UNDERGRADUATE GPAS, VERBAL SCORES ON STANDARDIZED TESTS MORE RELEVANT TO MBA SUCCESS
“It shows that underrepresented minorities score between one to two standard deviations below the average. If you Google standardized tests and racism, it is very well documented. I don’t want to reward only people who spend tons of money or have tons of time studying for standardized tests. We appreciate the people who have gone through all those hoops as well. But there are many indicators of success. If you graduated with the highest honors in engineering from Carnegie Mellon, I don’t need a GMAT to tell me you can do the math in an MBA program.”
To gather data in advance of its waiver decision, the school invested in an enterprise analytics team that studied the track record of past students and their standardized test scores. “We did some analytics to determine the indicators of academic success at Darden. We looked at the students who came and the indicators of those who struggled and the predictors of academic excellence. “The truth is that there were multiple predictors of success and parts of the standardized test were not. We found that a person’s ability to communicate, participate in the classroom and their qualitative abilities are more relevant than their quant scores. The verbal test score had higher relevance, and undergraduate grade point averages were very relevant. How did you do in that field of study? We are open-minded to excellence, and we don’t believe that any single indicator has a monopoly on excellence.
“One person told me the biggest competitor to the MBA is no MBA. and I think that is true. If you have to study for many months to take a standardized test, that becomes the main barrier for you and your family. I thought, maybe we are missing the point here. Maybe we are missing out on a whole category of people who are truly excellent, who were the stars of their undergraduate class, and clearly have leadership capability. Instead of asking how do we triple down on a narrow group of people who have a certain test score, we want to give people the chance to put their best foot forward. If you have a 770 GMAT and did well during your undergraduate studies, you are still a great candidate. But we want to hear all the things about your readiness to pursue an MBA and not be exclusionary by over-indexing on one factor when there clearly are other factors to assess a person’s success.”
‘THE GMAT OR THE GRE SHOULD NOT BE THE KNOCKOUT FACTOR OR SINGLE GATEWAY TO SUCCESS’
In support of the school’s position to effectively make the GMAT or GRE optional, Beardsley cites the hundreds of undergraduate institutions that have adopted test-optional admissions policies. More than half of all four-year colleges and universities will not require applicants to submit ACT or SAT scores for fall 2021 admission, including Brown, CalTech, Carnegie Mellon, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, UPenn, Virginia, Washington University in St. Louis, and Yale. In May, the University of California Board of Regents voted 23-0 to no longer require applicants to such schools as UC-Berkeley and UCLA to submit an SAT or ACT score for admission.
“We are in the middle of an experiment and I have watched this very carefully in the undergraduate sphere,” says Beardsley. “There are hundreds and hundreds of colleges and universities that now have text flexibility. That list (of test-optional schools has been growing and growing and growing over the years. One of the first that did it was Bowdoin College which I view to be one of the most outstanding undergraduate institutions in the country that made the SAT optional. Now Berkeley, UVA, and Harvard have made standardized tests optional. So what about business school? Why can’t we?
“Since Darden has one of the most rigorous curriculums in the business school world, how do we open possibilities for more people? There are people who won’t apply because of the GMAT. So they say, ‘Maybe I won’t even go to school or I am going to apply for a different degree.’ We know we need more leaders in the world and there are many pathways to it. The GMAT or the GRE shouldn’t be the knockout factor, the single gateway to future success. I don’t think it would be the primary determinant of what makes a business school excellent or not.”
‘WE DON’T HAVE COMPUTERS SELECTING OUT STUDENTS ON THE BASIS OF AN ALGORITHM’
Roughly 14 months ago, Beardsley adds, he received a call from a neurosurgeon who planned to apply to the school’s Executive MBA program but hadn’t taken the GMAT. He asked if he could waive the test. “I said, ‘Yes. honestly, I don’t need more information if you are a successful neurosurgeon from a top school. I don’t need a test score.’ What Dawna has put together is totally consistent with our mission. We don’t have computers selecting our students on the basis of an algorithm to feed a ranking algorithm for the external world. It is very consistent with a high touch environment. It is just taking it to the next level. It is putting it into the hands of the candidate and asking them what makes you qualified for our academic experience? That allows us to find students that maybe the diamonds in the rough. This is about pathways to excellence. When you have more applicants you have more ability to find outstanding people.”
Ultimately, says Beardsley, the pandemic has brought long-simmering issues over standardized testing to the fore. “The normal algorithms on how to tweak or shape your class with 20 years of earlier data don’t work exactly the way you would expect with COVID. You can throw all the percentages out of the window. Rankings based on that data don’t feel as meaningful to me. It just doesn’t feel like that is important right now when you talking about people who have a health issue or lost their job or they are loading up on debt to find a way into the future.
“We could have just maximized GMAT scores and doubled down on it. We’ve decided against that approach. I think we have done the right thing. I’ve told Dawna, ‘Can we at least look in the mirror and say we did our part?’ This is what we’ve come up with. I haven’t heard a lot of negative feedback because we are not lowering the standards. These changes are relevant to a student of any gender from any country from all backgrounds. The COVID virus does not discriminate. It’s an equalizer. We are all in this together.”