I Took The GMAT Online. Here’s What Happened.

gmat-online-at-home-review-exam

Considering taking the GMAT online? My colleague Eric Garthoffner and I did just that on the very first day it was available. We have a lot to tell you!

Table of Contents

  • All the basics about the GMAT Online
  • How is the GMAT Online different from the testing center GMAT?
  • What’s it like to take the GMAT Online?

All the basics about the GMAT Online

All answers are accurate as of the launch of the Enhanced GMAT Online in May, 2021.

Q: How long will the GMAT Online be available?

A: They’ve made it a permanent option. You can take it in a testing center or online or both—your choice!

Q: When can I take the GMAT Online?

A: Whenever you like. It’s available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Q: How many times can I take the GMAT Online?

A: You can take the GMAT up to 5 times total in any rolling 12-month period, regardless of format (test center or online) and up to 8 times lifetime, again regardless of format. For example, if over a period of 6 months, you take it 3 times online and 2 times in a testing center, you will have to wait another 6 months before you can take the test again. You also have to wait 16 days between exams of the same format. For example, if you take it today online, you’ll need to wait 16 days before you can take it again online.

Q: How much does it cost to take the GMAT Online vs in a testing center?

A: It costs US $250 to take the GMAT Online and approximately US $275 to take the GMAT in a testing center. (Note: Prices for in-person testing can vary by country.)

Q: Does the GMAT Online allow accommodations?

A: Yes, if you are approved for extended time, you can take the GMAT either online or at a testing center, your choice. (There are some kinds of accommodations that can only be provided in a testing center, such as a human reader to accommodate certain visual impairments.)

Q: Can I take the GMAT Online on a Mac?

A: Yes! You can take the test on a Mac or PC. You can’t take it on an iPad or other tablet. Here’s a full list of the system requirements. (Questions about scratch paper or that online whiteboard thing? See the next section of this post.)

Want to try some GMAT problems? Sign up for a free GMAT Starter Kit to learn about the scoring and problem types, gain access to two free ebooks, and—when you’re ready—take a free practice test.

How is the GMAT Online different from the testing center GMAT?

It’s not very different, actually! As of May 2021, the two formats are almost identical. For example, you will:

  • See the same four sections (Quant, Verbal, Integrated Reasoning, Essay) with the same number of questions and the same time limit
  • Be able to choose from among one of three test-order options:
    • Essay—IR—Quant—Verbal
    • Verbal—Quant—IR—Essay
    • Quant—Verbal—IR—Essay
  • Get two 8-minute breaks during the exam
  • See your scores on screen immediately after the exam is over (for everything except the essay)

There are a few significant differences.

Q: How does the scratch paper work? How does the online whiteboard work for the GMAT Online?

A: There is a significant difference in scratch paper between the two exam formats. In the testing center, you’ll be provided with a booklet of five sheets of non-erasable, laminated paper (typically enough to complete one section of the exam, at which point you can ask for a new booklet). 

For the GMAT Online, by contrast, you can use a physical dry-erase whiteboard (that you need to purchase yourself) and you’ll have access to an online whiteboard during the exam. Here are more details on the requirements for the physical and online whiteboards. (Note: The whiteboard can be double-sided. We highly recommend buying one that is!)

And here’s how to make the most of both the physical and online whiteboards if you take the GMAT Online.

Q: Can I use a stylus, pen mouse, or touch screen for the GMAT Online?

A: You cannot. You’ll need to use a standard mouse or trackpad. (I know that’s annoying, but it’s a fairness thing—not everyone can afford a touchscreen laptop or a stylus and writing tablet.) 

Q: Can I use two monitors for the GMAT Online?

A: You cannot. This is also a question of fairness. Not everyone can afford their own dual monitors when taking the GMAT at home and the test makers are trying to keep conditions as similar as possible for everyone.

Q: Can I cancel my scores on the GMAT Online?

A: You can’t cancel your GMAT Online scores, even though you can cancel your scores when you take the test in a testing center. But they do give you a way to not share your GMAT Online scores with schools. You’ll have two GMAT “transcripts”: one for exams taken in a testing center and one for exams taken online. You can choose to send just one of the transcripts to schools or you can send both.

Q: How long does it take to get GMAT scores?

