THE IMPACT OF DEMOGRAPHIC DIVERSITY ON GMAT SCORES
The GMAT is used by more than 6,500 graduate business programs worldwide. More than 200,000 people sit down for the test annually. And the candidate pool of test takers is more diverse than ever — a crucial factor in explaining how average GMAT exam scores are impacted across populations, Rebecca Loades writes. Increased candidate diversity is good for graduate business education, she adds, but it has had an undeniable impact on average GMAT exam scores across populations.
For example, Loades explains, women typically have a lower average total score than men (542 versus 560 in 2016); younger candidates tend to score higher. Therefore, “if a greater proportion of younger people take the exam, average GMAT scores would appear to increase.” Other factors affecting average scores: citizenship, undergraduate major, and country of residency, among others.
“We’ve always known that different demographic groups perform differently across all standardized tests, and this is across averages,” says Loades. “And we’ve always seen that men typically perform better than women, whether it’s the GMAT or the GRE or the ACT or any of those. So let’s say that men and women score differently, and you have more women taking a standardized exam than in the past as a proportion of the test-taker base, and hey are scoring lower, then that means that will pull the average score down wen you’re looking at things in aggregate.
“In the paper we went down to a fine level of detail where we’re looking at things like gender, citizenship, age, region, etc. And so by breaking that down, we can see that Chinese women 21 or younger who were business undergrads, their average sore over the past five years has remained really constant. Yet they are now accounting for double the share of our test-taker base, so overall because of that score that’s going to change the average score when you report in aggregate.”
‘IF YOU HAVE MORE STARS AND FEWER SINKERS, IT WOULD FOLLOW THAT AVERAGE SCORES WOULD INCREASE’
Kaplan’s Brian Carlidge says demographics impacting test scores makes sense. “Certainly a shift in the demographics of GMAT takers might be having an effect on scores,” he says. “It would make sense that test takers from different national, educational, and professional backgrounds would have some impact.”
Andrew Geller, founder of Atlantic GMAT, agrees that demographics are certainly a factor impacting GMAT test scores. He tells P&Q that the slight 15-point shift upward in scores can be attributed to changes in the profile of the average test taker. “For example,” Geller says, “younger test takers do better. Older ones do worse. There has been an increase in the young along with a decrease in the old, hence scores have tipped up. There are other demographic shifts that GMAC alludes to that one would assume follow the same pattern of logic.
“This makes sense. If you have more stars and fewer sinkers, then it would follow that the average scores would increase. Is that the dominant factor in the increase? Tough to judge. I’d also argue that MBA hopefuls are hyper-aware of the impact that their GMAT scores have and are set on retaking what are already excellent scores to improve their prospects.”
Geller, a GMAT expert who himself scored 770 on the exam, agrees that demographics are partially responsible for the shift up in average GMAT scores. A potentially bigger factor, he says, is that “people are also more focused on getting higher scores, so are willing to put the extra effort into studying.” And he wonders why a discussion of demographics and other factors affecting average GMAT scores has anything to do with the difficulty of the test itself. “The title of the study is strange,” he says. “GMAC creates the GMAT, so shouldn’t they be able to confirm whether they have made the test easier or harder?”
A NOTE OF CAUTION
As schools vie for the highest average GMAT each year — Stanford Graduate School of Business has led all schools for the last few years, setting a new record this year with a reported 740, with Harvard Business School, Chicago Booth School of Business, Northwestern Kellogg School of Management, and the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania close behind in the mid-720s to mid-730s — GMAC’s report sounds a note of caution.
“Although higher average GMAT exam scores among the admitted candidate pool are associated with an increase in candidate quality, there can be an adverse impact,” Loades writes. “As the number of higher-scoring candidates fills the applicant pool, programs can choose from among a larger number of these candidates, thus resulting in a rise in reported program averages. Candidates not meeting the program’s typical score profile may therefore decide to target different programs, retake the exam, or opt out of the application process altogether.
“Average GMAT exam scores cannot rise indefinitely and hence the cycle will break,” Loades continues. “The challenge for graduate business schools and the industry is how to effectively communicate the role that standardized assessments like the GMAT exam play in admissions, and to give candidates greater insight into the full range of scores among the applicant pool and what that means for them.”