Ace the Executive Assessment

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Ace the Executive Assessment 483 Brett Ethridge July 2022

Tune in to hear all you need to know about the Executive Assessment [Show Summary]

Who is the Executive Assessment for? What is it? And how to prepare for it? Introduced by GMAC a few years ago, for the Executive MBA, the “EA” has gained credibility and acceptability for a variety of MBA programs. Brett Ethridge, test prep expert, weighs in and answers all these questions in this informative interview.

Interview with Brett Ethridge, founder and president of Dominate Test Prep [Show Notes]

Welcome to the 483rd episode of Admissions Straight Talk. Thanks for listening. You’ve seen the stats that most people have a great return on their MBA investment. But what about you? Are you going to see that return? How much could it be? We’ve created a tool that will help you assess whether the MBA is likely to be a good investment for you individually. Just go to accepted.com/mbaroicalc, complete the brief questionnaire, and you’ll not only get an assessment but also the opportunity to calculate different scenarios. And it’s all free.

It gives me great pleasure to have back on Admissions Straight Talk, Brett Ethridge, founder and president of Dominate Test Prep. Brett earned his Bachelor’s in Public Policy Studies from Duke in 2000 and then joined the Peace Corps for two years where he worked in Madagascar. He then earned a Master’s in International Finance, Trade, and Economic Integration from the University of Denver. In 2010, he founded Dominate the GMAT, which became Dominate Test Prep. Today, Dominate Test Prep provides test preparation for the GMAT, the GRE, SAT, ACT, LSAT, and most importantly for today’s conversation, GMAC’s Executive Assessment. The Executive Assessment is accepted by many Executive MBA programs, an increasing number of part-time MBA programs, and even several highly ranked full-time MBA programs, including Columbia, Darden, Duke Fuqua, Georgetown, NYU Stern, UT McCombs, and Vanderbilt. Let’s learn all about the Executive Assessment.

Let’s start with a basic question. What is the Executive Assessment? [2:42]

It’s a standardized test used as part of the admissions process for a wide range of primarily Executive MBA programs in the United States, but also overseas. It’s also being used by an increasing number of online MBA programs, part-time MBA programs, and full-time MBA programs. It’s very similar in a lot of ways to the GMAT exam, which is the widely used entrance exam for business school, but different in distinct ways as well. In short, it’s a standardized test that a lot of students are taking right now to get into various MBA programs.

Why did GMAC develop the Executive Assessment if it already had the GMAT? [3:32]

Because they were asked to (if the story is correct). I actually first learned about the Executive Assessment myself at a forum that the GMAC hosted at their headquarters in Ruston, Virginia back in 2018. I think the Executive Assessment had been around for maybe a year or so at that point. It’s a fairly new exam at four or five years old. It was my first time really learning about the exam. At that point, only a couple dozen schools were even using it.

The story they told us, so this is straight from the GMAC’s mouth, is that the admissions directors at a lot of the top executive MBA programs came to them and said, “Look, we love the GMAT. We’re currently asking applicants for our Executive MBA programs to take the GMAT. But it’s a really steep hurdle in the application process for a demographic of applicants who are in their forties, sometimes fifties. These people have been out of school for decades and now you’re asking them to do the advanced math that’s on the GMAT and spend months and months and months preparing. Can you come up with something that’s a slightly lower barrier to entry? Not in terms of being easier, necessarily. We want to make sure that the applicants have the quantitative chops and also verbal reasoning skills to succeed in our Executive MBA classrooms. But let’s be honest. They’re working full time. They have families in a lot of cases. And we need to make a shorter, somehow more accessible exam. Can you do that?”

So the GMAC went back to the drawing board and essentially used what they already had in terms of questions on the GMAT, repackaged them, reformatted them, and made the exam a lot shorter. That’s how the Executive Assessment was born.

How much shorter is the Executive Assessment compared to the GMAT? [5:24]

It’s about half as long. It’s a 90-minute exam. It’s actually less than half the questions and about half the total duration because there are no breaks. It’s a three-section exam without any breaks between the sections. You just answer questions for 90 minutes. You’re in, and then you’re out.

Can you take the Executive Assessment online? [5:51]

Correct. Much like the other exams like GMAT and GRE, it was test center only until the pandemic, and then they took it online. Now students can take it online or in test centers.

