GMAT Online vs At-center GMAT: Which should you take?

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Business schools all over the world use the Graduate Management Admission Test, or GMAT, to assess the readiness of applicants for graduate-level study in business and management. The GMAT is designed to measure the skills that are necessary for success in graduate-level business programs, including analytical reasoning, critical thinking, and communication skills.

The GMAT is a computer-based test that can be taken either at home or at an official testing centre. But that gives rise to the question, which is better?

gmat online vs at-center gmat

Both options have their advantages and disadvantages, and it’s important to carefully consider which version of the test is right for you. In this article, we will explore the key differences between the at-centre GMAT and at-home GMAT (GMAT Online), providing a framework for readers to decide which version of the exam they should take. Whether you are concerned about test-taking environments or the flexibility of online testing, this article will help you make an informed decision and prepare for a successful GMAT experience.

Similarities between at center GMAT and GMAT Online

Format

When GMAC released the GMAT Online, Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA), which is the test’s essay task, was not included initially. Thus, the online exam was about a half-hour shorter than the at-centre GMAT. However, changes were made in 2021 that evened the playing field for both exams. Three additions were made: the Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA), two optional 8-minute breaks, and section order selection.

This meant that the format for both the online as well as the in-centre tests is now exactly the same. The online test is now the same length as the test at the GMAT centre: 3 hours and 7 minutes, plus breaks.

The basic structure of the exam is as below:

GMAT Test Format

There are four sections to the test:

1. Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA)

·   Questions – 1 essay

·   Maximum time – 30 minutes

2. Integrated Reasoning (IR)

·   Questions – 12

·   Maximum time – 30 minutes

3. Quantitative Reasoning

·   Questions – 31

·   Maximum time – 62 minutes

4. Verbal Reasoning

·   Questions – 36

·   Maximum time – 65 minutes

Additionally, one can also choose the section orders in which the test can be taken, for both online and at the test centre.

GMAT Section Order Options

There are 3 options to choose from:

  1. Analytical Writing Assessment, Integrated Reasoning, Quantitative, Verbal (original order)
  2. Verbal, Quantitative, Integrated Reasoning, Analytical Writing Assessment
  3. Quantitative, Verbal, Integrated Reasoning, Analytical Writing Assessment

Scores

The scores for both the GMAT online and the GMAT at the centre use the same scoring algorithm. Hence, the score scales and percentile rankings are exactly the same for the two exams.

For both exams, the score that you will receive will contain both the total and the sectional breakdown, with scores of your quant section, verbal section score, IR section, and AWA section separately.

Registration

Registering for the GMAT online is as simple as registering for the GMAT at a testing centre. The following detailed steps should help you do it with ease.

For both, you will have to create an account on mba.com and log in to the registration area.

Enter your basic personal information in order to establish your profile, following which you can log into your account and schedule your test appointments.

In the circumstances where you already have an mba.com account that you used to arrange a GMAT test centre appointment, you don’t need to create a second account to plan a GMAT at home appointment, or vice versa. Both tests can be scheduled using the same account.

Differences between At-center GMAT and GMAT Online

There are two main categories of differences between the GMAT Online and the GMAT at the centre test.

·   Logistics, and

·   Test-taking experience

The logistics include the likes of the fees, system requirements, etc., while the experience talks about the atmosphere of the exam.

Registration Fee

The GMAT online registration fee is $300, which is higher than the centre exam fee of $275. The mere $25 difference, though, is not as big as the other choices one needs to make while taking the decision, the time to be dedicated, and the resources and work required to prepare for the exam.

GMAT Cancellation Fee

If you cancel the exam, there are charges that are incurred. Much like the registration process, that too differs from the online to the centre-based GMAT.

If the cancellation is made more than 60 days before the appointment, then the fee is as below:

·   Test Centre GMAT – $110 refund

·       Online GMAT – $120 refund

If the cancellation is made between 15 to 60 days before the appointment, then the fee is as below:

·   Test Centre GMAT – $80 refund

·       Online GMAT – $90 refund

If the cancellation is made between 1 to 14 days before the appointment, then the fee is as below:

·   Test Centre GMAT – $55 refund

·       Online GMAT – $60 refund

GMAT Rescheduling fee

The reschedule fee is also different based on the test location.

