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What’s on the Executive Assessment and Tips for Each Section

Seth Capron

Seth Capron - TestCrackers

Seth Capron is an mba.com Featured Contributor and a Kellogg ‘13 MBA. For the past 8 years he has taught and designed GMAT courses as a Co-Director at TestCrackers

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This article is Part 1 of a 3-part series covering preparation for the Executive Assessment (EA). In this installment, I’ll give an overview of the Executive Assessment (EA) and the topics covered on it. The next two installments will address how to study for the Executive Assessment, and strategies for the exam itself.

As a director and teacher at TestCrackers, I’ve helped thousands of people study for the GMAT exam, and in recent years I’ve worked with an increasing number of students taking the EA. I get a lot of questions about this exam, and I wrote this series to give an overview of the topics, clear up common misconceptions, and offer general advice for Executive Assessment self-study.

Clocking in at 90 minutes, the EA takes less than half as long as the GMAT (which is around 3½ hours). Most people will find that the EA overall requires less prep time and that they can make significant progress in their overall scores if they’re able to put in effective study time—which I’ll be assisting you with in this series.

What’s on the Executive Assessment? A guide to topics of study for Executive Assessment prep

For a relatively short exam, there is quite a wide range of topics covered. Below, we explore the three big headline areas: Integrated Reasoning (IR), Verbal Reasoning (VR), and Quantitative Reasoning (QR). 

Integrated Reasoning (IR): Scored 0 - 18

As it sounds, this section “integrates” many of the same verbal and quantitative skills tested in the other two sections, but adds a component of charts and graphs. Questions come in four formats.

Two-part Analysis

Questions that require users to select two answers and may replicate the content of either strictly quantitative or strictly verbal questions.

10-second Tip: Sometimes the problem only has enough information for you to determine the relationship between the two answers, and then you need to select the only options available that fit that relationship.

Graphics Interpretation

Questions based upon a data-visualization tool, such as a bar-graph, stacked-bar graph, x-y scatter plot, or other form. Most questions, in this section, address statistics, correlation, ratios, or other similar math concepts.

10-second Tip: Learn what these concepts look like on a chart to answer some questions visually and avoid unnecessary calculations.

Table Analysis

Questions based upon a sortable table. Topics are similar to those covered in graphics interpretation.

10-second Tip: The first step to each problem is to determine which “sort” will make it easiest to answer the question.

Multi-Source Reasoning

The beast of this section: a set of multiple tabs offering different data that you must combine to answer questions, often mixing quantitative, verbal, and data-interpretation skills.

10-second Tip: Look beyond the most obvious tab. Information that seems like it should be in a table may actually hide in a paragraph.

Verbal Reasoning (VR): Scored 0 - 18

This portion of the exam generally focuses on English language and logic skills. The questions are formatted into:

Sentence Correction (SC) — 6 total (2 in Stage 1, 4 in Stage 2)

For sentence correction, the primary underlying skill tested is grammar. Commonly tested rules include subject-verb agreement, pronoun agreement, fragments and run-on sentences, misplaced modifiers, verb tense, parallelism, idioms, and comparisons.

10-second Tip: Go beyond your sense of what “sounds wrong” and learn to definitively eliminate four answers for breaking specific rules.

Critical Reasoning (CR) — 4 total (1 in Stage 1, 3 in Stage 2)

For critical reasoning, test-takers must read a single brief paragraph and then use logic to answer questions, such as the impact of or support for various statements that follow the paragraph.

10-second Tip: Learn to recognize all 10 common types before you read the passage and then focus your attention on targeted analysis of the passage before you read the answer choices.

Reading Comprehension (RC) — One passage, 4 questions (In stage 1)

Verbal stages generally include one reading comprehension passage with four questions testing a detailed understanding of exactly what is in the text and supported by the passage, as well as the author’s intent for writing it.

10-second Tip: You can’t worry about getting faster until you learn accuracy: Slow down and learn to perfect your approach and then try to slowly ramp up your speed.

