China Cancels GMAT & GRE Exams For February

As the World Health Organization declares a global health emergency due to the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak, China has canceled the GMAT and GRE exams for the entire month of February. The decision by China’s National Education Examinations Authority was made in an effort to contain the spread of the disease which is rapidly spreading in China and has become a significant risk beyond the country.

The closure of test centers coincides with a decision by the Shanghai government to also shutdown classes for all universities and other schools until at least Feb. 17th. Among the business schools impacted by that decision are the China Europe International Business, which recently placed fifth on the new 2020 Financial Times Global MBA ranking for the second year in a row.

But the impact also extends to many U.S. and European business schools that depend on a steady flow of Chinese students into their programs. At UC-San Diego’s Rady School School of Management, for example, 90% of the students in its master’s of finance program are from China. Chinese students in Rady’s master’s in business analytics is close to 50%, while some 10% to 15% of the school’s MBA cohort is Chinese.


“This is a big deal for us as a school,” says Shaun Carver, assistant dean of graduate programs at Rady. “We don’t want to lose sight of the impact on our current students. They are concerned about their families and friends and they need our support.” Carver, who spent almost 14 years in China, vividly recalls the impact of SARS (Severe acute respiratory syndrome) when he arrived there in the early 2000s. “A lot of my colleagues were sequestered in their apartments through that summer,” he remembers.

“On top of the general decline in applications, putting this on top will severely impact a lot of schools,” adds Carver. ” Some schools have already filled their classes in round one and two. At Rady, we probably have 60% to 70& of our applications in so there are a lot of partial apps that need to be completed. If this continues past February, it can impact matriculation. . If this continues on through the summer, you have to wonder how much appetite the U.S. will have for issuing student visas to people who have been exposed. I don’t think there will be much support for sending them to schools throughout the United States.

The NEEA said that all English tests for IELTS, TOEFL and the GRE and GMAT graduate entry exams next month would be canceled. The severity of the situation calls for comprehensive “measures to contain the spread of coronavirus at all public venues, including test centers,” the authority said in its announcement.

It’s not clear how the decision will impact Chinese applications to business schools. In the past year, as trade tensions between the U.S. and China, the Chinese government has been actively discouraging Chinese students from applying to U.S. universities for graduate study. In fact, Graduate Management Admission Council CEO Sangeet Chowfla in an interview with Poets&Quants called the falloff in Chinese applicants one of the big surprises of 2019. Chinese citizens represent the second-largest share of global GMAT exams.
“For years, China has been a growth story for graduate management education applications in other parts of the world in the U.S. and Europe,” says Chowfla. “This year we saw a contraction in applications and test-taking, particularly as a result of the trade tensions that exist between the U.S. and China. The Chinese government has been sending messages to the market that students should be cautious about studying in the U.S. That caught us by surprise. It is still a decline in the high single digits but that is a swing from growth in the single digits. So the swing is in the teens.”
In testing the year 2019, 70,473 GMAT tests were taken in China. That is down from 71,223 a year earlier. The average GMAT score for China also was down in the latest testing year to 581 from 584. According to GMAC, 19.7% of the tests were taken by applicants who planned to apply to an MBA program, while the vast majority of the tests–74.7%–were taken by candidates who expected to apply to a specialty master’s program in business led by programs in finance, accounting and data analytics (see The Latest GMAT Scores By Country).
Only two years ago, 69.1% of all the GMAT scores sent from China came to the U.S. following by China and Hong Kong (7.4%), the United Kingdom (6.0%), Canada (5.7%), and France (4.0%).
The bigger question is how long will the crisis last and how broadly will it impact other parts of the world. “It doesn’t feel like it is under containment yet and the WHO echoed that today,” says Carver. “It’s serious. The way the Chinese government is reacting is appropriate. It’s not easy to shut down a city of 11 million people. Anything that is going on that brings a lot of people together in a confined space they are trying to stop from happening.”