If the rescheduling is done more than 60 days before the appointment, then the cost is as below:

·   Test Centre GMAT – $55

·       Online GMAT – $60

If the rescheduling is done between 15 to 60 days before the appointment, then the cost is as below:

·   Test Centre GMAT – $110 refund

·       Online GMAT – $120 refund

If the rescheduling is done between 1 to 14 days before the appointment, then the cost is as below:

·   Test Centre GMAT – $165 refund

·       Online GMAT – $180 refund

Availability

Although GMAT test dates are available year-round for both tests, there are certain differences.

One advantage of taking the GMAT online is that you do not have to adhere to the schedule of a GMAT test centre. Instead, slots for taking the test are accessible 24 hours a day, seven days a week. As a result, your test can be booked any day of the week and at any hour.

For the GMAT centre, on the other hand, your options will be more limited. Some exam slots may already be fully filled. Furthermore, GMAT test facilities are only available during a specific time frame during the day, and not 24/7, hence you will have limited time slot choices when giving the exam at the centre, since few slots may be booked by others and filled out.

System Requirements

The technical prerequisites for taking the GMAT at home are one of the most significant differences between the two testing alternatives. If you take the at-centre exam, you will utilize the following equipment: a desk, a chair, a computer, a marker, and a dry-erase board. If you take the GMAT at home, you must have all of your own equipment available.

Of course, you can’t just opt for any equipment you want to take your exam with. To execute the GMAT Online software, your computer must meet certain technological requirements. These rules ensure that at-home test takers do not acquire an edge over those who take the GMAT at a testing centre.

Fortunately, you don’t need some heavy technical setup to take the test. Because the GMAT Online is a remote-proctored exam, the main equipment you will need is a webcam, microphone, and speakers. However, you can use a desktop or laptop computer, and the online exam software is compatible with both PC and Mac operating systems.

Test Environment

Obviously, taking the GMAT at home will seem very different from taking it at a test centre, where your workstation is new and you’re surrounded by others. Moreover, if you take the GMAT at home, you must do so in a private setting. In other words, you must be able to sit for around 3.5 hours without interruptions.

Having said that, GMAC has attempted to achieve as much parity as possible between the two examinations. So, while you can adjust the temperature and lighting in your GMAT testing room at home, which are things you can’t control at a GMAT test centre, your workplace should still be as “test centre-like” as feasible.

All items on your desk must be removed, save your computer and a real whiteboard (if you use one). Even the walls must be removed. So, while the atmosphere of your test at home will surely differ from that of the test centre, don’t go into the online test expecting to be surrounded by all of the “creature comforts” of home during your exam.

Water is a luxury that is authorized for the online GMAT but not permitted in testing facilities. The water needs to be visible and kept in a transparent bottle clearly atop the desk. You can keep drinks (and food) in your locker at a testing location, but you cannot bring them inside the exam room and can only have access to them during the allotted breaks.

Remote Proctor

A test administrator oversees all GMAT test takers at a test centre. Candidates taking the exam can at any given point raise their hand and inquire things from the administrator regarding the test or any issues faced while giving it.

Of course, for the GMAT Online, a test administrator cannot be present – at least not in person. As a result, the GMAT Online employs a remote proctor. The remote proctor keeps an eye on you throughout the exam and is available to answer your questions or resolve any technical issues. The remote proctor, on the other hand, will monitor you through your webcam and listen through the microphone. You can ask the proctor a question at any time during the exam by clicking a chat icon at the top of your computer screen.

This setup may appear unpleasant at first. In practice, though, it is not much different than being observed in person by a proctor. The test proctor can see your every motion and hear you sniffling or tapping your fingers on the desk at a testing centre. During tests, all GMAT test centre exam rooms are videotaped. In either case, the proctor has the authority to terminate your exam at any time if he or she believes you are not following GMAT guidelines.

