The Executive Assessment Online
[Note: I first wrote this right after I took the official Executive Assessment Online in May 2020. At that time, we had to use an online whiteboard for all of our work. In June 2020, they fixed that: Now, everyone can use both a physical whiteboard and an online whiteboard. I’ve updated this article accordingly; otherwise, the post is exactly what I wrote right after I took the exam.]
I took the GMAT Online about a month ago and I was getting restless (nothing to do during the pandemic!), so I signed up to take the Executive Assessment (EA) Online. The EA Online was a much better experience—I’ll tell you why below. (And since everyone always asks: I scored a 166 overall: 15 on IR, 13 on Verbal, and 18 on Quant. Verbal is usually my best section, so I was surprised by that score. My score also dropped on the Verbal when I took the GMAT Online, but my Quant and IR scores were fine / what I usually get.)
Why did the Executive Assessment feel easier?
The biggest reason: I knew exactly what to expect. I’ve been practicing with the online whiteboard for a month now—I no longer have to think about it how to use it or which icon I need to click for which tool. [And now that you can have a physical whiteboard, use the physical one for all of your math. I do still recommend using the online whiteboard to keep track of your time. For verbal-based notes, do you prefer to type or write? I’d rather type, so I’d still take notes on the online whiteboard.]
For the EA Online, I also knew exactly how the technology check and security protocols would work. I knew what to do to call the proctor and where I wanted to place my online whiteboard relative to the rest of the test on the screen.
The key is in knowing what to expect. That’s true whether you take the exam at a testing center or online—if you have a good idea of what’s coming, you’ll significantly reduce your anxiety in a stressful situation. For the online exam, make sure that you’re going through the tech and proctor check at least 24 hours before your exam—maybe even do the tech check twice the week before. I’d go so far as to assume you’re going to take the real test twice (and, if you get a score you like the first time, it’s just a nice surprise that you don’t need to take it again).
Second, it’s just easier to take the EA. The entire exam is only 90 minutes long, half the length of the GMAT (or the GRE), so it’s literally easier from a physical standpoint. I wasn’t getting cramped in my chair; I didn’t have the urge to go to the bathroom, nor did I get hungry or thirsty.
In addition, while the EA is also an adaptive exam, it doesn’t adapt in the same way as the GMAT. The EA is “section adaptive”—that is, the problems are given in a series of sections, or panels, of 6 or 7 questions each. Within any one panel of problems, you can move around however you like; you can skip a problem and come back to it later. That’s a less stressful exam experience than having to answer every question in the order given (which is how the GMAT works)—you feel as though you actually have some control over the test.
The GMAT is a more challenging exam, based on how the exam is constructed—and that’s not all bad. I actually feel a strong sense of accomplishment when I’m done with it. This is no doubt why many people still consider the GMAT the gold standard for business school. But, in many cases, the GMAT is overkill. If a program accepts the EA*, then I get the best of both worlds—I get the cachet of taking an exam that is very similar to the GMAT but it’s easier to take. (The only drawback is that it does cost more upfront than the GMAT. But there are no fees for most rescheduling scenarios or for sending score reports, so I find that friendlier, too. Pay once, get everything.)
*Most EMBA programs accept the EA at this point. An increasing number of regular full-time and part-time MBA programs are starting to accept the EA. Here’s a full list of accepting programs.
So how did the EA go?
First, someone from Pearson, the organization that runs both the online exam and the in-person testing centers for the GMAT and EA, told me that the vast majority of test-takers who have tech issues during the exam unfortunately didn’t do the tech / system check ahead of time. Put a note on your calendar to run the tech check a few days (at least!) before you take the test. The tech check literally takes you all the way through launching a one-problem “exam” (it’s not a real test problem). If you discover an issue, you’ll have plenty of time to work with their tech support team to resolve it. (You will run this same tech check again immediately before the exam starts on exam day—but this time, the real exam will launch at the end of the tech check.)
My EA Online was identical to the EA I took in the testing center (except for the test problems, of course!). You start with a 12-minute instruction period, but if you’ve prepared by taking the official practice EAs (strongly recommended), you won’t need to read these instructions. Leave them on screen and let the 12-minute timer keep running, though. Pull up the online whiteboard (it’s always available and it’ll sit on top of the instructions screen). Start testing out the tools and jot down anything you want to use to help you keep track of your time as you take the exam.
