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Experiencing the New GMAT Focus

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Published: December 17, 2023
Guest: Krit
Episode Description:

Carl is joined by special guest, Krit, as he provides insights on his recent GMAT Focus experience.


Decoding the GMAT Focus Edition:

Navigating the GMAT can bring stress and uncertainty, especially with the introduction of the GMAT Focus edition. Krit offers a reflection on how his professional background played a role in his GMAT journey. With incisive comparisons between the GMAT Classic and Focus and sharing his personal decision-making process, this conversation aims to alleviate some of the anxiety surrounding the new format.


GMAT Focus vs. GMAT Classic:

  • Shorter duration: 2 hours 15 minutes vs. 3 hours 15 minutes.
  • Merged quantitative and data sections: Creates more complex "Data Insights" section.
  • New features: Bookmarking, choosing section order, potentially reducing anxiety.
  • Different scoring system: Requires adjusting expectations for a "good" score.
  • New score reporting procedures: Adds an extra step after the exam.

Who might benefit from the GMAT Focus:

  • Test-takers seeking a less time-consuming option.
  • Those comfortable with business contexts and data analysis.
  • Individuals looking for a different testing experience.


GMAT Focus, GMAT Classic vs GMAT Focus, MBA, Test Preparation, Performance Improvement, Sentence Correction, Quantitative Section Transformation, Test-Taking Anxiety, Time Management, Scoring Differences


Carl Prince:Hello, I'm Carl Prince, and this is Insights, the podcast of Elite Admit. Thank you for joining me. Today we're going to dive into the new version of the GMAT, which is the GMAT Focus edition. There's a lot of great information out there on GMAT focus, but what seems to be missing is practical and useful information from the people who've actually taken it. Which is why I've invited our guest today, who's done just that. His name is Krit:Before we go any further, I'm going to let him introduce himself. Take it away, Krit.

Krit:Hi, everyone. Hi, every listener. Hi, Carl. It's so good to be here. So just a little bit about myself. I am Krit:and I'm currently working in DNA Canvas, a health startup. We are doing an at-home test kit for genetic risks and any genetic predisposition. I won't go into that much detail on that. I graduated from Chula, and yeah, I've been in GMAT journey since the very beginning of the year. It's December now, so I could say that I am with GMAT for a year already. Yeah, I took three GMAT Classic and two GMAT Focus tests.

Carl Prince:Okay, fantastic. We're going to get into that in just a moment. I want to see your evolution. How it all happened. How you got from where you were to where you are now. We're not going to discuss scores, obviously, but we know you have a happy ending, so that's going to be good news. But here's what I want to do. This is really important. GMAT is like the biggest pain point, if not one of the biggest pain points that and the interviews. So, it's a really important conversation to have, especially this time of year when both options are available.

I think your insights are going to be really helpful and maybe even help relieve some of the anxiety that people are feeling about taking the test right now. And I also want to say thank you because I know you're in the middle of round two applications, so we're going to keep the conversation brief. But I really appreciate your coming and taking the time.

You just took the latest GMAT Focus on Friday. What I want to do is let's just back up and start from the very beginning. You alluded that you started taking the test at the beginning of the year. Take us on your journey, the tests, your evolution. When you decided that you were going to switch. Just give us an overview, please.

Krit:To be honest, I wasn't planning to take the GMAT Focus at the first place. It seemed like too much of a risk, and it's completely new. No one knows much about it. But this decision happened in the middle of my GMAT test, when I realized that something needed to change.

Carl Prince:I'm sorry to interrupt. What do you mean by that? Something needed to change?

Krit:To provide a little bit of a background—I've been away from the test for too long. It's been seven years since I graduated from university. And I'm not the one who did well tests, either. It's a difficult situation to be in. I think many professionals could relate to me when they're taking a lot of time off of exams, and then they have to do it again. I struggled with GMAT a lot. In GMAT Classic, you only need a score from Verbal and Quant. And there're other parts that are not calculated, which is Integrated Reasoning and Writing.

And I realized this around July or August. I made the decision after one month during my third GMAT test. I think it's normal that people look into their ESR score, because, okay, you have to know, what are your pain points? What are your weaknesses in that? And it happens to me every time that I always struggle with sentence correction. I was able to do Critical reasoning well. It's always been my strength since forever. And the reading comprehension, I'm a regular reader of English texts, magazines, and books. I am familiar with reading long passages or conversations, this and that.

