GMAT goes online- Taking the exam at-home during a pandemic

Standardized Tests such as GMAT are moving online to accommodate for test takers to meet business school timelines amidst a Pandemic.

COVID-19 Impact

We all probably remember our GMAT exam day. Weeks of preparation for some, while months for others. Covid-19 pandemic has had a strong impact on all students, as most classes globally moved online. Similarly, graduate school admissions application processes have been adversely impacted. Schools have relaxed deadlines, moved interviews online or even waived testing requirements. A key element of MBA graduate school admissions are standardized test, which for Business Schools is mainly the GMAT exam administrated by GMAC, Graduate Management Admissions Council.

Round 3 deadlines for many MBA schools are around end March and April, and some schools have rolling admissions accepting applications as late as June for the fall intake. While schools like INSEAD and Columbia even have a January intake. Some applicants applying for these rounds take their GMAT exam between March and July. Starting first week of March, nations trying to control the COVID-19 outbreak, started mandating lock-downs and stay at home orders, which not only forced the student to stay at home but meant all standardized exams held at invigilated test centers were cancelled or postponed. This was true for national board exam, higher education exams, university exams and professional certification exams among others.

Test-Maker Response

Many of the global standardized test makers including GMAT and GRE responded by launching online versions of the standardized test. The GMAT exam that was started 67 years ago in 1953, has since evolved from a paper based exam to a computer adaptive test, this move temporary for now seems like another major shift in the exam.

The online GMAT test could be taken from April 20th till June 15th. I believe the success of this model may allow GMAC to make some if not all test at-home in the future because of the potential cost saving opportunity by eliminating large fees for centers to host test-takers. GMAC take-home exams is leveraging the online proctoring solution, Pearson VUE proctoring to administer the GMAT exam. One has to download a software available on both a MAC and Windows PC, requiring a minimum of 1 Mbps speed. Test-takers check-in by taking a head shot picture and a picture of their government issued Identity card or Passport. Next they take pictures of their surrounding which leads them into the exam. Test-takers are monitored throughout the exam using webcam and microphone. Proctors are also available throughout for live chat.

Below is a list of benefits and drawbacks of the take-home GMAT exam including differences with the traditional GMAT exams.

Benefits:

  • Candidates can meet timelines for admission applications this year
  • Candidates can give tests amidst a pandemic in the comfort of their homes
  • Lower costs of taking the exam – $200 versus 250$ of the traditional exam
  • Accepted by top Business Schools
  • Unlike traditional exam the exam could be taken 24/7 and 7 days of the week, hence a test-taker does not need to wait for spots to become available at the closest center

Some of the major drawbacks:

  • Potentially unreliable internet connections and power breakdowns in emerging markets
  • Test takers cannot use scratch paper and instead have to rely on a virtual white board in the app that could slow down test takers – mainly the ability to solve math problems quickly
  • Academic integrity violations and the ability to cheat
  • No score cancellations and scores are not immediately available, one needs to wait for over a week to get them in an email
  • I don’t believe the exam set-up is truly like for like with those taken as the center since the conditions are very different
  • The exam only has a single break versus two breaks in the traditional exam, the break duration is reduced from 16 minutes to just 5 minutes
  • Unlike the traditional exam individuals can not pick the order of the sections
  • Critics are arguing proctors are not appropriately trained are making mistakes such as exam cancellations or false accusations of cheating

A comparison with the rival GRE exam

Critics have argued that the GRE online is much closer to the traditional format. Below Poets and Quants have done a side by side comparison of the two online exams:

Assessment

The biggest backlash for the exam has been the inability to use scratch paper, and one can argue that solving math problems and drawing diagrams on a ‘Paint like’ online white board is restrictive and more time consuming. Although the exam has several major drawbacks, I believe this is an opportunity for GMAC to continuously invest in their At-home proposition, which could continuously be bettered using AI and as a larger set of tests are conducted in the online environment to have a more fair like-for like comparison for the test takers. By making the test  friction less in the comfort of a test taker’ home might result in more tests being taken per individual, and ultimately a better overall experience in the long-run. A key stakeholders would the admission committees of major business schools. Admissions committees might be hesitant hearing of incidents of cheating and integrity of the exam being compromised, but if GMAC is able to demonstrate security and proper invigilation, the Adcoms could  continue to accept take-home exams, which could lead to major operating model shift for the GMAT exam.

 

Sources:

Mba.com. 2020. [online] Available at: <https://www.mba.com/exams/gmat-online> [Accessed 2 May 2020].

Symonds, M., 2020. What MBA Candidates Need To Know About The Online GMAT. [online] Forbes. Available at: <https://www.forbes.com/sites/mattsymonds/2020/04/24/what-mba-candidates-need-to-know-about-the-online-gmat/#19ff6c8537c5> [Accessed 2 May 2020].

Poets&Quants. 2020. Poets&Quants | The GRE & GMAT At-Home Tests: A Side-By-Side Comparison. [online] Available at: <https://poetsandquants.com/2020/04/18/what-to-expect-from-the-gre-gmat-at-home-tests-a-side-by-side-comparison/?pq-category=gre-gmat> [Accessed 2 May 2020].

Poets&Quants. 2020. Poets&Quants | Amid Controversy, GMAC Rolls Out A Practice Whiteboard For Its At-Home GMAT. [online] Available at: <https://poetsandquants.com/2020/04/23/amid-controversy-gmac-rolls-out-a-practice-whiteboard-for-its-at-home-gmat/?pq-category=gre-gmat> [Accessed 2 May 2020].

