GMAT score

An unfortunate story about GMAT testing irregularities

  I’m reasonably confident that the GMAT does its honest best to ensure that the GMAT testing experience is the same for every GMAT test-taker. But unfortunately, stuff happens in life – even in the tightly controlled environment of a GMAT testing center. I documented a few minor GMAT testing center horror stories on my GMAT blog a bunch of years ago: basically, a few GMAT test-takers encountered computer glitches that torpedoed their tests, or had shorter breaks because the proctor failed to release them promptly from the testing room – that sort of thing.

Since then, my GMAT students have occasionally experienced computer failures, GMAT test-center power outages, and even a haunting or two -- though the latter might have happened only in a GMAT student’s (literal) nightmares. In each of the real-world cases, the folks at the GMAT have done the right thing: they’ve at least offered a free retake of the GMAT.

Sadly, it sounds like the GMAT has modified its behavior toward testing irregularities lately, and that’s pretty frustrating. The circumstances of the latest GMAT testing center horror story aren’t terribly interesting: as one of my GMAT students returned from his post-Integrated Reasoning break, the proctor botched the password when he tried to log back into the computer. He apparently botched it several times, and my poor GMAT student – let’s call him Mr. B, since he apparently makes a mean bhindi masala – lost about two minutes from his GMAT quant section.

In theory, losing two minutes shouldn’t have affected Mr. B’s quant score much – after all, that’s only the equivalent of one GMAT question, right? But let’s be realistic: since we all know that you need every possible advantage on the GMAT these days, wouldn’t you freak out just a little bit if you lost two minutes from the test? And wouldn’t that affect your performance?

Unfortunately, Mr. B badly underperformed on his GMAT that day – particularly on his slightly shortened quant section – and he chose to cancel the score. We can’t completely blame his GMAT quant score on the proctor’s error, but it certainly didn’t help.

Regardless of the effects of the proctor’s error, it's still true that the GMAT is supposed to be a standardized test. “Standardized” means that every test-taker should be given the same, fair testing experience. The GMAT quant section is 75 minutes – not 73 minutes. What happened to Mr. B is pretty much the textbook definition of a testing irregularity.

In this situation, the GMAT should have apologized, wiped the score off Mr. B’s score report, and offered him a free retake. After all, that’s what they’ve done in the past – plus, it just seems like the right thing to do. Mr. B didn’t have the same testing experience as his competitors for coveted MBA slots, and that’s not fair – even if the disadvantage was relatively small.

Mr. B is not a particularly shy man, and he pushed the GMAT for a fair resolution. There was a paper trail – the proctor filed a report indicating that there had been a testing irregularity. What did the GMAT do after several phone calls and a few emails? Nothing. They told Mr. B that he “didn’t have to cancel his score” and refused to offer a retake.

Again, it’s not the end of the world. Mr. B earns a good living, and the $250 he paid for his next GMAT exam did not bankrupt him. But it seems unfair – and it definitely represents a departure from the GMAT’s behavior in the past.

Here’s my rather cynical theory about the GMAT's decision: perhaps due to increasing competition from the GRE exam, the number of GMAT exams has fallen recently, and the GMAT’s revenue has presumably fallen accordingly. But if each GMAT question costs somewhere between $1500 and $3000 to develop, the GMAT can’t really afford a loss of revenue.

So it looks like they’re making up that revenue however they can. Since 2012 – when the number of GMAT tests dropped – the GMAT has begun to offer plenty of pricey (and often very useful) products, as I mentioned in an earlier GRE vs. GMAT blog post: enhanced score reports ($24.95), the ability to cancel ($25) or "un-cancel" ($50) your score after test day, the worth-every-penny GMAT Exam Packs ($49.99 each), and new GMAT OGs, released every year instead of every few years ($85 for the latest bundle on the GMAC website).

And we can apparently add a new revenue source to the list: a refusal to compensate GMAT test-takers when minor testing irregularities occur.

I’m obviously not impressed by the GMAT’s behavior in this case, but if you’re just a reader of this little GMAT blog, the good news is that these sorts of things don’t happen very often. But if you’re truly paranoid about the GMAT’s increasing miserliness, then maybe you have another reason to think about taking the GRE instead of the GMAT?

ignore the man behind the GMAT curtain

Pretty much all of my students have, at some point or another, seen a really easy question on the GMAT, and had a mild panic attack as a result.  We all know that the GMAT test is adaptive; if, say, question #25 seems really easy, doesn’t that mean that the test-taker is doing really really badly? No, of course not.

Well, okay… maybe.  If you’re doing really badly, you probably will see some really easy questions, particularly on the math section of the GMAT.  But there are other possible explanations, and perhaps you've heard them before; based on my experience as a GMAT tutor, these explanations still don't prevent students from freaking out a little bit.

First of all, there are plenty of experimental questions on the GMAT.  You might be kicking some serious butt, and then a complete softball comes your way.  Is it a sign that you weren't really kicking butt?  Probably not.  You might just have received a little unscored nugget.  Answer the question as if it counts, and then put it out of your head.

I'm also convinced that the GMAT algorithms group questions by topic, and the test actually accounts for your performance on each topic.  You might have done wonderfully on the first, say, 12 questions on the GMAT, but then you miss your first geometry question.  Perhaps the test recalls that you screwed up on geometry, and then gives you an easy geometry question next time.  This is just speculation on my part, but I think it's possible that seemingly easy GMAT questions might come at you when you've displayed weakness on a particular topic--even if you haven't, in general, shown yourself to be a weak test-taker.

Most importantly, you should never worry about the difficulty level of the questions.  If a GMAT question seems easy, read it really, really carefully--it might not be as easy as you think, or you might be missing something crucial in the question.  And even if it is easy, why the hell would you want to waste your energy worrying about it?  Get the question right, and don't worry about your GMAT score until the end of the test.

This might seem obvious to you, and this post is obviously just a little bit of nagging.  But it's funny how many people apparently need to be reminded that they shouldn't waste their time thinking about the algorithm and their score during the GMAT.