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The online GMAT/GRE/EA: what to expect and how to succeed

By Brittany Voris

Updated July 22, 2020 - While some test centers are beginning to re-open worldwide, many prospective MBA students are still choosing to take their admissions exams online due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Here at Berkeley Haas, our full-time MBA program will accept the online GMAT or GRE. The evening & weekend MBA program will accept the online GMAT or GRE—or the online Executive Assessment as long as you have 8 or more years of work experience. The Executive MBA program will accept any of the three.

GRE at-home test-takers have been able to take the exam since March 27, and GMAT online test-takers have been able to take the exam since April 20. The Executive Assessment has been available online since May 5. The TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) is also offered online.

Many prospective MBAs have expressed concerns about taking the exams online. There are certainly pros and cons to the situation. While some may be more comfortable taking the exams in an environment that feels familiar to them, others are nervous about all the changes that come with taking the tests online.

Now that test centers are beginning to re-open, it's important that prospective MBAs consider which option is best suited for them: taking the test online or finding an open test center. To find the test center availability near you, visit the following sites:

All test centers are enforcing enhanced health and safety measures.

Keep in mind that it’s a curved test. You’re still competing against other people who are dealing with these same disadvantages."

Keep reading for a more in-depth side-by-side comparison of the three at-home exams, as well as some tips to help you prepare should you choose to take the exam(s) online.

The most notable differences between the online GRE, GMAT, and Executive Assessment

  1. A nice perk of the online GMAT is its shorter length. The test is over an hour shorter than the at-home GRE because the analytical writing section has been dropped. The Graduate Management Admission Council chose to cut it to get the test to market faster.

    The online Executive Assessment—while more costly—is the shortest of the three at 90 minutes.

  2. The most common complaint about the online GMAT was that testers were not allowed to use a physical whiteboard (which was allowed for the GRE). Instead, they had to use a virtual whiteboard with a mouse (trackpads and styluses are forbidden)—which was worrisome since mouse drawing is slower and more difficult than using pen and paper.

    However, GMAC has since adapted the test after receiving much backlash. Now, appointments beginning June 11, 2020 will include the opportunity to choose to use a physical whiteboard, online whiteboard, or both for scratch work and note taking. As you prepare for your exam, determine which option or combination works best for you and your test taking strategy.

    The same adjustments have been made for the Executive Assessment: now the use of both a physical and virtual whiteboard will be permitted.

  3. One bonus of the GRE is that students who take it get an immediate score preview at the end of the test—with the exception of the analytical writing component. This allows test-takers to cancel their scores immediately after taking the test if they wish.

    Both the at-home GMAT and Executive Assessment exams do not allow testers to preview or cancel their scores. However, with the Executive Assessment, test-takers can wait until after receiving their scores to send results to schools, which allows them to opt out if they scored lower than anticipated.

Tips to prepare for the at-home GRE, GMAT, or Executive Assessment

Change the way you practice for the exams

If you find it harder to focus when you’re at home, try to trick yourself into feeling like you’re not at home. Make your space feel more foreign, more sterile, like a workplace. Experiment before the test, and try different things out to see what works.

One major difference of the online GMAT is that it doesn’t allow you to select your section order. It’s fixed: quant then verbal then integrative reasoning with no analytical writing section. Make sure you’re practicing in that order.

If you plan to take the online GMAT or EA, practice using a combination of the virtual whiteboard and a physical dry erase whiteboard. Use this tool to practice using an online whiteboard.

Professional test-taker Stacey Koprince, content and curriculum lead at Manhattan Prep, provided insight into how to successfully use the GMAT's online whiteboard tool after trying the at-home test herself. “My whiteboard practice ahead of time actually worked,” Koprince says. She estimates spending up to seven hours with a similar tool recreated by Manhattan Prep in advance of the test and has urged everyone who takes the at-home GMAT or EA to practice with the tool, now made available by GMAT along with a tutorial, for a minimum of one week.

“It would have been a disaster if I hadn’t practiced with the whiteboard before the test,” she concludes. “My score would have been 100 points or more lower than my typical score. If you don’t have the practice, [the virtual whiteboard] would be a huge time suck.”

And yet, Koprince also could see how the virtual whiteboard could actually be turned into an advantage of sorts. “When GMAC moved from the paper test to the computer adaptive exam, people screamed bloody murder because you now had your scratch work on the table and had to look back at the screen to solve the problem. We just reversed that with the whiteboard. It changes what you choose to write down. When you were in a test center, I found myself having to write more than I needed to. So that was an advantage I wasn’t expecting. It’s not all bad.”

