Unpacking the New GMAT & Updated GRE: The Big Changes & How to Prepare

Jul 17, 2023

In the past two months, both GMAC, the maker of the GMAT, and ETS, creator of the GRE, have announced large-scale changes to their exams, most notably making both exams significantly shorter. This post will explore the changes to each exam as well as how these changes will affect you if you are applying in 2023, after 2023, or undecided, after 

The GMAT Focus

Headlines: Shorter.  Redesigned sections.  Recalibrated scoring.  Editing answers.

Aside from reducing the number of experimental questions (and thus the length of the exam) in 2017 and replacing a second essay with the IR section, the current GMAT has been relatively untouched since it became computerized and adaptive in 1997. This includes the scoring not being recalibrated during this time. GMAC went to schools to see what they could do to make the exam a better evaluative tool in a different world (think about how much technology and just day-to-day at post-MBA jobs has changed in the past 26 years).

According to GMAC, schools noted the following as the three most important areas: problem solving, logical reasoning, and data literacy. Schools also expressed an interest in the exam being shorter. And finally, schools liked the format of the Executive Assessment, an exam released in 2016 by GMAC primarily targeting Executive MBA candidates. In this format, every section informed the overall scores (versus the current GMAT in which the IR and Essay sections have no impact on the overall score).

Enter: The GMAT Focus

This new exam will consist of 3 sections, all of which will impact your overall score.  Gone completely from the exam are geometry, sentence correction, and essays. Data Sufficiency has been paired with Integrated Reasoning to form the new third section – Data Insights.  And the adaptive nature of the test has changed from “difficult matching” to “efficiency balanced information.” I don’t think we need to go into the details of these, but instead the functional change. Early questions will now have a less extreme effect on how the exam adapts than the current algorithm does.

The other big change is the ability to edit answer choices. One struggle for test-takers is that once you move on from a question, you are never coming back to it. The GMAT Focus will allow test-takers to mark questions that they wish to review, to review as many questions as they wish to, and to edit answer choices up to three times (if you change the answer for the same question twice – that will count as two of your three changes). One of the biggest take-aways from GMAC’s conference on the GMAT Focus was about why they are allowing test-takers to change answers. The main focus wasn’t reviewing careless errors. It was to help test-takers with time. If the tester knows that she can come back to a question, she can let go after a couple minutes instead of feeling invested and spending 4 or 5 minutes on it and messing up her pacing.

The final notable differences relate to score reports and reporting. Gone are having to purchase enhanced score reports. Everyone will receive a more-detailed report that—based on what we saw recently at GMAC’s conference unveiling the new GMAT—will help test-takers understand what happened on their test day and be able to make better adjustments than current information provided in score reports allows for. Also, the decision on whether or not to cancel is gone. Students will select which schools to send reports to AFTER they have seen their score (currently, it’s before taking the exam). And now schools will ONLY receive the score report for that specific exam rather than a history of all the uncanceled exam scores that the individual has taken.

The GMAT Focus will be released Q4 2023 and the current GMAT will be phased out Q1 2024, so there will be a small window of time when you will actually be able to take either exam.  

Now let’s breakdown the three sections— 

  1. Quantitative Reasoning

21 Questions – Exclusively Problem Solving Questions

45 minutes – 2m 8s per question instead of 2m per question.

No Data Sufficiency, No Geometry

  1. Verbal Reasoning

23 questions – Reading Comprehension and Critical Reasoning

No Sentence Correction

45 minutes – 1m 57s per questions vs 1m 48s per question (current exam)

  1. Data Insights

20 questions – Integrated Reasoning and Data Sufficiency

60-80% IR, 20-40% DS – these ranges will mostly likely tighten

45 minutes – 2m 15s per question

Scoring Looks Slightly Different, But with Huge Percentile Changes

The overall score only has a slight change. Instead of going from 200-800, the exam now goes from 205-805. The exam is still scored in 10-point increments. The 5s at the end are just to let schools quickly recognize that the applicant took the GMAT Focus rather than the current GMAT.  However, the big change is the scoring has been recalibrated for the first time since 1997.  A 705 will represent a top 1% score. A 700 on the current exam only represents a top 11% score. The scoring recalibration will allow schools to better distinguish between test-takers at the top.

