Why the GMAT anyway?

Oct 19, 2009
Tags: Official GMAT

Why do business schools ask you to take a standardized test like the GMAT? In fact, there are many reasons, but only about three of them are profoundly germane to your decision as to which test to take.The first reason is, quite simply, that a standardized test provides the only objective element in your application. Undergraduate performance is measured by the grading scheme of the institution.

In a recent conversation with Dan Muzyka, the dean of the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business, he remarked that Canadian universities are still parsimonious in their awarding of numerical grades when compared to schools from the United States. It does not mean that either one grading system is superior, just that they are different and are not comparable.

Letters of reference are the opinions of those whom you, the applicant, have chosen. As a competitive applicant, you will only invite those referees who admire you to write such letters. Again, the value of these letters is in the subjective opinion of the writer—there is no objectivity.

And what of your own essays? Student responses to essay topics are so varied that it becomes difficult to compare an applicants’ responses -- or to know whether these were written by the applicant alone or with some help. The essay may be a good representation of you, but it can’t be relied on for a comparison.

The standardized test alone is objective. But why is it important?

Equilibrium occurs when supply meets demand. Equilibrium for a graduate school of business occurs when the class cohort meets the school’s criteria and each candidate is able to perform and thrive in that school’s classroom. When a member of the class is unable to meet the demanding standards of the classes and must withdraw from the program before graduation, it is a loss for both the student and the school. The student has uprooted his or her life to attend the program and now returns home without the degree sought. The school and the cohort sit with an empty seat in the class and an empty chair around the case discussion group.

Of late, there seems to be a lot of noise in the channels suggesting that someone contemplating an MBA or other graduate management degree ought to eschew the global standard, the GMAT, and opt for another test, the Graduate Record Exam, the GRE. Before leaping into this abyss, I would encourage anyone considering graduate business school to undertake some serious due diligence. The decision that you will make in going into an MBA or other master’s program is one of the most important in your life. And, in all likelihood, it is the greatest investment that you will have made to date.

Only the GMAT has years of research that will support its ability to predict the performance of a student in the first year of the MBA. Schools know that and rely on it, and that is why the GMAT is accepted by more than 4,700 MBA programs. It is also why all 4,700 have the ability to search for you in our Graduate Management Admission Search Service.

But there is another equally important reason for the global acceptance of the GMAT, and it goes back to a school’s desire for equilibrium. Schools see an applicant who has taken the GMAT as motivated to study business. In their experience over many years, candidates who are not committed to studying business, who perhaps really want to earn a PhD in economics, are more likely to drop out voluntarily. There is no doubt that many of the students in this set are intellectually exceptional and they could easily master the content of the program. But equally, their heart is not in that field of study.

Why put yourself through one or two highly demanding years to gain a degree that leaves you with an empty feeling? Schools recognize this dilemma and are frequently reluctant to bring into their MBA cohort candidates who, while academically qualified, are not really interested.

Why the GMAT? Because it positions you with fellow applicants who are both interested and qualified—and because the GMAT alone has demonstrated predictive ability of your performance.

Am I biased? Yes I am. But I base my recommendations to you on a belief that my role is to bring the right students to the right programs…to change lives…and to give many a chance to study in schools that they may not have known were open to them. The GMAT opens that door for you.

 — Dave Wilson 
     President and CEO, 
     Graduate Management Admission Council