The GMAT Online: What to Expect

You can take the GMAT online! The test will be available from Monday April 20th until (at least) Monday June 15th; GMAC, the organization that makes the GMAT, will reevaluate the timeline as we get closer to June.

I’ll be taking the GMAT Online myself on April 20th (the first day it’s available) and will update this post in the 24 hours after that. In the meantime, here’s what we already know.

So…what’s up with this online whiteboard? Really?

I’m starting here because this is what everybody’s talking about. For test security reasons, GMAC isn’t allowing us to use physical scratch paper. We have to use an online whiteboard tool during the test.

I understand why they’re doing this, and I can even appreciate it at one level. I don’t want anyone stealing questions and selling them to other people—that cheapens my score and all of my hard work. I also don’t want business schools deciding that they’re going to “discount” scores for tests taken online because the security is more lax. So, at that level, I’m really glad that GMAC takes test security very seriously.

But…I’m also pretty nervous about taking the test with this online whiteboard thing. I’m not great with technology; I’m really not sure how much it’s going to affect my ability to take the test. It’s true that I’ve been teaching online for many years and I’ve gotten pretty good at drawing on a whiteboard with my finger on a trackpad—but the pace of class is slower and less relentless than problem after problem after problem on the test.

Here’s the great news: My coworkers are awesome. Our dev team, in particular my colleagues Brian Kennedy, Sam Cross, and Irman Ahmetovic, built a replica of the GMAT Online’s whiteboard tool so I can practice! And you can, too. We’ve put the tool in all of our Atlas syllabi, including our free GMAT Starter Kit syllabus. If you’ve got any type of Atlas syllabus, the Manhattan Prep online whiteboard tool is already waiting for you on the CAT exam page. Note: You have to be logged in already for that link to work. (If you don’t yet have an Atlas account, sign up for a free account and you’ll get access to both the online whiteboard and a free practice CAT exam.)

I only have four days to practice before I have to take the GMAT Online and I’m worried that it’s not going to be quite enough time. I’d recommend that you give yourself more like one to two weeks of daily practice—but I’ll update this recommendation after I take the test on Monday and see what it’s like. Maybe it will be better than I’m thinking. (In fact, I’ve played with our whiteboard tool for a couple of hours now, and there is at least one big thing that’s actually better than physical scratch paper.)

When can I take the GMAT Online?

From Monday April 20th to Monday June 15th, the GMAT Online will be available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. (I’m signed up for noon eastern time on Monday.)

Test-takers who are approved for extended time (1.5x or 2x) or extended breaks will be able to take the exam starting in early to mid-May (exact date still to be announced).

A live proctor will monitor your exam. You will need to give the proctor control over your computer and you will be video- and audio-recorded for the entire exam. You can find more on tech requirements later in this post.

At this time, you can take the GMAT Online only once. This exam will not count toward the maximum-5-tests-in-12-months limit or the 8-test lifetime limit. If the GMAT Online continues past June 15th, it’s possible that GMAC will revisit the only-one-online-test restriction.

You’ll pay $200 (a $75 discount from the regular price in the US) to take the GMAT Online. Your fee also allows you to report your scores to up to 5 schools. For the GMAT Online, you do not have to choose those 5 schools in advance of your test; you can choose them after you see your scores. (More on this in a bit.)

I’d already signed up for an in-person exam but it was canceled.

If you are currently registered for an in-person exam, you cannot directly transfer that registration to the online exam, but you can cancel your in-person exam (for a full refund) and then separately register for the GMAT Online.

Is the test itself the same?

The GMAT Online is mostly the same, but the AWA (essay) section has been dropped. The three other sections—Quant, Verbal, and Integrated Reasoning—haven’t changed at all and the scoring is also the same (though of course you won’t get an essay score).

Everyone will take the second of the three possible test orders: You’ll start with Quant, then go straight into Verbal. Then, you’ll get a 5 minute break and finish up with Integrated Reasoning. The total test time will be about 2 hours 45 minutes, including the break. GMAC also says to expect about 10 to 15 minutes for the check-in and test security process at the beginning, so plan for a 3-hour testing experience.

When will I get my scores?

You won’t get to see your scores at the end of the test, as is usually the case for the GMAT; instead, you’ll receive your scores via email about a week after the test. You can wait until you receive your scores to choose the five schools to which you want to send those scores, without paying anything extra.

You also won’t get to choose to keep or cancel your scores—you have to keep them. But, in a recent webinar, GMAC also said that these scores will be kept in a separate database from the usual score database for exams taken in a testing center and that you can give schools access specifically to your GMAT Online scores. 

It’s possible that this might mean that you can choose whether to release these scores, after you’ve seen them—that is, you might be able to decide to choose no schools for your GMAT Online scores and, separately, to choose schools to receive your “taken in a test center” scores (assuming you have scores from a test-center-based GMAT). I hope this is the case but I’m not sure. I’ve sent in a question to GMAC and will update you when I hear back.

How is the GMAT Online actually going to work?

You can take the exam on a Mac or PC. You’ll need a webcam with speaker audio; you can’t use a headset or earbuds. You can’t use a second monitor, a tablet with stylus, or any other external device. Here’s a full list of the system requirements.

You’ll have to show that you’re in a room alone, and software will be listening for any sounds that might indicate the door is opening, someone is walking by, someone else is talking, etc. If they detect anything, they may ask you to pan your webcam to prove that nobody is in the room with you. If a security breach is detected, your test will be ended and your score canceled.

Except for the break, you have to stay within the webcam’s field of view for the entire exam. 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, 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.)

A Future Case Study Coming to a B-School Near You?

Big picture: GMAC is very clearly calling this an interim, temporary measure. Some of the restrictions in fact seem designed to encourage most people to wait until they can get back into a regular testing center.

You would expect a company that is losing lots of revenue to this pandemic to want everyone to start using the service and paying money immediately. Right? But that is really not the approach that GMAC seems to be taking. If anything, they appear to want only those who truly need to take the exam right now to take it. I respect that they’re not willing to loosen test security, even though I am torn because I’m really nervous about the online whiteboard.

So let us be your guinea pigs. We’ll have more for you about everything after we’re able to take the exam ourselves next week. Wish me and my colleagues luck!

And if you think that you will or may take the GMAT Online, start practicing with the whiteboard tool, a little bit every day. Make today your first day.

Good luck and happy studying!

RELATED: How to Use the GMAT Online Whiteboard Tool for the GMAT Online (link coming soon!) 

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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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The GMAT Online: What to Expect