Fact: On June 5, 2012, the current format of the GMAT will vanish and the "next generation" GMAT will replace it.
Fact: the "next generation" GMAT will have only one AWA essay question, instead of two, and will have the new Integrated Reasoning questions.
Fact: The ordinary Verbal and Quantitative sections aren't going to change at all. The test will still be 3.5 hours.
Advice: Don’t Panic!
First of all, don't wildly change your study plans, taking the test much earlier or much later than you had originally planned, simply because of this change. Curtailing your studying by a few months simply because you are in a rush to take the test before it changes is a supremely bad idea. If you shortchange your study plans, that will hurt you much more than any difference between the two versions of the GMAT.
What If I'm a Good Writer?
True, there will only be one AWA essay after the change, instead of the two we have now. That's not necessarily a big change. The AWA score does not figure into the composite GMAT score. In fact, in recent years, business schools have been counting less and less on the AWA section of the test in their admission decisions. This is, in fact, why GMAC was completely comfortable with dropping the number of essays from 2 to 1. The fact is, no matter how well you write, it does not help you that much on the GMAT.
Even if you can crank out 30-minute essay of the caliber of Montaigne's, that is not such an edge on the GMAT that it would be worth losing out on a month or two of verbal and math studying.
What If I Can't Read Graphs?
Well, that would be a little more serious, as many of the IR question types involve the visual examination of data. What I would say is: maybe there are a few not-very-bright folks out there who absolutely for the life of them cannot read graphs at all, but I venture to say those folks are going to have a hard time in business school and a hard time in the modern business world.
For most folks out there who are confident of scoring over at least 500 on their GMAT, the skills involve in reading graphs and interpreting data may be unfamiliar, but it is certainly not beyond your ken. Learning these skills will help you not only on the IR, but also on the GMAT Quantitative section, and in your business school courses, and in meeting & information sessions throughout your post MBA business-world career. This is stuff you need to learn --- which is exactly why the GMAT is changing to emphasize it.
Sooner or Later?
If you have mapped out your study plans, and were thinking of taking the test during, say, the second week of June 2012, then moving your GMAT a week or two earlier probably isn't that big of a deal. If getting yourself in shape to take the GMAT by June is questionable ---- and keep in mind, you definitely can benefit from six full months of studying for this test --- then do not, repeat, do not rush to take it before June 5th. Instead, start to integrate IR into your GMAT studying.
How to Prepare for the Next Generation GMAT
Regrettably, official materials are scant at the moment. On April 2nd, GMAC will publish the 13th edition of the OG, which will have a full section on IR question. Certainly Magoosh, and probably all other GMAT prep companies, will not release a great deal of material until we see more from GMAC.
But, not to fear. Here are some extremely concrete things you can do. Read the Wall Street Journal newspaper. Read the Economist Magazine. It will be a rare issue of the WSJ or the Economist that doesn’t have some graphs illustrating points in those articles. Read those articles, and make sure you understand what the graphs are telling you. If you can do that, then from what we can tell, that's very much the level at which IR questions will be geared. Fundamentally, graphs convey information: in fact, they often do so much more effectively than a table of numbers. That information is often high relevant to business decisions. Is the stock going up? Are sales of shampoo declining? How much have the company's profits increased? If you can extract basic information like this from a graph, you are already well on your way toward performing well on the Integrated Reasoning questions.
What will help you most on either the old or new GMAT is expert guidance for the Quantitative and Verbal sections, which is exactly what you find a Magoosh. Starting in May, 2012, Magoosh will also have high quality material to prepare you for the IR section. So, relax, sign up with Magoosh, and plan on rocking the next generation GMAT!
This post was written by Mike McGarry, GMAT Expert at Magoosh, and originally posed here.