Unlike some admissions tests that are offered only a handful of times per year, such as the LSAT, the GMAT is conducted throughout the year and is not restricted to any particular set of dates. So, with that out of the way, you may be wondering, “When is the best time to take the GMAT?” or, “What is the GMAT online exam?”
In this post, we’ll discuss the new online GMAT, options for in-person testing and dates, as well as additional changes students should be aware of for the 2021-2022 exam cycle.
What is the GMAT Online?
If you are brand new to the MBA application process, you may not yet be intimately familiar with the GMAT Online exam. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Graduate Management Admissions Council (GMAC), creators of the GMAT, launched an online, remote version of the test. In brief, the two primary differences between the GMAT Online and the in-person format are:
- GMAT online exams taken before April 8, 2021, do not include the Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA) section
- Currently, you may only take the GMAT online twice (i.e. one retest is permitted)
- You’ll need access to a Window or Mac computer with high-speed internet access and an enabled webcam to take the online version of the exam
- A fixed section order is required for online exams taken before April 8, 2021: Quantitative, Verbal, and Integrated Reasoning
Recently, the GMAC announced that the online GMAT format is now a permanent option for test-takers! Although originally designed as a special measure due to COVID-19, the new format proved highly popular with students and will remain as an alternate method to take the GMAT. The announced change fits the ongoing trend of making the GMAT increasingly accessible and flexible for students.
Updates to the GMAT Online
Several updates will go into effect as the online version transitions to its permanent structure. Beginning April 8, 2021, the GMAT online exam will have the following features:
- Contain all 4 full exam sections: Quantitative, Verbal, Integrated Reasoning, and the Analytical Writing Assessment.
- Flexible section order (i.e. you’ll be able to choose whether to begin with the Quant or Verbal section)
- Two optional 8-minute breaks will be provided, rather than the previous single 5-minute break
- Only one online retake will be allowed
- You’ll be able to view your unofficial GMAT scores and percentiles immediately after completing the exam
Please note that all GMAT online attempts will count toward both your 12-month and lifetime limits. Specifically, students may not take the GMAT more than 8 times total and no more than 5 times in a rolling 12-month period.
GMAT Online vs. GMAT in Test Center
Following the updates to the online GMAT, there will be fewer differences between the two options (other than the location of course). Both formats will offer flexible section order choices and include the Analytical Writing Assessment. Additionally, the two versions will have the same number of Quant, Verbal, and IR questions.
One small difference between the two options is the registration cost. You can save $25 by opting for the online GMAT, rather than taking it in a test center ($250 – online vs. $275 – test center). Also, the cancellation fee ranges are smaller for the online version ($150-$200 online vs. $175-$225 test center), and vary according to the number of days in advance that you wish to cancel.
GMAT Test Dates 2021-2022
Thanks to the GMAT online, you have nearly unlimited test date options to schedule your exam and continue on with the MBA admissions process. Test slots for the online GMAT are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Students may register for the online option via the MBA.com registration portal.
For those who would like to take the exam in person at a test center, simply find a GMAT location near you and use the official test center search page (this assumes you’ve already registered an account with GMAC). Please note that test center availability may be highly dependent on your locality. Additionally, given the potential for limited in-person seats, you’re highly recommended to book your GMAT test date significantly far in advance.
When to Take the GMAT
The first official item to cross off your MBA admissions checklist is to sign up to take the GMAT. But when is the best time to take the GMAT? In short, you should start preparing for the exam at least 8-9 months before your first application deadline. This will allow you to take your test about 5-6 months before you apply and leave room for a retake if needed.
Of course, many students like to prepare and take their GMAT exam even further in advance. To help determine when you should take the GMAT, consider the following questions:
- Would you like to give yourself time to take the GMAT more than once?
- Do you plan to apply for any early decision (ED) deadlines or rolling admissions programs?
- Are you honestly ready to sit for the exam? (i.e. have you taken multiple practice tests and completed a prep course or other study program?)
Retaking the GMAT: Standard Error of Measurement and its Impact on Your Score
With respect to the first question, most tutors and admissions consultants recommend that you give yourself enough time to take the exam more than once. Just like any admissions test, the GMAT has a standard error of measurement. This means that your score won’t necessarily be completely reflective of your knowledge and skills. So, your “true” GMAT score could actually be 30-40 points higher or lower than the score you achieve on any one exam.
To combat the potentially negative variation of any one test sitting, you’ll likely want to give yourself more than one shot at achieving your target GMAT score. Sure, some people may get lucky and score above their potential on a first attempt. However, it could also go the other way. A 30-40 point swing in your GMAT score could easily be the difference between acceptance and rejection at your target MBA programs. Bottom line: sign up early and give yourself the extra time for a potential retake.
Coordinating When to Take the GMAT and Your MBA Application
When it comes to application timing, it’s generally ideal to have your GMAT score finalized well before your target schools begin accepting applications. Some top business schools begin accepting applications as early as June of the year prior to entrance. All things being equal, the earlier the better when it comes to the MBA application timeline. This is especially true for schools that use a rolling admissions process, such as Columbia’s MBA program.
Naturally, applying early only helps when you’re able to put your best foot forward. This means submitting a GMAT score that reflects your full potential. While other components of your application play a meaningful role, generally speaking, a significantly higher score still beats out an earlier applicant with a lower score. Apply early if and only if you are truly ready and have a GMAT score reflective of your abilities.
Taking into account all of the above, it can be challenging to find the best test date given multiple demands on your time (this is true for both students and working professionals). One last item to consider is the effort you’ll need to put into assembling your business school application. This will include writing a stellar statement of purpose, collecting transcripts, organizing recommendations, and a slew of other tasks. If you’re like me, you probably won’t want to be doing all of these things while studying for the GMAT at the same time. Again, the best course of action is to plan well ahead of time and avoid the stress of being pulled in too many different directions.
Frequently Asked Questions: GMAT Test Dates
See below for some additional answers to frequently asked questions about taking the GMAT in 2021-2022.
Is the GMAT online available in all locations?
The GMAT online exam is available in most locations. However, it is notably not available in Mainland China.
How Often is the GMAT Offered?
The online GMAT is available in most time frames throughout the week (i.e. pretty much 24/7). For the in-person exam, check for availability based on your nearest test centers.
How Much Does it Cost to Take the GMAT?
The in-person GMAT costs more than the online GMAT ($275 vs. $250).