Are B-Schools Better Off Without The GMAT & GRE?

Business schools that have instituted no-test admission policies are reporting improvements across a range of metrics, according to a new survey by MBA Roundtable and education research company Wiley

The Graduate Management Admission Test has taken another hit. Fewer business schools are requiring admission test scores from applicants, a new study finds, and many of those schools are reporting improvement among students across a wide range of metrics — from leadership to creativity to initiative — and among classes in terms of gender and racial diversity.

In a major new survey of B-school leadership released December 12, the MBA Roundtable and global research firm Wiley found that since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, a majority of the B-schools that implemented test-optional policies amid the coronavirus pandemic have stuck with them, with evaluations largely based on the academic success of students admitted without scores.

As a result, many schools have seen academic improvement, greater diversity, and increased applications — suggesting that the GMAT, Graduate Record Exam, and other entrance exams are not necessary to the flourishing of B-schools or their programs.

GMAT TEST-TAKING NUMBERS COLLAPSE

The GMAT has been under siege for years. In January, Poets&Quants reported that the number of GMAT tests taken in the U.S. plunged to a new low, falling to just 38,509 in testing year 2021 — a number that includes test takers who sat for the exam multiple times in a year when many B-schools were experiencing a boom in applications for their MBA programs. Overall, test volume declined 47.7% from the pre-pandemic testing year of 2018, when 73,556 exams were administered in the U.S. — and by 67%, or two-thirds, from 117,511 in GMAT’s record year of 2012.

Globally, the picture is hardly better: In testing year 2021, 156,453 GMATs were taken all over the world, down 10% from the previous year and 35.5% from the pre-pandemic year of 2018. Since that peak testing year of 2012, when a record 286,529 GMATs were taken, the decline is 45.4%.

Among the major blows to the GMAT’s status was a major cheating scandal reported in March 2022, when the Graduate Management Admission Council revealed that it had canceled the 2021 scores of more than 130 candidates. Later in March, U.S. News & World Report announced that it had removed GMAT and GRE scores as a rankings metric.

TEST-OPTIONAL POLICIES: A LOT OF (MOSTLY) GOOD EFFECTS

As P&Q has reported, more and more B-schools are opting to admit their MBA and other program classes by other means than standardized tests. The new report by MBA Roundtable and Wiley, Test-Optional Admission Policies and The Impact on Graduate Management Education, based on a survey of 116 deans, directors, faculty, and staff at 107 graduate business schools conducted in September and October 2022, is another marker in the road to B-schools learning to live without the GMAT or alternatives.

The report details how leadership at most of the surveyed schools administer a test-optional policy for admission to their degree- granting programs. These test-optional policies have been implemented for three years, on average, with 21% reporting five or more annual cycles. Most B-schools evaluate the test-optional policy using student academic success as a metric. On average, incoming student body to a graduate business degree program has shown academic improvement because of the test-optional policy in many of the skills most important for what the World Economic Forum labels “jobs of tomorrow”.

While most survey respondents report no change in most skills when considering how test-optional policies impact the student body, a significant number — close to 2 in 10 — saw positive impact in the areas of Leadership and Social Influence and Creativity, Originality, and Initiative. In contrast, skills often measured on standardized exams, such as Complex Problem-Solving, are seen as being more negatively impacted by the test-optional policy.

Meanwhile, in a possible boon to B-schools reeling from a drop in MBA applications in 2021-2022 — which includes 16 of the top 25 B-schools as ranked by P&Q — the report details how The majority of respondents report that application volumes to each of the business programs have grown as a result of the test-optional policy. Test-optional policies also led to greater diversity: More than half of respondents (60%) report an increase in the racial/ethnic makeup of the student body, and nearly half (49%) say the career background of the student body is more diverse. Additionally, 44% report improved gender diversity, and 43% report increased diversity of academic background.

B-SCHOOLS INNOVATING CURRICULUM TO ADJUST TO NEW CLASS MAKEUPS

How will admissions at business schools be conducted without test scores to help weed out the academically unprepared? MBA Roundtable’s report details how most B-schools now offer pre-program learning opportunities to prepare admitted students for the classroom. Two in three respondents (66%) say the business school offers admitted students pre-program learning opportunities, typically in quantitative areas, such as math, statistics, accounting, and finance. These programs tend to be asynchronous (73%) and offered completely online (65%).

Instead of standardized exams, B-schools “often create a rubric emphasizing quantitative information gleaned from an application, including undergraduate GPA, an advanced degree, and a combination of employment tenure, Quantitative-GPA, undergraduate curriculum, and employment responsibilities.” About 1 in 5 (22%) respondents report an increase in identified opportunities for pre-program learning among admitted students since implementation of the test-optional policy; however, most have seen no change.

“As many business schools move to test-optional admissions, it is important to see how they are innovating their curriculum to meet the needs of changing learners attending their programs,” says Jeff Bieganek, executive director of MBA Roundtable, an association of B-schools with members around the globe. “The development of appropriate pre-program learning opportunities as well as adaptations to courses and overall curriculum will be increasingly important to guarantee student success. It is important to see how schools are driving those innovations.”

Learn more about MBA Roundtable by clicking here.

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