The Executive Assessment (EA) is a relatively new exam compared to the GMAT, but nowadays, many business schools accept both. So, why do some people take the Executive Assessment instead of the GMAT for entrance into MBA programs, and which exam is right for you?
In this article, I’ll break down the key differences between the Executive Assessment and GMAT exams and give you some criteria for determining which test you need to take.
First, let’s do a quick review of what the GMAT and the Executive Assessment are.
- What is the GMAT?
- What is an Executive Assessment?
- EA vs. GMAT: Which Test Should I Take?
- EA vs. GMAT: Key Differences
- Quick Reference: Executive Assessment vs. GMAT
What is the GMAT?
The Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) is a computer-adaptive, standardized exam that for more than 60 years has been used as a measure to assess applicants to graduate-level business and management programs.
Designed (with the help of business schools) and administered by the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), the GMAT is accepted by thousands of MBA and related master’s programs worldwide. Although most MBA programs now also accept the GRE (Graduate Record Examination), the GMAT remains the more commonly taken exam for admission to business school. Every year, about 200,000 people sit for the GMAT.
The GMAT is a computer-adaptive, standardized exam used as a measure to assess applicants to graduate-level business and management programs.
What is an Executive Assessment?
A relative newcomer, the Executive Assessment (EA) was introduced in 2016 and is required for admissions to many Executive MBA programs, including programs at many top business schools. Like the GMAT, the Executive Assessment is a computer-administered, standardized test designed and administered by GMAC, which gathers input from business programs around the world when creating the exam.
The Executive Assessment is a computer-adaptive, standardized exam required for admissions to many Executive MBA programs.
Now, let’s take a look at why people choose to take one exam over the other.
EA vs. GMAT: Which Test Should I Take?
If you are applying to standard, full-time MBA programs, chances are you’ll need to submit either a GMAT or GRE score with your applications. However, if you are applying to an Executive MBA program, you may need to take the Executive Assessment.
The Executive Assessment test was originally designed for applicants to Executive MBA (EMBA) programs. So, while people with relatively limited work experience applying to full- or part-time MBA programs would take the GMAT, experienced professionals applying to EMBA and select other part-time, weekend, or evening MBA programs would take the Executive Assessment exam.
Now, not every Executive MBA program requires an Executive Assessment score for admission, and schools have varying requirements regarding which entrance exams are required. The GMAC website lists schools and programs that accept the Executive Assessment test, but of course, you should always check the individual websites of the programs you’re interested in to get the most up-to-date information about admissions requirements. In other words, you shouldn’t assume that because GMAC doesn’t list a particular program on their website, you can be sure that program doesn’t require Executive Assessment scores for admission.
It’s also important to note that while anyone can sit for the Executive Assessment, business schools have various minimum work experience requirements for EMBA program eligibility. That said, in general, EMBA programs tend to require applicants to have anywhere from 5 to 10 years of full-time work experience. However, different programs may have different requirements for how many years of that experience have to be at the management level.
Again, since every program is different, be sure to do your research on the individual program websites, and if you need clarification on anything, don’t hesitate to reach out to the school admissions offices by email or phone.
Experienced professionals applying to EMBA and select other part-time, weekend, or evening MBA programs generally take the Executive Assessment exam.
So, we know what the Executive Assessment and the GMAT are and who should take each exam. Next, let’s look at the key differences between the two exams.
EA vs: GMAT: Key Differences
In simple terms, you can think of the Executive Assessment as a “mini version” of the GMAT. For one, the EA exam is much shorter than the GMAT. And as I’ll discuss in further detail shortly, the EA doesn’t test quite as many topics as the GMAT does. The EA measures MBA program readiness and uses more “business-focused” questions to test critical reasoning and higher-order thinking skills.
The EA is specifically designed for busy, working professionals who have already acquired many management-level business skills during their careers. Thus, the people taking the EA likely don’t have as much time to devote to preparing for and sitting for an entrance exam and already have a certain baseline of skills that test-takers with less work experience may not have.
So, let’s take a look at how exactly the two exams differ, starting with how each exam is structured.
