, you’ll get a second panel; the difficulty level will depend upon your performance on the first panel. If you get everything right, your second panel will be quite a bit harder. If you miss every question, your second panel will be quite a bit easier. Most likely, you’ll be somewhere in between those two extremes.
After you do the two IR panels, you’ll start the Verbal section. The level of difficulty in your first Verbal panel (seven problems) will be determined by your performance in the IR section, and your second panel of seven Verbal problems will be determined by your performance on the first Verbal panel.
Quant will work the same way as Verbal (your starting point is determined by IR, and your second panel is determined by your performance on the first Quant panel).
When you’re done, you’ll receive four scores. First, you’ll receive one score for each of the three sections on an official scale of 0 (low) to 20 (high). The highest practical score for each section appears to be 18. (If you get every single question correct on one of the official EA practice tests, you’ll score 18 in each section. Why? I’m not sure, but maybe they’re giving themselves room to expand the scoring range in future, if needed.)
Those three individual section scores are then combined to get your Total score on the official 100 to 200 scale. This 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.
Interestingly, if you get a 0 in each section, your score will be 0 + 0 + 0 + 120 = 120. If you get an 18 in each section, your score will be 18 + 18 + 18 + 120 = 174. So the practical total score range appears to be 120 to 174, not the official range of 100 to 200.
As mentioned earlier (and very much unlike the GMAT and GRE), you don’t have to try to max out your score. You just need to beat that school’s threshold—and, as I mentioned, most schools have set that threshold at a score of 150 or 155 overall. (Caveat: As always, check with any particular schools. They could change their standards!)
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 this test is best one to choose. You don’t have to get the crazy-high GMAT or GRE scores that have become the norm.
There are a few other factors to consider when deciding which exam to take—we’ve addressed these in another post.
What kinds of programs accept the EA?
The EA was officially launched for Executive MBA (EMBA) programs, but there has been a huge uptake in the last few years and the test is now used for many other types of programs as well.
Most of the top EMBA programs in the world take 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 November 2020.
As with the GMAT and GRE, your test scores are valid for 5 years from the date of the exam.
While the EA is considerably shorter than either the GMAT or the GRE, it does cost more—$350. But you actually get a bunch of perks for that money:
- Very flexible rescheduling: You don’t have to pay any fees to reschedule, as long as you do so online more than 48 hours (as of this writing) before your test date.
- Second, all score reports to schools are included in the test fee. You pay more upfront but then you don’t have to worry about paying anything later; you can report to as many schools as you want, whenever you want, for free.
- If you take the test more than once, you can choose to share only one set of scores to your schools. (In other words, you don’t have to send your entire scoring record.)
There is one small drawback to the EA compared with other exams: 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.)
According to GMAC, something like 90% of test-takers take the EA just once, so this is not a concern for the vast majority of test-takers. (And this makes sense, since the EA was built as a readiness assessment. You don’t have to worry about trying to hit a crazy-high scoring level; you just need a good-enough 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.