What role does the GMAT play in the MBA Admissions process?

Most applicants I speak to spend a fair amount of time studying for the GMAT because they know it plays an important role in the admissions process. However, often applicants overestimate or underestimate the importance of the GMAT and the role it plays in the admissions process. Given this, I thought it would be helpful to examine what role the GMAT actually plays in the admissions process and what it indicates to the admissions committee.

The GMAT exam was created in 1954 because business schools did not think that existing tests gauged very precisely the academic skills that graduate business programs demanded. The GMAT exam is intended to measure the specific academic skills needed for business school. So a low GMAT score will raise questions on whether or not you will be able to cope with the academic rigor required in an MBA program.

Further, although the GMAT exam is conducted in English and requires basic math skills, its difficulty lies not in advanced vocabulary or math skills, but in the logic and analytical reasoning the test requires. Hence if you have a strong overall score but are much weaker in one section vs. another it may raise questions about the specific skills they are trying to test in that section.

The latest issue of Graduate Management News, the Graduate Management Admissions Council’s newsletter provides some great examples of how certain types of questions test these skills. The May 2010 issue states that “Data Sufficiency very succinctly measures your ability to sort through a lot of information and pick only what you need to solve a problem. It also tests your ability to think through solving a problem using different bits of data. Business schools demand both, as students are often presented with complicated case studies with lots of exhibits and financial statements and must figure out how to solve problems without getting bogged down in excessive detail.”  The Graduate Management News also goes on to explain how critical reasoning questions help to identify “students with a raw ability to connect facts, to detect patterns, to discriminate true causation from spurious correlations”.  The newsletter states that “In business school, as in the business world, you will be asked to collaborate on projects and evaluate the ideas and arguments of others, and the ability to do that succinctly is important......The real world is such a messy place that it is often hard to spot the proper correlation among facts, let alone to pin down the right ‘cause-effect’ connections.”

So, if you have a lower than desired GMAT score think about other things in your academic background or in your professional experience that can help to demonstrate the skills that the GMAT is trying to test.

Further, what is important to remember is that the GMAT is only testing these specific skills and there are a host of other skills that admissions committees evaluate you on, such as leadership. So if you spend too much time on the GMAT and not enough time on your application you will not be giving the admissions committee enough insight into how strong you are on those other non-academic skills.

About the Author

Kavita Singh
is an MBA graduate of Columbia Business School and holds a BA (Hons) from Oxford University. She has over 13 years of experience working in the U.S. and India and is the CEO of FutureWorks Consulting, an admissions consulting firm.

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