MIT’s Sloan School of Management has opted to waive the GMAT and GRE requirement for the 2020-2021 MBA admissions cycle. While the school maintains that standardized tests are important to the evaluation process, the challenges brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic are too numerous and widespread to justify the requirement for candidates.
Some schools chose to waive the standardized testing requirements during the spring and summer rounds of 2020 due to limited testing accessibility. While the GMAT and GRE are now online for many, they are not available in all areas, nor do all users have the technology necessary to access them.
Sloan’s guidelines state that an application received without standardized test scores will be reviewed “without negative inferences,” while at the same time offering alternatives to the exams. Students may submit GRE and GMAT scores that have expired, other exam results such as MITx, CORe or MBAMath, or grades from non-degree coursework. Sloan is also accepting certifications like the CPA or CFA to offer candidates a way to demonstrate their quantitative skills capability and make their case in the admissions process.
Graham Richmond, Co-Founder of Clear Admit, noted, “This move from MIT Sloan is consistent with what we saw in the late rounds of the 2019-2020 application cycle, where many schools waived the GMAT and GRE for applicants in recognition of the inherent challenges presented by COVID-19. As such, it makes sense for MIT Sloan to be flexible here.”
Shifting Standards for Standardized Tests
While MIT Sloan’s is the first major MBA program to make the GMAT and GRE optional altogether, other institutions have been adjusting their requirements for standardized tests in admissions. MBA programs at Keenan-Flagler and Darden have already been offering test waivers for candidates based on criteria like professional milestones, certifications, and “demonstrated quantitative strengths.” The reasoning for these waivers is that test scores may not be a necessary data point for certain candidates who are able to offer other evidence of their aptitude to excel in an MBA program.
McCombs School of Business provides a waiver for students who can demonstrate they have been unable to sit for the GMAT or GRE in person or at home, while Kellogg and INSEAD are giving candidates extra time by allowing them to apply without the scores but requiring their submission later in the matriculation process. NYU Stern and Michigan Ross announced earlier this semester that starting in 2021-2022, they would accept the LSAT, MCAT and DAT (and in the case of Ross, the PCAT) in addition to the GMAT and GRE.
What Will the Impact Look Like?
The move by Sloan may well result in a boost in applications. Many in the online student community are speculating that the change is addressing a drop in applicants that may be due to lack of access to the exams as well as international applicants deciding against pursuing their degree in the U.S. Current applicant and Reddit user Queenofmeta commented on her own experience, “…As an international applicant, buying the resources was expensive, and I was lucky to be able to afford giving it twice. Not everyone has the luxury.” Further at issue is whether this change will make it harder for an MBA applicant who isn’t stellar on paper to stand out without exceptional test scores. Redditor and prospective MBA student CoralineDickinson commented on the announcement, “Not sure if this will give an advantage to standard MBA applicants with little differentiation in their profiles.”
However, a broader conversation around the merits of standardized testing is taking place at all levels of education. Academics and education professionals have been researching issues with standardized tests for decades, citing bias in the construction of exams, advantages to those who can afford expensive test prep, the inability of the exams to evaluate non-verbal forms of learning, and demonstrated limitations in predictive power over ability or success.
As to whether or not schools will see pandemic-related testing issues as an opportunity to reconsider standardized testing requirements, time will tell. As Richmond notes, “There has been a lot of debate over assessment, standardized testing, and the entire admissions process at the undergraduate level in recent years as admissions professionals work to assess EQ, leadership potential, grit, and other traits less easily measured by an exam. As such, while business schools are waiving the test in light of the pandemic, they may also be using this crisis as an opportunity to really reflect on the role the tests play in admissions and how the assessment process may look going forward.”