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New test-taking options for MBA applicants

For years, MBA programs have required applicants to take the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT). Throngs of prospective business school students take the exam repeatedly to obtain the best scores, breathing sighs of relief when the test-taking season is over.

Well, get ready for a few changes. The test-taking process to apply to MBA programs is expanding and improving, according to test administrators and prospective students in the know.

  • An increasing number of business schools--including Harvard, MIT Sloan, NYU Stern, Stanford and INSEAD--are accepting the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) in lieu of the GMAT.
  • Effective August 1, 2011, the GRE--usually taken to apply to liberal arts graduate programs--is introducing verbal and quantitative questions based on real-life scenarios similar to those seen in the business world.

The GMAT is also changing:

  • On June 4, 2012, a new integrated reasoning section should replace a GMAT essay.
  • The integrated reasoning section should measure test-takers' ability to evaluate data from multiple sources, according to the GMAT administrator, the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC).

Some prospective business school students have already taken the new GMAT.

"The questions provided a chart, a graph or a table and basically asked you to assess it," one of the test-takers tells the GMAC about the new integrated reasoning section of the GMAT. "[It's] much more simple, much more intuitive and in my personal opinion much more relevant and prevalent to business school."

Another test-taker says the exercises in the new GMAT section better resemble what he expects case studies will ask him to do in MBA programs.

Key to admission: the new GMAT

The GMAC came up with the new GMAT integrated reasoning section after surveying 740 business school professors, who emphasized the need for analytical skills to tackle complex challenges in today's environment of increasing information.

The revised three-and-a-half-hour GMAT includes four sessions:

  • A 30-minute analytical writing assessment, including one essay
  • A 75-minute quantitative section
  • A 75-minute verbal section
  • A 30-minute integrated reasoning section

Unlike in the previous version, new GMAT takers should have access to an on-screen calculator to solve test problems.

GMAT scores and fees, meanwhile, remain the same. The overall GMAT score stays between 200 and 800, the verbal and quantitative scores between 0 and 60, and the analytical writing assessment scores between 0 and 6. According to the GMAC, two-thirds of GMAT takers score between 400 and 600 overall. The fee to take the GMAT worldwide is $250. In some countries, however, taxes are added.

In the US News & World Report article "How Changes to the GMAT Will Affect You," Andrew Mitchell, director of GMAT programs at Kaplan Test Prep and Admissions, recommends that prospective students take the current GMAT now, as results are valid for five years.

"The year after a test change, and also in following years, scores tend to go down, just because there's so much to learn about the new section," Mitchell says.

The GRE: new kid on the B-school block

The new GRE should assess more skills required in the business world.

According to the test's administrators the Educational Testing Service (ETS), the verbal reasoning section should emphasize reading comprehension, while the quantitative reasoning section should measure data interpretation skills. In the analytical writing section, the GRE should require test-takers to write two essays on specific topics.

The new GRE should also include an on-screen calculator and allow test-takers to skip and later return to difficult questions.

New GRE verbal and quantitative scores should range between 130 and 170, with the test lasting up to 45 minutes longer. GRE scores now range between 200 and 800 in the verbal and quantitative reasoning sections and from 0 to 6 in the analytical writing section.

The GRE costs $160 in the United States and $190 in all other locations, excluding China, Korea and Taiwan, where fees reach $205.

In the Yale Daily News article "Grad students react to new GRE," most Yale students welcomed the new GRE changes. Anusha Misra, however, worries about the length of the GRE.

"I think three hours is enough--the attention span of a person is not that long," Misra says. "[The revised exam] is stretching mental limits."