Thoughts from the GMAC Test Prep Summit

Last week dozens of key players in the test preparation space converged on New York City for the Graduate Management Admission Council’s third biennial Test Prep Summit. Four members of the Veritas Prep team flew to New York to attend what some of us called “The Oscars of Test Prep.” While there were no red carpets or $10,000 dresses, we really enjoyed attending this “who’s who in test prep” event to meet our peers and to hear directly from GMAC about what they have planned for the GMAT and other programs.

We spent a good part of the morning talking about the new English language test that GMAC will roll out with Pearson next week, The Pearson Test of English Academic (PTE Academic). While we wonder how much of a dent the new test will make in TOEFL’s and IELTS’s market dominance in the short term, it’s clear that great deal of work has gone into this exam, and we wonder if what we saw last week is a glimpse of some new GMAT features that GMAC will introduce in 2013.

While the GMAT has been computer-adaptive for some time now, its individual questions don’t currently take advantage of the computerized format — they could also be completed on a paper test. These new PTE Academic questions, however, make good use of a computers graphical interface (asking test takers to “drag and drop” answer choices, for example), making this a real step forward. While GMAC was reluctant to talk at all about the new GMAT coming in 2013, we have to believe that some of these innovations will make their way into the new test.

Dr. Lawrence Rudner from GMAC (pictured above) also shared a lot of data about how many people are taking the GMAT, where in the world people have recently taken the test, etc. There was lots of useful information, but we’ll spare our readers from wading through the pages and pages of notes that we took. One interesting takeaway: Amazingly, nearly one third of students (29%) spend less than 20 hours preparing for the GMAT. Think about it… This test has a big, big impact on what business school someone may be admitted to, and almost a third of applicants don’t even put a long weekend into studying for it! We’re certainly biased since our 42-hour GMAT course is the longest that any major player offers, but there’s no substitute for preparation. Extensive GMAT prep yields significantly improved results, and GMAC’s own numbers bear that out. (We’ll share more on that in the coming weeks.)

Finally, we would have done a disservice to our students if we hadn’t asked GMAC a lot of questions about the test’s methodology for penalizing students for getting easy question wrong, and rewarding students for getting difficult questions right. While we can’t share everything that was discussed, you can take comfort in knowing that the test was designed to account for the fact that a great test taker can occasionally slip and get an easy question wrong. So, you can safely ignore all of the bad advice out there about spending extra time on the first few questions to make sure that you absolutely don’t miss one of them. As we have said many times before, you should treat those questions the same as any other question.

We’re constantly working to improve our GMAT prep courses, and what we learned last week reinforces our belief that we’re on the right track: The GMAT is is designed to test your critical thinking abilities more than your ability to spot grammar errors or do basic algebra. Understand the concepts that they’re testing and practice extensively, and you will be ready on test day!