Today the GMAT, which originated in America, is used as an entry requirement by most American business schools and has spread around the world. It is worth pointing out right away, however, that not all the good schools insist on the GMAT, and those which do, take other factors into account as well.
Combining computerised multiple choice questions and a couple of essays, it is more of an IQ test and does not require students to master a body of knowledge. Instead it measures the ability to read, understand and reason logically in verbal and quantitative terms.
Many of the leading business schools in Europe, for example the London Business School, the Rotterdam School of Management and INSEAD in France, require MBA entrants to have achieved high GMAT scores - in the order of 500 to 700.
At the London Business School student scores range from 600 to 800. According to Claire Harniman, one of the school's admissions officers, the test is a good indicator of how a student will perform during the first year of an MBA.
But a good GMAT score is by no means the only factor the school will take into account. LBS also requires a good undergraduate degree, three years work experience and references.
At Bath's School of Management, by contrast, students do not necessarily have to sit the GMAT. Here interviews with prospective candidates are the key element in the selection process. Anthony Birts, director of the MBA programmes, says:
"We can get a feel for their interpersonal skills, whether the experience they have appears to be useful and what they will be giving to the programme."
The school does, however, ask candidates to sit the test if it has any doubts about their ability to do the work."If I have a UK applicant with a good first degree from a good university and they have had good work experience and what you would expect in the way of promotions and I find them strong in communications skills, I really do not feel that the GMAT has an awful lot to add to that process," says Mr Birts.
"We have had people with a very low GMAT score, somebody we liked at interview, and taken a risk. And they have ended up with a distinction.
The University of Warwick's Business School requires all students to have sat either GMAT or the school's own test, the Warwick Test. The business school is looking for an average GMAT score of around 610 but this must be evenly balanced between achievements in the numerical and verbal sections, says Pauline O'Sullivan, MBA Admissions Officer.
"GMAT is a good indicator but cannot be relied on for every student. We have made exceptions for students with scores of slightly below 610 on the basis of strengths in other areas. And these students have gone on to graduate with distinction."
Edinburgh University's management school does not insist on GMAT but a number of applicants have taken the test, according to Richard Kerley, director of the full-time MBA.
"GMAT tests give some indication," he says. "But somebody who may score very highly in GMAT may not necessarily score as well in the overall assessment for the MBA course."
Anyone wanting to take the GMAT test should ring the international registration centre for UK candidates in the Netherlands on 00312-635 21577. Tests, costing pounds 118, are conducted every month in London, Manchester, Cardiff, Belfast and Swanage.
To see what you are in for, you can obtain sample tests in GMAT Information Bulletins, also on the above number.
You can enrol on courses with GMAT crammers such as The Studyworks in Queens Gardens, London W2. Tel 0171-258 0417
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