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GMAT undergoing makeover in 2 years time

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Two years from now, the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT), the primary gatekeeper to business school for generations of MBA students, will get its biggest makeover in more than a decade, with the addition of a new section designed to test advanced reasoning skills, the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) announced on June 24 at its annual industry conference in San Diego.

The new section will replace one of the two writing sections currently on the exam, GMAC says. It will also be scored separately and have a new audio component for some questions. The test’s current verbal and math sections will remain unchanged.

The coming changes to the GMAT were pressed by faculty members at business schools around the world, who told the testing organization that they wanted a section that simulated the skills students use in MBA classrooms, says Dave Wilson, president and chief executive of GMAC. The alteration is the biggest to the test, he says, since the GMAT was switched to its computer-adaptive format in the late 1990s.

“It’s a dramatic shift,” Wilson stated in an interview with Bloomberg Businessweek before the announcement. “These questions are really microcosms of what goes on in the MBA classroom, and it will help schools identify students [who] will thrive in the classroom, not just survive.”

Jousting With a Testing Rival

The latest version of the GMAT—the 10th generation of the exam—will be followed closely by admissions officers, students, and test preparation companies in the coming year, as GMAC pilots the exam this year and prepares to launch it on June 4, 2012. The organization has spent more than $10 million in developing the new questions; GMAC will be relying heavily on audio technology designed by its testing administrator, Pearson Vue. The new test, which will be rolled out a year ahead of schedule, will be GMAC’s latest weapon in its ongoing battle with the Educational Testing Service. ETS has tried to encroach on GMAC’s territory in the past year by persuading a growing number of business schools—including Harvard, Wharton, Stanford, and MIT—to allow students to submit the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) for admission.

“I think the more one uses technology for new types of questions to differentiate the test, the better. It shows the schools that innovation is happening,” says Kai Peters, chief executive of the U.K.’s Ashridge Business School and a GMAC board member.

The format of the new GMAT section—which GMAC has dubbed the integrated reasoning section—will be different from anything students have encountered before on the test, GMAC says. Test takers will need to interpret charts, graphs, and spreadsheets, determine the relationships among data points, and answer interactive questions that will test their analytical skills. During portions of the section, students will wear headphones, a new feature that will help schools assess students’ auditory learning style. The changes to the exam mirror shifts in the business school classroom in recent years, as schools have changed their curriculums to emphasize problem-solving and critical thinking, says Peg Jobst, senior vice-president for GMAC services. GMAC piloted the new section last spring with current MBA students and plans to pilot it again this fall with 3,000 GMAT test takers. Feedback from students has so far been positive, she says.

“So far, with the students we’ve tested, they felt like it did simulate what they are expected to do in business school,” Jobst says.

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