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  • Writer's pictureLauren Wong

New GMAT "GMAT Focus Edition"! Breakdown of the "tests" for MBA applications

The GMAT has been the flagship standardized test to take when applying for MBA. Although no one likes taking standardized tests, especially the ever challenging GMAT, it has long been a way for prospective MBA students to prove that they're a competitive candidate, especially for international students and those with weaker academic performances. However, with the GMAT being so challenging, more prospective students are taking the GRE or applying for test waivers AND more MBA programs, including the top programs, are becoming more receptive to the alternatives. Thus, big changes are coming to the GMAT as a way for GMAT to "adapt" to these changes and entice prospective students back to the GMAT. In this post, I'll review the standardized testing options as well as discuss what we know about the "new" GMAT so far, and what to do about it.

Test Options

GMAT (2022 and before)

Again, the GMAT has tended to be the flagship standardized test to take and it still continues to be the most popular test for prospective students. Broken down into 4 sections: Analytical Writing, Integrated Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, and Verbal Reasoning, the Quantitative Reasoning and Verbal Reasoning are both computer adaptive as in each question you answer determines the difficulty of the next one. Typically, if your first few questions are difficult that's actually a good sign as in you are setting a higher base of difficulty and thus performing "stronger". This format has always been a bit unnerving for students as they tend to think (and overthink) whether or not their base difficulty is too low or that the questions are too difficult. The test takes about 3.5 hours and it is a beast. While international students tend to do decent on quantitative, verbal tends to be especially challenging.


The GRE has recently become quite popular among prospective students. Around 2009, MBA programs became more receptive of the GRE as a substitute for GMAT, with each program having different policies and considerations. However, since mid 2010's, the GRE has been overall given around the same weight as GMAT. The consensus tends to be that the GRE's quantitative is easier but the verbal is more difficult. This is something key to note for international students as a lot of my clients tend to think GRE will be easier when in fact, that may not be the case given the more difficult verbal section. However, the key aspect that most students tend to like about the GRE vs. the GMAT is the ability to skip questions and go back to them. This is far less stressful than the GMAT all or nothing approach to each question! Similar to the GMAT, it also has an analytical writing, quantitative, verbal, and Research section (which is somewhat equivalent to the GMAT's IR section). Timing is about the same at roughly 3 hours for the entire test.


The EA, or Executive Assessment is a test option designed specifically for experienced professionals. Briefer and designed to be taken with less preparation, the test only consists of 40 questions across Integrated Reasoning, Verbal Reasoning, and Quantitative sections and lasts 90 minutes. While it does seem like the easier option, it's important to note that the EA tends to be an option only for students with extensive business experience and is not accepted by all programs. Thus, unless you have extraneous circumstances where you cannot take the GMAT or GRE I often dissuade clients from seeing this as an option.

Test Waiver

Finally, with Covid-19 pandemic changing everything, many MBA programs have now made testing optional whether through a waiver that allows a prospective student to prove how their work experience qualifies or just "test free" programs, While this may seem like a lucrative option for most students, a GMAT/GRE score still tend to help the competitiveness of an applicant - especially those with weaker academic performance and international students. Thus, similar to the EA, unless there are extraneous circumstances, I tend to dissuade my clients from this option.

Now the question people tend to ask me - which is best for me to take?

As a more traditionalist when it comes to the MBA, I believe the GMAT is still the best test to take to be a competitive applicant. Even with MBA programs saying that the GMAT and GRE are given equal weight, the GMAT tends to be more focused on business specific topics and rumor has it that management consulting firms sometimes still ask for GMAT scores. With that being said, I also believe that circumstances matter and you should do what's best for yourself. As in, if you really can't do well on the GMAT, perhaps give GRE a try. If you're an applicant with extensive experience, perhaps an EA makes more sense. Best thing to do is to assess your situation, and ideally get feedback -- something I excel in doing as an Admissions Coach!

The 2023 GMAT "GMAT Focus Edition" and what to do about it

At the time of writing this (April 2023), the new GMAT, "GMAT Focus Edition" is expected to roll out late 2023, with the old version to be phased out in early 2024. Designed to be better for the prospective student, the test will be one hour shorter and the analytical writing section will be eliminated. Additionally, a new "Data Insights" section, which focuses more on data analysis and visualization, will replace the Integrated Reasoning section. Students will be allowed to choose which section they start in and most notably, will be able to skip questions and go back to change the answer to 3 questions. Additionally, the GMAT will provide more detailed reports allowing students to understand where they need to improve and finally, students will be given 48 hours to assess their test scores before deciding where to send their scores. So far, there's been mixed reviews on what these changes will do for test takers as test waivers and GRE becomes increasingly popular. Personally for me, I think these changes do make the test more approachable. The core verbal and quantitative remain the same but with no writing section and the revamped Data sections, I believe this is tailored better for the average test taker, testing business skills better.

But what to do about it? Well, for those applying these next couple of years and taking the "old" GMAT, remember that scores are valid for 5 years. There's still some time before the new format rolls out and thus if you're keen on studying and getting the test out of the way (especially for those applying for 2023 cycle), it's probably best to focus on the old test. However, if you're still on the fence about applying for MBA or applying a few years down the line, it may be best to try the new test format, especially if you find yourself more anxious with the current testing structure. As we continue through 2023, I expect there will be more testing material and testing centers adjusting to the new "GMAT Focus Edition"

For those with additional questions about standardized testing for MBA application or have questions regarding how to approach the MBA application, as an Admissions Coach and Consultant I offer FREE 30 minute consultation calls where I personally hear your situation and give my assessment. Unlike most Admissions Consultants, I am open to working with clients who have not yet taken the GMAT/GRE as my full package also offers Standardized Test "coaching" (where I don't teach or tutor the material but I provide support in studying). Schedule your call today for your free assessment and advice on how to approach the MBA Application!

Further information/my source for details on the 2023 GMAT Focus Edition: US News

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