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How is the Executive Assessment structured? [6:07]

It has three sections. Each section is 30 minutes long. The first section is an Integrated Reasoning section, which is a section that is also on the GMAT but not the GRE. You’re going to answer 12 questions in those 30 minutes, then immediately go into the Verbal Reasoning section for 30 minutes. That is followed by the Quantitative Reasoning section, which is 30 minutes.

I don’t know if we want to get into the weeds in terms of the question types, but they’re very similar to the questions that are tested on the GMAT. It’s just that you have fewer to answer. You’re going to have 12 Integrated Reasoning questions, followed by 14 Verbal Reasoning questions, followed by 14 Quantitative Reasoning questions.

Could you give more details on each section? [6:52]

Yeah, we can absolutely do that. I think Integrated Reasoning is a really neat section that the GMAT added a handful of years ago to really showcase students’ abilities to do the types of things that, frankly, are done more in business school than a lot of the content tested on the Quantitative and Verbal Reasoning sections. It’s things like reading graphs and charts and figuring out percent change of revenue for companies that you’re pulling from tables. They created these new question types and they call it Integrated Reasoning. That’s what comes first. There are four different question types there related to graphs, tables, multi-source reasoning, and two-part analysis. Those are the four question types.

What I think is unique is that one of the big differences between the Executive Assessment and specifically the GMAT, which also has an Integrated Reasoning section, is that the Integrated Reasoning score on the Executive Assessment is part of your overall total EA score. So for the Executive Assessment, you just get one score, unlike the GMAT, where you get three different scores. It’s all lumped together with the Executive Assessment. From that standpoint, Integrated Reasoning is more important and plays a bigger role in the Executive Assessment.

You start by taking the Integrated Reasoning section, and as the scoring algorithm works, how you do on the Integrated Reasoning section actually dictates whether you get a harder or easier next two sections, Verbal or Quantitative Reasoning. Then you go into Verbal Reasoning, which is really the exact same question types that are on the GMAT, namely sentence correction, where you’re basically trying to resolve any grammatical errors and usage errors in sentences. Critical reasoning is analyzing arguments, and for reading comprehension, you’re assigned a passage and answer questions about that passage. That’s the Verbal Reasoning section.

Then you move into the Quantitative Reasoning section, which is composed of two different question types. The first is problem-solving, which is your typical, run-of-the-mill math questions, multiple choice, and data sufficiency, which is a unique question type now to the GMAT and the Executive Assessment. It takes a little bit of getting used to, but students tend to learn to love them more than problem-solving once they learn how to do them correctly.

What are some significant differences between the GMAT and GRE versus the Executive Assessment? [9:44]

That’s a good question and an important question. I think the place to start with answering that doesn’t have anything to do with the content or the logistics of the exam, but more so with the philosophical role that the exam plays. I talked about where it came from and why the GMAC designed it, and the demographic of students taking it. As such, it’s really more of a threshold exam. That’s the way I like to think about it. The GMAT and the GRE are a little bit more cutthroat and students are jockeying for every last possible point. They’re trying to score in the 90th percentile. They know they need a really, really high score to get into the top schools.

When it comes to the Executive Assessment, it really is just trying to show the admissions officers that you have what it takes and are ready. The GMAC calls it a readiness exam. It is simply trying to show that you are ready to go back into a business classroom at age 45 or whatever you are when you’re going back. From that standpoint, most of the programs asking students to take the Executive Assessment are only asking for what would be considered an average score which is 150. Scores range from 100 to 200, and 150 is smack dab in the middle. It happens to be about an average score currently and most schools are just telling applicants, “Hey, we just want you to get the 150.” And that’s hard for a lot of students because so many people going to business school are overachievers and they’re used to trying to excel and they’re trying to get the highest score possible.

I always try to encourage my students to let go of that. Once you let go of that driving desire to do the absolute best you can, it frees you up. Because now, the Executive Assessment doesn’t have to dominate your life the way the GMAT dominates students’ lives for months on end. You’re just trying to get an average score. Now, of course, higher is better. And when you’re looking at some of the top programs, especially some of the top traditional MBA programs that also accept the Executive Assessment for their traditional full-time MBA, you’re competing against everybody around the world who is cutthroat and trying to get top GMAT scores. In that case, they do expect higher EA scores.