Exam Structure and Format
The look and feel of the Executive Assessment vs. GMAT are basically identical. In other words, a computer screen displaying an EA exam won’t look noticeably different from one displaying a GMAT exam. Both exams are navigated in essentially the same way and pull from the exact same pool of questions, so the multiple-choice question formats are exactly the same on both exams.
Now, as I already mentioned, the question types you see are not exactly the same on both exams — I’ll discuss that more later — but for any question type tested on both exams, the format of that question will be identical. For example, a Problem Solving question involving exponents will not look any different on the Quant section of the GMAT than it does on the Quant section of the Executive Assessment.
So, in what respects do the two exam structures diverge? Let’s discuss.
For most test-takers, the most notable difference between the Executive Assessment and the GMAT is the run time of each exam. The EA exam is only 90 minutes long and contains a total of just 40 questions, whereas the GMAT is just over 3 hours long (nearly 3.5 with the breaks) and contains a total of 79 questions plus 1 essay task. So, essentially, the GMAT is about twice as long as the Executive Assessment exam.
A big part of why the EA is so much shorter than the GMAT is that the EA does not include an Analytical Writing Assessment (essay task). So, that knocks 30 minutes off the testing time right there. Furthermore, since the EA is a relatively quick exam, it does not permit the two, optional 8-minute breaks that are allowed during the GMAT. In fact, the EA does not permit any breaks at all, so if for some reason you need to leave your desk during the exam, the exam clock will keep ticking.
The Executive Assessment is roughly half as long as the GMAT and contains about half as many questions.
Another important difference between the structures of the two exams is that, unlike on the GMAT, on the Executive Assessment, you cannot choose your section order.
The 3 sections of the Executive Assessment — Integrated Reasoning (IR), Verbal Reasoning, and Quantitative Reasoning — always appear in that order. When you sit for the GMAT, however, in the introductory screens at the beginning of your exam, you can select from 3 different section order options:
- Writing, IR, (break), Quant, (break), Verbal
- Verbal, (break), Quantitative, (break), IR, Writing
- Quant, (break), Verbal, (break), IR, Writing
You are given 2 minutes to make your GMAT section order selection (this time is not deducted from the time you have to complete the actual exam sections). If you don’t select a section order within the 2-minute time limit, the exam defaults to section order #1.
You cannot choose your section order on the EA exam, as you can on the GMAT.
We can see that the GMAT exam has 4 sections in total, while the Executive Assessment exam has 3. Let’s look at how the basic structure of those sections compares.
As you can see, the Integrated Reasoning sections on the two exams are identical in length and the EA Quant and Verbal sections are slightly less than half as long as those sections on the GMAT.
However, there is another very important difference between the section structures of the two exams: unlike GMAT sections, each section of the Executive Assessment is actually broken down into 2 successive subsections, or “modules,” containing an equal number of questions, for a total of 6 modules on the exam.
So, when the Quant section, for instance, is presented to you on the EA exam, you will see 7 of the 14 Quant questions, and then a review screen (more on that in a moment), and then the final 7 Quant questions.
Essentially, each section on the Executive Assessment is divided in half — however, those halves are not separately timed. So, the 30 minutes you have to complete the Quant section is all of the time you have to complete both Quant “modules” (the total of 14 Quant questions on the exam). Now, you don’t have to split your time evenly between the 2 modules just because the questions are evenly split. In other words, you could spend 15 on each Quant module, or you could spend 10 minutes on the first Quant module and 20 on the second, etc.
Now, what really makes the EA structure different from that of the GMAT is that you are given the opportunity to check and edit your work at the end of each EA module. So, let’s take our example of the Quant section. You are presented with 7 questions in the first Quant module and 7 questions in the second Quant module, for a total of 14 questions that must be completed in a total of 30 minutes. After completing the 7 questions that make up the first Quant module, you’re presented with a review screen from which you can check and change your responses or return to any questions you may have skipped within that module. Once you move past that review screen to the second Quant module, you can no longer go back and edit or add any answers in the first module, even though you’re still technically in “the Quant section.” At the end of the second module, you will be presented with a review screen for just the 7 questions in the second Quant module.