A: For everything but the essay, your scores will pop up on the screen immediately after you finish the last section of your test. (And this will happen for both the online and testing center formats.) Within a week, your official scores (including your essay score) will be in your mba.com account.

Q: How can I check GMAT scores online?

A: Log into your account on mba.com (which you have to create when you sign up for the exam); you’ll be able to navigate to your official scores. In fact, go sign up for your free account right now—they offer free practice materials and two free official practice tests.

Q: How long do GMAT scores last?

A: GMAT scores are good for 5 years from the date of your test—and this is true whether you take the test online or in a testing center. It’s a good idea to get your test studies out of the way before you start working on applications.

What’s it like to take the GMAT Online?

When Eric and I took the exam on the very first day it was ever given, we were allowed to use only the online whiteboard—but you, thankfully, will not be in that position. Now you can use both a physical whiteboard and the online one, so I’ve updated this post accordingly. Now that you get to use both, the question is really when to use which. (Yes, there are good reasons for using both!)

Before I knew my scores for my official GMAT Online, I wrote: 

I think there’s a decent chance that I still scored in the 99th percentile overall, but I might have missed it by a little. (To be fair, I always feel this way at the end of a test, before I see my scores.)

I scored a 740, so indeed I missed it by a little. I normally score 760 to 780; my most recent exam in a testing center was 770. BUT…my score drop actually had nothing to do with the online whiteboard. So what happened?

Just after I took the test, I wrote:

I think my Verbal score will be in my usual range. I’m not sure about my Quant score—I might have been fine, but it might have dropped a little.

In actuality, my Quant score went up by 1 point (from 48 to 49), compared to my last test-center experience. I was shocked when I first saw my Quant score for the GMAT Online! I’d been so nervous about Quant, but all of my effort to get ready for the online whiteboard actually worked. Phew.

Verbal was a different story. It dropped a lot: from 50 on my last test-center GMAT to 42. I don’t write down all that much on Verbal (plus I type faster than I write), so it wasn’t the whiteboard. And I finished the section maybe 20 minutes early. So what happened?

The score, coupled with the fact that I finished early and thought I was doing fine, indicates that I made a lot of careless mistakes without having any idea that I was doing so. And that fact strongly signals mental fatigue and stress. Part of that mental fatigue was likely due to the testing format, in particular having to do Quant first (I prefer Verbal first) and not getting a break between the two sections. (You won’t have that particular handicap either, as the GMAT Online now provides a break between Quant and Verbal.)

There were things I could have done to mitigate those factors, though, and if I’d done so, I think I would have scored a 45 or 46—maybe not a 50, but enough, with my Quant 49, to earn a 760 or 770 overall.

The big lesson for all of us: Prepare for everything and prepare under full official conditions. Leading up to the test, all of my attention was focused on Quant and the online whiteboard. Verbal has always been easy for me, so…well, I’ll admit it, I was cocky about Verbal.

When I took an mba.com practice test a few days before my GMAT Online, I did the quant section sitting at my desk (full official conditions). And then I got uncomfortable and decided to sit on my couch for the rest of the test. (I even remember thinking that I needed to grab a pillow for my wooden-backed desk chair…and then I just went and sat on the couch and forgot about it.)

Enormous mistake. About 15 minutes into the Verbal section on the real thing, I started feeling tightness and actual pain in my neck and shoulders from staring intently at the screen for so long without looking away. For the rest of the section, the pain distracted me. 

If I’d taken my practice test under 100% official conditions, though, I would have realized I needed a plan to deal with this. I would have had a pillow for my chair, for example, and on the Quant section, every time I checked the clock (every 4 questions / every 8 minutes), I could have looked up at the ceiling and stretched for a few seconds.

Next, I knew I’d be doing Verbal later than I usually do (and after Quant, which tires me out), plus I knew I wouldn’t get a break between sections. But I didn’t even think about how to recapture a little mental energy between the two. I was just stressed out about doing all of my Quant on that online whiteboard.

I actually finished the Quant section a couple of minutes early. I should have taken that as an in-seat mini-break, but instead I just kept going. (Sometimes, adrenaline is not your friend.) I also know that I usually finish Verbal early. I could have purposely created a “full” in-seat break for myself between the two sections by also taking the first few minutes of Verbal, giving me a solid four-to-five minute break between the two sections to roll my neck around, sit back a bit, look away from the screen, and just not think about anything. 

