Here, GMAT expert Stacey Koprince, from Manhattan Prep, describes what she learned from her online test-taking experience and explains why the online whiteboard tool—which you need to use to take notes and do calculations during the exam—shouldn’t hold you back.
Stacey scored 740 on the GMAT Online Exam.
Note: The GMAT Online Exam now includes a physical whiteboard option. From June 2020, you can take physical notes during your exam.
5 lessons from the GMAT Online Exam
1. You should practice with the GMAT online whiteboard—a lot!
Going into the exam, I was laser-focused on the online whiteboard as the biggest challenge—and 90% of my five to six hours of practice with the whiteboard was on quant problems.
That focus paid off: My quant score actually went up one point (from 48 the last time I took the official test to 49 on the GMAT Online) and my IR score stayed at 8.
Most people are going to need a couple of weeks of practice, until the online whiteboard feels comfortable enough for you to take the exam. Using the whiteboard is not a direct translation; you can’t always do the same things you’d do on paper. So there’s a learning curve to figuring out how you want to organize your workspace, track your overall time, and solve individual problems.
2. Mental fatigue and physical comfort are real factors
I paid far less attention to the mental and physical aspects of taking the test at home. I barely practiced for the Verbal. When I took my one practice test, I did the Quant section sitting at my desk, but then got uncomfortable and moved to the couch to finish the test.
Big mistake! During the Verbal section of the real thing, my shoulders and neck got so tense that I had to take time to loosen up; I could’ve done that on a smaller scale throughout to avoid that issue. I also should have bailed on another one to two hard Quant problems to save mental energy and finish the section early, allowing me a mini-break between sections.
My Verbal score (my strongest section) dropped from 50 on my last official test to 42 on the GMAT Online. It’s true that we’re locked into the Quant-Verbal order and can’t have a real break between sections, but I think I could have gotten to 45 or 46 with better preparation—and that would’ve gotten me an overall 760 or 770 score versus the 740 that I ultimately earned.
One extra tip on this: Taking the test at home could help some anxious test-takers to feel more comfortable, but don’t get too relaxed. Do wear comfortable clothing, as you would in the testing center, but avoid pajamas or something you’d wear to veg out on the couch; that may lower your adrenaline and focus. Dress for success!
3. Hope you don’t need the proctor—but they’re there if needed
The woman who helped me walked me through everything and then patiently answered my multiple questions. Her calm demeanor actually helped to calm my nerves a bit and she even wished me luck—and I felt that she was sincere.
At my break, I pulled up the chat and was talking to someone within 15 seconds. A colleague of mine waited longer—maybe two to three minutes—to get a response. This is similar to a testing center, though; in both cases, one proctor is helping multiple people and you may have to wait a few minutes for someone to get to your request.
In general, some proctors are more conscientious than others; this is true in testing centers and is going to be true online as well.
4. The GMAT test content really is the same
Except for the fact that there was no essay, the test content felt exactly the same as it always does. I’ve taken the official GMAT many times and there was no discernible difference in the question type, content, composition, or anything else. The likely hundred-plus hours you’ve been putting into your preparation has not been wasted in any way.
It’s true that you’re going to need some time to adapt to the online whiteboard, but as with anything, good practice will get you the skills that you need to succeed on the GMAT.
5. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t take the GMAT Online Exam
Now that I’ve done it once, I think there’s a decent chance I’d choose to take it from home over the testing center, even with the online whiteboard.
I do need to practice more with the whiteboard to feel fully dialed in, but I don’t think there’s any reason why I can’t get there. So I’m telling my students to start building skill with the online whiteboard now and decide in a couple of weeks whether you want to go for it or wait to take the test in a testing center.
Ultimately, I’m really happy that my preparation with the online whiteboard tool did what it was supposed to do on Quant—and that means other test takers can learn to do what they need to do, too—but I didn't pay enough attention to other factors on Verbal.
So learn from me and do better!
Read more about the Online GMAT Exam: