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Report: Test-Optional Policies Result in Increased Student Diversity

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Test-optional admission policies have resulted in increased application numbers and student diversity at many business schools, according to a recent report by the MBA Roundtable and Wiley. Jeff BieganekJeff Bieganek

“Test-Optional Admission Policies and The Impact on Graduate Management Education,” surveyed and collected the input of 116 deans, directors, faculty, and staff at 107 graduate business schools – a mix of public schools and private, non-profit schools – in September and October 2022.

“Graduate business programs have eased requirements for cognitive-based standardized testing for admissions in recent years,” the report noted. “Most programs reporting do not require a standardized test score as a part of the admissions process for all incoming students. Only one in five (20%) fulltime MBA programs require test scores of all applicants, which is the greatest for all program types.”

Academic leaders surveyed included those from schools such as Arizona State University; Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Ball State University; Miami University; University of Texas at Austin; Michigan State University; University of Toronto; New York University; North Carolina State University; and Northeastern University.

“The roundtable [focuses] on graduate management business curriculum … what’s going on in MBA programs, specialized Master’s credentials, and what innovations are taking place,” said Jeff Bieganek, executive director of the MBA Roundtable. “We’d been hearing that programs have been going test-optional in their admissions process, so we were curious to know what changes schools were seeing because of that decision, how it was impacting their curriculum, and what sort of things they may need from us and our partners like Wiley to help them be ready and provide the services and the curriculum that the students need.”

The report indicated that 60% reported increased diversity in the racial/ethnic make-up of its incoming class, while 44% reported more gender diversity. Additionally, 43% reported increased diversity of academic background of its incoming class and 49% said there was more diversity in career backgrounds.

Due to test-optional policies, application volumes to business programs rose for most respondents, the study found.

Researchers also found that approximately 20% saw positive impact in certain job skills: leadership, social influence, creativity, originality, and initiative. However, for 20% of respondents, skills often measured on standardized exams – such as complex problem-solving – were negatively impacted by going test-optional.

And to note, the vast majority of respondents – approximately 70-80% – reported that test-optional policies have had no effect on job skills.

“I think it provides evidence and data to what we would’ve suspected, which is that the GMAT is not a particularly useful instrument for doing business school admissions,” said Harry Feder, executive director of FairTest, a national organization that focuses on issues related to fairness and accuracy in student test taking and scoring. “What was interesting to me is that, in some of the key skills one would want in someone in the business world, actually test-optional policies got the respondent business schools a better class, if you will, based on those very important metrics.”

Stacy WristonStacy WristonOn average, three annual admission cycles have gone by since programs went test-optional, according to the report. But “test-optional” can mean different things for different institutions, said Stacy Wriston, director of marketing and business development at Wiley.

“‘Test-optional’ looks very different depending on the schools themselves,” Wriston said. “It can mean you’re able to apply to the school and be admitted perhaps without passing like a GMAT or GRE, but if you’re looking for scholarships or financial aid … grants, then that ‘test-optional,’ there’s [exceptions] to some of that. ‘Test-optional’ is such a broad term.”

Feder also said that standardized testing for business schools in particular may not make much sense.

“I think it’s also a little ridiculous for business schools to use a standardized test when so many people who are applying to business schools have already been in the work world for a few years, so you have a base of experience, you certainly have an undergraduate record,” Feder said. “I think what these business school deans are finding is that the standardized instrument, the GMAT, basically adds nothing to their ability to get good candidates for the schools and to create a class of candidates that will be both successful in business — and perhaps will be moral in business ,” he said, adding that he believes that the GMAT “actually deters applicants from applying.”

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