Revamped GMAT Exam Will Be Nearly One Hour Shorter

Faced with major declines in standardized test taking, the Graduate Management Admission Council will shorten the GMAT exam by nearly an hour, eliminating its essay requirement and making all questions multiple choice. The updated test represents the single biggest change to the GMAT since the test was moved from paper to computer in June of 1997. 

The revamped test, called the GMAT Focus Edition, will contain only three 45-minute sections that can be taken in any order by a test taker. GMAC will also allow test takers to bookmark and change up to three answers per section, allowing students to optimize their test taking strategy. Another feature of the new test permits students to select programs after they receive their scores at both test centers and online. Each official score report will only contain one exam score, giving test takers the option of deciding if they want to share previous scores with schools.

Currently, the GMAT is composed of four sections and is three hours and seven minutes long, excluding optional eight-minute breaks. The new test will be three sections and take just two hours and 25 minutes, without breaks. GMAC is tossing out the 30-minute-long analytical writing assessment and keeping the sections on quantitative reasoning, verbal reasoning, and integrated reasoning.

Squeezing time out of the hardest part of the exam, the quantitative reasoning section, may make it somewhat easier for test takers. Currently, that section alone takes 62 minutes to complete and is composed of 31 questions. In promoting the new test, GMAC claims it will now take test takers less time to prep for the GMAT.


It’s not yet clear when GMAC will make the new test available, though it will likely be introduced before year end. A GMAC spokesperson told Poets&Quants that the new exam will be made available later this year. “We plan to provide more details later this month,” she said. The organization is asking test takers to register to get more information, including the start date for the new exam. GMAC says the current version of the exam will continue to be available until early next year.

“This is easily the biggest change to the GMAT since it moved from a paper and pencil format to a computer-adaptive format in 1997,” says Stacey Koprince, director of content and curriculum at Manhattan Prep. ‘While there is not yet a lot of information on the GMAT Focus Edition, from what we can see, these are very student-friendly changes. It’s hard to say that an exam that’s one hour shorter will frustrate test takers, particularly when GMAC has also indicated that there will be fewer topics to study. Not including break time, the new GMAT will be more than an hour shorter than the GRE. Test takers will be able to review problems after the fact and change a small number of answers. And there will be no essay. In our opinion, these changes sound great.”

Some admission consultants believe a quicker test could encourage more prospective students to apply to business school. “By offering a shorter and more applicant-friendly exam, GMAC may be able to help MBA programs increase the number of applicants — ones who were on the fence about committing time to GMAT study may decide to apply after all with this new exam format,” says David White, a founding partner of Menlo Coaching, which has a tutoring service to prep test takers.

“As GMAC says, this exam will “…hone in on the higher-order critical reasoning skills…”, which is in line with our GMAT tutoring philosophy.  We have always taught our students analytical reasoning skills rather than giving them endless math and English drills.”

The new exam may well stem continued losses in market share for the GMAT caused by the alternative test, the GRE, that more and more applicants are taking. As Koprince explains, “The exam makers have gone to great lengths over the past few years to emphasize that the GMAT is the best exam to measure prospective students’ success in business school, at a time when the GRE was cutting into their market share. This change makes the GMAT even more tailored to business schools than it was before. It might be hard for the GRE makers to make similar changes since it really has to be an admissions exam for a wider variety of graduate degree programs, including business, education, engineering, and veterinary medicine.”


GMAC says that test takers will also benefit from more detailed performance insights through an improved official score report but did not offer additional specifics on this change.

The changes are being made as GMAT test-taking volume has plunged to historic lows. The drops in test volume have caused major declines in GMAC revenues. Public filings show that program revenue in 2020 fell 33% to $60.4 million, down from $89.8 million in 2019. The non~profit’s overall revenue dropped to $72.7 million in 2020, the latest year publicly available, from $95.4 million.

In 2012, GMAC total revenue peaked at $125.1 million, more than $50 million over the 2020 number. In those two years, GMAC posted losses of $9.1 million. Further erosion was likely in 2021 and 2022, given reported decreases in test volumes.

The number of GMAT tests taken in the U.S. recently fell to a new low, falling to just 38,509 in testing year 2021. That number includes test takers who sat for the exam multiple times in a year when many business schools were experiencing a boom in applications for their MBA programs.

Last year’s GMAT test volume represents a 47.7% decline from the pre-pandemic testing year of 2018 when 73,556 exams were administered in the U.S. But even that drop-off fails to capture the full extent of the collapse. Just how dramatic the falloff has been can seen by comparing the latest number for the year ended July of 2021 with GMAT’s record high volumes in 2012. In that year, 117,511 tests were taken in the U.S., more than three times this past year’s total. Every year since 2012, volume in the U.S. has fallen with only one exception, 2016, when exams inched up by little more than 600 tests.

The worldwide picture is somewhat better but not anything that would be cause for celebration by the officials at the Graduate Management Admission Council, the maker of the GMAT. In testing year 2021, 156,453 tests were taken all over the world, down 10% from the 173,179 tests administered in the previous year. From the pre-pandemic year of 2018, tests worldwide have fallen by 35.5%. From the peak testing year of 2012, when a record 286,529 GMAT tests were taken, the decline is a whopping 45.4%.


For years, admission officials would look to GMAT test volume data to predict application flows. But through the pandemic, that correlation has been broken, in part due to the gains by rival test GRE from Educational Testing Service. At some prominent schools, students admitted on a GRE score now represent more than a third of the incoming class. That is true at Yale, Berkeley, Dartmouth, Michigan, Duke, and Notre Dame. At several other business schools, including Georgetown, Washington University, Ohio State, and Pittsburgh, the GRE has become the dominant test, taken by more than half of all recently enrolled students. This past year, Harvard Business School enrolled a new record percentage of GRE test takers, 29% of the Class of 2023, more than double the 12% only three years earlier. At Stanford, one in four of the MBA students admitted last fall got in with a GRE.

Truth is, more admissions officers than ever before do not have a preference for one exam over the other. In a 2020 survey of nearly 100 business school admissions officers by Kaplan, 86% of the business school officials said applicants have no admissions edge with the GMAT. Just 13% believe GMAT takers have an advantage, while 1% said that GRE takers are preferred. "A few years before that, the GMAT held a more significant edge," says Russell Schaffer, Kaplan's senior communications manager. "We didn't ask this particular question in 2021 simply because the testing landscape has changed so much with so many MBA programs suspending the GMAT/GRE/EA requirement altogether."

While GMAT test volume was once a leading indicator of forthcoming MBA application volume, that is also no longer true because so many business schools, as Schaffer notes, have gone test-optional or now accept a wider variety of standardized tests including those for law and medical schools. Still, more admission officers are willing to grant test waivers to qualified candidates who through other parts of the application can prove that they deserve admission. The University of Virginia's Darden School of Business will even accept the Executive Assessment (EA), MCAT or the LSAT or none at all. The school believes that a standardized is just one piece of information in a much broader, holistic evaluation.

No less crucial, the explosion in online degree programs in business has not helped. The vast majority of these programs do not require a GMAT or GRE for admission, and some of them make clear that they believe the test reflects racial disparity and perpetuates inequity. So the GMAT and the GRE are not fully sharing in the growth of what is the fastest growing sector of graduate management education.


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