Why I love and hate the GMAT

It’s no secret that I am a GMAT nerd. There’s something about the cleverness of the test that is really intellectually stimulating and engaging for me.

But there is no doubt the GMAT (and the GRE, and all standardized tests to some degree) are a barrier that keep capable people out of the right classrooms. And if you consider the range of average GMAT scores in different regions – make MBA classrooms less diverse.

Berkely’s School of Information has just announced that they are scrapping the GMAT or GRE as an admissions requirement, following the recommendation of the School’s Diversity Working Group. According to the school, ‘…overemphasizing GRE and GMAT scores replicates and amplifies structural disadvantages to some demographic groups, particularly students from underrepresented minority and lower socioeconomic backgrounds.’

Standardized tests are not the only barriers to business school, nor are they the only factors weighing on diversity. I honestly don’t know what I would do if I was in a position to scrap these tests for business school admissions.

On the one hand, these kinds of tests do not level the playing field for different candidates. There is no doubt that candidates from regions where standardized tests are more common, and where the schooling system is more aligned with the GMAT way of thinking have an advantage.

On the other hand, these tests are useful to screen for commitment, as much as intellectual promise. Standardized tests seem like an objective way to compare candidates across industries, backgrounds and geographies. And although they are flawed, there are no easy metrics that can predict academic success or compare candidates’ intellectual abilities.

We all know bright people who have not done well in these tests, and there are GMAT geniuses with no social skills in MBA classrooms around the world. But there is probably a score, below which a candidate will not cope with the course content.

The answer probably lies somewhere in the middle: An OK GMAT score should make the score a non-issue. A holistic approach to applications is ultimately best. Most business schools say they take the whole application into account, and most business schools do so.

But I would encourage admissions committees to look at scores on a regional basis, and compare candidates’ scores per region, rather than across all regions. This helps to get a better sense of some of the structural issues affecting scores.

I would also encourage business schools to offer some guidance and support around these standardized tests earlier on in the pipeline, to give candidates the additional support they may need to showcase their true potential.