Most top business schools require GMAT scores as evidence of aptness for a particular MBA, and many consider it to be an important assessment for candidates. Rigorous preparation is vital to ensure successful enrolment on MBA courses, as the value of GMAT is not to be underestimated.

How many business schools accept the GMAT today?

Approximately 1,700 universities and accredited educational institutions around the world accept scores of the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) as part of the entrance criteria for their MBA courses. Amongst these are the leading educational institutions -- Harvard, Yale, MIT, Cambridge and Oxford which, along with other programmes, also specialise in business, management and related fields. These are just a few of the prestigious universities that offer a wide range of MBA programmes, places for which can be obtained through scoring highly (usually over 650) on the GMAT. Over 6,000 graduate business programmes either accept or require the GMAT for admission on the course.

History of the GMAT

The MBA was pioneered by Harvard University in 1908 and in that year with its own internal examining system. The GMAT, since its birth in 1953 has been offering business schools a standardised test framework which can be used to evaluate candidates’ aptitude for business and management related education. Formerly referred to as the ATGBS (Admissions Test for Graduate Study in Business (ATGSB), the GMAT was at first only designed to be interpreted by nine US business schools - Columbia, Harvard, Northwestern, Rutgers, Seton Hall, University of Chicago, University of Michigan, University of Pennsylvania and Washington University in St. Louis. The name GMAT was introduced in 1976. It wasn’t until 1995 that business schools outside the USA started to integrate the GMAT into their MBA admissions criteria. INSEAD and the London Business School were the first non-US institutions to join the Graduate Management Admissions Council (GMAC) – the organisation that owns and administers the GMAT exam today.

How has the GMAT developed into what it is today?

The GMAT has changed a lot in its style and delivery over the years. In 1992, the Analytical Writing Assessment section was introduced to the test. In 1998, the test became computer adaptive. Because of a cheating scandal in 2008, all GMAT participants are now required to take palm vein scans in order to make sure that they are not sitting the test for other MBA applicants.

The most recent development in the GMAT has been the Integrated Reasoning (IR) section, in which MBA candidates must analyse data presented in the form of words, charts, graphs and tables. Since 2012, candidates have had to synthesise and select only the most important data presented to them in the IR section of the GMAT.

What skills does the GMAT assess?

According to GMAC the GMAT exam assesses problem solving, logic, and critical reasoning skills. These skills are covered in four different exam sections: Integrated Reasoning (IR); Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA); Quantitative Section; Verbal Section.

The meritocratic approach to analysing data that the IR section of the GMAT exam tests is necessary for most MBA subjects, as much of the work undertaken at MBA level involves scanning information to find the most usable, congruent or incongruent features of any given dataset. This will be one of the most important skills of businessmen and women of the future, according to the former vice chairman of the J&J Pharmaceuticals Group, Christine Poon.

GMAT Assessess the Skills That Matter Most

The AWA section aims to assess a candidate’s ability to analyse an argument. A critique of the reasoning behind a given argument must be written, with special emphasis on syntactical and lexical features both demonstrated in the candidate’s essay and exposed from within the argument.

Quantitative reasoning and quantitative problem solving make up the Quantitative section. In this part of the exam candidates must demonstrate their analytical skills using mathematical, geometrical and algebraic knowledge through a series of ‘problem solving’ and ‘data sufficiency’ questions.

The Verbal section incorporates questions based on reading comprehension, critical reasoning and sentence correction. GMAC state that the aim of this format is to test grammatical, communicative, critical, and analytical ability. The candidate will be marked on how well the intent of the sentence is expressed.

How do business schools use GMAT scores?

Two thirds of GMAT applicants score between 400-600, and the average score is 547. Most MBA programmes require a score of at least 550. Really high GMAT scores start from 650. The holder of the world’s highest average GMAT score is in the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore and reaches an outstanding 780. In the US, the highest average GMAT score belongs to the MBA students at Stanford University, which retains an impressive 733. Stanford University was also noted for having accepted a candidate who scored a 570, and they have also enrolled candidates who earned a perfect score of 800. Other top business schools also have a wide range GMAT scores.

This range of results illustrates that the evaluation of MBA applications is holistic and takes into consideration all other elements of the application package, as well as the performance during the interview.

There are some parts of the application that the GMAT outweighs, such as the undergraduate GPA. This is common sense, but is also supported by a survey from Poets and Quants. It is also important to know that US business schools may give more weight to the GMAT compared to their counterparts in other parts of the world.

Caroline Diarte Edwards, the former head of admissions at INSEAD believes that, “GMAT Quant gets far greater attention than verbal,” because educational institutions regard mathematical and quantitative ability as the most important factor in business. She explains how data and analytics play a huge role in the MBA but that this is not the “single recipe for success”, as some universities fixated on rankings tend to believe.

Head of Admissions Consulting at Advent Group, Iliana Bobova argues:

The majority of MBA admissions teams appreciate a well-balanced GMAT score.

She explains that high performance on one section does not compensate for a low score on another, because each section assesses different skills. It is the overall skillset that is taken into consideration in the evaluation process. Assessment in made also in the context of the academic and professional background of each applicant.

GMAT scores are often used as criteria for awarding merit scholarships. In addition, GMAT scores play a role beyond MBA admission and scholarship applications, as some employers look into GMAT scores as well. Finally, GMAT preparation develops skills for success in business school and in managerial roles.

Clearly, a high GMAT score adds a lot of value to your chances of admission, MBA experience and career prospects. This makes the investment in GMAT preparation very much worthwhile.


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