Test Prep Companies Prepare for the New GMAT

Photograph by Mika/Corbis

Editor’s Note: This is the third and final story in our series on the new GMAT, which makes its official debut on June 5. In this article, we take a look at how GMAC and test-prep companies worked to prepare students for the new Integrated Reasoning section.

The past nine months have encompassed a flurry of activity for test-prep outfits that are preparing business school applicants to take the latest iteration of the Graduate Management Admission Test, or GMAT, on June 5th. The race began last fall, when the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), the nonprofit that administers the exam, invited the companies to attend workshops in five cities for an inside look at the new Integrated Reasoning test questions and the skills they were designed to test.

Chris Ryan, vice president of academics at Manhattan GMAT, which is owned by the Washington Post’s Kaplan unit, says he immediately realized the new section would pose a challenge for students. “This thing is intimidating. The questions they’ve released are tough, whether it’s a mini-logic game or a big intense table with nine columns and 23 rows,” he says. “It doesn’t look like the rest of the GMAT.”

At the time, GMAC had released only a handful of sample test questions to the public. The challenge facing the test providers? They had less than a year to prepare students for a section on which only a scarce amount of information was available, while simultaneously rewriting a large portion of their test-prep books and lessons.

The time crunch didn’t faze Andrew Mitchell, Kaplan Test Prep’s director of pre-business programs, who immediately got to work developing material for the new section. By January, he and his team had developed its first sample Integrated Reasoning section, and by March they had incorporated lessons on the new material into the curriculum.

The company estimates that students will have to put in significantly more study time to prepare for the new GMAT, he says. With the old test, students needed to put in about 120 hours to prepare; with the new section, students should now expect to spend 150 hours. Says Mitchell: “Finding that extra 30 hours to study will be a big challenge.”

Other test companies have also tried to get ahead of the curve, including Veritas Prep, which sent a few of its people applying to B-school to take the GMAT this January, when GMAC was piloting the beta version of the new section. The company has since compiled a bank of 150 sample Integrated Reasoning questions, rewritten its lesson books, and in April, officially incorporated the section into its curriculum, says Brian Galvin, Veritas Prep’s director of academic programs.

Meanwhile, instructors at Manhattan GMAT have been trying to raise awareness about the new section through a series of 20 free webinars they’ve hosted over the last few months, which attracted 1,000 potential business school applicants. Chris Ryan, the company’s vice president of academics, says one of the main challenges for students will be making the transition from the “high-time pressure” Integrated Reasoning section—which kicks off the exam—to the quantitative and verbal sections. “It’s kind of like taking off on roller blades and then you are asked to roller skate,” Ryan says. “We don’t think GMAC itself has totally taken into account the impact of doing the Integrated Reasoning section so early in the GMAT.”

While test-prep companies have been frenetically trying to draft sample test questions and revamp their curricula, GMAC has been busy putting the finishing touches on the new section, says Larry Rudner, GMAC’s vice president for research and development. In April, GMAC released a bevy of test-prep materials for applicants, including the GMAT Prep 2.0 book, which includes a full-length test with the new section and a revamped official guide with 50 sample Integrated Reasoning questions.

At the same time, GMAC also unveiled details about how the new section will be scored. Students will get a score on a scale of one through eight, with credit given on a question only if a student gets all the answers correct, he says. It will initially be hard for GMAC and admissions officers to put the integrated reasoning scores in context because the percentile scores—which show how a test taker’s score measures up against others who have taken it—will be rolled out on a monthly basis for six months, Rudner says. GMAC typically computes percentiles for the exam, based on a three-and-a-half year rolling average, which will not be possible with this section for quite a while, he says.

It’s unclear exactly how business schools, lacking the kind of historical scoring data available for the rest of the GMAT exam, will use the new scores in their admissions decisions. “It will be new to all of us,” says Dawna Clarke, director of admissions at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business. “As we get these new scores, we’ll have to put the score in its appropriate context.”

The information GMAC gains from studying test takers’ performance on the new section will be invaluable, especially as schools learn more about how well the new section can predict academic success in business school, Rudner says. Ultimately, the new section could end up being a game-changer for the GMAT, he says.

“We are looking forward to having lots of really good data and seeing where it leads us for the next generation that follows,” Rudner says. “Just adding a new section will be very powerful.”’

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