The big takeaway: Don’t make my preparation mistake. Get yourself fully ready for the entire test environment under full official conditions. Know how to make it the best experience for yourself that you can.

Right after I took the exam, I wrote:

I might have lost a point or two on Integrated Reasoning; I didn’t understand one problem and I think I messed up another. But neither of those had anything to do with taking the test from home or using an online whiteboard to do my work.

I scored an 8 (the highest score), so either I didn’t mess up those problems or they were experimental questions. Bottom-line: Integrated Reasoning (IR) on the GMAT Online was fine.

So…How was the GMAT Online?

I was super nervous when Quant started. But after I took some deep breaths, worked my way through a few problems, and finally calmed down, the GMAT Online was actually fine—for me. (Eric’s experience was frustrating, unfortunately. More on that in a bit.)

Afterwards, I kept thinking all the way back to 1997, when the GMAT first moved from paper to computer. This whole situation feels very similar to me. We all freaked out back then, too, because the whole point of a standardized test is that you know exactly what to expect…and we didn’t know what to expect. That makes an already stressful experience even more stressful.

But we just needed some time to get used to the new format, some brainstorming to figure out how best to take the exam given the new features and constraints, and some practice to make those strategies our new habits. I think the same is true now. In fact, I can imagine a world where we actually have the choice to take the exam in a testing center or at home, and we all can decide which pros and cons we prefer in making our choice. [And yay! Now we can, since they’ve made the GMAT Online a permanent offering.]

So my first big takeaway is this: You can do this, whether you take it online or in a test center. Either way, you just need to make sure that you know what to expect and you have a plan for everything you need to do.

Should I take the GMAT online or in the test center?

As you prepare for the GMAT, I recommend being ready to take it in either format and then choosing whichever option is best for you. A lot of my students are actually taking it both ways.

Now that we can use a physical whiteboard even for the online exam, I would personally choose to take it online again. I just have to make sure I’m prepared to know when I want to use the physical whiteboard vs. the online whiteboard. Other than that, the two exam experiences are pretty much the same.

I type faster than I write, so I love the ability to type my notes for Reading Comprehension passages and Multi-Source Reasoning (those ones with the multiple tabs on the Integrated Reasoning section). 

The online whiteboard is also persistent (it doesn’t erase what you wrote even when you close it and open it up again), so put anything you want to keep for the entire section or exam there—whatever strategy you’re using to track your time in each section, for example, or a formula or mantra that you want to have handy for the whole test.

I’ll also still use the online whiteboard to keep track of my answer choice eliminations in Verbal and, where appropriate, Integrated Reasoning. It’s annoying to have to keep looking down to cross off letters on my scratch paper—it’s a lot easier to do it on screen. You don’t even need to write ABCDE if you don’t want to; instead, make the whiteboard tall and thin and place it alongside the answers, then use the drawing tool to make X’s immediately next to whatever answers you want to eliminate. (This will work well for Sentence Correction and Critical Reasoning. For Reading Comp, though, you may have to place the whiteboard below the problem or drag most of it off screen.)

I’m really happy to report that the Manhattan Prep online whiteboard built by our amazing dev team functions pretty much exactly like the real thing. (It’s literally built on the same open-source software platform as the real thing.) We’ve made it available to everyone for free and you can use it with any prep materials—ours, official materials, or anything from any other test prep company.

We’ve added the Manhattan Prep online whiteboard to all of our Atlas syllabi, including our free GMAT Starter Kit syllabus. Once you’re logged into your free account, you’ll find the online whiteboard practice tool on the CAT exam page. (Note: That second link won’t work unless you’re already logged into your account.)

What are the GMAT Online tech setup and security check like?

The day before my exam, I completed the security and tech check; it took maybe 10 minutes and I didn’t have any issues. Eric first tried a few days before but wasn’t able to get the tech check to work successfully; he tried again the day before and it worked fine.

About 10 minutes before my appointed start time, I logged into my mba.com account and navigated to start the exam. My mic failed the test the first time—the screen didn’t tell me to talk, so I didn’t say anything. I ran the test again and made sure to talk when I saw the mic icon come up on the screen and it worked. I had to take pictures of my ID and my room (all directions); I had a choice to use my webcam or my phone.

