Standardized Tests for Business School

by Stacy Blackman Consulting, Jan 11, 2021

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The COVID-19 pandemic upended the business school admissions process in the spring. With lockdowns in place and testing centers closed, completing those standardized tests for business school became impossible.

Therefore, some MBA programs announced they would not require standardized tests for business school admission for the 2020-2021 cycle. One such school, MIT's Sloan School of Management, made the decision to provide a “level playing field” for all applicants, no matter how this pandemic has affected their lives.

Meanwhile, the UV Darden School of Business also decided to pilot test waiver requests this year. “Standardized tests have always been just one indication of a student’s ability to succeed at Darden," said Dawna Clarke, executive director of admissions.

Keep in mind that this option is best for applicants with strong alternate indicators of academic, personal, or professional accomplishment.

And even with the advent of online GMAT and GRE options, the experience wasn't smooth for all. As one applicant remarked to the AdCom team at the Ross School of Business, "It’s hard to nail the GMAT when you’re concerned your internet might go out at any minute."

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Will this new flexibility regarding standardized tests for business school continue after the pandemic is behind us? Have we reached a point where elite MBA programs no longer consider the GMAT or GRE important for b-school admissions? Not likely.

The Value of Standardized Tests for Business School

SBC has seen a double-digit surge in demand for the top MBA programs in this application cycle. That will only continue as the global economy continues to struggle. We believe top MBA programs will always prefer some type of standardized test. Case in point: although some international test centers remain closed, most elite MBA programs required a test score for Round 2.

Lower-ranked schools, on the other hand, may become test-optional post-COVID-19. Such a move is a way of increasing MBA applicant volume and reducing barriers to entry. But, we don't see this play out consistently even among the lower-ranked programs yet, as they are mindful of ranking requirements that usually include test scores.

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Test scores may ultimately become even more critical at the elite level, given the competitive admissions process. However, we might see increased flexibility for replacements for the GMAT, such as the GRE and GMAC's Executive Assessment (EA).

At a meeting between the SBC team and Columbia Business School, the AdCom expressed support for the new EA tool. In the future, their program will track whether students with EA scores succeed academically within their rigorous data-driven coursework.

Test optional doesn't mean that applicants who lack a test score will easily gain acceptance. Even for programs such as MIT Sloan that don't require the test, applicants who provide proof of analytical rigor in some format (undergraduate coursework and/or a test score) will fare better with admit results.

Comparing Apples to Apples

The standardized tests for business school provide a single, objective measure that predicts one's ability to thrive in a top MBA program's analytical coursework. We don't see that clear, predictive quality from ancillary quantitative coursework. It's the standardized test that predicts academic success with optimal clarity.

As our lead test prep tutor points out, "How else can you compare across different schools, majors, companies, titles with totally different approaches? What does a 3.6 Communications major as school XYZ mean compared to a 3.3 Biology major at school ABC?"

Even interviewing, while getting closer, is variable and doesn't truly measure acumen. Having one consistent thing put in front of everyone is a sincere attempt at being 'fair.'

In fact, more and more companies are adding skills-based screening and 'testing' type components to their hiring process to root out unconscious bias and make it more objective.

Standardized tests aren't perfect. They will always have issues and continually need to be analyzed and improved. But, when it comes to ensuring MBA applicants can handle the heavy quant load of b-school, they serve a vital purpose.

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Stacy Blackman Consulting is the only MBA admissions firm with a complete panel of former Admissions Officers from every M7 program and the elite European MBA programs. If you are looking for guidance on your MBA application, we can help with hourly and comprehensive consulting services. Contact us to learn more.