GMAT Focus Edition ScorePercentile Ranking (%)GMAT Exam Score

The three individual score sections will each go from 60-90. The big change is in the quant section.  On the current GMAT, the top score is a 51, and the top 3% of test-takers will achieve this score. The second-highest possible score is a 50, and a whopping 13% of test-takers will score a 50 or higher. The third-highest possible score is a 49, and 27% of test-takers will score a 49 or higher. There’s not a lot of room for schools to evaluate performance on the quant section currently. However, with the GMAT focus, the top 1% will score a 90, the top 3% will score an 89 or higher, the top 5% will score an 88 or higher. So once again, we’ll see a lot more differentiation at the top.

Prepping for the GMAT Focus

GMAC has already released six practice exams for the GMAT focus.  According to GMAC, Exams 3-6 can all be used twice without getting repeat questions, which means you have access to 10 practice exams. Official guides tailored towards the new sections are also released already for practice.

How Does this Affect Preparation?

If you are leaning towards the GMAT – very little changes if you are applying round 1 or 2 of this year.  Some schools (Harvard for one) have said that they will only accept the current GMAT for round two applications (even though the GMAT Focus will mostly likely be released before applications for this round are closed.)  

If you are unsure if you will apply in the first two rounds of this year, do know that scores from the current GMAT will still be accepted for five years from the date you took the exam. So you are probably best to give yourself the option to apply this year. And if you decide to retake the exam (maybe you end up on a waitlist), remember that the exams are still very similar, so most of your studying (aside from sentence correction and geometry) will still be applicable to the GMAT Focus.

If you’re planning to take the exam soon, but you have no desire to apply this year, you can take free diagnostic exams of both from mba.com and decide whether you have a preference.

The New GRE

A few months after GMAC announced that it would be making changes to the GMAT, ETS followed suit with regards to the GRE. The similarities mostly lie in shortening the exam.  The current GRE clocks in at just under 4 hours, while the new GRE will be 1 hour and 58 minutes.  The GRE is cutting a lot of this time by eliminating sections. The exam will drop its full-length experimental section (35 minutes if quant, 30 minutes if verbal) as well as cutting one of the two essays (saving an additional 30 minutes).

There will still be two scored quant and two scored verbal sections for the GRE. Before, all four sections had 20 questions. Now there will be 27 verbal questions spread across two sections and 41 minutes, and 27 quant questions spread across 2 sections and 47 minutes. How these sections are split in terms of time and number of questions is not yet clear.

Where the changes to the GRE differ from the changes to the GMAT is in how content is affected. GMAC made content and scoring changes to their exam to adapt to what business schools said they were looking for. The ETS changes to the GRE, at the moment, seem to be primarily simply around shortening the amount of time that test-takers have to spend in the exam room.

How Does This Affect Preparation?

The GRE will have no overlap time for its exams. If you take the GRE on or before September 21, you will be taking the current GRE. If you take the GRE on September 22 or later, you will be taking the new, shorter GRE. Because the content stays the same, you only need to adjust to the new timing. ETS has said they will release practice tests in the new format in September.  

If you are applying for Round 1, you will probably be taking the current GRE. Round 2 becomes more about your study time-frame. Because I can’t even take a practice exam in the new format, I don’t have a ton of opinions yet. I do think not having the experimental section leading to takers guessing which section didn’t count will in general be a benefit. As will saving 30 minutes from the dropped essay. 


Until we get more data, I’m guessing that current trends might persist. Business-school focused applicants who think they can get a strong GMAT score will continue to focus on the GMAT.  Applicants who are unsure what type of program that they are applying to and joint-degree program applicants might go more towards the GRE. And applicants who are business-school focused but will mostly likely be under the school’s GMAT average might go for the GRE or the Executive Assessment.

However, with the GMAT Focus being adjusted to meet the wants of MBA programs, will how the way schools look at these exams change? To be seen. Admissions Consultants and School Admissions Offices are going to be able to give us better answers–we’ll also know more in time.

Onsen program managers are available to help decipher these GMAT versus GRE practice test results and build a personalized plan for preparation. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us for further information.

We wish you the best of luck on your grad school admissions journey!

Written by

Toph Enany
Author Image A graduate of the University of Virginia, Toph has over nine years' experience teaching the ACT, and his specialty is helping high-scoring students (like you) hit the elite 34+ range—you are in the absolute best hands! Toph's students have gone on to attend Harvard, Dartmouth, Columbia, and the University of Pennsylvania, among other institutions.

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