The Rise of the GMAT Wars

There was an article in the Wall Street Journal about how the GMAT is slowly but authoritatively being dominated by international applicants. 

Not only is there an increasing number of international hopefuls taking the test, they are also performing remarkably better than US test-takers. 

The numbers are staggering. 

Test takers from America, in fact, now only make up about 36% of all GMAT hopefuls, which is down considerably over the past several years.  As a comparison, Asia-Pacific students now make up 44% of total test takers.

This, of course, makes applying to business school much more competitive for international students (since there are simply more applicants in the pool competing for slots), but it also makes things tougher for American applicants, mostly because the scores of these international applicants is considerably higher as well.  It has long been established through grade-school and high-school statistics that the Asian population dominates over the U.S. in mathematic performance.  Since business schools discovered a strong connection between GMAT quantitative scores and business school success, this translates into a distinct advantage for Asian applicants who perform well on the GMAT.  Again, the numbers are impressive (or depressing if you are from the U.S.). 

Asian test takers average 45 raw score on the quant portion of the GMAT, whereas U.S. test takers average just 33. 

This is a significant difference, and one that has sent U.S. students scrambling to catch up.  The boom in test-prep services is a stark indicator of this, and there is much ground still to cover.  Asian students, for example, put about twice as many hours into preparing for the GMAT students do in the U.S.

There is talk of bifurcating the test results from GMAT so the business schools in the U.S. can separate out scores by region. 

This would help U.S. students be more favorably compared to other students with a similar background and culture.  While it would not be fair to have two different scoring systems, it seems that GMAC is at least trying to help b-schools make better assessments on which students in the U.S. will be (comparatively) decent performers in their curriculum.

Of course the headline here, is twofold.  If you are an international applicant, you must have more than just a good GMAT score to differentiate yourself.  If you are an American applicant, you need to do whatever you can to press out a decent GMAT score in order to be competitive. 

The extra hours you put in will more than pay off if you end up being invited to join the school of your dreams, vs. being left out in the cold because your paper qualifications didn’t measure up. 


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