Published: 21st August 2023
“We expect more Indian students to write GMAT”: GMAC
We speak to GMAC India Director Gaurav Srivastava about GMAT Focus Edition, as well as what to expect from the GMAT in 2023
The Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) is synonymous with a Masters of Business Administration (MBA) education abroad – and for good reason. With over 7,000 management programme across the world accepting GMAT scores, the GMAT is one of the biggest qualification exams in the world.
This year, the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), the body that conducts and manages the GMAT, has introduced the GMAT Focus Edition – and tout it to be a faster, easier, and more comprehensive assessment.
In light of these developments, EdexLive speaks to Gaurav Srivastava, Regional Director of GMAC for South Asia, Middle East, and Africa, about the recent developments of the test, and what is in store for aspirants next.
How exactly do GMAT scores relate to Management Aptitude?
The GMAT is nearly 60 years old and was conceived by Business schools in the USA as a common qualifying exam for their Business Programmes. These schools wanted a better applicant pool with specific skills and needed a uniform metric to test those. You could say that the GMAT has been created specifically for business schools, by business schools. And the exam has evolved with their needs.
What skills is the GMAT designed to test?
Essentially, the GMAT is designed to test all the skills one needs in the management sphere. The test’s pattern and syllabus have been a result of thorough research, feedback, and consultation with business schools. Argument analysis, data interpretation, and quantitative and verbal aptitude are some of the top skills that b-schools look for in their applicants, and GMAC has designed the GMAT to test how strong an applicant is in these areas.
In fact, every year, we conduct a validity study to see how a candidate performs in the first year of their course vis-a-vis their GMAT score, across the top graduate business programmes that accept GMAT scores. We always find that candidates with a good GMAT score tend to be performing well. This is how we prove the validity of GMAT – and run it every year to maintain this validity.
What is the rationale behind introducing the new Focus Edition?
As I said, GMAC acts on our own research, as well as the feedback from b-schools and candidates globally. We noticed a strong demand by candidates to reduce the exam time. Moreover, we also had to keep the exam relevant to what B-schools look for.
For example, the demand for data analytical and interpretative skills is now more than ever. As a result, we replaced the Integrated Reasoning module with the Data Interpretation module and made it a part of the final score. We also did away with the Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA) module as most B-schools have their own metrics to assess candidates’ written English and find it redundant.
Thus, only those sections relevant to B-schools are part of the Focus Edition, i.e. Quantitative, Verbal, and Data Interpretation.
Before this, the last big overhaul in the GMAT happened in 1997, which was over 20 years ago. What did GMAC observe in this period that it felt the need to change?
Primarily, B-schools have found their candidate pool to not be as diverse and inclusive as they wanted it to be, and wanted to attract a larger pool. As a result, we had to make the GMAT more accessible.
Secondly, most exams globally are becoming shorter in length, format, and examination time. Candidates also demand easier, quicker, and more convenient exams. So, the GMAT is in-line with this trend. Overall, we felt that the exam needed to be more candidate-friendly.
What are the expected outcomes of the Focus Edition?
Frankly speaking, we are excited about the Focus Edition, and we expect it to attract a larger pool of candidates. We made the GMAT more candidate-friendly, and we predict its popularity to grow across segments, particularly women, undergraduates, fresh graduates, and freshers and early career professionals.
Through the Information Sessions we conduct for undergraduates and early career professionals, we realised that they want less prep time and exam time. With the Focus Edition, we expect that the GMAT would become simpler for them.
Between 2018 and 2022, there has been a significant dip in the number of GMAT exams conducted. What do you think is the reason for this?
Two things happened here – firstly, after the 2016 US Presidential Elections, immigration to the country reduced significantly due to its political environment. The then US Government introduced policies that actively discouraged immigration, as evident in the changes that happened to the H1B visas. Since a lot of MBA aspirants aim for MBAs from American B-schools, these political factors made them hesitant to go for it.
Secondly, we all know how COVID-19 has impacted the world. We had to shut down our test centres due to lockdowns, and universities abroad also made entry requirements more stringent at that time. This was when GMAC introduced the Online Edition of GMAT.
