The Executive Assessment is a standardized test required for admission at a growing number of business schools worldwide. For candidates looking to pursue an Executive MBA or other post-graduate business degree, the Executive Assessment (EA) is a high-stakes exam that could mean the difference between getting accepted to a top program and not. In other words, you want to do well on it.
But what exactly do you need to do to prepare for the Executive Assessment and put yourself in the best position for test-day success? We'll break it all down for you in this article including the mindset you need to adopt, the content you need to learn, how much time you should allot, and recommended prep resources.
Note: The above video provides additional considerations for you when thinking about how best to prepare for the Executive Assessment, including four key time management tips. It's the third in a free 3-part "Executive Assessment Mastery Series" we recently released. You can watch the first two episodes HERE.
I want to start by giving you some encouragement and potentially relieve any anxiety you have around the Executive Assessment exam. I was at a conference at the headquarters of the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) the year after they introduced the EA, and the test's director, Manish Dharia, said something that I want to pass along to you. "The goal of an EA test-taker should be to show competence, not necessarily to score in the 90th percentile," he said. That, then, is the mindset you should carry into preparing for the Executive Assessment.
Let's talk about why that's the case.
The Executive Assessment was originally created to meet a very specific need in the graduate management marketplace. Several of the business schools with top EMBA programs came to the GMAC and basically said, look, we need an exam that will help to reveal a candidate's readiness for our executive business classrooms, but that isn't as lengthy and involved as the GMAT for the older applicants we're evaluating. So the GMAC went back to the drawing board to create an exam that poses a lower barrier to entry during the admission process but that still has highly predictive validity. The Executive Assessment was born.
All of that to say, schools know that you already bring a lot to the table as an EMBA applicant including extensive work experience and other leadership qualities. Your goal on the EA is simply to show that you have enough verbal and quantitative ability to succeed in business school. For most applicants, then, that may only necessitate an above-average EA score (i.e. something >150). The higher the better, obviously, but unless you've been told otherwise by the admission office of the school(s) you're applying to, there's little reason to spend 100+ hours studying for the Executive Assessment to eek out every last possible point. Strive for competence, not perfection.
While the aforementioned mindset should take some of the pressure off, it's not to suggest that the Executive Assessment is easy or shouldn't be taken seriously. To the contrary, there's a lot to learn and getting an above-average score will still take a fair amount of work on your part, especially if it's been a long time since you've seen the type of math tested on the exam (or if you weren't all that strong quantitatively to begin with). You're trying to get into a top MBA or EMBA program, after all, and that doesn't happen by accident.
What, then, does it take to do well on the Executive Assessment? It comes down to mastery in three main areas: Content knowledge, Strategy, and Practice. Your study plan should incorporate all three elements with the goal of finding the "sweet spot" at the intersection of all three (the center of the Venn diagram on the right). Let's look at each component of this "EA Success Triad" so that you know exactly what to focus on and how it should factor in to your preparation for the Executive Assessment.
As with anything you want to get good at in life, there are certain foundational concepts and how-to's that you simply need to learn and internalize. The Executive Assessment is no exception. Here are the most important content areas to get up to speed on in each of the exam's three sections.
The above lists aren't exhaustive, but they tend to be the concepts and question types that appear most often. We teach all of them in detail in our Complete Executive Assessment Prep Course.
Note that all three sections of the Executive Assessment contain the word "reasoning." That's not by accident. It's important to think of the Executive Assessment as a reasoning test more so than a straightforward math / grammar / reading test. Yes, there are elements of all of that. But some questions are best approached in non-standard ways, i.e. by reasoning your way to a right answer. That's where the second element of the Success Triad comes in: Strategy.
Strategy is the biggest differentiator between those who do well on the Executive Assessment... and those who do really well! Think of strategy as getting from point A to point B more efficiently. If content is the WHAT of the Success Triad, strategy is the HOW.
Strategy involves coming at questions in non-traditional ways. This is particularly important for test-takers who have been out of school for a while and may be a bit, shall we say, rusty in their math skills. The tendency for a lot of students is to think that they need to go back to the drawing board and re-learn all of the algebra they've forgotten since high school. But that's not always necessary. Your job is to get right answers on test day, not to make your high school algebra happy. Strategy can help you do that.