I think philosophically, that difference is important in terms of the mindset you bring into preparing for the Executive Assessment. Again, there should be a little bit of liberation there because it should take some of the pressure off of you. It’s not necessarily easy to get even just a 150 on the Executive Assessment but you certainly don’t need to be shooting for the 90th percentile in most cases.

Content-wise, there’s no geometry on the Executive Assessment. That’s a big chunk of math that students don’t have to learn, whereas you would have to learn the relevant geometry on the GMAT and the GRE. There’s no essay. You don’t have to write an essay on the Executive Assessment.

From a logistical standpoint, it’s not question-adaptive the way the GMAT is. It’s more like the GRE in that it’s section-adaptive. I explained that how you do on the first section, the Integrated Reasoning section, will set up the Quantitative and Verbal Reasoning sections. In fact, they’re subsection-adaptive. We don’t have to get into the logistics there but there are actually two subsections within each major section. Those subsections adapt depending on how you’re doing. Here’s what it really means for you. If you’re listening, this is a little test-taking hack: you don’t need to answer the questions in order. The mistake a lot of students make, and especially if you’re coming from the GMAT world, is answering every question in order. You don’t have to absolutely answer the question currently on the screen before you get to the next question, which so many students are used to. You can mark the question and skip it and come back to it like you can on the GRE. That’s absolutely what you should do. I call it picking the low-hanging fruit. You want to answer the questions that you have the best chance at getting right as you have the most time to get them right. Then in any time remaining, you can go back and answer any questions that you were struggling with. Hopefully then, you can figure them out in the time remaining. That’s a big test taking advantage, I would say, of the Executive Assessment over the GMAT.

It sounds like it’s to the student’s advantage to take the Executive Assessment if a school accepts it. [14:58]

You’re exactly right. In fact, this is essentially the same thing that happened a decade ago when the GRE started to make inroads in business school admissions. For the longest time, it was the exact same deal. Schools published their GMAT scores but not their GRE scores so you could skate by with a lower than comparable GRE score. Eventually, it caught up, and the GRE is more mainstream now. Most schools publish both scores and now you have to do just as well on the GRE. I could certainly envision a scenario five years from now, maybe even sooner than that, where the Executive Assessment becomes more mainstream and schools will have to publish those results. I don’t necessarily think that’s the mindset you should go into taking the Executive Assessment with or the reason you choose the Executive Assessment versus one of the other exams. But yes, as of now, it would be a little bit of an advantage for you.

What’s the mindset to approach the Executive Assessment with? [16:06]

Whether you’re going to take the Executive Assessment, GMAT, ot GRE, I always encourage my students to think about it as their first business school class. There are going to be things that you need to learn. The Executive Assessment isn’t necessarily easier, even if it’s shorter and even if your ultimate score isn’t quite as important. I don’t want you going into the exam thinking, “Oh, it’s just going to be an easier GMAT,” because it’s not. In fact, I mentioned that there is no geometry on the Executive Assessment, and that’s true. From that standpoint, perhaps it’s a little easier just because you don’t have to do the geometry but really everything else that is fair game on the GMAT and the GRE content-wise is also fair game on the Executive Assessment.

In some ways, it can be harder and more frustrating in the sense that you still have to prepare for almost the same amount of content but you have fewer questions that you’re going to see. So students end up preparing for all of these math topics and things that could appear on the exam that they’re more likely to see on the GMAT just because there are twice as many questions. My students will email me after the exam and they’ll get a great score but they’ll say, “I never saw this question and I prepared for this.” That’s because you only had 14 questions. You still have to prepare for like everything, you’re just not going to see as much of it.

It’s not necessarily going to be easier for you. You still have to prepare. What you really need to do is get in the mindset of it’s time to go back to school. You need to remember what it’s like to sit down and dedicate devoted study time, and take practice tests, and feel the jitters of sitting for an exam. That’s really what you’re doing as you’re preparing for the Executive Assessment. Regardless of the exam, that’s the mindset. It shouldn’t be, “Hey, this is easier. So I’m choosing the Executive Assessment,” but rather, “I’m going to attack this thing with the same vigor that I would for the GMAT or the GRE. It just might take me a little less time to prepare with that mindset.”

