Why Your Test Scores Still Matter 

When the COVID-19 pandemic first struck, the MBA admissions world (like the rest of the world) was thrown into chaos. Admissions officers fretted that the candidates they had already admitted would not be able to travel to campus, so they opened their doors to new applicants—who could not take the usual entrance exams because the test centers were closed! The obvious solution in the short term? Programs such as MIT Sloan, Northwestern Kellogg, and Michigan Ross waived their testing requirements entirely. Then, as “take from home” GRE and GMAT options began to be offered, some admissions officers quickly reverted back to their original mandatory testing policies, while others allowed applicants to apply for test waivers, and still others expanded their testing options to include the Executive Assessment (EA), MCAT, DAT, and similar exams. So, which option is best for you? Should you take the GRE or GMAT, apply for a waiver, or target an alternative test?

Here are five reasons you might still need (or even want!) to take the GRE or the GMAT:

Your target MBA programs still require the GMAT or GRE.

The most obvious reason for taking one of the conventional tests is that at least for now, virtually all the top MBA programs still require these scores. Although this is subject to change, as of the writing of this blog post, only seven of the top 30 programs (Michigan Ross, UVA Darden, NYU Stern, Cornell Johnson, Texas McCombs, UNC Kenan Flagler, and UW Foster) offer applicants the opportunity to apply for a test waiver, and you have no guarantee that they will grant your request. So, unless your target programs are on that short list and your waiver requests are granted, you will need to take either the GMAT or GRE to keep your options open.  If you want to apply to Harvard Business School, Stanford GSB, and/or UPenn Wharton, you need to get cracking on your GMAT/GRE studies. If you were hoping to avoid taking a test altogether, your options at the moment are quite few.

But wait, what about those alternative tests we mentioned? A small group of full-time MBA programs is accepting scores from such tests as the EA (essentially a mini GMAT), the MCAT, and the LSAT, among others. For now, the EA has the most traction in the MBA world because it is accepted by most Executive MBA programs and is thus more of a known entity among admissions officers. One of the nice things about the EA is that it is a threshold test, which means you simply need to achieve a minimal score to prove your competence, rather than having to match or exceed a target program’s lofty average.

Executive Assessment MCAT/LSAT/PCAT/DAT Waivers
UVA Darden Y Y Y
Michigan Ross X Y Y
NYU Stern Y Y Y
Duke Fuqua Y N N
Columbia University Y N N
Carnegie Melon Tepper Y N N
Texas McCombs Y N N

While the option of taking the EA or another alternative test might be appealing, you will likely run into a  problem ¾ your target list is unlikely “covered’ by these alternative tests.. So, if you want to apply to a top-30, full-time MBA program with the EA or the LSAT, your options are likely to be limited. And when you are applying to your dream MBA programs, you do not want to limit your options!

You need to prove your quantitative abilities.

So, maybe you are momentarily sold on the idea of pursuing a waiver or taking an alternative test, but you should be aware that taking one of the conventional exams could actually benefit you in other ways! How so? Before a school can accept you, its admissions committee needs to be certain that you will be able to manage the MBA program’s highly analytical curriculum. This means that if you are a liberal arts major and do not have a single quantitative class on your academic transcript, you might need a strong GMAT or GRE score to prove your abilities in this area. (Typically, a 46 Quant score on the GMAT is sufficient to indicate that you have the necessary quantitative strength.)

You need to offset poor grades.

On the other hand, maybe you did take quant classes in college, but you did not do very well in them. If you have B- or C grades in these courses, the admissions committees will not be confident that you will be able to handle the school’s rigorous academic course load. By performing well on a standardized test, you can demonstrate that you will be able to perform in the MBA classroom as well.

You are really good at standardized tests.

Finally, maybe you do not need to submit test scores for your chosen MBA programs or for any of the reasons we have offered thus far, but you tend to do well on standardized tests and expect to score above your target schools’ averages. In that case, taking an exam could give you a bit of an advantage. Business schools still love to tout their students’ average GMAT score, and this average is also factored into many of the MBA rankings, so the admissions officers are interested in scores that could keep their number high. If your score could help them do so, you might just increase your chances of gaining admission.

For now, testing seems like it will remain a reality for the vast majority of MBA applicants. We expect that with time, more and more programs will start accepting the EA in particular, but candidates cannot count on that! For now, you should probably expect to hunker down and start studying for the GMAT or the GRE.

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