GMAT: Updates for 2018-2019
The GMAT Official Guide 2019
1. Release window
The new official guides will be released in June (June 26, according to Amazon, although the exact date could change).
2. New questions
Amazon listings indicate that (a) the main OG will have 130 new questions across all question types (including IR) and (b) the Quantitative and Verbal reviews will have 45 new questions each. The thing to note here, however, is that the GMAC has indicated that all three books will “refresh low-and medium-difficulty questions”. This is similar to what happened last year . So, if you are looking for more tough questions to solve, it is unlikely that the new OGs will be of much help.
We expect this to continue. Putting tough questions in the OGs means having to take them out of the actual GMAT exam first, and the GMAC just does not seem to have too many tough questions to spare for the official guides. Making and testing questions is a time-consuming (and expensive!) process, and we do not see the GMAC choosing the needs of the OGs over those of the actual GMAT in the near future.
3. No more PDFs
The GMAC is acutely aware of how easily PDF versions of the OGs make their way around the internet and is looking to stop making PDF versions of its OGs available for download. So, we will not see official PDFs from now on. Instead, the GMAC will focus on its online platforms and more secure eBook formats.
4. Expanded SC theory section
You read that right. The GMAC is finally including an introduction to SC in the new OGs. The OG does currently have a “Basic English Grammar Rules” section, but it is widely acknowledged as being woefully inadequate.
While the GMAC has described the new introduction as being similar to the “Math Review” section in the OG, only time will tell how comprehensive this new SC theory section is. We will take a look once we can get our hands on the new OG, but in the meantime, the GMAC is so excited about this new section that they seem to have plastered “NEW! Refreshed introduction to sentence correction” on the cover of even the Quantitative Review!
5. Item classification
The questions in the OGs will now be indexed by subject area and difficulty. Expect to see the same easy, medium, and hard categories that are seen on the Wiley platforms and in the question pack.
Item classification should help test takers with targeted practice, though we do not necessarily recommend such practice with OG questions. Keep in mind that some question types, like SC, test your ability to identify the concepts being tested as much as they test your ability to apply the concepts being tested. That is, if someone tells you which topic(s) the question is built to test, you will find the question easier to solve.
6. Item search
The new OGs will include unique identifiers for all their questions. This will make it slightly easier for test takers to discuss these questions with test prep instructors and other test takers. It is possible that the GMAC is looking to provide test takers a way to refer to questions in the official guides without “leaking” those questions in the process.
Changes to GMATPrep
This venerable prep product is all set for some major (and minor changes):
1. Shift from local software to online service
This is a big one. GMATPrep will now be accessible from browsers.
Many test takers who wish to use the GMATPrep software on their Macs find that they really have to make an effort to get the software to work on their computers. There are others who find that the software does not work, or that they cannot seem to activate or access their question or exam packs, even on Windows.
Handling all the updates, bugs, and compatibility issues will be easier for the GMAC once the GMATPrep software shifts online (the GMAC expects to finish the migration of GMATPrep by June). This should help test takers as well.
We do not know how issues related to internet connectivity or browsers will impact test takers yet, but the GMAC has indicated that both the software and online versions will coexist for a year or so, so that the transition is smoother.
The GMAC also says that the new platform is mobile friendly, so practice questions (but not the full-length practice tests) will work on mobile devices.
2. Exchange offer
If you have purchased a paid GMATPrep product (exam or question pack), you will be able to exchange your activation code for a new activation code by sending an email request to email@example.com after the new platform launches. This offer will be extended to anyone who has purchased a paid GMATPrep product in (or after) Q4 2017 (the exact date will be announced soon). Although the new code will allow you to use your exam/question packs on the online platform, you should note that the earlier code will be deactivated.
This one is not too important. (a) The free GMATPrep will now be called GMAT Official Starter Kit + Practice Exams 1&2, (b) exam pack 1 will now be called GMAT Official Practice Exams 3&4, (c) exam pack 2 will now be called GMAT Official Practice Exams 5&6, and (d) question pack 1 will now be called GMAT Official Practice Questions. This is just a rebranding exercise. No new questions or packs are being released right now.
Quantitative score scale to be changed?
1. The problem
Over the years, the number of Asian (especially Chinese and Indian) test takers has been increasing. This is great news for the GMAT exam, but these test takers have also been doing really well on the quantitative section of the GMAT exam. So well, in fact, that they have, for all practical purposes, destroyed the GMAT's ability to differentiate between test takers at the highest ability levels. For example, over the last (slightly more than) five years:
(1) The percentile associated with Q51 (the highest possible score) has fallen from 98 to 96.
Okay, not very alarming. But...
(2) The percentile associated with Q50 has fallen from 93 to 86.
(3) The percentile associated with Q49 has fallen from 86 to 75.
(4) The percentile associated with Q48 has fallen from 82 to 69.
(5) The percentile associated with Q47 has fallen from 77 to 63.
(6) The percentile associated with Q46 has fallen from 75 to 60.
Given that a lot of schools want to ensure that candidates are able to handle the Math their management programs require, just how tough is it to get a 75% score on the GMAT quantitative section now? Well, earlier, there were 6 scores that would qualify. Now, there are exactly 3.
Compounding the problem is that every scaled (6-51) score still indicates the same ability level. Hence, we cannot say that at the end of the day everything comes down to the percentile ranking. In other words, someone who could get 75% a few years back might not be able to do so against the current pool of test takers (the GMAT calculates percentiles by looking at the performance of test takers in the last three years, rolling).
2. Is the GMAC aware of this problem?
3. What is the GMAC doing about this problem?
The GMAC is evaluating its options. They already make country level percentiles available to schools, so schools can see that (for example) a candidate who is at 60% globally is at 90% in his or her own country.
They can also (a) reorder the scale, so that the 6-51 scores can better differentiate between test takers or (b) extend the scale, so that 51 is longer the highest possible score. Both actions would mean a lot of changes to a scale that has been around for a long time and that everyone has become comfortable with. Either of these options would also necessarily mean a lot of messaging to all stakeholders, so we do not expect any movement on this in the short term.
However, if you are good at the quantitative section of the GMAT exam, you should note that the scores from which the total score (reported on a 200-800 scale) is calculated are more precise than the scaled scores reported to you. So, if we take two test takers, one at 75% and the other at a higher percentile score (but less than 86%), both will see a Q49 on their score reports. But everything else being equal, the one with better performance will receive a higher total GMAT score.
Possible future products
1. High difficulty Official Guides
The GMAC has been looking to start work on a “tough” OG (containing only high-difficulty questions) for quite some time now. That project looks to be stalled, so we do not expect this product to launch before 2019.
2. Additional question and exam packs
Additional question and exam packs are also being considered, but the GMAC will not be launching any such products in the immediate future. Test takers looking for practice tests will have to make do with the six (excellent) tests available as part of the free and paid GMAT Official Practice Exams.
So there you have it. After introducing some major, and welcome, changes (section order select, new cancellation and score reporting policies, and score preview), this year the GMAC seems to be focused on getting the foundation ready for future efforts. The online platform for tests and practice questions will certainly provide a lot more flexibility in terms of how quickly new features and content can be provided to test takers.
Personally, I am still waiting to see how the GMAT leverages IR in the future. Is it going to be expanded? Is it going to be made part of the main score? IR is unique, and uniquely suited to management education, so some news there would be welcome. Maybe next year?