The second thing that I would say along those same lines is that I never encourage people to take the easy way out of anything in life. We want to prove to ourselves that we can do hard things. I wouldn’t choose the Executive Assessment because you’d think it would be easier because it turns out it’s not necessarily easier. You still might be able to get by with a lower-than-expected score, so I think the two could coexist. You could take the Executive Assessment and potentially get accepted with a slightly lower comparable score and still treat it with the due diligence that it requires and the effort that it takes to do well. I think both of those can coexist.

What are some study tips to prepare for the Executive Assessment? [20:05]

This is where understanding the demographic of the exam and the fact that, again, we don’t have to perhaps do quite as well with our score, is actually a benefit to you as you’re preparing for the Executive Assessment. How do you prepare for any standardized test? And really, how do you get good at anything in life? I call it the success triad. There are three components.

Number one is the “what.” There is content you’re going to have to learn like how to solve for X in simultaneous equations. Some of you just broke out in a cold sweat because you haven’t thought of this stuff in forever. Maybe it’s how to strengthen and weaken arguments. How to choose the appropriate object or subject pronoun in a given sentence, depending on where it is in the sentence. This is the “what” that you just have to learn. Things like grammar rules, math rules, formulas, and things like that. You’re going to have to dust off those math cobwebs, especially if it’s been decades since you have been in a math classroom.

The second component of the triad is obviously practice. Practice makes perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect. You need to do lots of practice problems and take full length practice tests. It’s a given. You can’t just watch a bunch of videos on YouTube or take a course even, and then expect to do well on test day. We’re going to have to practice some stuff.

The third component of the triad, which to me is really the missing piece that is the difference between students who do well on a test like the GMAT or GRE or even Executive Assessment, and those who do really well, is strategy. Strategy is getting the right answers more effectively and efficiently and sometimes in non-traditional ways. It’s even things like skipping questions that I talked about earlier. How do you actually navigate the sections? That’s all test-taking strategy. It’s doing well on this particular test. At the end of the day, if you remember how I explained the sections of the exam, they all include the word reasoning: Integrated Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, and Verbal Reasoning. Reasoning is sometimes coming at questions in a non-traditional way. This all leads to strategy.

Often my students who come to me with a strong math background actually struggle in a lot of cases with Executive Assessment or GMAT or GRE math because they’re coming at it in such a rigid and traditional way. That’s a mistake. Your goal is not to make your high school algebra teacher happy. Your goal is to get the right answers. We can often get the right answers by coming at questions in a nontraditional way. I call it strategy. There are lots of nonstandard strategies where you can work backward from the answer choices, for example. You can make up numbers in place in the variables so you’re not doing this esoteric algebra, but you’re working with real numbers, and it becomes a fairly simple arithmetic problem. These are all strategies that you can learn.

To me, when it comes to the Executive Assessment, the emphasis should be here more than even just learning a ton of content because you can be more efficient with your time preparing for the Executive Assessment. Let’s actually focus on the questions you’re most likely to see. We know that statistically, you’re more likely to see this type of question than that type of question. This math concept as opposed to that really obscure math concept. If you focus on studying the right things, you can get ready in a shorter amount of time.

What is the typical amount of time it takes to prepare for the Executive Assessment? [24:35]

I think about four weeks. The GMAC shared some statistics that you might find interesting at the most recent summit we attended, which is that 70% of Executive Assessment test takers started preparing less than two months before their application deadlines. These numbers are self-reported, but that’s in stark contrast to the GMAT and the GRE, where students are studying months and months in advance. 35% only start studying a month before their application deadlines. The GMAC says that you should only need 25 to 30 hours to prepare. I have found that not to be the case at all. I think you need more than 30 hours if you’re going to do above average. And especially if you’re shooting for one of the top schools that requests a higher score, like something 155 plus, but you still don’t probably need more than 50 hours.

We’re not talking about the amount of time that you might devote to the GMAT or the GRE. If you devote six to ten hours a week, maybe an hour a day and then a couple longer study sessions on the weekend, doing that for four weeks should get you just about there.

It’s a lower barrier of entry from that standpoint.

