Taking the GMAT: Test Center vs. GMAT Online (COVID Update)

So you’ve been prepping for the GMAT for some time, and hopefully you’ve been pleased with your online GMAT prep. Now you’re ready to schedule a test date. In this age of COVID, you’ll have to decide if you want to take the GMAT at a regular test center or if you want to take advantage of the GMAT Online, the version of the test that you can take in the comfort of your home. Before proceeding in this post, we advise you to check regularly with the GMAT website, as policies can change regularly given the fluid situation of the pandemic. Meanwhile, consider the following:

GMAT Test Center vs. GMAT Online

  • How difficult will it be to find a test center?

    • This is a great question to which there is no easy answer. First, you can simply go to the GMAC (Graduate Management Admissions Council) website — mba.com — and see what test centers are available and where.
    • The problem is that the pandemic has caused widespread closures of certain test centers, and those test centers that are open are operating at reduced capacity. Simply put, finding a seat at a test center may be quite difficult.
    • Depending on your proposed test date and how pressing the situation is (with potential application deadlines), you may have to consider travelling considerable distances or pushing your test dates further and further out.
    • If you can’t find a test center, don’t give up! Because students end up cancelling their test dates somewhat frequently, seats can open up unexpectedly. Keep checking the website once or twice a day.
  • Should I just consider taking the GMAT at Home?

    • Sure! The GMAT Online (at home) GMAT is a viable alternative and has been in effect since April, 2020,  at the height of the pandemic. The test content is almost identical to the regular GMAT, and the GMAT Online is much easier to schedule. You may secure a seat as quickly as a day or two in advance!
    • As of this writing, the GMAT Online is available through February, 2021, but this limit will likely be extended depending on the conditions of the pandemic throughout the world.
  • What are some of the key differences with the GMAT Online?

    • The differences were outlined in a more comprehensive post about the GMAT Online, but here are the notable differences between taking the GMAT at a test center and taking the At-Home version.
      • Unlike the regular GMAT, the GMAT Online must be taken in a fixed order of sections: quantitative, verbal, and integrated reasoning.
      • The GMAT Online has no essay section, also known as the Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA). On the regular GMAT, the AWA does not factor into the regular composite or quantitative and verbal sub-scores, so this is not a big deal.
      • In fact, without the AWA, the GMAT Online is actually a half-hour shorter than the regular GMAT (2.5 hours vs. 3 hours). That’s not bad either!
      • The GMAT Online Scores cannot be cancelled, and you have to wait seven business days to receive your score. This could be a deal breaker for many business school aspirants who rely on the ability to cancel the score with a bad test day performance.
      • The GMAT Online cannot be taken more than twice. If it is taken twice, the higher of the two scores will be put into consideration. This will help to compensate for the inability to cancel the score.
      • The second sitting for the GMAT Online must be scheduled at least 16 calendar days after the first.
  • What are the pros and cons, then, of taking the GMAT at a test center — even with the pandemic?

    • PRO: You can cancel your score either immediately or up to 72 hours after you’ve completed the exam. You may even reinstate the cancelled score for a fee. The score cancellation is NOT reported to any schools and is not held against you in any way.
    •  PRO: You can take the GMAT at a test center once every 16 calendar days, up to 5 times in a given 12-month period. And, you can even take the GMAT up to 8 times in your lifetime (though we would not recommend that!)
    • PRO: You can choose the order of the sections among quantitative, verbal, and IR/AWA.
    • PRO: Because of the pandemic, test centers that are open have minimized capacity, affording students who have procured a seat more privacy and fewer distractions than test centers operating at full capacity.
    • CON: Test center GMAT is 30 minutes longer because the AWA (essay portion) is part of the test.
    • CON: At the test center, students must follow full COVID protocols, not the least of which is that testers must wear a mask at all times during the testing process. Students, especially those who wear glasses, may find this a hindrance.

We hope that this analysis of options will add some insight to the planning of your GMAT testing schedule during these challenging times. As we mentioned before, keep checking the relevant sources for any updated information — policies can change quickly in a time of uncertainty.

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