Eventually, unless you have a problem while taking your exam, the test proctor should not be an issue regardless of your testing reference.

Check-In Process

If you are taking the GMAT at a test centre, you need to arrive 30 minutes before your scheduled time. This gives you plenty of time to check-in. It is possible that due to the overload of people taking the test at a particular time, you may be required to wait in line behind others checking in, or take some time to yourself while you store away your personal things outside the exam room, in the lockers allotted to you.

On the other hand, the check-in process for the GMAT Online takes place with the remote proctor you must and will need you to log in only 15 minutes before your exam is scheduled. The procedure is accomplished with the help of your computer’s webcam. To begin, you will snap a headshot photo of yourself and show your identification. Then, you’ll perform a 360-degree room scan to ensure that your workspace complies with GMAT Online standards.

Enhanced Score Report

The GMAT Enhanced Score Report (ESR) is a confidential examination performance breakdown. It is available for purchase from GMAC within 24 to 72 hours of taking the exam. Take note of the confidentiality aspect of it here. If you opt to buy the ESR, only you will have complete access to the report; schools won’t be able to see this.

Your ESR includes data on your overall exam performance as well as your performance in each section. It also will give you an idea as to how your score compares against the other GMAT test takers: Each performance breakdown will include a summary of your performance and the analysis behind it. Additionally, it will also include the average scores and the time per question all the takers of the exam have taken in the last three years so that you can compare yourself against their scores and time to see where you stand.

One of the best features of the ESR is that you can order it for your exam even if your score has been cancelled. As a result, you can still profit from the time-management statistics provided by the ESR, as well as acquire a basic understanding of which portions of the exam produced your low score. Clearly, knowing your weak points and time concerns will be useful while studying for a retake.

Unfortunately, the ESR is currently not accessible for the GMAT online and is only available for the tests taken at the centre!

Retaking the Exam

Unfortunately, the number of times a test-taker can take the GMAT in their lifetime is limited to eight. Hence regardless of how many years have lapsed between your GMAT attempts or which exam you take (online or at-centre), in your entire lifetime, you cannot attempt the exam more than 8 times.

Furthermore, you are limited to five GMAT tries in a 12-month period. So, whether you take the GMAT at home or at a test centre, you can only take it five times in a 12-month period.

Both exams count toward your lifetime total and the yearly restrictions. You can only take the GMAT online twice. You are only allowed one retake of the online test. Hence no more than 2 of your total 8 exam attempts can be through the online test.

However, within the constraints already specified, you may take the GMAT at a test facility as many times as you like. In other words, you could take the GMAT at the centre up to eight times in your lifetime. If you took the GMAT online once, you may take it seven times at the centre. If you took the GMAT online twice in a 12-month period, you could take the at-centre GMAT three times in the same timeframe, and so on.

It is important to note that regardless of which GMAT test you take, a 16-day period needs to lapse between any two attempts.

Onto the big questions now that every GMAT taker ponders:

Do business schools prefer one exam over another?

Putting it bluntly, you will not be penalized if you take the GMAT at home instead of at a testing centre! Business schools have no preference for one GMAT exam administration over another. They do not regard the online exam as a “lesser” exam.

In case you’re hesitating to take the GMAT online because you’re worried that business schools will look down on your application, do remember that that is a myth!

Is the GMAT Online harder than the Test Centre GMAT?

Some students are under the impression that the online exam is more difficult than the test centre exam. But the bottom line is that the two tests use the same question bank! They both employ the same scoring methodology and have about the same average scores and percentiles.

Initially, there were significant variations between the GMAT Online and the test centre GMAT that may have led students to believe that the online version was more challenging than the other, but that again is another myth. For GMAT Online students, for example, earlier they could not choose their desired section order or have breaks, but those distinctions no longer exist, and the playing field for the two exam options is nearly even.

You must determine which test option is ideal for you based on other criteria since the substance contained in both does not differ. You should analyse the other characteristics of the two tests to decide which one is most appealing to you.