I then waited about 5 to 10 minutes until the proctor arrived. She talked me through everything, answered all of my questions, and actually told me good luck (and I felt like she meant it!). She was patient and didn’t seem rushed or like she wanted to get done with me and move on to the next person. Eric started a little over an hour after me, but he waited about 35 minutes for his proctor. (He actually grabbed his phone to call in because he thought the screen must have frozen, but they came on as he was about to call.) He also said his proctor was nice and competent.

From here, Eric and I continued to have quite different experiences, unfortunately—but overall, your odds of having something go wrong are pretty low. It’s been more than a year now since the GMAT Online launched and, while we’ve heard other stories of people having tech issues on test day, they don’t seem to be any more frequent than the tech issues we hear about in the testing center. Overall, tens of thousands of people have had smooth experiences, while a small number have unfortunately had frustrating experiences. Eric was among the unlucky few.

I was taking the exam within 5 minutes of the proctor’s arrival. Eric had tech issues and didn’t start for about 60 to 90 minutes (he’d had to put his phone away and his computer showed only the test software, so he’s not sure exactly how long it took). We both took the test on 15-inch Macbook Pros; Eric’s was the new version (oversized trackpad and touch bar) while mine was old school (regular trackpad, no touch bar).

They did offer to allow Eric to reschedule so that they could troubleshoot without him having to wait, but he wanted to take the exam, so he said he’d stick it out. Given that the exam can be easily scheduled any time, some students might prefer to come back later the same day or the next day; others, though, are going to want to get it done when they’d planned to get it done. Tech issues are going to hit some percentage of the testing population, so we recommend thinking a little in advance about what you’d prefer to do if something unexpected happens during your test. (This was unfortunately not the end of Eric’s tech problems—more later.) 

For Mac users, just in case: Eric’s machine was running something called Screen Shot; they asked him to shut it down, but it wasn’t an app, just some sort of background process, so he couldn’t shut it down from the Force Quit window (which they told him how to navigate to). After an hour or so of (attempted) troubleshooting, he asked the proctors to give him back control of his machine. He found the offending process in Activity Monitor and shut it down. That worked and he was finally able to start his exam. If you’re on a Mac, we recommend checking your Activity Monitor just before the exam and shutting down this process if you see it. (And toss a thank you to Eric for being your guinea pig to figure this out. 🙂 )

How was the GMAT Online Quant section?

Finally: The Exam. You have a few minutes of instructions at the beginning. You do have to click through about 7 screens, but you likely already know everything they say. You also have to say “I agree” to the statement that they normally make you physically sign in the testing center. It says that you won’t cheat or tell other people about the test problems you see, among other things.

At this time, you’ll also see a little toolbar window pop up at the top of the screen. It shows your own video. (Eric found this distracting enough to drag it off of the screen. I didn’t realize we could drag it so left it sitting there the whole time.) The toolbar also has a Chat icon to get the proctor’s attention and a Whiteboard icon to pull up the whiteboard. If you don’t want to see your video, drag it to the left so that your video is offscreen but you can still access these two buttons easily.

I found it really hard to concentrate for the first few problems of the Quant section. I was distracted by myself on the video, by the fact that I knew someone was watching me through my webcam, and by the fact that I was annoyed that I hadn’t noticed that I could have opened the whiteboard earlier, while going through the instructions. I didn’t open it until just shortly before I started the section. So learn from me: Open up the whiteboard as soon as you see that toolbar. You can play with it a little and set up your page for quant.

You can resize it and move it wherever you want on screen. If you close and reopen it, your work will still be there. (In fact, your work stays even when you switch sections.) There’s a bit of work to be done to figure out the right size and placement on screen for you; figure that out before your exam (again, learn from me not figuring this out in advance). Here’s a video showing what I did and discussing various options.

If I could have had a physical whiteboard when I took the test, I would still have put my time management strategy on the online whiteboard—but I’d use it just to keep track of the time overall, while doing most of the actual problem work (especially for quant) on the physical whiteboard.