Think about the quant section differently

“Don’t forget: when it comes to math, for data sufficiency questions you should almost never need to write things out. You just need to know that you can solve it. You don’t need to know what the solution is,” says Noodle Pros Founding Tutor Dan Edmonds. “Even writing equations is often a waste of time. You just need to know that you could have an equation and how many variables it would have. You don’t generally need to know what the actual equation is.”

“And a lot of problem-solving questions, you can arrive at the right answer using techniques like estimation without actually doing all of the crunching math. So one thing you might want to lean into a little harder while preparing to take [the GMAT or EA] test at home is some of those alternate ways of thinking about problems that will get you to the right answer without doing quite as much physical math.”

“I hope that they will limit the number of questions that require a lot of crunching math. [If they don’t,] keep in mind that it’s a curved test. You’re still competing against other people who are dealing with these same disadvantages,” he adds.

Side-by-side comparison of the online GRE, GMAT, and Executive Assessment

  GRE At Home GMAT Online EA Online
First test date March 27 April 20 May 5
Online test available through September 30 December 31 October 31
Cost $205 $200 $350
Scheduling Appointment times around the clock on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays, Mondays Appointment times available 24/7 Appointment times available 24/7
Cancellation fee $102.50 (up to four days before test date) $100 (up to 24 hours before appointment) $100 (up to 24 hours before appointment)
Reschedule fee No fee (any time before appointment) No fee (any time before appointment) No fee (any time before appointment)
Time of test 3 hours, 45 minutes 2 hours, 45 minutes 1 hour, 30 minutes
Downtime Optional 10-minute break away from computer after third section;
1-minute breaks between sections in front of webcam
Optional 5-minute break before final section None
Note-taking Notes on a whiteboard with an erasable marker or on paper with a transparent sheet protector and erasable marker A combination of notes on a whiteboard with an erasable marker and/or on a virtual whiteboard A combination of notes on a whiteboard with an erasable marker and/or on a virtual whiteboard
Quant reasoning 40 questions
over 70 minutes
31 questions
over 62 minutes
14 questions
over 30 minutes
Verbal reasoning 40 questions
over 60 minutes
30 questions
over 65 minutes
14 questions
over 30 minutes
Integrated reasoning None 12 questions
over 30 minutes
12 questions
over 30 minutes
Analytical writing Two tasks
over 60 minutes
None None
Score preview
after test
Yes (with exception of analytical writing) No No
Cancel score
after test
Yes No No
Official scores Online availability
within 10-15 days
Sent by email
within 7 days
Online availability
within 7 days
Score reports Four as part of test fee Unlimited for free Unlimited for free
Retake policy Must wait at least 21 days; can take as many as five times
within 12 months
Retakes allowed between June 11 & July 17 to allow for use of a physical whiteboard Retakes allowed between June 11 & July 17 to allow for use of a physical whiteboard
Test availability Iran & mainland China excluded Mainland China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Sudan and Slovenia excluded Mainland China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Sudan and Slovenia excluded
Computer system Windows 10, 8, or 7, or Mac with
Windows installed
Windows 10, 8, or 7, or Mac with
Windows installed
Windows 10, 8, or 7, or Mac with
Windows installed
Browsers Chrome or Firefox Microsoft Edge, Safari, Chrome, Firefox,
Internet Explorer 11
Microsoft Edge, Safari, Chrome, Firefox,
Internet Explorer 11
Human proctor Yes Yes Yes
Accommodations for disabilities Yes Yes Yes
Refreshments None Water in clear glass Water in clear glass

 

Some prospective MBAs are concerned that they can’t cancel their online GMAT and EA scores. "Score cancellations have always been more for the comfort of the test-taker than for the schools,” says Edmonds. “Business schools are very pragmatic about your [test] scores. They just care about your highest score. They don’t care about the day that you screwed up. And they certainly don’t care about the day that you got a lower score on an online test—that has never been given before—during a global pandemic."

The only cost to it is the [money spent], but there’s no real opportunity cost here. I would strongly encourage people to at least explore the possibility of it.”

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Topics: Admissions Tips  |   Consider  |   COVID-19
Brittany Voris
Brittany is the Content Marketing Manager for UC Berkeley's Haas School of Business. She hopes these blog posts provide you with useful insights into the Berkeley MBA experience.