GRE Pilots A New ‘Soft Skills’ MBA Admissions Test At Yale SOM

‘YOU SHOULD KNOW MORE ABOUT YOURSELF THAN YOU DID BEFORE’

Laurel Grodman. Yale photo

Soft skills are all about the ability to work with others, make critical decisions, and think strategically – factors that, everyone agrees, drive success. Like many schools, Yale SOM’s admissions team was looking for a way to measure those factors when the opportunity arose to work with ETS. 

About five years ago, Yale administered ETS’s behavioral assessment to SOM students who were already in the program, allowing the school to look at how the assessment – in conjunction with other elements of the admissions process – factors into actual school performance outcomes, says Laurel Grodman, Yale SOM’s managing director of admissions. Having researched other instruments and found them all “gameable” — that is, obvious what the preferred response should be — the Yale team found that the ETS behavioral assessment was not only not gamble but was a better overall fit for their program.

Last year, Yale piloted the Behavioral Assessment starting in Round 2, so a little over 2,600 applicants took it last cycle, “but we did not use it in candidate evaluation. This year, we’re issuing it to everyone invited to interview,” Grodman says. “This year, we’ve rolled out the assessment to all candidates invited to interview, and are incorporating it into the evaluation process, albeit with a light touch. Next year, ideally, all applicants will take it.”

Yale likes the test because, as Grodman points out, “there are no right and wrong answers. We researched a host of other instruments and they were all gameable.” By “gameable” Grodman means it was obvious what the preferred response should be. The Yale team found that the ETS behavioral assessment was not gameable because there was no obvious preferred response.

Yale SOM’s admissions team — which prefers the terms interpersonal and intrapersonal skills, rather than the more ambiguous “soft skills” — hopes, ultimately, that the behavioral assessment will “connect back to the student experience at Yale SOM,” Grodman says. “At one point in the past, the assessment was given to students in the course of their leadership training and they received and learned about their results.  

“We know that applying to business school is a highly introspective undertaking — you should know more about yourself after having gone through the process than you did before. So we ultimately hope to port learnings from the assessment to the classroom so that students can leverage real insights gained from the application process. We’re not there yet, but we’re starting to have these discussions with ETS and with faculty.”

MORE CONFIDENCE IN PREDICTING FIT

Yale SOM is excited about the ETS behavioral assessment “because first of all, we all know of cases where a student comes in to school, has a high test score, has high prior GPA, but they just don’t perform to the level of expectation based on that prior information,” Patrick Kyllonen says. “And so they’re interested in looking for evidence that might help them figure out who’s going to perform well, who might perform above their test scores — and at the same time, students who might not be recognized as having the strongest test scores but who, it turns out, will excel in school. Those diamonds in the rough.”

So when Grodman says Yale will use the test with “a light touch,” what does she mean? How will Yale SOM use the ETS behavioral assessment going forward?

“Now that it’s part of the evaluation process, at this stage we are thinking about it as an additional piece of information in assessing who will perform effectively in the program,” she says, “specifically in the classroom. In the future, we should hopefully be able to use it to look at non-academic outcomes as well. While the assessment alone will not be the deciding factor for admission, it can provide useful information when used in context with other application elements, such as academic and testing history.  

“Prior academics are generally the best predictor of future academics, but the test gives us more confidence in predicting who will perform better or worse than their academic history would suggest. In particular, it can prove helpful in allowing us to take chances on candidates that may not present the strongest academic or testing profile, but who would bring other significant strengths to the class that will help them succeed.”

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