The New GMAT Focus Edition: Should You Take It? What does it mean for your application strategy?
Maria |
March 12, 2023

Note: this is an evolving story and this post will be updated as new information becomes available!

The Graduate Management Admissions Council (“GMAC”) dropped a bombshell on the MBA admissions community on March 8, 2023, when it announced the upcoming launch of the GMAT Focus Edition, a new, shorter, and frankly, probably easier version of the previous GMAT. While details right now are sparse, I’m sure we’re going to start learning more throughout the next several months.

While you can find detailed information about the specific changes to the test in many places, my goal here is to tell you what I think your test taking strategy should be if you’re applying in either Round 1 or Round 2 during the 2023 – 2024 MBA application cycle.

Table of contents:

“I’m planning to apply in Round 1 or Round 2 of the 2023 – 2024 application cycle (that is, to start my MBA in 2024) – what does this mean for me?”

The short answer: for now, continue as “business as usual”, that is to say, as if this new test option didn’t exist.

For now, I would NOT COUNT on this new test launching in time for this year’s application cycle (what if you wait for the test to launch, and then it gets delayed until next year? Then you’ll have to scramble to prep for another test at the last minute! Arrghhhhh!!!!)

I would NOT DELAY an application from Round 1 to Round 2, in the hopes that the “easier” GMAT will be available for Round 2 – the benefit from submitting an application in an earlier round will more than likely outweigh the potential benefit of taking the new GMAT, IMHO.

IF your standardized test prep isn’t going the way you’d like it to go, then consider:

  • Applying to a school that is offering a test waiver (that is, the ability to prove your academic horsepower via something other than a test score) or “test optional” admissions
    • Note that applying with a test waiver may make it harder to get accepted, and will probably really decrease your chances of getting a “merit scholarship!”

“If I’m reading this a point where the new test date has been revealed, and I think I can prep / take in time, should I?”

To the extent that this test is essentially a watered-down version of the current GMAT (though I’m sure the nice folks at GMAC would disagree with me calling it that!), then SURE, go ahead and take it, BECAUSE:

  • It will have fewer sections to prep for, so if you’ve been prepping for the old GMAT anyway, there isn’t any NEW material you’d need to know (that is, you wouldn’t need to start over from scratch)
  • The scores for this test are going to be a complete wildcard. Just like we haven’t yet created a strong intuition around what makes for “a strong GRE score”, we’ll have ZERO intuition for what makes for a strong score here – that is to say, there might be some leniency shown this year for performance on this test, since it’s so new! (just like we saw at the beginning of COVID, when the roll-out of the online GMAT was a bit of a disaster, so admissions officers had no choice but to take those scores with more of a grain of salt)

“Is there any reason someone should take the original GMAT test, and not the GMAT Focus Edition, during the window when both tests are available at the same time?”

Yes, if you are aiming for a “merit scholarship” (for the programs that offer them). Ok, so thinking about this strategically – we’ve still got at least 1 year (possibly up to 5 years) in which the CURRENT test scores will be used in admissions (I say this because a test score is valid for up to 5 years… so theoretically, someone could take the test on the final day it’s offered, but still use it in an application for years into the future)… and this means that the current GMAT will SURELY still be something MBA-watchers pay close attention to. It will probably continue to be used in MBA rankings, and it will certainly be something that people in the ecosystem (applicants, perhaps even recruiters and alums) will be using as a yardstick to judge a program’s competitiveness.

As long as the current GMAT test score is used as an indicator of a school’s competitiveness, schools will still have an incentive to attract average scores that are as high as possible.

And, since we know that schools will often “pay” for strong GMAT scores via scholarships, my sense is that taking the CURRENT (original) GMAT is your best bet if you’re trying to get a “merit scholarship”.

“What are the key differences between the original GMAT test and the new “GMAT Focus Edition?”

While lots of folks are analyzing this in detail (see: BB’s great post / thread over at GMATClub, and/or a video we did a few days after the change was announced), here are what I think the KEY differences are, from a higher-level:

  • Reduction of the more useless concepts tested (as of right now, rumors are that this is geometry and sentence correction)
    • GOOD RIDDANCE! BASICALLY NOBODY ever uses geometry in business, and in a world of auto-correct, who needs Sentence Correction?
  • MORE emphasis on the practical analytical skills tested in what used to be known as “Integrated Reasoning”
    • They’re going to call it something different, but this is awesome news because I think before people sort of ignored the “IR” section, feeling that “it didn’t really count”… and yet, it was arguably the most useful assessment in the test?
  • It’s an hour shorter!
  • No more dumb essay! (as you know, I love essays, but not a forced one that is graded by machine?)
    • My take here is that they are abdicating the testing of writing skills to the TOEFL for non-native English speakers
  • You can go back and change up to 3 answers per section!
    • Personally, I think this does more harm than good, since to me, the desperation of “I can’t change this once I hit ‘enter'” really helps sharpen the mind in the throes of test-taking… I think knowing that you can “always go back” to 3 questions will create a false sense of confidence, and personally I’d advise you to pretend that you can’t do it
    • Plus… umm hi, if it’s a “computer adaptive” test, then what if I go back and change an earlier answer that would have dramatically altered the fate of my score? Like Everything Everywhere All at Once but for test-taking?!
    • NOTE: I *can* imagine a world where — if you get a few questions in, and the questions you’re getting are suspiciously easy, then maybe that’s a sign that you blew it on an earlier question… so maybe test prep ninjas and the like will start to teach the tell-tale signs of a test gone awry, and then teach you how to make up for it that way? Note: this is probably over-thinking it and anyway I will STAY IN MY LANE about this!
  • You can choose which schools to send your score to AFTER YOU SEE YOUR SCORE… no more embarrassing instances of sending a lousy score to a school you later wish they had never seen!
  • And finally, to ME from an ADMISSIONS / APPLICATION perspective, one of the best changes to the test (which is why I am writing this part all in bold) is that YOUR SCORE REPORT WILL APPARENTLY NO LONGER SHOW YOUR PREVIOUS TEST SCORES??!!!
    • Huge huge huge if true. The reason I say this is that in ye olde days, if you took the GMAT more than once, and then submitted your third test score report to the schools, they would see your other scores from the previous attempts (which, presumably, weren’t awesome?)… and even if you “cancelled” a score, while the score itself would not appear, the FACT that you took and then cancelled DID appear… thus signaling to admissions that you messed up.
    • While I expect that many schools will continue the current practice of asking “How many times did you take the test?” in the application form, at least now with this new score report, you don’t need to endure the shame of having your strongest score shown in a report alongside an embarrassing score from that time you were ill-prepared / over-confident / ill / hung-over / sad / tired / hungry / and every other excuse I’ve ever heard! (note: the best [worst] excuse I’ve ever heard for a terrible GMAT score was: “Wearing a mask in the test center made my glasses fog up and so I could not see the screen…” … are you kidding me? Yikes!)

When will the new GMAT test launch?

They have said that the GMAT Focus Edition will launch “later this year” (presumably this means late in calendar year 2023), and the current version of the GMAT will “be available until early next year” (2024).  This means that there will be some overlap in which people could opt to take either test (and so that people who have been studying for the GMAT for a really long time aren’t left high and dry!).

The only way that GMAC can possibly hope to make the GMAT Focus Edition a fair experience for BOTH Round 1 AND Round 2 applicants would be to launch it ASAP, preferably by April or by the start of summer 2023 at the latest!

Why? Because waiting any later in the year is a terrible idea to me. If “later this year” means the summer of 2023, then Round 1 MBA applicants, targeting deadlines in September and October, probably won’t have enough time to really practice?  And if the “later this year” launch of the GMAT Focus Edition means the late 3rd or 4th quarter of 2023 (that is, September, October, November, or December), now admissions officers are going to be trying to construct a class, using 3+ tests across 2 primary rounds… but how can they do so in a fair way?

If the GMAT Focus Edition launches in Q3 or Q4 of 2023, how can admissions officers POSSIBLY create a FAIR assessment process that treats Round 1 and Round 2 applicants CONSISTENTLY?

If the new test launches later this calendar year, that’s the same thing as launching smack-dab in the middle of the admissions year.

Think of what a stress-inducing nightmare this creates, for BOTH candidates AND for admissions officers!

  • Admissions officers need to even learn what the new test covers, the new scoring system, etc.
    • Frankly, GMAC should create a “Focus Edition to the Original Edition Score Converter” chart, to try to make this easier for everyone
  • If applicants submit a Focus Edition score that doesn’t seem to be very impressive, what are the reasons?
    • Was there not enough time to prepare?Were not enough materials available to prepare?Did the new ability to go back and change up to 3 answers somehow mess up the applicant’s psychology?
    • Or… is the applicant just not very bright?
  • What if the opposite happens, and the score seems to be very impressive? Could the reasons be:
    • The new test is shorter, so the test-taker had more mental energy vs. the endurance marathon of the earlier GMAT? That is, even with all else being equal, anyone would do better on any task if they have to focus on it for one hour less, right? The new test removed some of the “hardest” sections – so won’t most people do better?
  • Test-takers can now go back and re-attempt three questions… is this an unfair advantage over previous test-takers who received no such second chance?
    • Or… is the applicant just  not very bright, but they got lucky since this test is easier?
    • Or… is the applicant just  not very bright, but they got lucky since this test is easier?