I’d practiced with our whiteboard for about five to seven hours before my exam, and I felt…well, I did feel a lot more comfortable than I did when I was one hour into my practice, but I didn’t feel totally comfortable. I was also doing 100% of my math on the online whiteboard; you’re not going to need to do that, thankfully.

It is key, though, to make sure that you practice enough with the whiteboard, first, to know exactly what each tool does and how to use it and, second, to know exactly what you want to do on the online whiteboard vs. the physical whiteboard. You don’t want to have to figure that out during the test.

Eric didn’t practice with the whiteboard in advance and he found it too hard to figure out in the moment, so he decided to see how far he could get with mental math. That’s right: He took the entire quant section without writing anything down. (He told me he’s been practicing mental visualization / a mental whiteboard for some time now, so he used that. I could never do this; I’d break down crying and abandon my exam within 10 minutes. More power to Eric. :)

My big takeaway here is still what I said earlier: You must practice under official test conditions and have a fully fleshed-out plan for how you want to do things. Then, just stick to your plan on test day.

How was the GMAT Online Verbal section?

Verbal is my stronger section and I (thought I) had no problems with it. I was used to how everything worked by now and I also don’t write nearly as much as I do for the quant section, so the whiteboard was easier to use. I actually found it faster to type my notes for RC than to handwrite them—but then I type quickly and my handwriting is really messy. I usually finish Verbal early and I did so this time, as well.

[Ah, the things we think we know. I certainly didn’t feel like I had any issues with Verbal in the moment, but obviously I did!]

It was also easy to set up a little grid to keep track of my answer eliminations. I did have to reposition the whiteboard a bit when doing an RC passage, but other than that, the whiteboard was fine for Verbal.

The main issue I had was due to the fact that there was no break between Quant and Verbal. I started to get some pain in my neck and shoulders and I realized it was because I’d spent more than an hour staring down at my laptop screen in a very fixed position. You’ll be able to take a break between the sections, but it’s still a long test, so this is a good reminder to factor in mental and physical stamina as you get ready to take the test.

I also experienced a bug that I’d noticed with the Manhattan Prep version of the online whiteboard: Sometimes, the text box tool wraps around with just a word per line and you get this tall column of text. Don’t hit enter if this happens! Leave the box open and just resize it—stretch it out to the right. This happened to me quite a bit when using our own version of the tool, but it only happened maybe 3 or 4 times on the real thing. I’m not sure whether I just got lucky on the real thing or whether our version is less stable for some reason.

How was the GMAT Online IR section?

A screen came up saying that IR was the next section. It also said that I could take an optional, 5-minute break after reading the IR instructions. The bottom of this screen said to click Next to start the IR section, so I didn’t, because I wanted to take that break first…but I wasn’t sure what to do next.

I clicked on the chat button to call the proctor. I waited about 15 seconds before someone replied—not the same person who’d helped me at the beginning. I only used chat to talk to this second person. I asked whether I could leave my desk to take a break and she gave me permission. While I was chatting to her, I saw the screen change and start counting down 1 minute. 

I didn’t fully read it because the chat box was in the way, but I saw that it said to click to take the break. I’m assuming that, if I hadn’t clicked within that minute, it would have automatically gone ahead to the IR section. So now you know: You can click on the first IR screen to go to the next screen and it will ask you to confirm that you want to take the break. (Do take the break! You’ll need it.)

I got up and went into my kitchen to get something to drink. This was the only time that I noticed how nice it was to be taking the test at home. Up until this point, I might as well have been in the testing center; I wasn’t aware of anything outside of my screen. I also spent a couple of minutes leaning against a wall with a tennis ball between my shoulders and the wall to try to loosen them up. That actually made me late for the next section of the test—I ended up losing about 30 seconds of the IR section.

Eric had a much bigger problem at this point. When he came back from his break, there was an error message on the screen. He could still communicate with the proctor, but the test itself had frozen or something. He stayed on with them for between 60 and 90 minutes as they tried to troubleshoot, but they were unable to get the test to start again. 

They offered to allow him to reschedule at several points along the way; he asked whether he’d be able to keep his Q and V performance and just do IR, but they didn’t know. So he asked them to keep troubleshooting because he wanted to finish, but after this dragged on for a while and they didn’t seem to be getting any closer to a solution, he finally pulled the plug.

