by Brian Burnsed

In June, the Graduate Management Admission Council announced that the structure of the Graduate Management Admissions Test -- better known as the GMAT -- will be changing in June 2012. The test won't take any more time, but one of the two 30-minute writing sections is being replaced by an integrated reasoning section. The new section is the result of schools telling GMAC that they wanted a new way to measure students' potential performance in business school. "The test shouldn't be that much more difficult," says GMAC's CEO Dave Wilson. "It's just a different section testing different skills."

The change has significant implications for students and young professionals who are considering applying to business school in the next few years. While Wilson maintains that the test will be no harder than its previous iteration, studies performed by Kaplan Test Prep and Admissions indicate that test scores tend to dip in the few years following major format changes because of general unfamiliarity with new question types. GMAT test scores are valid for five years, so Andrew Mitchell, director of GMAT programs at Kaplan Test Prep and Admissions, recommends that people who may want to go to business school within that time frame take the test before the format change. "For someone who's looking to take the GMAT now, who is looking at business schools seriously within the next five years, they should just go ahead and take the test," Mitchell says. "The year after a test change and also in following years, scores tend to go down, just because there's so much to learn about the new section."

While the GMAC has yet to announce how many questions will be in the new 30-minute integrated reasoning section, the new section itself will most closely mirror the data sufficiency problems that exist within the GMAT's quantitative section. Data sufficiency problems present test takers with a question and two statements and ask them to determine if either statement answers the question, neither statement answers the question, one statement provides an answer, they answer the question in concert, or they both answer the question independently. Data sufficiency questions don't exist on any other test and are oftentimes considered the hardest for which to prepare. "As a GMAT teacher, I can attest that it's the most feared, even loathed, type of question on the test," Mitchell says. "It's foreign and, therefore, people often fall into traps when they're not familiar with the question type."

The quantitative and verbal sections of the GMAT will still be scored on a 200-to-800-point scale and the integrated reasoning section will not factor into that score. Like the writing section, the integrated reasoning section will be scored separately on a yet-to-be determined scoring scale. Though it's not lumped in with the primary GMAT score, GMAC is confident that business schools will place tremendous value on the section's score because their feedback and input has been, and continues to be, integral to the new section's development. "[Our goal is] to make the GMAT the best possible test for business schools, and it's certainly getting that response," says Wilson, GMAC's top executive.

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How Changes to the GMAT Will Affect You