The things that had been hindering my whole score was the sentence correction. And I could not do it well, I did most of the practice on sentence correction, but I realized that I'm someone who learned English by ear and in normal life, because I used to play games a lot. It's hard for me to get the sentence right 100%. And another part is, I always got a good score in integrated reasoning. I got, like, 90% tie every time I did it. Even when I didn't study for it. I didn't read much about it. I didn't try to understand it. Because you don't have to. It's unnecessary. But it seems like my professional experience at Shoppe or at DNA Canvas, we tend to use a lot of data and a lot of graphs to make decisions. And it's been not that difficult for me to understand the graphs, understand the interpretations of different tables and graphics that they are presenting. My professional experience helped me a lot on this.

Carl Prince:So I'm going to be curious to see how you did in the Data Insights, and we're going to get to that in just a moment. But I think what you've sort of categorized is a pretty typical journey for those people. You keep taking the test until you find a score that you're happy with and you want to submit with. I say this all the time, but the GMAT really doesn't tell you how smart you are. It just tells you how good you are at taking the GMAT. So, I think it's actually smart that you decided to try something different to see if you get a better result. I think the EA (Executive Assessment), which you did really well in on your very first time out, as I recall, is structured a little bit differently. It's by GMAT as well and if I'm not mistaken, the new Focus edition more closely mirrors that in terms of day-to-day practical information that you use to make these decisions. So, it makes perfect sense that since you did so well in these that you would do better on the GMAT Focus edition.

Now, I don't know. This is just a hunch. I haven't seen the details of the tests. But based on what I know from speaking to people, that seems to be kind of a good correlation. EA is much more practical. A few schools offer it. And you were wise, I think, to do that.

Let's frame the discussion by just real quickly going through some of the major changes, so then we could talk more specifically how you approach those. We know the new ones. There's three sections, 45 minutes long each. The big change, first of all, is the timing. It's gone from 3 hours and 7 minutes, to 2 hours and 15 minutes. So that's huge.

Now, the three sections are Verbal Reasoning, there's 23 questions there. Quantitative reasoning, 21 questions. And then the new one which is Data Insights, which I thought that was pretty clever of them to add to the test. Since data is a huge part of everything these days. And at MIT, it's even part of their application now, interpreting data and showing how you can digest data and make it presentable for other people to understand. It's becoming super important. To me, it's kind of taking place of the integrated reasoning. But I'm curious, you mentioned Integrated Reasoning, how well you did there based on the changes in the sections. So first of all, let's take Verbal and Quant. Those seem to be pretty much carried over from the old test. Is that right?

Krit:I would say that they did minor changes in the Verbal, but huge changes in the Quantitative, because they completely removed the Data Sufficiency test from the Quant part and put it in Data Insights. It's actually a very big change because for me, when I was taking the GMAT, Classic, Data Sufficiency tended to be like a time saver for me, because I don't really have to calculate the math until I get the answer. So, data sufficiency would be my time saver, which allowed me to spend more time in other Quantitative problem solving questions. Taking this out increased the difficulty in terms of time management.

Another slight difference is, I think the GMAT Focus really adds some spice to it. The questions are definitely a little bit more difficult. I have read a lot of articles on the GMAT Focus and many people say that the GMAT Focus Quant, the questions are lengthier and a little bit more difficult to get to the actual answer. You have to do extra computing steps. Or they put in extra hard Quant problems in there.

Carl Prince:Okay, interesting. So, I'm told and I'm sure you'll confirm this, that there's no new question types, but what it seems to be is they moved some things around. Based on what you just said, they've also made it a little bit more difficult and then reduced the amount of questions.

Krit:That's correct. Another thing for quant is there's no more geometry. I always hated that because there's a lot of formulas to remember. But I did find some geometry question that they framed within algebra questions. I won't get into much detail, but things are a little bit more complex. You can see from the percentile of the problem solving of the quant section. It's skewed to more left.

Carl Prince:Okay, so this is a good time to bring up the review section. So, this is huge now that you can bookmark your questions and then go back and spend some more time on them later. Did you take advantage of that? Obviously, that's a game changer, wouldn't you say?

Krit:Yeah, I would say I didn't take much advantage of it because I was struggling with the time management. But the review section helped ease me a little bit better when I was about to guess the answer.

Carl Prince:Just knowing it's there is enough to relieve the stress. You might not use it, but the fact that it's there if you need it relieves the anxiety and allows you to keep going without actually needing to take the tape.

Krit:If I cannot do some question, I would say, okay, forget this, move on. I'll mark this, and then if I have time, I will come back to see it later.

Carl Prince:Yeah. And then one of the other big things that I think is really important for a lot of people is, you can now take the test in any order. So instead of sitting down and then following all the way through, you can choose how you want to take it.