However, after the 2020 US Presidential Elections, immigration policies have been relaxed, and we saw a record-high number of applicants in the first quarter of 2021. But these numbers also took a hit due to the Delta wave of COVID-19.
After 2022, the situation started improving, and now I can confidently say that we are at a stable phase.
What do you think the trend would be for India in 2023?
Well, as I said earlier, we expect a more diverse pool of applicants from India this year onwards, particularly women and undergrads.
We are also noticing a sharp rise in the popularity of new destinations apart from the USA for management education, particularly among European countries like Norway, Spain, Italy, Ireland, Sweden, etc. These countries, which were hitherto not existing on the map for MBA education, have excellent B-schools and have now started making efforts to attract Indian students.
In addition, we also predict an increase in the number of STEM Masters applications via the GMAT.
Overall, I can see a lot more Indian candidates going abroad to study.
Despite a sharp decline in the number of GMAT applications, the popularity of MBA in India remains high. What is your take on this?
If you look at the typical profile of GMAT applicants, it is 26-28-year-old men who are four to five years into their careers. These people want to take the next step of growth in their careers, and an MBA from a good B-school gives them a head start unlike anything else.
When compared to their non-MBA counterparts, MBA graduates get better recruitment prospects and higher salary packages, as they are picked by good corporate recruiters. After being placed, they also get better assignments at work and rise faster in the ranks of their companies. These candidates have a faster career track because they have an MBA qualification.
While the fees for MBA are certainly no less, the popularity of MBA programmes is also increasing. We have seen a record number of applications for MBA post-COVID. Students are even confident to take student loans because the return on investment it gives is very high.
How popular is the GMAT among younger candidates, i.e. undergraduates, fresh graduates, and early career professionals?
We see that the popularity of the GMAT has been increasing among this segment over the last few years. There are a couple of reasons for this.
Your typical MBA degree usually asks for a few years of working experience. However, pre-experience and deferred management degrees, like Harvard Business School’s 2+2 MBA programme, accept applications from fresh graduates and undergraduates in their final year as well.
Moreover, the GMAT scores are valid for five years. Students who are in their final year or are fresh out of college can write the exam while they are still in that “study mode”, gain work experience and make a bit of money, and apply within the validity period. They are realising that once they start working full-time, they would not have the time to prepare and give their best shot and that it is best to clear the test while they can.
The percentage of women taking the GMAT has increased in recent years. Why are women increasingly drawn to management programmes abroad?
Firstly, of course, GMAC has directed a lot of efforts towards encouraging more women applicants to GMAT.
We conducted a lot of informative and marketing activities specifically focusing on female applicants, like webinars, informative sessions, and all-women panel discussions. We invited women who cleared the GMAT and are excelling in their careers to be a part of these panels, as examples of success stories of the exam which would encourage more women to attempt the GMAT.
A lot of women used to find the GMAT challenging, and had difficulty in preparing. With the Focus Edition, we have made the exam much easier. In addition, we have also made study guides and preparation tools available free of cost, which certainly makes them more accessible to women.
Generally speaking, as well, women have been stepping out more often, and they are being encouraged to have their careers. The tides are gradually turning in their favour, and I am happy to say that they are making the best use of it.
We see more Indian Universities accepting GMAT scores for admission into their MBA programmes. Can you tell us more about the popularity of the GMAT among Indian Universities, and what is being done to make it more popular?
When GMAC set up its office in India, it was because we saw a lot of Indian applicants to MBA programmes abroad. Eventually, Indian B-schools also felt the need to have a uniform eligibility test for their programmes which is on par with world standards. While the Indian School of Business (ISB) had always accepted GMAT scores, more B-schools followed suit.
This acceptance of GMAT scores is also due to GMAC’s efforts, and the value addition that B-schools get from us. Firstly, B-schools and programmes that accept GMAT scores would be listed on our auxiliary website, mba.com, no matter how remote or unknown. This gives them a great platform for visibility.
Moreover, Indian B-schools also want to attract admissions from around the world. The National Education Policy of 2020 (NEP 2020) mandates this as well. We have been running India-focused campaigns in Africa and Southeast Asia, to attract more students from those parts of the world. Indian B-schools also reserve a section of seats for foreign students.