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Sunday, February 22, 2009

Exit Stage Left, the GMAT

Instead of the GMAT, you can take the GRE. My post is nowhere near as exciting as it sounds as business schools are starting to expand the array of standardized tests that they will accept according to this article. Harvard has joined the trend which makes it official since if Harvard required ballet recitals for admissions, there would be a surge in demand for extra large tutus.

The article above is also as misleading or misdirected as my post title. It's title of "Business Schools Want You Now More than Ever" doesn't really show the love that it (which sounds like an 80's love ballad that would be sung by Chicago or a power ballad sung by Poison) suggests. Accepting the GRE instead of the GMAT is exchanging one tedious standardized test for another tedious standardized test. I had taken both the GMAT and GRE and I really couldn't tell the difference between them. Both have a Math section similar to the SAT's that I took in high school and a language section that includes some of the most arcane questions about punctuation and very dense paragraphs of equally arcane material. One of them also has a logic section, but I forgot which one.

Given they are both similar and equally painful to prepare for, it doesn't really feel like an outrageous display of affection. If business schools really wanted me to know what love is and they wanted to show me (show off your 80's music trivia and name the band who sings that song! I thought that it was Chicago but I was wrong), they would accept my SAT, ACT, or standardized undergraduate admissions test. The SAT, GRE, and GMAT provide context for grades and undergraduate institutions. Either of the three are a similar standardized test that show how well you take standardized tests which is the most effective measurement for scholastic performance that we currently have. Whether you take the standardized test in high school or post-college, it's really the same measurement. While I don't have the research, I am sure that people who do well on the SAT will do well on the GRE, GMAT, or LSAT for law school.

While I have been beating on standardized tests like a rented mule, I think they are a valid part of the admissions process. They provide a single measurement for evaluating applicants' scholarly performance. For example, take the following:
  • Standardized test score of 90th percentile or above (700+ on the GMAT) and a 3.8 GPA mean someone who is very smart or smart and hard-working
  • Standardized test score of 90th percentile or above (700+ on the GMAT) and a 3.0 GPA (excluding engineering since grades are usually lower), mean someone who is smart but lazier with school work
  • Standardized test score around the 50th-60th percentile (low 600's on the GMAT) and a 3.8 GPA mean someone who is not as smart but very hard working, or went to a school with lower academic standards or someone who doesn't test well. Schools can investigate these applicants to evaluate the real story behind their academic performance.
Either way, the standardized test provides additional information that can be very helpful with evaluating an applicant. It's not perfect but it provides better information than some other factors which I described in this post.

Getting back to beating on rented mules, this is my favorite quote from the article:

Mark McNutt, a spokesman for ETS, says one reason business schools are embracing the GRE is because it brings in a more diverse applicant pool. "The typical model of an MBA student isn't working," he admits. "Schools are seeing value in recruiting creative people."

How is taking the GRE a measure of creativity? When I think of creativity, I think of the art students who made their front door furry. I think of the Clown House in Northeast Portland where they made crazy bicycles and tried to show that clowns could be your average neighbor. I don't think that any of these individuals would view a 6 hour standardized test as outlets of creativity unless you got extra credit for creating interesting patterns with your multiple choice answers.

Rather than the typical model of an MBA student not working, I would say that business schools are realizing that the GRE and GMAT are interchangable and having to take an additional standardize test is a barrier to entry. If anything, it's an idictment on the products of ETS company who administers the GMAT and GRE. This switch shows that schools believe that the GMAT is no more an effective gauge for MBA admissions than the GRE.

However, I think that we should continue down this path and graduate schools just accept the SAT or undergraduate admissions test. It provides the same data (which is useful) and removes a barrier to entry. Now for more fun tests, who knew who sang the 80's song quote that I mentioned above?

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