Carl Prince:What was your approach to that? Did you know going in how you would do it based on your past experience? Did you figure it out on the fly? How did you know how you were going to approach the new focus exam?

Krit:I would say the GMAT focus is a bit more mentally challenging, so it requires more brain power. And I think the fact that you can choose the test order in whatever form you like. So, you can do the Quant first or Verbal first, then followed by another tool. I think you have to manage this really well, and you have to learn how to manage the section based on your test performance, which can be done on the practice test, the mock test. So I first began with when I was taking my first GMAT, I was afraid of data insights, so I put it to be the last test in the last order. And I think that I didn't expect much about my Quant score. I mostly relied on the Verbal score because I know I'm always bad at math. So, I choose to do Verbal first.

And the tricky thing in GMAT Focus is that you can take only one ten-minute break. You can take it after the first section, or you can decide to take it after the second section. First time, I did a two-section stretch. I did Verbal, and then I did Quant, and then I would take a break. After that, I would take the Data Insights. It turned out to be not a good strategy, because I think that at that time, I underestimate the mental challenge of the GMAT. I was thinking that, okay, if you finish the first section, you still have enough brain power to do the second section. And I choose to do it right away. And I was so afraid of the Data Insights, so I decided I have to take a break first to clear my mind and to relax, and then to get back and do the Data Insights again. That was a totally wrong decision for me because since it's mentally challenging, I didn't have much brain power left after I finished the Verbal section to do the Quant one. And I did so badly, my Quant score at the time was super bad because it's much more difficult and it requires a lot of brain power. I think after I took the Quant section, I had so many wrong answers, and I think it screwed my momentum towards the Data Insights one.

Carl Prince:OK. So, you did it twice and the second time you took the break after? Did you change the order that you took it and you changed the break as well? Or did you keep everything the same and just moved the break?

Krit:I changed it completely.

Carl Prince:Okay.

Krit:But I think before you approach the real exam, you should test your breaks and order strategy with the practice test first. And in my second exam, I had a completely different approach to this. I just realized that I'm a slow starter. I might not be someone who can take two tests in a row and then be completely fine with it. So, this time I practiced enough so that the drain of energy wouldn't affect me in the wrong section. I decided to do Quant first, because it's my weakness.

Carl Prince:Okay.

Krit:I didn't do that good on Quant, but I took a break after the Quant to reset my momentum. I was a little bit annoyed after I finished the first Quant section. But the show must go on. So, I reset my mind, and I continued right after with my most promising section, which is Verbal. And since I did so well in Data Insights, as I mentioned in Integrated Reasoning, low energy didn't affect me at all. So, I was able to still continue with the Data Insights part without any careless mistakes being made. I put the Data Insights after Verbal because I don't think energy management will affect me.

Carl Prince:Everybody obviously is going to have a different approach, based on what their strengths are. But I want to see if I can boil down sort of your advice there. So, if you were telling somebody your advice on taking the exam, it sounds like, get the hard thing out of the way first. Is that right? Then take your break and then take the following two. So, get the break done as soon as possible after that first one.


Carl Prince:Okay, fantastic. And then we keep dancing around this Data Insights. So I want to ask you about this because this is the new section. It's kind of taken the place of Integrated Reasoning that went away. I think this is the new sort of manifestation of interpreting different types of data. Tell me, what's the difference between Data Insights and Integrated Reasoning? Obviously, you're looking at different charts and graphs comparing different sources of material. Data is a little bit different. Can you kind of give us an overview of this section?

Krit:Data Insights is basically Integrated Reasoning plus Data Sufficiency. Based on my experience, they took the IR to the next level. They actually put Verbal and combined it with Data Sufficiency. You would see Data Sufficiency questions that ask not on math, but based on your verbal skill. There was some critical reasoning to it, and you have to read and comprehend a chart passage and answer based on the data sufficiency format.

Carl Prince:They've got a little bit smarter about the way they ask the questions as well then. Putting different things together, different skills. Interesting.

Krit:Yes. Since the number of questions has increased, normally when you take IR, it's twelve questions. But in Data Insights, there's like 20 questions. And I would say—and you won't believe it from a guy who always scored full mark in IR—I did very badly when I did the first mock of the GMAT Focus because time management is actually a thing here. In Classic, you have 30 minutes to do the twelve IR questions—so 2.5 minutes per. But they put 20 questions in the Data Insights and you have 45 minutes, that's a little bit less than what you have for IR. So, time management is quite tricky. The question types are still the same. There's four main types of the questions, plus Data Sufficiency, but they've taken it to the next level.

