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GMAT Online Exam vs. GMAT Exam in a Test Center: Which one is the right for you?

Since April 2020 GMAT Online has offered a digital option versus going to the test centres to take the GMAT, due ot the Coronavirus pandemic


The big question is: Which of these options will make you feel more comfortable on your test day?


Although GMAT online and in-center GMAT do not differ greatly, the few aspects that vary in which should be considered and may be important to you. Therefore, we compare the most important points of both variants so that you can make an easy and conscious decision.


Structure: One of the main differences between the two ways of taking the GMAT are the sections that a test taker will meet. While in Test Centers the exam has four sections – Quant, Verbal, Integrated Reasoning and Analytical Writing – the GMAT online has only three because Analytical Writing is excluded. Also, there is a fixed order when taking the exam from home. Naturally, universities were consulted and, according to GMAC, they committed to assess the candidate’s writing skills themselves. For this reason, both exams are valid before the schools.

Duration and Breaks: Because of changes in the composition of the exam, its duration was also affected. The time given to take the exam online is 2 hours and 45 minutes plus 15 minutes for the check in. Instead, the time given in Test Centers is 3 hours and 7 minutes plus 30 minutes for check in.

Breaks are optional in both cases. If  you take the online exam, you will only have one 5 minutes break before the Integrated Reasoning section, while in the Test Center you will have two eight minutes breaks.

Exam Attempts: Another contrast between these GMAT taking options is that you can only take the online exam twice with a minimum 16-day gap between appointments, whereas in Test Centers you can take it up to five times in a rolling 12-month period. However, due to changes in the regulations from September 2020 onwards, online attempts count in the absolute maximum number of eight attempts allowed in a lifetime.

Appointment Availability: When it comes to appointments availability, the online GMAT wins: not only is it available 24 hours a day and 7 days a week, but also appointments are available around the clock and you can schedule an exam appointment up to 24 hours before an available vacancy. On the other hand, in-center GMAT you may register up to six months in advance. 

Scoring: What comes after the test day is also very important when choosing between online or in-center GMAT. For starters, it is important for you to know that by taking the GMAT online, your scores will be available 7 business days after the exam in your mba.com account. By doing it at a Test Center, you will receive an unofficial score at the end of the exam and you will receive the official score 20 business days after the test. Also, in-center GMAT score can only be sent for free to 5 programs whereas online scores can be sent unlimited times at no charge. Both scores are valid for five years.

BONUS TRACK – Scratch Work Resources and Reschedule / Cancelation Policy: Although these points may not be the basis of your decision, it should be noted that they vary depending on your choice. When it comes to rescheduling and cancelling your exam, in-center GMAT do not charge during the pandemic, while the online exam has a US $25 rescheduling fee and a US $100 cancellation fee (September 2020).

As for scratch work resources, in the face-to-face exam you will have a 5 page laminated booklet and two dry erase markers. In the online GMAT, you can use your own physical whiteboard and you’ll have access to an online whiteboard. We recommend you to investigate this new tool as it may have certain rules and specifications.


GMAT cost should be the same for both online and Test Centers, but it may change according to your location and currency when taking it in-center. The average price is US$250.


To conclude, we consider that the choice between GMAT online and GMAT in Test Centers is very personal and depends on how beneficial each option makes you feel. Aware of the doubts generated by this new GMAT format, mba.com has answered frequent questions over the last few months; you can find the answers here.


If you need help with the GMAT or the admissions process we can help.  For more information on our different GMAT products see:

  • GMAT private classes – see the stories of Will, Teddy, Jessica and Nico and how they approached their GMAT journey with Merchant.
  • Merchant Academy – a GMAT teaching innovation that makes taking the GMAT, like an MBA. Click to find out more about the Merchant Academy format.
  • Merchant GMAT Hall of Fame – a gallery of some of our clients over the last eight years.

For admissions help see some of the client stories on our admissions page.

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Anish Merchant

CEO & Co-Founder

- "Preparing for the GMAT and applying for an MBA requires a tremendous commitment, and that doesn’t take into consideration the personal challenges our students must face when deciding if they want to leave their friends, families, and native cultures behind to advance their careers abroad. An MBA is not for everyone and that’s precisely what makes this advanced degree so valuable. 

For these reasons, we at Merchant only work with students we are confident have what it takes to succeed throughout the preparation and application processes.

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