Eric was eventually offered the option to retake the entire exam for free. While rare, technical failures do sometimes happen in the regular testing center as well. That’s no comfort to Eric—this was a seriously frustrating experience for him—but you’re much more likely to have an experience like mine than like his.

We speculated afterwards as to why this may have happened. This might have nothing to do with it, but Eric’s been having an issue lately with his WiFi spontaneously switching to a different network and we’re wondering whether this could have happened mid-test and caused a security flag. We’re thinking this probably wasn’t it—he could still communicate with the proctor and tech support was working on the case for at least an hour and didn’t say anything about this. But possibly this explanation wasn’t something they were looking for specifically, since it’s such an unusual thing.

Back to the test. I had to use the online whiteboard for everything, but next time I take it, I’ll use the online whiteboard for the Verbal-focused problems (so I can type) and I’ll use the physical whiteboard for Quant and Logic-based problems (easier to write).

Anything more to know about the GMAT online whiteboard?

First, I can confirm that our practice version functions just like the real thing. Shout-out to my colleagues Brian Kennedy, Sam Cross, and Irman Ahmetovic, who built a replica of the GMAT Online’s whiteboard tool in just 48 (!) hours so that I could practice in advance of my test—and so that you can, too. Create your free account and start practicing. Once you’re logged into your account on our site, you can go straight to the CAT exam page and load up the online whiteboard. (Again, that second link won’t work until / unless you’re logged into your account on our site.)

During the real test, I noticed only two differences. First, we purposely didn’t replicate the “close whiteboard” button that’s on the real thing, since ours is in a browser tab and you can just close that whenever you want. 

Second, there are a couple of potentially glitchy things going on with the tool. Our own whiteboard seemed to hit these glitches more frequently than I experienced on the real test—so that’s a good difference. But I did experience the glitches on the real thing as well and I also found ways to minimize them.

The first glitch had to do with zooming; avoid zooming in and out a ton. If you zoom in and out too much, the whiteboard jumps to a blank space and it’s hard to find your way back to your work. I didn’t hit this bug on the real test until I’d finished the IR section, at which point I purposely zoomed in and out a bunch of times until I forced the bug to happen. Now that you can have a physical whiteboard as well, there’s no real reason to zoom in and out at all—just keep moving to a new blank area on the online whiteboard whenever you need more space.

The second bug was the one I mentioned earlier in the Verbal section: That the text tool sometimes wraps in weird ways.

Any other tech stuff to know for the GMAT Online?

When taking the GMAT exam online, you have to stay within the webcam’s field of view for the entire exam (except for your breaks). If you leave the field of view, your test will be ended and your score canceled.

If you do have a tech issue during the exam, like Eric did, you can talk or chat to your proctor at any time. GMAC has said that there is some resilience built into the platform; if you are briefly disconnected or your machine freezes, for example, your exam will be able to continue from the point at which you were interrupted. If a continuation is not possible (e.g., you lose power for an extended time), GMAC’s security team will review the recording; assuming that the tech issue is verified, the test-taker will be allowed to test again for free. (In this case, you will have to start again from the beginning—this is no different than the test center losing power and you having to come back on a different day.)

GMAT Online Grand Conclusion: Give Yourself Options

Get ready to take the exam either online or at a testing center so that, when you’re ready to take the exam, you’ll be able to choose the option that’s best for you (maybe even both!). You could use the online exam as your dry run (it’s a little cheaper, you don’t have to leave the house) and, if you don’t like the result, then go ahead and take it in the testing center.

Take your practice tests under the full testing conditions you expect to have on the real test. Every time. Be super precise about this. Since you’ll be getting ready to take it both ways, split your exams—do half under test-center conditions and half under GMAT Online conditions. For the GMAT Online, know when you want to use the online whiteboard vs. the physical one so that you don’t even have to think about it on test day.

Good luck and happy studying!

RELATED: How to Use the GMAT Online Whiteboard Tool for the GMAT Online  

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stacey-koprince

Stacey Koprince is a Manhattan Prep instructor based in Montreal, Canada and Los Angeles, California. Stacey has been teaching the GMAT, 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. Check out Stacey’s upcoming GMAT courses here.

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I Took The GMAT Online. Here’s What Happened.