Note that any time you take reviewing and editing answers in a section counts toward your total time for that section. In other words, the clock doesn’t stop when you’re on a review screen, or when you return to previously answered questions from that screen.
Nevertheless, some test-takers see the ability to review questions after the fact as an advantage of taking the EA over the GMAT. The GMAT does not allow for review of any previously answered questions. Once you hit submit on a GMAT question, you do not have the opportunity to change your answer.
Furthermore, you cannot skip questions on GMAT; you have to select an answer to a question — even if it’s just a random guess — before you can see the next question. On the EA, you can skip questions and return to them at the end of the module or leave them blank if you simply want to move on to the next module. This difference in functionality has to do with the different ways that the two exams are computer-adaptive. Let’s explore.
The EA exam allows you to review, edit, skip, and return to questions within each module, while the GMAT does not allow you to skip or return to questions at any time.
One of the features that makes the GMAT unique among standardized tests is that its Quant and Verbal sections are computer-adaptive at the question level, meaning that the GMAT selects the questions you see on the basis of your responses to questions that you have already seen. Moreover, the difficulty of GMAT questions increases or decreases depending on whether you answer questions correctly or incorrectly, respectively. So, you can see why it’s impossible for the GMAT to allow test-takers to skip questions — how would the test know what level of question to present to you next? (Of course, you still can’t skip questions or go back to previously answered questions in the IR section, even though that section is not adaptive).
The Executive Assessment, on the other hand, is not adaptive at the question level, so the difficulty of each successive question you see will not increase or decrease depending on whether you answered the previous question correctly or incorrect. However, the EA is adaptive from one module to the next within the Quant and Verbal sections.
Let’s take the Verbal section of the EA as an example. Because the EA is adaptive at the module-level, your performance on Verbal module 1 will influence the difficulty level of the questions you see in Verbal module 2. So, if you perform well in Verbal module 1, the questions you see in Verbal module 2 should be more difficult overall than those you saw in module 1. Again, this computer-adaptivity applies only to Quant and Verbal, not to IR.
It’s also important to note that on both the GMAT and the EA exam,the computer-adaptivity does not “cross-pollinate.” In other words, your performance in the Quant does not affect the difficulty level of the Verbal questions you see, and vice versa.
The Quant and Verbal sections of the GMAT are computer-adaptive at the question level, while those sections of the Executive Assessment are adaptive at the module level.
Now that we know how the structure and format of the GMAT and EA exams differ, let’s delve a little deeper into the content of the two exams.
Both the GMAT and the Executive Assessment were created to test the skills necessary to be successful in the business world, skills such as critical thinking, use of logic, data analysis, and basic math and English skills. To that end, much of the content on the Executive Assessment is the same as the content on the GMAT, and as I touched on earlier, both tests pull from the same question pool.
Let’s take a look at the question types you’ll see on both exams.
In fact, there is no difference in the content tested in the Verbal and IR sections on either exam. The content differences come in the Quant section, in that the Executive Assessment tests fewer Quant topics than the GMAT does and omits some of the more advanced Quant topics that appear in GMAT Quant.
Specifically, topics such as permutations and combinations, statistics, and probability are less common on the EA (though not completely absent). And most notably, there are no geometry questions on the EA. Note that questions involving coordinate planes can appear on the EA, but GMAC classifies those as algebra questions, not geometry questions.
For the most part, EA Quant tests topics in arithmetic and in freshman-level high school algebra. So, it’s safe to say that EA Quant is, overall, somewhat easier than the GMAT Quant section.
EA Quant tests fewer topics and omits some of the more advanced topics compared to GMAT Quant.
Now that we understand how the Executive Assessment and the GMAT compare when it comes to structure and content, let’s take a look at the different ways the two exams are scored.
The Executive Assessment and the GMAT have very different score scales and also somewhat different ways of calculating a test-taker’s total score. First, let’s compare the score scales of the two exams.
For both exams, you receive an individual section score for each exam section and a total score. However, in addition to the obvious differences between the two exams’ score scales, each exam has its own way of calculating total score.
On the GMAT, your total score is based on your performance in the Quant and Verbal sections; your IR and AWA scores do not count toward your total score. However, on the EA, your Quant, Verbal, and IR scores are all weighed equally in calculating your total score.