Carl Prince:Okay. And then we talked about sentence correction which is gone. That was, of course, a huge pain point for most people taking it. The AWA, the writing assessment, was there anything else that's been removed?


Carl Prince:That was it.

Krit:I would like to highlight that in the Verbal part the proportion of the CR questions has changed and they introduced a new question type that we haven't seen before.

So, normally when you approach the team at Classic, they would say the major question that they are asking is like, “strengthen”, “weaken” and “assumption”. But when I took GMAT Focus last time, there was not much on “strengthening” and “weakening”. There was a lot of “evaluate” questions. There was a lot of the “assumption” questions. I haven't seen this type of question before. They are simply asking directly what is the conclusion of the chart passage. It basically involves finding the conclusion in the CR question.

Carl Prince:Did you find that more challenging? I think it's going to be very dependant on who's taking the test. Some people would find that more challenging.

Krit:I got a very good CR score. Since I haven't practiced anything, I would say it's a bit more intuitive for me for doing the CR test. It just happened to fit my style of thinking.

Carl Prince:Fair enough. Now, you mentioned a couple of things. You said it was mentally challenging, the questions were harder. I'm curious. Obviously you performed much better on the GMAT Focus, but it sounds like you missed the Classic a little bit. Is that right? Is there anything from Classic that you miss or you felt you did better in or all in all? Is GMAT Focus the way to go?

Krit:I would say for me, I miss the Data Sufficiency part in the Quant, because I tend to perform better in Data Sufficiency, and that helps bring my Quant score up a little bit. And adding Data Insights, that is another things to prepare for and there's not much of materials for it yet. There's no one in the market who can actually teach you the Data Insights part. I found it very challenging to find any resources or good videos. Everyone is still new to this and you might have to figure it out on your own. You cannot even look up practice questions on GMAT Club. It's just not happening. No one brought it to GMAT Club yet and no one can do the answering for you. I cannot read up on it from anywhere.

Carl Prince:Okay. There's not a test, like a mock test that you can take yet of the new GMAT Focus.

Krit:So GMAT offers two free mock tests.

Carl Prince:Okay. But you're talking about nothing to help you prepare. Okay. And then just from my information, you prepare on your own. You don't use a service or anything. You've done everything on your own. Is that right?

Krit:I use a tutor to help me with the GMAT test prep for Quant and Verbal. But right now, there's no one who can confidently say that they have a bulletproof way to conquer GMAT. For Data Insights, I studied on my own and looked up a lot of YouTube videos.

Carl Prince:Still very new. And pretty soon people aren't going to have a choice. GMAT Focus will be obviously just GMAT. And the Classic will go away. But now I think the window is maybe till the end of February. I don't think they've announced when the other test goes away. But I get this question all the time and I had it at least twice last week, and I think maybe once the week before. People who have invested a lot of time in the GMAT Classic already, now they've got two options to choose from. So, they're in a kind of a different situation from somebody who's never taken the test and now has two options. That person would probably go with a Focus. But what would you say to these people who have been studying for the GMAT? And one client I've been speaking to has a really solid GMAT Classic score. And his question to me was, what should I do now to improve my score? And my thing was, try the GMAT Classic one more time because you still have time to do it. And he still has a few more chances to take it and then pivot over to the GMAT Focus just to see how you do. Would you say that's good advice for somebody who's already had a lot of investment in Classic, or would you have given different advice if they ask you that question?

Krit:It depends on two things. I think you have to look at your ESR and see what's your strength. As I mentioned before, my strength is in CR, and I think I can improve RC faster than SC, like the sentence correction one. That's one of the main things why I shifted focus to GMAT Focus one. And the IR score, if you happen to get like seven or eight on your IR score, I would guarantee that you will do well with one to two weeks practice of just IR, just Data Insights alone, because there's not much things that changed. It's just like cutting sentence correction. If you know RC or CR and you practice it a lot. Math is just a little bit difficult. My quant score didn't change much, but the fact that they are bringing Data Insights to calculate the score helped me a lot. I would say simply shifting from GMAT Classic to GMAT Focus improved my score by 60 points.

Carl Prince:Okay. So that's a nice segue into scoring, which is what I wanted to talk about, too. Scoring is where it gets really confusing. And you and I have actually talked about this before. It's all about percentile now. The best analogy that I can think of is it's like trying to go from Celsius to Fahrenheit. I mean, it's not a one to one. You've got to do a little bit of math to figure it out. And this is what's going to be hard because your very good score doesn't sound so good when you compare it to the Classic.