THE GMAT is the gold standard test everyone in the business school ecosystem has known for decades. The GRE less so, but it’s certainly been growing, and at LEAST has a zillion years of historical data around performance percentiles across millions of test-takers, and also proof that students who took it and enroll in school still do well. But now we’ve got a third exam, and the only thing we know about it for sure is that it’s easier on some level.

So, if I put myself in the shoes of the admissions officer (a core skill I teach when doing MBA application consulting via my ApplicantLab admissions platform), this becomes a bit of a mess!

Why is GMAC even launching the GMAT Focus Edition?

While I’m sure that their PR people will instruct their executives to say something about how the test needs to evolve to meet the changing needs of applicants blah blah blah (Edit! The wording in the Official Release referred to the “rapidly-changing business landscape” –ooh, I was kind of close!), but LOL let’s be honest, that has nothing to do with it, and everything to do with this fact:

GMAT test-taking numbers are plummeting

Not merely “gracefully dropping”, or “falling”, but plummeting…  .  When pressed in the future, my prediction is that they will probably blame “the COVID pandemic” and the shift to “test optional” admissions at many business schools, but this is not the full reason, because frankly, given the benefit that a strong standardized test score can make in admissions, I still urged MBA applicants to take a standardized test anyway.

But it goes beyond that: the fact is, the GRE started being touted as a legitimate alternative to the GMAT, and they were winning market share. In fact, I would often actively tell my MBA admissions consulting clients that they should opt for the GRE over the GMAT. In the meantime, the folks at the GRE were putting a lot of effort into assuring admissions officers that their test was just as valid (they also sent business development reps to the professional admissions’ consultants conference I attend each year, and they were so friendly! Which didn’t hurt!)(and meanwhile, the GMAC reps acted like they were there to hold court – this is an organization that smugly rested on its laurels, and even though I think the GMAT’s a better test, I’m sort of glad to see them in such trouble?)

Yeah, I said it: frankly, I think the GMAT test is INDEED the far superior test to figure out someone’s potential business / business school preparedness. If I were to hire someone for a business role, I would personally be more impressed with a strong GMAT score (given its difficulty and relevance) vs. an equivalent GRE score.

But I’m not hiring people. I’m helping them get into business school. And the GRE is almost a sort of “hack” for people who are otherwise very strong candidates (in terms of professional accomplishments)(professional accomplishments are always needed!) but who struggle a little with testing (or who frankly just don’t have time to do a lot of studying!)

But the GMAT’s own rigor and robustness as a test has been its downfall.

It was a turn-off. It was viewed as overkill. And if someone cared primarily about getting accepted, the GRE was objectively shorter, subjectively easier, and definitely more “forgiving”. What’s not to love?  GRE for you, for me! Wheee!

Did you predict something like this happening a year ago? (Yes, I did!)

The “Honey, I Shrunk the Number of GMAT Test Takers!” narrative has been making news for a couple of years now. In fact, in February of 2022, I was on a podcast where my co-host and I came to the conclusion that the “friendlier” (easier) GMAC “Executive Assessment” (EA) (read: the GMAT for seasoned professionals applying to Executive MBA programs who are busier, older, and bluntly less willing to put up with jumping through ridiculous testing hoops for the EMBA).  I pointed out that a variation on the EA – something shorter, friendlier, less hellish to prep for – that something like that could serve as the “GRE Slayer” to try to stop the GRE’s aggressive march of dominance.

a picture of a coyote plummeting to earth just like the number of gmat test takers has plummeted
The New GMAT Focus Edition: Should You Take It? What does it mean for your application strategy?
Maria |
March 12, 2023


New around here? I’m an HBS graduate and a proud member (and former Board Member) of AIGAC. I considered opening a high-end boutique admissions consulting firm, but I wanted to make high-quality admissions advice accessible to all, so I “scaled myself” by creating ApplicantLab. ApplicantLab provides the SAME advice as high-end consultants at a much more affordable price. Read our rave reviews on GMATClub, and check out our free trial (no credit card required) today!