As with GMAT scores, EA scores are valid for 5 years from the test date associated with a score. And, of course, neither exam allows you to mix and match section scores from different exams when sending scores to schools.
Now, let’s take a look at how much it costs to take each exam.
The Executive Assessment may be the “little brother” of the GMAT in many ways, but cost isn’t one of them. Exam registration for the Executive Assessment is $350, compared to $275 for the GMAT. However, because the EA exam caters to business professionals with hectic schedules, the policies around test rescheduling and cancellation are more lenient than those for the GMAT — and that’s reflected in the cost. Let’s take a look.
Check out this article for a more detailed breakdown of GMAT fees. In the meantime, let’s go over a few important differences between the GMAT and the EA exam when it comes to registration and testing.
Registration and Testing
Fortunately, for both the GMAT and the Executive Assessment, you can register and schedule your exam easily on the mba.com website. Furthermore, both exams have testing sites at more than 600 test centers worldwide and currently allow for online testing in most countries (at least while Covid-19 is still a concern).
There are some differences, however, in the number of times you can take each exam and how long you have to wait between retakes. For the EA exam, the retake policy is fairly straightforward. You can take the Executive Assessment at a test center up to 2 times, and while the online exam is available, you can take that 2 times as well. (Currently the online EA is available through April 2021, but depending on how the pandemic continues to affect testing sites, GMAC may extend that timeline.)
The interesting thing is that online EA attempts are considered entirely separately from any attempts completed at a test center. So, if for example you take the EA at a test center and retake it online, you’ll still have 2 EA exam attempts left. Thus, you could conceivably take the Executive Assessment a total of 4 times: twice at a test center and twice at home.
Now, I’m not sure why anyone — particularly a working professional with a full-time job — would want to take a $350 exam 4 times. Clearly, any test-taker would be much better off properly preparing and taking the exam when he or she was truly ready to do so. But nevertheless, you have no shortage of retake opportunities if you need them.
And you don’t have to wait long: you can register for a second in-person attempt as soon as 24 hours after you complete your first attempt. Since the earliest you can sit for the exam is 24 hours after you register, you could sit for an in-person retake 48 hours after your first attempt, if you wanted to. Of course, depending on why you didn’t hit your goal score on your first try, you may want to take a little more time to study for your retake.
As for the Executive Assessment Online, you can schedule a second attempt either before or after you complete your first attempt, although in that case the 2 test appointments must be at least 16 days apart.
The in-person and online Executive Assessment allow for 1 retake each.
The retake policy gets a bit more complex for the GMAT. The GMAT has a 12-month limit of 5 test attempts and a lifetime limit of 8 test attempts. Up to 2 of those 8 total attempts may be online GMAT attempts (i.e., you can retake the online GMAT once, for a total of 2 attempts).
Now, it used to be that online GMAT attempts did not count toward a test-taker’s 12-month and lifetime limits, and for test-takers who sat for the online GMAT before September 23, 2020, that policy still holds true. However, any online GMAT taken on or after September 23, 2020, does count toward the 12-month and lifetime limits.
So, for instance, if you took the online GMAT once before September 23, 2020, and once after September 23, 2020, your second online GMAT attempt counts toward your 12-month and lifetime limits, but your first online attempt does not.
Additionally, regardless of whether you’re sitting for the in-person or online GMAT, you must wait at least 16 days between retakes. (Currently, it appears that GMAC has indefinitely extended the availability of the online GMAT.)
Lastly, for both the online GMAT and the online EA exams, verified technical issues that prevent completion of your test should not count toward your retake limit. If you do happen to encounter a technical issue that is beyond your control when you’re taking an online exam, your remote proctor should be able to verify that the issue occurred, and depending on the situation, your exam won’t be counted toward your limits and you won’t have to pay another exam fee for your make-up exam.
Quick Reference: Executive Assessment vs. GMAT
Now that you know the key differences between the Executive Assessment and GMAT exams, you can refer to the handy chart below anytime to quickly compare the two exams. Additionally, check out this in-depth guide to the Executive Assessment.