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The Executive Assessment: What I Learned Taking the New Test for EMBA Candidates

Yale SOM’s MBA for Executives Program now accepts the Executive Assessment, a new standardized test designed specifically for EMBA candidates, alongside the GMAT and GRE. To learn more about the test, Assistant Dean Silvia McCallister-Castillo decided to take it herself.

In 2015, I took part in a workshop run by GMAC, the organization that owns the GMAT. I was accompanied by the deans and directors of the top 10 EMBA programs in the world. Most agreed that some terrific EMBA candidates—busy professionals with a great deal of success in their lives—were reluctant, unable, or flat out unwilling to take the GMAT. We wondered about the folks we were missing: The people who were terrified by the thought of such a long exam after so many years away from school, or the people who didn’t see the point of studying geometry to prepare for their entrance into business school. Were there phenomenal candidates who saw the GMAT as too high a barrier? Could a different assessment help bring such candidates into EMBA programs?

We stressed that any such assessment needed to test  for the quantitative skills that would be necessary to tackle an EMBA program. It needed to allow candidates with no evidence of quant ability to demonstrate proficiency with mathematical concepts such as algebra and statistics, and for students for whom English is a second language to prove that they had the skills to read and understand complex texts. GMAC took our feedback and took note of our worries and our priorities. They created the Executive Assessment with EMBA candidates in mind, tailoring the exam to measure the ability of candidates to do the work required of them in a top-tier program.

Today, the Executive Assessment is accepted by a growing list of EMBA programs at leading business schools. The Yale School of Management is joining that list.

Why I took the Executive Assessment and how I prepared

Since the exam is relatively new, there aren’t a good deal of study resources or “best practices” to share with test takers. So I volunteered to prepare for and take the exam and report back my findings. María Stutsman y Márquez, associate director for admissions, threw her hat in the ring as well.

My first stab at preparation was to take free practice tests on a GMAT website. The Executive Assessment uses the same question types as the GMAT, so I thought this would be a good place to start. I was wrong. The GMAT covers a wider variety of subjects, including geometry—which I hadn’t studied since freshman year of high school. I wasted a significant amount of time trying to solve questions about obtuse and acute triangles. I did, however, get a realistic picture of my level of basic algebra (okay) and combinatorics (not so great).

Once I started using an official Executive Assessment test prep website, my preparation got quite a bit easier. The website I used allowed me to plug in my test date and created a suggested study plan with a target number of questions to complete every day. I followed this schedule strictly.

The first few days, it was easy to reach the target—I was motivated and I made swift progress, particularly in the quantitative section. After a few days, however, I started running out of steam. I wasn’t able to do my best in the evenings, after dinner, sitting on my couch: I didn’t read the questions carefully enough, I made simple arithmetic errors, and I often found it difficult to concentrate.

So I changed up my study routine. I started coming to the office 90 minutes early to work through the practice questions while everything was quiet and before my inbox started exploding. In the evenings, I spent no more than an hour reviewing the questions I missed in the morning and reviewed subjects in a more relaxed mode. On the weekends, I was able to take advantage of one of the best resources at Yale University: Sterling Memorial Library, one of the most beautiful buildings on campus. It is extraordinarily peaceful during summer break, and I was often able to commandeer a study room for myself. Once I ran through all the practice sets, I reset them and did them again.

The last day before the test, I went through the materials until lunchtime—and then I put everything away. I spent the evening relaxing.

The day of the Executive Assessment

I woke up early that day and came into the office to meet up with María. I did a last hour of cramming, which I doubt did much to help my performance, but made me feel more confident. We drove to the test center together and had a healthy breakfast and a final cup of coffee. After leaving everything in a locker, I was led to a computer station with a set of noise-cancellation headphones. I was fairly nervous, but once I started the test, I was too focused to worry. After 90 minutes—which flew by—I was done.

I was happy with my result. I won’t take the assessment for fun again any time soon, but I found that it was a nice exercise to brush up on my quant skills. For me, the Integrated Reasoning section was the most challenging part, but the work paid off and the skills—reading and interpreting data sets—are certainly useful to my work.

My advice to test takers

  • You can only take the assessment twice, so make the first time count.
  • You do not get to use a calculator on the Quantitative Reasoning section—only on the Integrated Reasoning portion—so plan accordingly.
  • Work through practice problems and take note of the types of problems you get wrong. See if there are any patterns and make sure you understand the fundamentals.
  • Time is limited. It was helpful to practice going through the test with a timer.
  • When working against the clock, you will make different types of mistakes, so take note of those, too. Often they will be silly mistakes that are easily corrected, like not reading the questions carefully or making simple arithmetic errors.
  • I spent roughly 25 to 30 hours preparing for the EA—about 90 minutes a day on weekdays and more on the weekends. The rule of thumb is between 10 and 20 hours, but I think the extra time prepping for the Quantitative Reasoning and Integrated Reasoning sections paid off.

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