What do you think is the hardest part of the Executive Assessment? [26:20]

There’s the trap in coming at it thinking that it’s an easier GMAT. Just because it’s shorter and you have fewer questions doesn’t mean you still don’t have to prepare for a lot of potential questions. That’s a trap. The other thing I think that makes it difficult is just getting back into study mode for students who have been out of that mindset for so long.

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What’s the most common mistake that you see Executive Assessment takers make? [27:03]

It’s trying to make their high school math teacher happy. It’s trying to do everything the traditional way. It’s trying to come at everything from a strict algebraic standpoint instead of realizing that it’s a reasoning exam. Even on the verbal section, you can get a lot of questions right by reasoning your way to the answers.

The second thing is being a dog with a bone. What I mean by that is having a question pop up on your computer screen and literally fixating on it and feeling like you have to get it right even if it takes you three minutes, four minutes, five minutes. Now you’ve blown up the exam from a time management standpoint. If you do the math, it should be about two minutes per question. You can spend a little more time on some questions. Some questions you’ll solve a little bit faster. But on average, it should be two minutes per question. Maybe you can push three minutes on a question, maybe a little bit more. But you can’t be spending four or five minutes answering a question. That’s where learning to take the test the right way is important. Sometimes you’ll have to sacrifice questions for the greater good of your time management to be able to answer later questions because you have the time to devote to them. That’s part of the game you have to play.

I think the other thing is students, for whatever reason, are reluctant to take full-length practice tests. I think they’re scared to see what their score is. There’s this feeling that they have to be 100% ready before they take a practice test. As with everything in life, avoiding it is not going to help. It’s better to know where you stand. Even if your first score is 142. That’s a really below average, not great score. But who cares? Avoiding that doesn’t change that. That’s your current ability. Let’s realize that. Let’s evaluate it. And then let’s figure out where to focus. What are your strengths and weaknesses? What do we need to work on? That’s the name of the game. You just learn so much from taking the practice test, both from a time management standpoint and to figure out your strengths and weaknesses. Don’t avoid the practice test. It’s a big part of studying, and it’s a big part of ultimately doing well on the real thing.

How much does the EA cost? [30:12]

It’s $350. It’s more expensive than the other two. Maybe they realize the demographic that’s taking it.

The other thing to note is that you can only take the Executive Assessment twice, whereas you could take the other exams a lot more than that. My hypothesis about why that’s the case is maybe they don’t have quite as large a pool of questions so they don’t want students seeing redundant questions and so forth. Maybe as they build out the question pool to the size of the GMAT or the GRE, for example, students will be allowed to take it more. Maybe it’s something completely unrelated to that.

Is there anything you would’ve liked me to ask you? [31:44]

No, I think we hit on it. Remember the mindset of treating this thing like your first business school class. Don’t avoid hard things by thinking you’ll take the Executive Assessment instead. Do it because it’s the preferred exam for the program that you are going to be applying to. The Executive Assessment was designed for executive MBA programs, part-time programs, and online MBA programs. If that’s what you’re applying for and that’s the exam that they’re requesting as the priority, that’s the exam you should take.

As far as resources go for learning and practicing the content, obviously, you could take a course. The GMAC, though, has a whole suite of official resources on their website. Right now, I send all of my students to the GMAC website for the official Executive Assessment practice tests. They also have official practice questions.

Here’s a little bit of a hack that will save you some money. I talked about how there’s so much similarity in terms of the actual questions on the Executive Assessment and the GMAT so you can GMAT official resources to prepare for the Executive Assessment in terms of practice questions. Why might you want to do that? Because you can get way more questions for less money. The GMAT official guide is about a thousand questions or whatever for under $40. You’re going to pay twice as much money for like 300 questions on the official Executive Assessment website.

Those questions in the GMAT official guide can totally prepare you well for the Executive Assessment. Skip all the geometry stuff, but on the verbal side, it’s all relevant. On the data sufficiency side, it’s all relevant. The Integrated Reasoning question are relevant.

Where can listeners and potential applicants learn more about Dominate Test Prep and how you can help them with the Executive Assessment or other tests? [31:44]

You can find us at dominatetestprep.com. We actually have a free six-question Executive Assessment quiz if you want to get a feel for each of the question types. We provide full-length, detailed video solutions for each of the quiz questions where we try to share some cool tips and test-taking strategies for those types of questions. You can find that at https://www.dominatetestprep.com/what’s-on-the-ea.

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