Everything you need to know about the new GMAT exam that premieres this fall, as told by GMAC’s CEO

BY Sydney LakeApril 14, 2023, 1:14 PM
Photo illustration by Fortune; original photo courtesy of Joy Jones

For nearly 70 years, more than 200,000 people have sat for an exam each year to determine their readiness for graduate business education. But this fall, the Graduate Management Admission Test—or GMAT as it’s commonly called—is revealing a makeover that makes the test shorter and more manageable for test takers. 

Working with 65 schools of varying profiles and geographies and about 5,400 students, the Graduate Management Admission Council developed the GMAT Focus Edition, which is about an hour shorter than the previous exam and allows test takers to select the order of the sections of the test. These changes are an effort to continue to be the “gold standard, as we view it, of assessments for business admissions,” Joy Jones, CEO of GMAC, tells Fortune.

Most applicants who apply to full-time MBA programs and other graduate business education programs are required to take the GMAT with the main goal of assessing their “academic readiness.” One big change, as part of the GMAT Focus Edition, is the elimination of the analytical writing section, which prospective students and schools reported to GMAC that they found repetitive with other application materials, like essays. The new exam will have three sections instead of four: quantitative reasoning, verbal reasoning, and a new section called data insight.

The final main change to the GMAT is that all test takers will now have access to a detailed “Official Score Report” so they can better understand their strengths and weaknesses on the test they’ve taken. This report previously was offered as a separate product for purchase, but GMAC made this change to provide better insight and information to both schools and candidates so that “ultimately [they] can find the best fit for each other,” Jones says. “We really thought about how to put the candidate’s experience at the center of this test.” 

Fortune sat down with Jones to learn more about the changes to the GMAT and everything candidates need to know about the new exam to be successful. The new test will launch during the fourth quarter this year, and test prep materials will be available late this quarter, according to GMAC. The current exam will also continue to be offered through early next year.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Old versus new GMAT

Fortune: How does the new GMAT differ from the old format?

Jones: The Focus Edition has been improved by being really able to hone in on the higher-order critical reasoning skills that are most relevant today and leaning in on the data literacy component. We believe it is relevant—not just to your academic performance—but certainly to the business goals you’re likely to have going forward and the types of challenges we see in the workplace and the problem solving that’s going on today. 

Each section is a little bit shorter and more concise. We think this is reflective of a desire to make sure candidates are only prepping on what they need to and only be tested and evaluated on the items that are going to be most telling about their candidacy.

Why is it beneficial for test takers to be able to select their exam order?

We’ve had select section order for a number of years, but we had preset options. Now we’re able to let each candidate choose whether they start with quant or they start with verbal or they start with data insight. And it’s really a personal choice. Every student finds that they have strengths in certain areas, they have challenges in other areas. Tactically, some like to get the hard section out of the way so that they can feel comfortable and confident moving through the remainder of the exam. 

Testing is a challenging experience and we appreciate that. Everyone wants to make it no more onerous than it needs to be. At the end of the day, we want to make sure that they perform at their best, that they stand out in areas where they’re strong, and that they have opportunity and insight about areas that they have some opportunity for development in.

How the new GMAT changes admissions

So many top busines schools appear to rely on these scores when making offers of admission. How are these changes going to change admissions processes?

The GMAT exam is one part of a holistic admissions process. Schools are going through rounds of looking at applications with additional data and interviews and essays and letters of recommendation, so it’s one part of that process. 

But consistently, schools say they value that additional data around a candidate’s academic readiness and they hope that candidates are encouraged to take it—and that, again, it helps them have a better ability to help meet that candidate and understand their needs. We encourage people to look at a range of scores and performance levels and admit those people into their programs because there’s a lot of talent out there. 

For students who, for example, may not have come from a business undergraduate background or who may not have come from a STEM [science, technology, engineering, and math] background and needs more assistance on quantitative coursework, their GMAT score can identify the right set of additional resources for them—either leading into their enrollment in the program or during the program. 

Will this change how students are evaluated by top programs?

When we change the test construct, we do have to make changes to identify the difference in the editions of the exam. There are some changes to the scoring, but what we really encourage schools to lean in on the percentiles.

For example, in the current exam, if someone’s performing at the 85th or 87th percentile relative to the the people who have taken the exam over the last three years in the current edition, it’s very analogous to people scoring in the 85th or 87th percentile of the new exam edition. Those percentiles really help schools understand—relative to a set of other test takers—how they are on the continuum. 

More information about that will be rolled out over the next few months so people can get familiar with specifically what’s changing in that score and how it will appear to them. We feel it will be a little bit more accurate, by the way that we designed and refined the test questions themselves and how the three new sections work together. 

We’re able to calibrate across those percentiles because the items that we’re using on the new exam are largely the same banks of items that we’ve been using on the current version of the exam. So we already have rich, rich statistical insight in terms of how those items perform, what’s hard or what’s easier, and and making sure they’re very quality questions that are going into the new exam. 

Advice on taking the new exam

How can test takers prepare for the new exam?

There will be a complete portfolio of prep materials available, and in time I’m sure we’re likely to grow that portfolio. What we do expect, however, is that that prep and the prep time associated with it will be far more efficient because of the reduction of some of the item types that won’t be included in the new exam, obviously, you no longer need to prep for that. That helps in terms of the load and efficiency, especially for many MBA candidates who have jobs.

Any additional insight or advice about the new exam?

We would strongly encourage people who are already prepping for the current edition to go ahead and take it with confidence. Schools will be accepting those scores for some time. Scores are valid for five years, so they can go ahead and take that when the new exam comes out. I would strongly encourage candidates to take a look at the prep. We offer some parts of prep for free. 

Also, many employers—depending on which industry you’re interested in—will be interested in seeing that GMAT exam score. Sections like data insights really make it stand apart from alternatives. This is a choice that works for candidates, and we look forward to seeing them be successful with this new tool.

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