width=280Business school admissions departments and GMAT section href=http://www.topmba.com/mba-admissions/gmat>GMAT students are disagreeing about the benefits the recently announced changes to the GMAT will bring to MBA education.

The addition of the new integrated reasoning section to the GMAT (previously reported here) which will replace one of the two essays in the analytical writing section when it is introduced in June 2012, has created a mixed response from the differing sectors of MBA society.

The Graduate Management Admissions Council (GMAC), which runs the GMAT, points out the need for the GMAT to evolve over time in order to serve students and schools alike. Lamia Walker, regional director for Europe Middle East and Africa at GMAC, explains that the integrated reasoning section was developed in conjunction with business school faculty to better reflect what is going on in the business school classroom and the skills recruiters are asking for today.

Fear of the unknown

Sean-Michael Green, dean of graduate and adult enrolment at Marist College, a private school in Poughkeepsie, New York state agrees that the change can be in everyone's interests. Having taken the GMAT three times in the past five years so that he can understand his applicants thoroughly, Green explains that the optimistic answer is that GMAC is looking after students by looking after business schools.

[The integrated reasoning section] is testing a subject that is certainly relevant to a graduate education in business, and more importantly, a career in business. If [GMAC] can help business schools to identify those people with mastery or deficiencies in this area, they will be helping these people to make good life and career choices.
However, Green was also keen to point out that the situation for the first GMAT students to sit the renovated test could be unnerving. The unknown is frightening, but unknown questions dealing with statistics and data on which future educational and career outcomes are tied is downright horrific. [But] once a generation of test takers go through the test, the anxiety will subside to normal levels, he predicts.

Student view

Concern about pressure upon the early adopters of the revamped exam is echoed amongst past and present students too. While the TopMBA.com Facebook and Twitter pages received many responses from students worried about how the exam would affect students' business school applications, many students got in touch to voice their concerns in more detail.

John, a student currently preparing for his GMAT in the US so that he can apply to some of the top business schools prior to the changes in the GMAT says, the planned changes may create extra study time for students, because they have to learn a new section. However, I think in the long run it makes sense to have an audio/data analysis section. [Currently] having an hour long writing section is a little overkill.

Other GMAT students voiced different concerns. Unlike college students, more people with jobs take the GMAT test, so one extra section will be a big burden on them, explained Sangeeta, who has taken the GMAT once, but plans to take it once more before applying to some of the rankings href=http://www.topmba.com/mba-rankings>top 50 business schools. Preparing for an exam [while in employment] is the biggest hurdle for most of the people [taking the GMAT].

Preparing for change

TopMBA.com has been assured by GMAC that example questions for the new integrated reasoning section will be released prior to the change in the exam. This will enable students to prepare for the new part of the test, but clearly with the hoards of preparation materials available for the current GMAT sections, such as our very own flashcards, students could well have problems preparing sufficiently.

GMAC's Walker takes the view that as long as the admissions test is relevant to what an MBA student needs to know in order to be successful, both on an MBA course and in their career, then that can only be a good thing. The integrated reasoning section of the GMAT will test peoples' ability to use information presented in multiple formats to evaluate actual business issues and problems. This is an essential business skill they may already be applying in the business world and a challenge most business people face every day, therefore it's entirely relevant to the GMAT and to their application for business school.

Business school view

This is an opinion that many business schools admissions departments  agree with. The skill sets that the Integrated Reasoning will help identify... are consistent with width=280material incorporated into MBA programs, explained Richard Powers, associate dean and executive director of MBA programs at the Rotman School of Management. Hopefully the new section will help identify strengths and weaknesses in this area and provide schools with more useful information to use in examining applicants.

Likewise, Paul Healy, international recruitment manager MBA at Vlerick Leuven Gent Management School makes the point that it would enable admissions departments to select candidates that are better suited to an MBA course. We use GMAT to predict a candidate's ability to succeed in both the academic and business arena. Anything that brings these closer together should be seen as a very good development.

Early adopters

Since GMAC works very closely with many of the business schools that accept the GMAT exam for student applications, it's no real surprise that the schools are happy with the outcome. The change will mean that schools will be able to enhance their understanding of what MBA applicants are capable of before they are accepted on to a course. In turn, this could create a greater MBA program completion rate for students.

However, what currently remains a worry is how the change will affect students who take the GMAT soon after the change. GMAC are certainly working hard to minimise potential problems for students through the introduction of the new section, but many seem to doubt the change will be a seamless one for early adopters of the new GMAT.

Ross Geraghty, managing editor of TopMBA.com and the TopMBA Career Guide, can understand both the worries and the advantages. The feedback on TopMBA.com about the new GMAT section has been mixed. Candidates can see the value of the new section but are concerned that, as the first takers of the new test, this may negatively affect their scores.

There's no evidence for this yet; indeed it is equally likely that the new test will positively affect their scores. What is important is that admissions people know that the section is new and will be able to compare one candidate's results against those of their GMAT-taking peers. It gives them a valuable new way to assess candidates, to find the right fit for them and they for the candidate, and this is a positive development I think.