Advantages of Taking the Online GMAT

Travel

One significant advantage of taking the online test for many is not having to deal with travelling to a test centre just before what would effectively be a 3+ hour testing experience. Depending on where your nearest GMAT test location is located, not having to commute can certainly be a considerable benefit.

Taking the test itself can be a stressful situation, and the time leading up to it sometimes adds to that stress. Perhaps you don’t reside close to the nearest testing facility. Perhaps you reside in or need to drive through an area with excessive or unexpected traffic. Or, if you are unable to drive, perhaps your public transit options are inconvenient. In many circumstances, commuting can dramatically lengthen an already lengthy exam day or make deciding when to start your day challenging.

If you think that the travel leading up to the exam will add to your anxiety, it would be best to consider sticking to the online GMAT.

Comfort

Another significant benefit of taking the GMAT at home is that many test-takers are just more comfortable in a familiar environment where they have more control over their circumstances.

You’ve probably heard stories of others complaining about how the test centre was chilly or how the person next to them was coughing and distracting them, etc. Simply put, there are fewer distractions and annoyances when taking the GMAT at home. For certain test takers, being able to avoid potential distractions and annoyances is critical.

Even if you don’t believe the test centre setting would bother you, you might be more comfortable taking the GMAT at home, where you can use your own restroom during breaks, take whatever snack you want from your fridge, and avoid wearing shoes if you don’t want to.

Although small, comfort is probably one of the most crucial aspects to be taken into consideration while opting for either test.

GMAT Online vs. GMAT at the Centre in a Gist

A short summary of the online GMAT vs. the GMAT at the centre is as below:

 GMAT OnlineGMAT at the Centre
Registration Fee (USD)$300$275
AvailabilityAny slot availableLimited slots are available as per the centre.
Exam Structure4 sections: AWA, IR, Quant, Verbal4 sections: AWA, IR, Quant, Verbal
Maximum Exam Time3 hours and 7 minutes3 hours and 7 minutes
Section Order SelectionYesYes
ProctorYesYes
Check in15 minutes before30 minutes before
Enhanced Score ReportNoYes
Score Validity5 years5 years
Lifetime Exam Attempts2Up to 8 (minus any online test attempts)

GMAT Online vs at-center GMAT: Which GMAT Version Should You Choose?

The choice between at-center GMAT and at-home GMAT depends on several factors, such as personal preference, convenience, and test-taking conditions. Here are some key factors to consider:

  1. Internet Connection: To take the at-home GMAT, test-takers must have a reliable internet connection with a minimum speed of 1 Mbps. If you are concerned about internet connectivity or live in an area with unreliable internet service, you may want to consider taking the at-center GMAT.
  2. Test-Taking Environment: The at-home GMAT requires a quiet and distraction-free environment, which may not be possible for everyone. If you have children or live with roommates, you may prefer the at-center GMAT, where you can take the exam in a professional testing environment.
  3. Technical Skills: The at-home GMAT requires some technical skills, such as setting up the computer and testing environment. If you are not tech-savvy or have limited experience with online testing, you may want to choose the at-center GMAT.
  4. Test Availability: If you need to take the exam on a specific date, or if you prefer the peace of mind of a guaranteed test appointment, the at-center GMAT may be the better option.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, deciding between the at-center GMAT and at-home GMAT (GMAT Online) ultimately depends on your personal preferences and circumstances. While the at-home GMAT offers convenience and flexibility, it also comes with potential technical issues and a less professional testing environment. The at-center GMAT, on the other hand, guarantees test availability and a professional testing environment but requires travelling and may be affected by external factors.

To make the right decision, consider your individual circumstances, including your comfort level with technology, travel restrictions, and preferences for a testing environment. Whichever version of the GMAT you choose, ensure you prepare well in advance with official practice materials and seek out support if needed.

In the end, the goal is to maximize your chances of achieving your desired score on the GMAT, which will ultimately help you reach your goals of pursuing higher education and advancing your career. With careful consideration and preparation, you can make an informed decision and succeed in the GMAT.

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