GMAT Online vs Test Center: Pros and Cons of Each Testing Option

by Emmanuel Carita
20 views 14 minutes read
GMAT Online vs Test Center - Pros and Cons of Each Testing Option

In 2021, following the global pandemic caused by Covid-19, GMAC took the then-unprecedented step of offering the GMAT in an online format. This was, at the time, a necessity due to the need for social distancing and the impracticality of carrying out tests in the test center itself. However, taking the GMAT online instead of offline in a test center has proven to be popular, and GMAC stuck with the online option after the pandemic began to abate.

This means that candidates now have an option – they can take the test the traditional way, in a test center, or they can take it online. Each of these options has its advantages and disadvantages, of course, and it can be difficult for many candidates to make a decision on which test to take.

Which is where we come in. Over the course of this article, we plan to take a look at both online and offline test center GMAT tests, the pros and cons of each, and what factors might influence your decision when it comes to which one you should choose.

GMAT Online Vs. In Person: What’s The Same?

First of all, there is a strikingly large amount that doesn’t differ at all between the two test formats. When GMAC first introduced the online version of the GMAT, this wasn’t the case; there was no AWA in the online version, and so it was around 30 minutes shorter than the offline one. There were also fewer breaks online than offline.

However, in 2021, GMAC decided to reform the online GMAT after feedback from candidates. To bring it more in line with the offline experience, they added two eight-minute breaks (as in the offline test) and reinstated the AWA. This made the overall structure of the GMAT more or less identical in both formats.

GMAC also changed the online GMAT so that candidates could choose the order of the various sections – identical to the offline version of the test. This change removed the last major barrier for those pondering whether or not to choose the online version over the offline one.

Other commonalities between the two formats of the GMAT are detailed below.

Scratch Paper/Whiteboards

Both versions of the test have a way of taking notes during the test. In the test-center version, 5 sheets of double-sided laminated scratch paper are made available to you. It’s easily erasable and is used to jot down notes or make quick calculations. You’ll also be given a fine-tip marker for use with this.

The online version has an interactive whiteboard included, but it is fiddly and not recommended. You can instead buy an erasable whiteboard like this one. Make sure that your whiteboard corresponds with GMAC’s requirements for physical whiteboards, and note that although you can buy kits that are identical to GMAC’s scratch-paper kits for use at home, these are not permitted in the online exam.

Section Order Options

Whether taking the GMAT online or offline in a test center, the section order options are now identical:

  • AWA First (default): AWA, IR, break, Quant, break, Verbal
  • Quant First: Quant, break, Verbal, break, IR, AWA
  • Verbal First: Verbal, break, Quant, break, IR, AWA

In both the online and offline versions of the test, you will make this selection just prior to beginning the test but after you have chosen which schools will receive copies of your results.

Exam Length

The length of the GMAT is exactly the same online or offline, coming in at three hours and seven minutes. The individual section timings are as follows:

  • 31 Quant questions (62 minutes)
  • 36 Verbal questions (65 minutes)
  • 12 IR questions (30 minutes)
  • 1 AWA question (30 minutes)

Note that the timing does not include the two potential 8-minute breaks, as you can opt not to take them.

Scoring

Scoring is exactly the same whether you’re taking the GMAT online or in a test center, so this is not something you need to worry about. All sections except the AWA are automatically computer-marked, and an unofficial score is generated as soon as you’ve finished. This score will be verified, and your official score will be sent out to you within 2 weeks.

The AWA is marked by computer algorithm and also by a human examiner. If there is a discrepancy of greater than 1 between the two scores, a second human examiner will re-mark it. If the difference is 1 or less, the score will be averaged out.

Registration

The registration process for both the online and offline versions of the GMAT is exactly the same. However, there is a difference in pricing (as we’ll see later when we examine the differences between the two exam formats).

GMAT Online Vs. Test Center: What’s Different?

Despite all the similarities between the online and offline versions of the GMAT, there inevitably remains a number of differences between the two. Let’s take a look at what those differences are.

