Submitting a standardized test score in your business masters application is not always obligatory, but business schools and admissions experts generally advise candidates to secure a strong result in the GMAT or GRE exam to bolster their chances of securing a competitive place.
“Overall, we think any candidate to a competitive masters program should strongly consider trying to earn a competitive GMAT or GRE score. You don’t have to submit your scores to all programs; you can choose to submit just where you think they will help your application. Any data point that sets you apart in a competitive field is to your advantage,” says Stacey Koprince, director of content and curriculum at Manhattan Prep, an American test preparation company.
Falling numbers are now taking the GMAT, which has long been a mainstay in business school admissions. At the same time, more schools have made this test as well as the GRE optional for those applying to their business masters programs, as they seek to streamline the application process at a time when demand for courses is falling amid a strong job market.
“While it’s true that most programs have gone test-optional — some temporarily and some permanently — they are not test-blind, so they will look at your scores if you send them in. A good rule is this: if you’re applying to a competitive school, an above-average GMAT or GRE score for that program will help you to put together the strongest application possible,” Koprince adds.
If you are applying to masters programs without any full-time work experience, taking the GMAT in particular and doing exceptionally well on it can be advantageous, as it shows admissions officers that you have strong executive reasoning skills. There are other benefits, too.
“The GMAT/GRE can provide several benefits for pre-experience business master students. Firstly, it can help demonstrate an applicant’s academic aptitude and analytical skills to admissions committees. Secondly, a good score can help offset an academic record that is not outstanding. Finally, schools offer scholarships or waivers for students with high scores in aptitude tests, thus potentially saving money,” explains Steffen Löv, assistant dean for MSc programs at WHU – Otto Beisheim School of Management.
WHU, a top German school, does not require each candidate to provide a score, but it may request it from applicants when an additional data point is needed to make an informed admissions decision. “Not taking the GMAT/GRE will not necessarily hurt an applicant's chances of admission, but it can limit their options,” adds Löv.
“Many programs still require those exams, especially from candidates where they do not have a good comparison of their academic records so far. For candidates with excellent academic records, taking the GMAT/GRE often does not make a difference.”
At Bocconi University in Milan, the GMAT is compulsory. “It is the only way to evaluate students on an objective element and compare different backgrounds on the same set of knowledge and competences,” argues Paolo Cancelli, director of student outreach and support at the Italian institution.
“A good test score often presents a glimpse into a student’s academic value; it also shows specific competences and knowledge often required to successfully complete a master in management degree,” he adds.
Those submitting applications to Barcelona’s Esade Business School can elect to take the school’s own standardized test, in lieu of the GMAT or GRE.
“Taking any test may be perceived as a sign of dedication to the application process and thus speak in favor of the candidate. Of course, there are certain costs attached to taking the test, so this is something that candidates have to weigh in their decisions,” points out Esade’s head of international admissions, Pollyana Nethersole.
Many schools still require a standardized test because it delivers specific benefits to admissions teams. “It allows a school to recruit globally from an extremely diverse pool of candidates from many different education systems whose evaluation and grading mechanisms are intrinsic to their country or institution,” says Daniela Noethe, academic director of the masters in management program at Esade.
So, the tests may help the school to draw a diverse intake by nationality, which can improve the learning experience through enhancing the richness of classroom discussions.
In response to a drop in test numbers, though, the GMAT’s owner GMAC has sharply pruned the exam by one hour through scrapping its analytical writing assessment. Instead, the three remaining sections of the test focused on quantitative and verbal reasoning and data insights will be assessed by multi-choice answers.
These are the biggest changes to the GMAT since it moved from a paper and pencil format to a computer-adaptive format in 1997. “While we still don’t have complete information on the GMAT Focus Edition, from what we can see, these are very student-friendly changes,” says Koprince at Manhattan Prep.
“GMAC has indicated that there will be fewer topics to study — for example, geometry and grammar will no longer be tested, nor will there be an essay. Test takers will be able to review problems after the fact and change a small number of answers, which isn’t possible on the current version of the exam. All in all, these are positive changes for test takers.”