Use this time to make sure that everything is working properly. I didn’t, and it turned out that my whiteboard was glitching—but I didn’t discover this until after I’d started the first section. Every 20-30 seconds, my whiteboard would suddenly erase everything I’d typed! (It seemed to happen every time I typed the letter Z—maybe related to control-Z, undo? I’m not sure. I only realized this afterwards.) After the third time it happened, I clicked to summon the proctor. She restarted the software immediately, and the whiteboard worked perfectly for the rest of the test.
I didn’t call the proctor until about 3 minutes into the section, and then I started trying to explain exactly what the glitch was. I was stressed and was thinking “This is tech support, so I have to give them every detail so they can troubleshoot” mode. But really, I should’ve kept it short and simple, “It’s erasing itself every few seconds!” As soon as she understood me, she rebooted—but by then I was probably 4-5 minutes into the section.
From then on, everything was normal. I was able to answer every IR problem except for one, a pretty ugly Two-Part problem for which I would have needed the calculator—but I ran out of time. I think another minute or two would have been sufficient to finish it, so the time I lost to the tech malfunction earlier did cost me here.
The Verbal and Quant sections were both good. I had to do all of my work on the online whiteboard (since the physical whiteboard wasn’t allowed then) and I found one pretty significant benefit to doing the work online. I was working straight down on a single “page,” essentially, so when I reached the end of a panel, it was easy to scroll back up to review my work while I double-checked my answers. In the test center, I usually need two pages for one panel of problems, so I was having to flip around to review my work. I also had to keep looking up and down when I was using a physical whiteboard; with the online whiteboard, my work and the problem were side by side.
At the very end of the Quant section, I had a panic moment when I thought my screen had frozen—but it actually hadn’t. A five-minute-warning window pops up, but I’d placed my whiteboard over the middle of the screen. The warning window had popped up behind it, so I didn’t see it. When I tried to choose my answer for the final problem, nothing happened. I finally remembered the 5-minute warning from the earlier sections, moved the whiteboard and saw it, clicked to dismiss it, and was able to select my answer. So just an FYI if you think the screen has frozen—move your whiteboard to see whether this warning window or another window has popped up on the screen.
So…about that tech issue…
After my exam, GMAC was nice enough to answer my questions about how tech issues are handled in general. Most tech issues can be resolved pretty easily; the proctors can restart the software very quickly and the test timer will stay at the same time it was at when the system was rebooted. (I can confirm that my timer stayed the same when they rebooted the software for me.)
So if you do experience a tech issue, click the button to call the proctor immediately. For most issues, they can get you going again quickly.
GMAC also said that you don’t have to worry if you have an internet outage or similar tech issue at home. If the outage is pretty short (a few seconds to a few minutes), you’ll be able to pick up where you left off. If you were to have a more serious tech issue (e.g., your power goes out for hours), you’d be given a case number and your case would be investigated. This can take up to a week; the resolution generally seems to be that the test-taker is allowed to reschedule and retake the exam (and this doesn’t count against you in terms of the number of times you’re allowed to take the exam). I’ve had students lose power or Internet in testing centers, too—the same thing happens. You have to reschedule for a later date. It’s really annoying when it happens but it’s not super common.
Online vs. testing center: Which is better?
A month ago, I was leaning towards testing online, but I was still on the fence. Now that I’ve had time to get used to everything [and now that they allow physical whiteboards], I’m a big fan of taking the exam online—assuming you have both the technology and the necessary quiet space to take the exam.
Yes, testing at home probably has more potential for technology glitches, but to me, that’s worth not having to travel across town and sit in a room listening to other people sniffle or feeling cold because the room temperature isn’t what I prefer. (And it’s not like the testing centers don’t have power outages or other glitches, too.)
When I took the GMAT Online a month ago, I was also concerned about privacy issues; I wasn’t thrilled about the idea of an exam recording me in my own home. Pearson has told me, though, that they follow all data privacy and security laws in each test-taker’s country. In the United States, for example, any recordings are required to be deleted within 30 days of the date the recording is made. So I don’t have security/privacy concerns any longer.
This is a personal choice, of course, so you’ll have to gauge your own preferences as well as how well you can meet the requirements (technology and quiet space). Speaking just for myself, now that GMAC has announced that the online versions of both the GMAT and EA are here to stay, I’ll definitely be taking these exams from the comfort of my own home in the future.
Want to learn more about the EA? Get your very own free EA Starter Kit syllabus on Manhattan Prep’s site for some free practice and lessons. Happy studying!
For information about our Executive Assessment Complete Course click here.
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.