We covered a couple really helpful strategies in the first two videos in our "Executive Assessment Mastery" series:
But there are other key strategies as well that can help you avoid doing the traditional algebra in a lot of cases and reason your way to right answers more accurately and efficiently. Time management strategies -- including how to navigate the sections from a logistical standpoint -- also play a big role in your ultimate score. And of course there are strategies for eliminating clearly wrong answer choices, getting unstuck in the middle of a challenging question, approximating answers, "eyeballing" relationships in charts and graphs, and more. We cover it in all in our Complete Executive Assessment Course.
We've all heard the adage that practice makes perfect. I prefer legendary American football coach Vince Lombardi's variation that says, "Perfect practice makes perfect." You can learn all of the content and strategies in the world but until you go out and apply it yourself, you can't expect to get your best EA score on test day. Practice is really where the magic happens, where true learning takes place.
Practicing for the Executive Assessment should come in two forms. First, you should work targeted practice problems* during each study session that enable you to apply the content and strategies you've been learning. If you just studied probability rules, for example, then you should complete several questions that test your understanding of those rules. During this learning phase of your preparation, don't be too concerned about timing. Go back to your notes, rewatch certain videos if necessary, and overall do whatever it takes to have the mental breakthroughs necessary to really master the topic at hand.
Second, you should take several full-length timed practice tests. This is where you take everything you've been learning and put it to the test in an actual simulated exam. Practice tests are important for honing your time management and are also useful for revealing your relative strengths and weaknesses so that you know where to focus in the remaining time before test day. Once your practice test scores are tracking toward the score you ultimately need for admission to your target school(s), you'll know you're ready for the real thing!
* Recommendations for practice problems and practice tests are covered in the "Resources" section below.
How much time should you spend preparing for the Executive Assessment? As noted earlier, it's not the type of exam where you should be spending 80-100 hours or more like you might for a cut-throat exam such as the GMAT, LSAT, or MCAT. On the other hand, we think the GMAC's official recommendation of 20-30 hours isn't quite enough for most test-takers, especially if you're going to need to dust off a lot of your "math cobwebs." In our experience, 30-50 hours seems to be the sweet spot -- ample time to learn the necessary content and put in sufficient practice, but not so much that it dominates your life for an extended period of time.
A lot of candidates studying for the Executive Assessment have families, full-time jobs, and other interests and responsibilities. As such, it's important that you create a workable study plan that fits your busy lifestyle. Some sacrifices may need to be made while you're tackling the EA, but you shouldn't have to completely put your life on hold.
Here's a hypothetical schedule along the lines of what many of our students adopt:
Study time per week: 8 - 10 hours
Total EA prep time: 4 weeks @ 8-10 hours/wk. = 32 - 40 hours
Use your full-length practice tests to gauge your readiness for the real thing. If after four weeks you're still not where you need to be, continue reviewing content/strategies and working practice problems according to the proposed weekly timeline above.
The GMAC has a handful of official Executive Assessment prep products for sale on their website. In our view the most valuable are the full-length practice assessments. They simulate the actual Executive Assessment experience and leverage the same EA scoring algorithm that's used on the real thing so that you'll have an accurate predicted score upon completion of each practice test.
Their official EA practice questions are good as well, though in our view you'll get more bang for your buck if you grab a copy of the GMAT Official Guide instead. That book contains nearly 1,000 practice questions vs. only 300 questions with the official EA product, and they're almost all relevant for the Executive Assessment (just skip all of the geometry questions, as there's no geometry on the EA). It includes plenty of Integrated Reasoning practice as well.
In terms of actually learning all of the underlying content and strategies for each question type you'll encounter on the exam, our Complete Executive Assessment Prep Course is your best option. With a detailed course syllabus, 25+ hours of instructional videos, copious practice quizzes and worksheets, and personalized support, this course will take all of the guesswork out of preparing for the Executive Assessment and empower you to get a score that will get you accepted to your top-choice business program. You can learn more and register HERE:
Taking on a major goal like the Executive Assessment can feel overwhelming. We get it. But often it's the unknown that creates the most trepidation. Hopefully after reading this article you have a better sense of what the EA is all about and have a clear game plan for how to prepare effectively for it.
We often say that the antidote to fear is action. Now that you know what it's going to take to dominate the Executive Assessment, you can take the all-important first step of starting to prepare for it. We'll look forward to partnering with you on that journey!
Questions? Reach out to us at [email protected] or +1 720-515-5808. We're here to help.
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