Poets&Quants. 2020. Poets&Quants | Tales From The GMAT Crypt: Test-Takers Cry Foul Over Tech Glitches, Bugs & Poorly Trained Proctors. [online] Available at: <https://poetsandquants.com/2020/05/01/tales-from-the-gmat-crypt-test-takers-cry-foul-over-tech-glitches-poorly-trained-proctors/?pq-category=gre-gmat/> [Accessed 2 May 2020].

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10 thoughts on “GMAT goes online- Taking the exam at-home during a pandemic

  1. Super interesting article! I think this shift to online exams by a major standardized test provider will generate huge growth opportunities. I remember that there was only 1 GMAT center in central Tokyo (and only 10 seats or so), so many MBA applicants had to spend hundreds of dollars to take the bullet train to other cities in the country, or even fly to South Korea! Online testing will allow GMAC and others to reach a much wider audience without being limited by physical testing capacity. I think the biggest challenge will be ensuring that the online invigilation process is effective. In addition to privacy concerns, making sure that the technology is free of biases (assuming they are using some sort of facial recognition technology) will be critical. I would be curious to see what the current batch of online testers experience, and how many ‘false positives’ (accused of cheating but actually hadn’t) or ‘false negatives’ (though they won’t have a way of figuring out..?) there may be.

  2. Interesting article! I agree this is a great way to reinvest their models in the times of coronavirus. Coming from an emerging market, where my internet connection is not always the best, I wonder if this is a disadvantage for students hailing from these areas. I also wonder if having to take notes online will disadvantage students that have to take the test at home vs. those that could do it at the centre and with actual paper. I believe there are too many challenges and don’t see this being permanent after the end of the pandemic.

  3. Personally, I welcome this change. I believe it helps to democratize and make the admissions process available to everyone. For many of us, test centers aren’t even located in the same country. Having the time and the money to fly and stay abroad can simply be barriers too tall to overcome. I hope this change enables more students from rural areas and challenging backgrounds to apply to graduate programs.

  4. Thanks for sharing! I’m curious about if coronavirus will prompt the various testing companies to come together for a unified solution. Right now–that doesn’t seem to be the case. GMAT, GRE, and LSAT have all created online alternatives (though as you mentioned, not uniform in how it’s executed) for their tests but the MCAT and USMLE have not. In fact the USMLE is resuming some in person testing as of yesterday! Tests for high school students (SAT and ACT) have been canceled and the testing agencies have claimed that depending on how things progress they will create a digital version for this fall. As the first round of students take standardized tests, I hope that these testing agencies share lessons and best practices with each other!

  5. The barrier to entry in this market just dropped dramatically! I’m curious to see how this plays out. If GMAC isn’t willing to invest to make online standardize tests possible for the long term, I think it’s very possible to see new entrants who are willing to make the investments needed to solve some of the challenges you outline.

  6. Thank you for this very interesting article. I imagine how stressful it must be for applicants having to deal with this hassle…

    I honestly believe that even though this online GMAT is not as good as the offline one, it is definitely good enough for 95% of cases (schools and people). With that in mind, I would even argue that the crisis might have a silver lining for GMAT, as it will force the company to disrupt itself (which they would hardly do without a catalyzer) before others can.

  7. This has been a well-debated topic around me since we heard of friends giving GMAT/GRE online. It would be interesting to understand the reasons for the format change when vigilance is provided either way. Especially with the AWA section being removed, which in my opinion is the least easy to cheat on. It seems like a rushed attempt to get things going in a crisis, and not well thought out. As soon as you mentioned vigilance, I screamed “Bias” in my head! Be it algorithms or people, there is a very high chance of some communities being systematically questioned more than others. I’ve used Respondus recently (not the same thing, but I assume it would be similar), and I myself was wondering how can they possibly ensure ethical behavior?! It is a good attempt, especially for people who need to give the exam and don’t have a convenient option, but the technology needs to become 10x for this to feel as safe as the exam center. It could be used for training materials or continuous evaluations/low stakes exams though. GMAT defines the future for most of us, and seems too risky to be taken online.

  8. Thank you for the interesting read! This seems like a step in the right direction long term for standardized testing. With so many digital resources available to replicate the in-person experience of taking a test (which, if I recall correctly, was simply the experience of sitting in the same room as a proctor overseeing multiple people), having to schedule and travel to the GMAC testing centers seems unnecessary. This could potentially also improve access for those who don’t have the means to travel to GMAC locations, or can’t take time off work to take the exam. With remote monitoring via webcam or screen sharing, I don’t see the other aspects of the online exam can’t be refined with time to replace in-person testing.

  9. Nice – wish I’d gotten to take my GMAT at home! I think it’s great that graduate admissions exams are moving in this direction – and think that undergrad exams such as the PSAT, SAT, and ACT are also well positioned to go digital. Where I’m less certain, though, is whether longer and higher stakes admissions exams (e.g. MCAT) or professional certification exams (e.g. the Bar Exam) can be done this way. A lot of law students are graduating this year with their futures uncertain because they can’t get the certification they need to practice law …. but is that enough of a reason to potentially open up the profession to the risk of certifying people who may have cheated? I personally don’t think so, but am excited to see what the legal, medical, financial, and accounting professions decide on if the crisis extends much longer.

  10. This is so interesting!! Thanks for sharing.

    I have such mixed thoughts. On one hand, I think it is hugely beneficial, especially for those who may not be able to take the test close to home, or even in their home countries. On the other hand, the potential cheating or even false accusations of cheating may make it not worth the benefits. Per Jennifer’s comment above, re: monitoring via screen sharing, strong proctors, and other methods, this concern can be addressed; however, I still wonder whether it is worth opening up to the risk.

    I didn’t know about this, so thanks very much for sharing in so much detail. Loved the post.

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