Registration Fee

One of the biggest differences between the online and offline versions of the GMAT is the cost. The online version is $25 more expensive, costing $300 where the offline one costs $275. For most people who are committed to doing well on the GMAT, that $25 is not going to make any functional difference to their decision on whether to take it online or in person.

The rescheduling fees for the two types of GMAT are different, too. Online rescheduling fees are always more expensive, but the degree of expense differs according to how far ahead you reschedule. If it’s more than 60 days, the difference is a mere $5 ($55/$60 for the in-person/offline GMATs respectively), $10 for 15-60 days ($110/$120 respectively) and $15 for 14 days or fewer ($165/$180).

Though this may qualify as one of the disadvantages of taking the GMAT online, the fact is that it’s a very small consideration for anyone serious about the GMAT, and shouldn’t be viewed as much of a deterrent.

Computer System Requirements

A huge difference between the two formats – and one of the disadvantages of taking the GMAT online – is that you need to make sure that your computer is up to the task of handling the GMAT software, which you don’t have to worry about when taking the GMAT in a test center.

If sitting the exam at a test center, you’ll have everything provided to you as part of your fee, and won’t need to worry about a computer etc. But when you’re doing the test from home, you need to make sure that both your computer and internet connection are up to snuff.

You’ll also need to make sure that the hardware and software on your computer are fit for task. This includes making sure that you don’t have a VPN/firewall/anti-virus software that might interfere with the software or connection, and you also need to ensure you have a working webcam and microphone (these will need to be on at all times throughout the test).

As for your internet connection, it will need to be a minimum speed of 2mbps – anything slower won’t be able to handle the assets you’ll need for the test. You’ll also need to make sure you’re connected to a power source (if using a laptop) and that pop-ups are enabled. Note also that tablets and other such devices are expressly forbidden; you must be using a computer.

A full list of all system requirements can be found here.

Booking A Test And Availability

One of the biggest advantages of taking the GMAT online is the fact that there isn’t a limited number of spaces; by virtue of taking the test online, you can rest assured that you’ll be able to take the test whenever is convenient for you.

This is fantastic for people with full-time jobs or other responsibilities that cannot reliably make it to a test center, or may not be particularly close to their nearest test center. It’s also great for people who’d like the option to take the test at any time they’d like – even late at night or early in the morning.

With an in-person test, this simply isn’t possible. Both exam times and locations are limited, and they can also rapidly fill to capacity, sometimes making it impossible to take the test at a time and place that’s convenient for you.

Do note, however, that online GMAT tests are not available in some countries due to local data and security policies. This includes China, Cuba, North Korea, Sudan, and Iran.

Test Environment

It goes without saying that taking the online GMAT is going to be a very different experience from taking it in a test center. You could well (and probably should) be at home, in your bedroom or another quiet space. This is going to make for a completely different environment from sitting in a large exam room with dozens of other candidates.

However, GMAC does insist on wherever you take the test to replicate the conditions of a test center as much as possible. This means that you’ll need to completely clear your workspace (except for a clear container of water), remove any sources of writing on the wall (or have them inspected), turn off all additional computers and monitors, and ensure that you have a wired internet connection (for maximum efficacy and to reduce the chance of a dropped connection).

There is also quite the laundry list of prohibited items, just like in an in-person test. Candidates are not permitted to have headphones, headsets or earphones of any kind, smartphones, books, notes, bags, coats, jackets, or anything else the proctor deems inappropriate. Writing tablets, chalkboards, pens and pencils are also prohibited.

Finally, smoking, eating and drinking (with the exception of water) are all prohibited. This is to be expected, given that it’s a test!

Pre-Test Security

In order to verify that your test environment is appropriate and that you don’t have any proscribed items in your vicinity, a pre-test security check will be performed online, the same as it would offline. However, since it’s not possible for a proctor to physically visit the place where you’ll be doing the test, it will be done online.

