Tag Archives: GMAT

GMAT Adds New Thinking Cap

Originally published By D.D. GUTTENPLAN, Published: May 17, 2012 @  The New York Times

Starting next month, prospective business school applicants who sit down to take the Graduate Management Admissions Test, or GMAT, may notice something different: Instead of a three-part exam testing verbal and mathematical skills and analytic writing ability, there will be a four-part exam with a new section devoted to integrated reasoning.

The new section is designed to test the ability to evaluate and synthesize data from various sources presented in a number of different formats, and to predict plausible and probable outcomes. It is also partly there for security purposes, as reports of cheating have risen.

Admissions officers evaluating the latest crop of applicants can expect the continuation of a trend that began about five years ago: a sharply rising proportion of applicants from mainland China. In 2007, just over 7,600 Chinese citizens or residents, or roughly 3 percent of the total, took the exam. In 2009, the number jumped to over 16,000, and it is expected to reach 45,000 next year, accounting for about 16 percent of the 280,000 applicants expected to take the test. That is in addition to thousands of test-takers from Hong Kong and Taiwan.

According to Alex Chisholm, director of statistical analysis for the Graduate Management Admission Council, or GMAC, the nonprofit consortium of business schools that develops and administers the GMAT, the growth in the numbers of Chinese applicants is a phenomenon that goes well beyond business schools.

“Schools around the world are seeing this coming into their pipelines,” he said.

Nor has the impact of globalization on business school admissions been confined to China.

India had more than 13,000 applicants in 2007, but “a rapid depreciation in the value of the rupee in 2009” meant that numbers remained relatively flat, Mr. Chisholm said, explaining that he was referring to “test years,” which run from June to June. “However, in the first 10 months of the 2012 test year, applications from India are up 16 percent.”

Students from the Asia-Pacific region are expected to make up 61 percent of the international applicants for full-time M.B.A. programs in United States, Mr. Chisholm said. He added that the new integrated reasoning section was intended partly in order to help assess the new, more global, candidate pool.

Ashok Sarathy, GMAC’s vice president in charge of the testing program, said the exam had undergone “a continuous evolution” since it was introduced in February 1954 by a group of nine business schools in the United States.

They included those at Harvard, Columbia, the University of Pennsylvania and Northwestern.

“In 1961, we added a section on data sufficiency to the quantitative reasoning section, asking candidates to decide whether the sample of data presented was sufficient to answer certain questions,” Mr. Sarathy said. “In 1976, we dropped a section on antonyms and analogies from the verbal reasoning section, and added a section on reading comprehension. In 1994, we added a component testing analytical writing ability.”

Today, the GMAT, which costs $250 regardless of location, is offered in 110 countries and accepted by 5,400 programs, including business schools and graduate programs in accounting, business, finance and management. In the United States, its most prominent competitor is the Graduate Record Examination, or G.R.E., which costs $160 in the United States and $190 overseas.

But “we have competitors in all markets,” Mr. Sarathy said.

Unlike the G.R.E., which is offered in electronic and paper-based versions, the GMAT is a computer-adaptive test, meaning that questions answered correctly are followed by more difficult questions, while mistaken answers are followed by easier questions. Also, unlike the G.R.E. or other standardized tests like that SAT, the GMAT does not allow skipping questions or modifying previous answers.

The final score is given on a scale of 200 to 800 derived solely from the mathematical and verbal portions of the test. In 2010, the mean score was 544, while 720 was the median score for students admitted to Harvard and the Wharton School, which is part of the University of Pennsylvania. The new section, which will be graded on a scale of one to eight, joins the analytical writing section, graded on a scale of zero to six, as “a separate data point” outside the composite score.

In part, the new section on integrative reasoning was a response to demand from business schools “asking for a way to evaluate a new set of skills,” Mr. Sarathy said.

“We did a survey of more than 740 faculty from schools all over the world,” he said. “As a result, we developed a set of questions aimed at testing the ability to synthesize information from multiple sources in order to solve complex problems. They also wanted candidates to be able to indicate what information was relevant, and not relevant, and to be able to evaluate which among a set of possible outcomes were the most likely.”

“In a globally competitive world, the ability to analyze data presented in different formats — for example, in tabular or graphical form, or in written summary — and to then identify where you might find a competitive advantage becomes increasingly important,” Mr. Sarathy added. He cited the recent movie “Moneyball” as an example of a spreading awareness of “the importance of Big Data — the ability to really understand the numbers, and to know what’s important and to discard what’s not important.”

Sample questions for the new section ask students to use a table of Brazilian agricultural exports to answer questions about world commodity production, select data from a Venn diagram on population data, and to answer a question about fuel economy based on a set of equations. All the questions require a reasonable degree of proficiency in reading English. Mr. Sarathy said, however, that “in this section, we’re not measuring English language skills.”

“Instead,” he said, “we’re using English as a medium to measure higher order reasoning and analytical skills.”

The new section, which will take 30 minutes to complete, replaces the essay writing component of the analytical writing portion. The total test time is unchanged at three and a half hours, or four hours including breaks.

“One factor that went into the design of the integrative reasoning questions was the need to enhance security,” Mr. Sarathy said.

The rise in applications to U.S. schools from overseas students has been accompanied by a reported rise in fraudulent credentials.

“We take very seriously our responsibility to design a test that is fair to all applicants which produces a score that is a true measure of their abilities,” Mr. Sarathy said.

All applicants are required to show proof of identity, but in some countries, passports are required.

“China isn’t the only country where there are security concerns,” Mr. Sarathy said. “But we do now send passport readers to some countries, including China, to verify the passports. We also require applicants to submit to a palm vein scan before the test scores are released in order to make sure candidates haven’t previously taken the test under a different name.”

In 2008, a Web site gained access to actual test questions on the GMAT and sold them. By providing the integrated reasoning data in a variety of formats, and using pull-down menus and tabs, “we can minimize the ability of candidates to memorize questions and reproduce them on Web sites,” Mr. Sarathy said.