GMAT Computer Test versus Paper Test

Computer and Paper Test Availability

As of 2016, the paper-based GMAT is no longer available. According to the GMAT Handbook published by the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), "the exam is only given on computer, which ensures consistency and fairness." Other reasons cited for the discontinuation of the paper test include accessibility, tracking, and scoring. The computer version of the GMAT can be administered on almost any day of the year and at a larger number of locations, while the paper test necessitates additional proctors and presents other logistical issues that limit its availability. The computer test allows students to instantly track their progress while taking the exam and receive unofficial scores immediately afterwards, neither of which is possible with the paper test. "Fairness" is a reference to the computer-adaptive nature of the electronic GMAT, which obviously cannot be duplicated with a paper test. It should also be noted that paper tests are more difficult to transport and store, and can be more easily lost or destroyed. Computerized tests can present problems of their own (such as vulnerability to digital theft), but the current version of the GMAT is quite simply impossible to reproduce in hard copy, and the advantages of computer testing outweigh the concerns.

Distinctions between the Paper Test and the Computer Test

The paper GMAT is a conventional test in which all questions count the same toward the final score. The computerized GMAT uses a complex algorithm that calculates a different value for each question, which is determined by the likelihood of a correct answer for a student at a given level of ability. When taking the computer test, students must answer the question presented before proceeding to the next question, and they are not allowed to go back and change responses (computer adaptation necessitates this procedure). With the paper GMAT administration, test-takers were permitted to answer the questions within a section in any order they chose, and could also revise answers if they wished. The computer GMAT is unique for each test-taker, and no two students will receive exactly the same questions (even if they take the test at the same place on the same day). The paper GMAT varied only the order of the questions within a specific administration.

The Paper Test as a Practice Tool

Official GMAT paper tests are available from the online store on the GMAC website. The cost is $29.99 per set (each set contains three paper GMATs, and a total of three sets can be purchased). These paper tests date from the 1990s, but can be of some usefulness for GMAT practice. Many of the questions are still in circulation, but the lack of computer adaptation may insufficiently challenge higher-performing students (the tests include a set number of questions at each level of difficulty). The paper tests are worth considering because they add to a student's repository of available practice questions, which is always valuable. Each set of paper tests includes instructions for scoring, but this is of very limited value for today's GMAT (scoring procedures are currently much different than they were in the 1990s). Students preparing for the GMAT should also remember that these paper tests do not include integrated reasoning questions, which did not exist when these tests were published. Generally speaking, the paper tests are best used as supplemental practice rather than as a substitute for more current materials.

Computer Testing and GMAT Score Inflation

The computerized GMAT was first administered in 1997, and the GMAT was among the first assessments to move to computer-adaptive format. The use of the computer GMAT has been correlated to a general trend of score inflation. The GMAT was initially designed to produce an average score of 500, which declined over the first 30 years of the test's history (the average GMAT score in the mid-1980s was about 460). After several years of computer testing, mean GMAT scores had risen to about 535 by 2005, and as of 2016, the average GMAT score was almost 552. In 2001, a 680 total score would place a test-taker in the 90th percentile. By 2008, the same percentile ranking required a total score of 700. Student performance on the quantitative section of the GMAT in particular has improved considerably since the advent of computer-adaptive testing. In 2001, a scaled quantitative score of 47 represented the 80th percentile; in 2016, the same score was in the 65th percentile.

Score Inflation and Business School Acceptance

Higher overall GMAT performance has led to higher GMAT benchmarks, both at highly selective business schools and at less prominent institutions. The mean total scores of students accepted to NYU's Stern School of Business increased from 610 in 1990 to 686 in 2000. By 2016, the median and average GMAT scores at Stern were 710, with a middle 80% range of 650-760. Binghamton University School of Management's accepted students averaged 549 in 1998 and 594 in 2002. In 2016, the average at Binghamton was 620, with a middle 80% range of 580-670. GMAT score inflation has clearly elevated the GMAT standards at business schools.

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