Value of GMAT in a Test-Optional World


As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, business schools to a great extent chose to make admissions procedures more flexible during the 2020–21 admissions cycle. These adjustments included removing the need for testing, eliminating the application price, forgoing the deposit fee, extending the deadlines, and accepting the results of the shorter Executive Assessment (EA) test.

Top MBA programs like MIT Sloan, Michigan Ross, UVA Darden, and Cornell Johnson offered ways to apply without a GMAT score during the 2020–2021 MBA application cycle. This strategy has been maintained by Ross and Darden for the 2021–2022 cycle, and other programs might do the same.

According to a poll conducted in October 2020, 36% of the 101 institutions providing MBA programs deferred the testing requirement for all applicants, while 24% did so for some students. Furthermore, 17% of these schools stated that they have suspended the mandate and may do so indefinitely.

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Testing Serves as a Means of Comparison.

Test scores provide the most standardized method for admissions officers to compare students. However, because of the way these tests perpetuate social inequities, they do not provide equal opportunity for success for everyone.

However, admissions committees may not see it this way and continue to place a high value on test scores. What that means for you, and whether you should even take the test in the first place, is determined by a number of factors.

For example, if you went to a competitive school where a 3.5 GPA was a challenge, taking the test might make sense. After all, your 3.5 GPA may not be the same as someone who attended a less competitive school. And it may not even be the school, but the major.

This issue is exacerbated for international students who are not graded on a 4.0 scale.

However, failing to submit a test score will not necessarily make it more difficult for you to gain admission to an institution. However, if you believe you excel at tests, this could be one way to stand out—and a compelling reason to take the test.


Why Would Business Schools Keep their Test-optional Policies?

One of the 17% of institutions that are thinking about making their test-optional policy permanent is Babson College. Colleen Hynes, Babson’s director of graduate admissions, who is in charge of the school’s enrollment strategy for both its full-time and part-time MBA programs, says, if the students continue to perform admirably in the classroom in terms of their GPA, general debates, and writing, that may suggest to us as a school that there are alternative ways to evaluate applications without having GMAT scores.

The removal of the GMAT requirement was welcomed by many students. Students have stated that the GMAT was a barrier for them, but because we were test-optional this year, they felt compelled and at ease to be able to put together a really excellent application, even without a GMAT, says Hynes, who adds that the candidate pool was stronger as a result. That clearly shows that students are still choosing to enroll in graduate programs, and GMAT scores are only one option to display your background. But the application also offers alternative options for doing that.

A test-optional policy can be advantageous since it results in a more successful and diversified MBA program. We’ve received more applications, and the candidate pool’s general diversity has grown significantly, notes Hynes.

Many students, according to Hynes, still opt to submit GMAT scores.


Does this Imply that the GMAT is no Longer Significant?

The new policy certainly gave many candidates hope that their GMAT scores would no longer be significant. Since MBA candidates have extremely hectic schedules, it would be irrational for them to pass up the opportunity to use test-optional policies if they could obtain the same outcomes without taking the GMAT.

You may be excused for believing that an excellent GMAT score is no longer necessary for MBA admissions.

The contrary is true, as evidenced by data from Menlo Coaching’s research team and applicants in the Round 1 2020–2021 cycle, strong GMAT scores still contribute to higher acceptance rates and larger scholarship opportunities.

More admissions offers and larger grants are driven by strong GMAT scores. According to our research, a high GMAT can provide you up to a +57% boost, and a low GMAT can be as much as a -62% penalty, depending on your profile and the MBA programs you’re applying to.


It is True that Higher GMAT Scores Lead to Better Outcomes. But Why does it Work this Way?

The big secret is that every MBA program strives for a high ranking because GMAT scores are a major factor in the U.S. News MBA rankings. More candidates apply to programs with high rankings, which helps the MBA program create a stronger incoming class.

Your overall score on an 800-point scale, which is determined by how well you did on the Quantitative and Verbal portions, is used by U.S. News to determine your ranking. It excludes the results of the integrated reasoning test and the analytical writing exam.