You’ll first log in using security questions to confirm your identity. You’ll then further confirm your identity by displaying the same photo ID you registered with. After this, you’ll be required to assist the proctor in conducting an assessment of the test environment.

To do this, you’ll need to take your webcam and do a 360-degree sweep of the room you’re in. The proctor will confirm that there are none of the restricted items detailed above, and they will also confirm all other devices have been switched off. Finally, any items on the wall with writing on will be inspected by the proctor to make sure they have nothing that might give you an unfair advantage.

During the test itself, you’ll be using a locked and secured proprietary browser, and all other applications must be closed. The entire session (including webcam footage) will be recorded, and you’ll be monitored at all times. If using a physical whiteboard, it must be fully erased at the start and end of the test, as well as at the start of breaks. The erased whiteboard must be shown to the proctor via your webcam.

If the proctor feels that the rules are being broken at any point, he or she may immediately end the test. It’s therefore very important that all of the test regulations are adhered to completely at all times.

All of the above may sound a little daunting, but it’s really no different to the conditions at a test center – it simply requires that you’re a little more personally assiduous in ensuring a sound test environment.

In-Person Vs. Remote Proctor

In both versions of the GMAT, you’ll be monitored by a proctor, whether online or in a test center. We went into some detail about the proctor’s role above, but they’re not there simply to keep tabs on you and make sure that you’re not cheating.

The proctor – whether online or offline – is also there to help you and to make sure that you’re not having any issues. To this end, they can answer any questions you have (except, of course, answering test questions for you or providing you with any hints), and try to help you in the event of technical issues.

In the test center, of course, you simply raise your hand. If taking the test online, you’ll have access to a button in the top corner of the browser that can get the proctor’s attention. In practice, however, this is unlikely to be needed, and you should simply ignore the presence of the proctor and get on with your test.

Enhanced Score Report (ESR)

One of the biggest disadvantages of taking the GMAT online is, unfortunately, the lack of an Enhanced Score Report. This detailed report offers a comprehensive breakdown of your performance in the test, including comparing your performance to that of other candidates and analyzing your time-management skills. It can also provide detailed feedback about which areas you did well in, and which you underperformed in.

It’s an extremely invaluable tool if you cancel a GMAT score or want to retake the test, and so it’s a massive disadvantage if you take the test online and fail. For this reason, many GMAT instructors and veterans recommend taking the test in person for the first attempt; if you get the score you want, no further test will be necessary. However, if you fail to get that score, the ESR will at least help you understand why. You can always take the test online the next time.

That said, it’s really a matter of personal preference. You may be supremely confident in the fact that you’ll get the score you need the first time around. In that case, you may well want to opt for the online GMAT anyway.

Number Of Re-Tests

You are limited to 8 lifetime GMAT re-sits. However, you can only take the online GMAT a total of twice. This is further incentive to take the test offline for your first attempt – if you take it online and do badly, you’ll only have one more shot online. If your first attempt is in person, then at least you’ll have two more shots online at your disposal.

That said, it’s generally not great if you have to retake the GMAT more than twice, so you may decide to start out with the online GMAT anyway. If you don’t get the score you want, you’ll still have one more shot online – and if you still don’t get your desired results the second time around, you can always look at taking the offline GMAT.

Conclusion

As we have seen, the answer to the question “can you take the GMAT online?” is a resounding “yes”, with robust online testing procedures in place to make the process as painless as possible. But the question, really, is: should you take the GMAT online, or should you go for the traditional test center exam?

It’s really up to you and your needs. If you have a prohibitively busy schedule and/or the nearest test center is not easy to access, then taking the online test is surely the best option. However, if you’re worried about taking the GMAT again and would like more detailed feedback on your performance, then you might consider opting for an in-person test.

Either way, GMAC’s efforts to standardize the two variants mean that the experience of taking the GMAT is functionally the same in both instances. It’s simply a matter of personal preference on your part.

You may also like