Quantitative Reasoning (QR): Scored 0 - 18   

In some ways, QR is the most self-explanatory: it covers math material up to and including multivariable algebra. Unlike the GMAT, it notably omits geometry entirely, but covers topics such as exponents, ratios, divisibility, prime numbers, overlapping sets, functions, sequences, and statistics. The format for the questions in this section are separated into two types.

Problem Solving (4 per stage, 8 total)

Word problems and equations like all the other math you’ve done in your life.

10-second Tip: Learn to use the information hidden in the answer choices, and to focus on efficient solutions that don’t require a calculator and may differ greatly from how you do math with a calculator.

Data Sufficiency (3 per stage, 6 total)

A format in which you are asked a mathematical question and presented with pieces of information relevant to solving that problem. Rather than reaching that solution, your role here is to determine whether those pieces of information are adequate to solve the problem.

10-second Tip: These questions are logic puzzles that require an extremely structured approach; build a toolkit of effective tools for testing sufficiency without doing unnecessary math.

Getting started: The best Executive Assessment prep is built on solid ground

One issue you may face when you dive into the EA is that many of the underlying skills required may be rather rusty, as you may not have used some of the “high school” math and language skills tested on this exam in many years.

These fundamental skills form the core layer of a strong score, and without this base, it can be very difficult to see progress. Just as a minor instability in the bottom level of a Jenga tower can cause an otherwise stable structure to fall, so too can uncertainty about the basics lead to errors on an otherwise perfectly executed problem. It is difficult to imagine a more frustrating reason to miss a long, complex math problem than a small issue with percentage change or fractional exponents in the final step. But the importance of these fundamentals goes far beyond their role in more difficult problems.

  1. The EA is adaptive by “stage”.  Each correct and incorrect problem within a stage has the same impact on your score, regardless of the difficulty of the individual problem. Your score is determined by the number of questions that you get right within each stage.
  2. The EA is a short exam with few questions. Some are very challenging, but others are more moderate. High EA quantitative scores require something shockingly close to perfection, and a single additional error on an easier or moderate problem can lead to a big drop in your score.

These facts combine to make the fundamentals extremely important, since you can earn just as many points for correctly applying these “high school” skills as you can by solving more complex problems. Until you’re solid on these fundamentals, it isn’t worthwhile to dive into official prep material for the Executive Assessment. For some students, this first step may only require a quick review, but for others it could take weeks of dedicated study. 

The good news is that lots of free resources exist to review these topics. We’ve put together some links to relevant selections on Khan Academy, and we find these to be a really good source for quantitative review if you aren’t getting help from a live, interactive course.

For verbal, one of the most important steps here is to review grammar rules that you likely never had to learn or forgot long ago. This video offers a pretty good place to start.

Executive Assessment results and next steps

Your overall score result is 120 + IR(0-18) + QR(0-18) + VR(0-18). That means all sections are equally important, and to some extent stronger performance in one topic can make up for weaker performance in another, as an additional point in one section can balance the impact of a loss of a point in another. But that ignores the fact that IR helps determine the difficulty of the first section that you see for QR + VR, and there is a significantly easier path to competitive scores each time the assessment gives you a more difficult section.

It is also worth noting that the relatively small scales here obscure the fact that a single point of progress is significant. Check with your target programs, as many have specific targets that they like to see applicants hit for specific subsections, and some are quite high bars set for the quant section in particular. Knowing your target scores is essential to determining the best Executive Assessment Prep strategy for your personal needs.

The next article in this series will address the best way to use Official Executive Assessment Prep material.


Seth Capron

Seth Capron - TestCrackers

Seth Capron is an mba.com Featured Contributor and a Kellogg ‘13 MBA. He scored in the top 1% on the GMAT, and for the past 8 years has taught and designed study programs as a Co-Director at TestCrackers, where he has worked to create highly-interactive small group GMAT courses, live online Executive Assessment courses, and customized private tutoring.  For more information or free study suggestions, give them a call at 415-323-5728 or write to contact@testcrackers.org