Because a higher ranking attracts more (and better) applications, every MBA program aspires to maintain or improve its ranking. We have all looked at MBA rankings. Haven’t we?

To be exact, 16.25% of the U.S. News ranking system is based on GMAT scores. But that vastly understates the significance of it. The GMAT and GPA are the only variables that an MBA admissions committee can control because other ranking elements, such as the 40% of the ranking that is based on surveys of companies and business school Deans, change very slowly.

Comparing the GMAT to a “swing state” in a presidential election will help you understand it better. Despite carrying less weight, it frequently makes the difference.

MBA admissions representatives are aware that candidates like you consult MBA rankings before choosing where to apply and which offer to accept.

Admissions officials may not enjoy “playing the ranking game,” but it is a fact that higher ranks draw more candidates and applicants of higher quality.

The fact that almost all prestigious MBA programs gave GMAT data to U.S. News in connection with the annual ranking released in March 2021 is conclusive evidence that this trend will persist in the next years.



  1. Even if you have a stellar profile, a low GMAT score can hurt your chances.
  2. Even if a school makes the GMAT optional, a high GMAT score is highly valued.

Given that the 2020 admissions cycle is expected to be the most competitive of the decade, your GMAT score is more important than ever. This is why:

  • Fewer Seats: Many students admitted during the 2019 admission cycle postponed their enrollment until Fall 2021. As a result, many schools may have fewer open seats for the 2020 admissions cycle, despite admitting likely the largest class.
  • Increased Competition: Most business schools received a record number of applications in R3/R4 of the 2019 admission cycle and R1 of the 2020 admission cycle. As a result, most top schools are seeing more high-quality candidates than in the past and have become more selective as a result.

Most students are aware of these dynamics and, as a result, are aiming for higher GMAT scores than ever before.

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Should I take the GMAT if all of my colleges made the test-optional?

Only if the justification for taking it is really compelling.

Even in a test-optional environment, there are two compelling reasons to take the GMAT:

  • To increase your chances of being accepted into a more prestigious institution
  • In order to receive higher financial aid at any colleges that accept you

Why might Business Schools might continue to require standardized tests?

Standardized testing is not going away, and the GMAT, according to Hynes, will always have a place in graduate management education. “It can be an excellent way for students to demonstrate aptitude and academic ability beyond the scope of their undergraduate studies,” she says. “There will always be students and schools who desire this.”

As testing obstacles diminish, many schools will likely reinstate GMAT or GRE requirements. Babson College, on the other hand, is still deliberating.

How taking the GMAT can help you pay for Business School?

You’ve probably heard of financial aid when you were in college, but financial aid for business school is more of a financial incentive to attend this school. 

If a school truly wants you to attend their program, they will sweeten the deal by offering you a good financial package, including grants, fellowships, scholarships, and other awards that amount to a tuition discount. You can even negotiate these offers, using one school’s offer as leverage to encourage another school to improve their offer.

Who stands to benefit from “GMAT Optional” Policy?

If most top schools place such a high value on the GMAT score, why did they institute the GMAT optional policy? Who will benefit from this option in turn?

Candidates who stand to benefit from the GMAT optional policy, meet two criteria:

  • They have a very strong profile.
  • They have demonstrated their ability to handle the coursework.

Candidates must meet both of these requirements to be eligible for the GMAT optional policy. Pedro González, a former e-GMAT-er, meets both of these requirements.

Why do business schools care about your GMAT score?

Here are two major reasons why your GMAT score is critical to your application:

  1. GMAT performance predicts business school success. The first reason business schools care about your GMAT score is that it accurately predicts success in an MBA program.
  2. Tough GMAT problems are designed to assess the exact skills needed in business school: critical thinking, problem-solving flexibility, and hypervigilance for any “tricks” in the question. This goes far beyond simple math or grammar exercises, and it is the reason why the GMAT truly measures business-relevant skills.

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