Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT)

What is the GMAT?

The GMAT is a standardized test owned by the Graduate Management Admissions Committee (GMAC) that is used in admissions to master’s and PhD programs in managent. Approximately 150,000 GMAT exams were taken by prospective business school applicants globally in in the 2021 testing year. 

The current format of the GMAT, which has changed many times since its creation, includes machine-scored essays and multiple choice Integrated Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, and Verbal Reasoning sections. 

  Time Questions Time per question
AWA 30 mins 1 30 mins
Integrated Reasoning 30 mins 12 2.5 mins
Quantitative 62 mins 31 2.0 mins
Verbal 65 mins 36 1.8 mins

What does the GMAT claim to measure?

According to GMAC, the GMAT “assesses analytical writing and problem-solving abilities, along with the data sufficiency, logic, and critical reasoning skills that are vital to real-world business and management success.”

In practical terms, the GMAT tests middle and high school math terms and rules, reading comprehension, and formal logic principles. How vital knowledge of the area of a circle or that 2 is the smallest prime number is to real-world business success has always been a matter of debate. 

Most validity studies of the GMAT are done by the owners of the test and find there is some correlation between GMAT scores and first year MBA grades. The question is whether the value provided by the tests worth the cost (socially, economically, etc) to students and schools.

Does the GMAT accurately predict success?

Like other multiple-chxplaining 14% of the variation in graduate school grades. An independent non-ETS study found an even weaker relationship between test scores and academic achievement – just 6% of the variation in grades could be predicted by GRE scores.

Has the GMAT Changed?  

Many people falsely believe that the tests they remember are the same as the test of today. All “standardized” tests change significantly over time, a fact that is overlooked by those who argue for the test as consistent measures. The question types, timing, and content are significantly revised periodically. In the early days of the GMAT new question types were added and removed almost annually.  Below are just a few of the major changes in the GMAT since its introduction. 

What impact does the GRE have on educational equity?

As is the case with most other college admissions tests, large disparities in GRE 

How is the GRE misused?

Due to the GMAT’s weak validity and lack of precision, the GMAC Code of Ethics states: “Avoid the use of cutoff scores. Cutoff scores should only be used when there is clear empirical evidence that a large proportion of the applicants scoring below the cutoff scores have substantial difficulty doing satisfactory graduate work. GMAC continues, “In addition, it is incumbent upon the school to demonstrate that the use of cutoff scores does not result in the systematic exclusion of members of either sex, any age or ethnic groups, or any other relevant groups in the face of other evidence that would indicate their competence or predict their success.” In addition, the National Association of Graduate Admissions Professionals’ handbook Professional Standards and Practices states, “It is advisable to consider implementation of additional practices that eliminate discrimination, provide equal access and treat tests as a single component of the admissions procedure since test scores are not the sole measure of potential success.”

Despite this strong guidance, hundreds of schools use absolute cutoff scores for admission and financial aid. For example, Texas Christian University has an accelerated MBA program that requires a 620 on the GMAT. Chapman College of Business and Concordia University each demand a 500, while California State University at Stanlihaus mandates a 450. The University of North Florida is even more explicit: “a minimum 20 verbal and 22 quantitative GMAT sub-score is required for graduate admission.”

GMAC recognizes these abuses are widespread, noting among “Business School Application Tips” in one publication, “Minimum Score Requirements: Some schools require minimum scores on the Graduate Management Admission GMAT. Other schools only have minimum requirements for certain sections of the GMAT. Know the minimum requirement at a particular school, if one exists, so you only apply to schools you are qualified to attend.”

Is the GMAT coachable?

GMAT preparation courses from firms such as Princeton Review and Kaplan promise to raise scores by an average of 92 points for those who can afford $800 to $1000 or more. Thousands of college graduates eagerly shell out millions of dollars every year to these companies. Business school admissions offices have no way to tell which applicants have been coached and which have not been.

What’s the alternative?

GMAC and ETS have long been the national gatekeepers for business school admissions. Soon there might be some competition. Researchers at the University of Michigan’s School of Business have developed alternative measures of managerial potential that they claim better predict success in both academic and practical endeavors. This new assessment approach, dubbed the “Rainbow Project,” also claims to produce far less racial and gender bias than the GMAT.

In 1985 Harvard Business School (HBS) decided to eliminate the GMAT from their admissions process. John Lynch, the Admissions Director at the time, gave several compelling reasons. In a blind test, Harvard found that admissions decisions made with and without the GMAT were essentially the same. Success at Harvard depended on intangibles such as motivation, interpersonal skills, perseverance and hard work – all factors not measured by GMAT. Looking at undergraduate grade-point average (UGPA), ethics, leadership, community activities, prior work experience and the interview made GMAT scores “superfluous”. Harvard was also concerned about the perceived emphasis applicants place on the GMAT and that strong applicants with scores below the 99th percentile were intimidated from applying. Lynch also pointed out that an “artificial barrier to the admission of qualified but poorer students is unacceptable.”

Eleven years later Harvard reinstated the GMAT, saying the decision “reflects the fact that there have been significant improvements to the structure of the test”. The only changes made since 1954 have been the addition of the AWA, which is used only sporadically and the move to the Computer Adaptive Test, which came with multiple problems. Harvard also pledged to work closely with GMAC to cooperate “on ways to further change the test” to focus on intangible qualities. In six years, no further mention has been made of changes to the test.