GMAT Tutor Matt Abuzalaf Takes GMAT Online: Whiteboard AOK but Marathon Quant/Verbal Unexpected
Right now in the GMAT universe, there’s a bit of an air of mystery surrounding the new Online GMAT exam. Apparent pluses -- it’s cheaper, doesn’t count towards your yearly (5) or lifetime (8) GMATs, and can be taken from the comfort of home -- are balanced by a couple of aspects that have been a source of apprehension among test takers. The elephant in the room here is, of course, the virtual whiteboard requirement and the limitations of using mouse input for scratch calculations.
Our GMAT tutoring students aren't thrilled about the whiteboard and as a result have been very reluctant to sign up for the GMAT online. Having now taken the online GMAT, I can lend some insight and hopefully reassure that this test is not an unknown quantity. Underneath it all, in terms of content, difficulty, and timing, I can report that this still felt like the same old GMAT… with a few caveats, of course.
Check-in and Virtual Proctoring
Test-taking for college classes, I’ve had some suboptimal experiences with virtual proctoring, but I’m happy to report that I had no issues with the GMAT Online system. Checking in was painless (I just had to take some pictures of my drivers license and room), and the proctor didn’t make himself known at all after initiating the test. The only sign that I was being proctored throughout the test was a small box at the top of the screen that displayed my webcam feed and said “Recording”.
So fortunately, during the main event there was no pausing my progress to show the proctor my test area or any other distraction.
At Home GMAT = More Cosy/Less Test Center Stress
One result of the virtual proctoring being seamless was that the online test more or less felt like any other GMAT practice test I’d taken at home. Here’s an upside of the online GMAT: If you find yourself getting psyched out when you’re gearing up to take the GMAT in a testing center, the at-home option may feel relatively low-stakes and low stress in comparison. That could be great for your mental game.
GMAT Online Whiteboard + Quant = ?
This is the big question mark. How does the GMAT whiteboard impact the ability to work through the quant section?
I always encourage efficient approaches to problem solving, approaching data sufficiency conceptually where possible, and other time-saving efforts on Quant. Luckily, I found that every question I encountered had a clean, straightforward path to the solution, even if there were other, longer ways to solve the same problem.
I would go as far as to say that the questions required less computation in general than I would normally expect on a GMAT quant section. I don’t think that the Online GMAT has different questions. GMAC has clearly stated that the content is the same. But it’s not unlikely that because I was forced to think about them differently given the constraints of the whiteboard I saw more of the easier paths.
I avoided semi-randomly throwing a bunch of numbers on my page or rolling through a bunch of rote calculation. Instead, whenever I saw a new GMAT puzzle I stepped back, thought to myself, “Okay, what’s really being asked for on this one?”, and made judicious use of the whiteboard accordingly, often relying on the keyboard (more on that later).
When I did use the whiteboard, 95% of the time I used the text box/keyboard: typing out equations, writing out examples for Threshold (Yes/No) Data Sufficiency questions, and other standard line by line calculations. This had a few limitations (I used the “^” symbol for exponents, wrote “sqrt” for square rooting, and spelled out “pi” for a question or two), but the text boxes got the job done at roughly the speed it would have taken me to write on paper.
Otherwise, I used the shape drawing functionality for the two or so Geometry problems I encountered with no issue. Again, because it’s clunky, I made minimal use of the mouse, a T-diagram or two for Work/Rate and a long division computation but that’s about it. Keep in mind: I’m left-handed using a right handed mouse, so I think others would have less of an issue assuming that they’d spent time practicing with the whiteboard.
Overall, quant felt fine. Approaching things with a planning/organizing/keeping it conceptual mindset, I didn’t feel that the whiteboard was a barrier to solving any of the questions I encountered, and I was able to keep my normal pacing throughout the section. I finished without rushing with a few minutes to spare.
Online Verbal = In person Verbal
Fortunately, verbal was exactly what you’d expect and on a content level isn’t at all affected by the online format. In fact, if you’re someone who likes to do a degree of note-taking when you’re working through verbal problems, having the text box on screen to type those is probably going to be a little faster and neater.
Test Structure: Prepare for the Marathon
One larger aspect of the test that did have a bearing on Verbal was the fixed section order of Quant, Verbal, then IR -- with no break between Quant and Verbal. I normally do Quant first (so it might be a slight adjustment for anyone who does it the other way), but the more pressing aspect was the absence of the 8-minute break between sections. Had I known about this in advance (clearly stated in the test structure but I was so whiteboard = evil that I missed it), I might have had a little more water before starting the test (I was thirsty the entire verbal section!).
Preparing yourself mentally to marathon Quant and Verbal is going to be important for maintaining effective performance on the Verbal section. You might consider ways to mitigate any feelings of weariness. For example, I took 15-second mini-breaks before starting any RC passages. More than ever, it’s important to pace yourself and to do what you can to avoid burning out in the middle of the test. Again, being organized on the Quant so you avoid tedious work can help not only in terms of accuracy and timing but also in terms of stamina down the stretch.
Online GMAT Concluding Thoughts
Above all else, I found the Online GMAT manageable and largely representative of what I’d expect to see taking the GMAT in-person at a test center or at home on a practice test. In many ways, it really did feel like I was just taking a GMAT practice test at home. And for most people that familiar feeling is a big plus.
There are certain elements of this test that pivot away from what test takers have come to expect from the GMAT, but fortunately, I felt that all of them could be successfully navigated with practice and proper expectations. Beyond that, the recipe for GMAT success is the same as it’s ever been: impeccable content knowledge, organized GMAT strategy, and a relentless can-do attitude.