The Shorter GMAT – What Does it Mean for Test Takers?

Article by Simon Lewis, Director, UES

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The GMAC has long been a trailblazer in terms of its integration of technology with testing, so when it changes the format of its flagship test, the GMAT, it’s usually a sign of things to come in the world of standardised tests. 

In this article we’ll look at what has changed, the reasons for the change, and the impact that this may have on students preparing for the test and the field of standardised tests.

What’s happened?

Beginning April 2018, the GMAT has shortened the format from four hours to three and a half hours. The time savings have mostly come in the Quantitative and Verbal Reasoning sections, and it has also streamlined the tutorial screens before the test starts. Before the change, the Quant and Verbal sections were both 75 minutes long; in the new format, the Quant section has been reduced by 13 minutes to 62 minutes and the Verbal by 10 minutes to 65 minutes. A table summarising the changes can be found below:

Section

Prior Format –

No. of Questions

Prior Format –

Timing

New Format – No. of Questions

New Format - Timing

Analytical Writing Assessment

1

30 minutes

1

30 minutes

Integrated Reasoning

12

30 minutes

12

30 minutes

Quantitative Reasoning

37

75 minutes

31

62 minutes

Verbal Reasoning

41

75 minutes

36

65 minutes

Total timings (excluding breaks

 

3 hours 30 minutes

 

3 hours 7 minutes

Total timings (with breaks and tutorial)

 

4 hours

 

3 hour 30 minutes

Why Has the Format Changed?

The GMAC has a high level of confidence in its technology, and it found a way of streamlining the process for test takers without affecting confidence in the assessment or scoring. The GMAT is a computer-adaptive test, meaning that the difficulty of the next question you receive is predicated on whether you got the previous question correct. It uses a sophisticated algorithm to generate the difficulty of the questions – if you do well, the test will generate more difficult questions; if you do badly, the next question will be easier, and so on. The GMAC has calculated that it can measure a test taker’s aptitude over a fewer number of GMAT questions – 31 in the case of the Quant, and 36 in the case of the Verbal.

In part, GMAC is doing this to distinguish the test from its closest competitor, the GRE, which is still four hours long including breaks. Even a short time saving of 30 minutes might make it a more attractive option for busy professionals preparing to sit their MBA exams and juggling career and family demands. The GMAC has had success with the Executive Assessment, a shorter format test that is just 90 minutes long: it is accepted in lieu of the GMAT or GRE at most of the top business schools such as Wharton, Booth, INSEAD, and London Business School (although notably not Harvard Business School). The EA is deliberately marketed at professionals who have a lot of demands on their time and find it hard to set aside the 3-4 months of preparation time generally recommended for the GMAT. Given the success of the EA, it makes sense to shorten the format of the GMAT too.

What Will Be the Impact on Test Takers?

In terms of preparation, test takers should approach the GMAT in exactly the same way as before: doing little and often, over a period of several months, integrating the grammatical and mathematical knowledge required by the test with practice in the different sections and questions types. You may also want to enlist the help of a professional tutor, particularly if you haven’t used your Verbal or Quant skills in a while and need to brush up on some of your foundational knowledge.

In terms of the experience on the day, this should be a more user-friendly experience for test takers. As mentioned above, the initial tutorials in how to take the test have been abbreviated, and the reduction in the section timings and number of questions should have a positive impact on your energy levels during the test. However, it’s now even more important to maintain laser focus throughout the test and manage your time effectively. We recommend that test takers sit several mock tests before going into the real exam to replicate the test taking experience as closely as possible and hone your test management skills.

If the reduced format proves successful, there may be a wider impact in terms of standardised testing in the coming years. As we have seen with the SAT and ACT, when two rival tests dominate the field they tend to look for a competitive edge over each other. This led to the SAT’s redesign in 2016, and the ACT’s switch to Computer-Based Testing beginning in September 2018. So if all goes well, we wouldn’t be surprised if the GRE streamlines it format – and in due course, perhaps even the SAT and ACT too. We recommend you watch this space!