There's going to be that period of transition where people are trying to figure out what's what. The scale is actually different. I did a little bit of research and what they're trying to do is create a real bell curve again. The bell curve got thrown off as people got smarter in math and they're trying to correct that. The score is going to be a little bit different. But it's not one to one.

People aim for 700 in the Classic—that sort of seems to be the psychological thing that people aim for. Once you get there, you feel like you're—I don't want to say you can quit necessarily— but that's kind of getting into the safe territory. There's miles and miles between a 690 and a 700. Then it starts to get really incremental. A 700 on the classic is an 87 percentile. And then when I went to GMAT, there's this nice little chart and graph they do. There is no 87%. It falls between 635 and a 645. 645 is actually the 90 percentile. If you're aiming for a 700 in Classic, translated to GMAT Focus, 635–645 is kind of where you want to be.

When you got your score the second time, again, don't give out too much information. But you knew right then and there. Okay. Done. You had done it. You said, okay, I can go back and start doing things that matter.

Krit:The score will be out immediately like it is with GMAT Classic, where when you submit the last section, bam, it appears. But, you need to remember the percentile as well, because if you are getting a 645 it does not mean that you are getting a 700. You gave to look at your percentile and translate that later. They don't give print out version of your score at the test venue. You just get this piece of paper. This is the printout that I received from the test center. It said nothing. It said that you just finished the test, and your score will be available within three to five days. There's no score estimation print out like the GMAT Classic one.

Carl Prince:And then their point in there was that now you only have to wait three days before you get the official score report. And that's kind of been a head puzzle to me because there's no writing component. There's nothing like that. I wonder why they changed that. But I haven't really heard an answer.

Krit:And I think one thing is you don't have to purchase ESR anymore. It will simply be delivered to you whether you want it or not. And you don't have to select the school before the test.

Carl Prince:That was that way before, right? You didn't have to select before.

Krit:You can always, in GMAT Classic, you have to pick which school you want the score to be sent to.

Carl Prince:But that's not mandatory, right? You don't have to declare.

Krit:Yes. You can choose whether you want to cancel the score at the end or not.

Carl Prince:Yes, for sure, you still can do that.

Krit:But GMAT Focus is totally different. They won't send the score to you at first. You have to get into the portal and send the score by yourself and you have to do it within 24 hours or else they will charge you for it.

Carl Prince:Okay. And is that where you cancel as well? So, you would go into the portal and then cancel then at that time, if you can't do it at the testing center, is that right? I might have to look into that.

Krit:Yeah, basically they don't send any score to any school after the test. You choose to send it and you choose maximum of six schools. You don't have to cancel because it wasn't sent to anyone.

Carl Prince:Okay. I'm going to look into that. Thank you for bringing that to my attention. I told you I wasn't going to keep you too long, but I do have one more question. If you had not moved from Classic to Focus, had you continued on the path that you were on in Classic, do you feel that you would be able to stop taking the test now? Here's the bottom line. Do you think you could have done with the Cassic, what you finally achieved with the Focus?

Krit:I would say the Sentence Correction will always be my pain. I think without cutting the sentence correction part, I would still be on the brink of not such a good score. And I would say I didn't make a wrong choice when shifting to GMAT focus. It completely suits me because I love Data Insights. I am much more confident in CR and RC one.

Carl Prince:I'm very happy for you and I know you're very happy because now you can get back to what you're supposed to be doing and that's concentrating on your application. I'm going to let you do that right now. Time to get back to work. Krit:thank you so much. I wish you a great round two. I'm so happy you have a score that you're happy about, you can live with, and you can submit with confidence. That feels really good to have that checked off the list. Congratulations on that. And again, thank you for coming and sharing your insights with us. It's going to be helpful for a lot of people.

Krit:One last thing to tell everyone. I think the GMAT focus would be a little bit more difficult for people who are not familiar with the business context because the Data Insights part is all about graphs and data interpretation. What I want to suggest is for you to get familiar with data. You have to read the data analysis passage that they give and read the graphs and try to understand more. I would say the GMAT Focus is more on the intuitive side. I was lucky because I was in the business field for seven years, but I don't think it's undoable. Everything can be achieved. I would say a full focus on trying to expose yourself to data, trying to expose yourself to new readings. I would say it could be done. Not that hard.

Carl Prince:And it sounds to me like it's just how you strategize, right? Strategy is a big part of this. How you take the test, how you use the correction, how you use your brakes, things like that. I think that's a really great takeaway from this conversation. So again, so thank you very much. I appreciate it. Okay, good luck to you and we'll talk soon. Thank you, everybody, for listening. We'll see you next time on Insights by Elite Admit.

Krit:Goodbye, everyone!


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