Usually taking the GMAT is one of the essential requirements for entering a business school. The standardised test, which most schools require for enrollment, measures the reasoning, analytical and problem-solving skills of candidates. Or, at least, so it claims. But some EMBA programmes allow prospective students to circumvent GMAT.

Candidates may look for a way around the test because it can be a time-consuming and burdensome part of the application process. In addition, a number of people may simply not be strong in taking standardised tests – there is a level of stress that negatively affects results during an exam. And furthermore, no testing system can ideally and objectively reflect the qualities of a person, despite the number of the excellent experts involved in its creation.

Why waiving it

Usually for MBA programmes the minimum period is 2-3 years, but often the students in a class may have worked for 6-7 years on average. A significant period, during which the ability to take tests in the classroom usually diminishes. This is why some schools decided to waive the GMAT as a requirement.

The MBA programme at the University of Birmingham (UK), accredited by EQUIS and AMBA, is an example of this. However, applicants for Birmingham must have at least five years of professional experience with evidence of management or three years with evidence of management of exceptional experience.

An increasing number of business schools also accept GRE in lieu of the GMAT. It consists of an Analytical Writing section - with two essays at 30 minutes each, Verbal Reasoning section, again with two 30-minute parts, two 35-minute Quantitative Reasoning sections, and a 30-35 minute experimental section - math or verbal. GRE scores are valid for five years, just as the GMAT's.

Developing own tests

Business schools which do not require GMAT for admission to an MBA are an exception, but in executive programmes this is nowadays the norm. In addition, some institutions have even developed their own tests instead. The EMBA admission test at INSEAD (France) for instance is comprised of five components. These are data analysis, data interpretation, communication analysis, critical thinking, and case presentation. How does it differ from GMAT? Examining questions from GMAT in order to prepare for the INSEAD test is likely to waste candidates’ time as the questions are different, says the business school: “The GMAT also tests many areas that the INSEAD test does not, and vice versa.” Each of the first four parts of the INSEAD EMBA Admissions Test has 15 questions and lasts for 30 minutes. In the fifth and final section the candidate has half an hour for preparation and 15 minutes to make a presentation. In data analysis and interpretation the emphasis is placed on mathematics in business-related situations and scenarios.

The communication analysis section is made up of analysis of passages and the critical thinking part is an assessment of the ability to solve a logic problem. The case study is a little more different – candidates are presented with a business scenario and have to make a presentation with three slides about the challenges and opportunities of this business. They also have to answer three questions and there are no right or wrong answers.

Manchester Business School (UK) also has its own test for their Global MBA programme. Just like the INSEAD EMBA Test, the Manchester Admission Test – in use since early 2012 – is not designed to pass or fail candidates as a standard test. It is made up of three parts. The first, characteristics of business success, evaluates one’s business psychology: leadership, motivation, creativity, and problem solving. The second, called business numeracy, tests the candidates’ numerical abilities and in the third – business reasoning in English – applicants have to compose a text of maximum 500 words on a business topic. The first part is not limited in time and takes about 20 minutes to complete, and the second and the third parts are limited to 20 minutes each.

A different reason for waiving the GMAT by business schools may be gaining a competitive edge in the competition for candidates. Some caution is needed here – an easier route to admission shouldn’t come at the expense of the quality of education. Prospective students should open their eyes, as avoiding the GMAT at all costs could ultimately prove not to be a very good deal.

Goodbye to GMAT? Not exactly

Executive programmes apply different approaches to the use of GMAT. In some places like UCLA it is mandatory, unless the candidate has a background in engineering, quantitative disciplines or work, or CPA or CFA certificates. At Seattle University (US) the test is also required but the programme director of the Executive MBA may decide that certain applicants do not need to take it.

Schools that still demand the test and cases like these do not give us the right to declare the EMBA a GMAT-free zone. But while the test is still the norm for MBA programmes, the trend in executive education is towards replacing it with more flexible methods of evaluation.