The Executive MBA programmes of all business schools around the world target professionals who are usually in their 30s and 40s. They have significant professional experience and a successful career track with the potential to step up in the career ladder. It is exactly this potential to develop further as well as their wealth of experience which admission committees take into account when considering applications.

This is the reason why many business schools have started to ease admission requirements. The criteria for eligibility to join an EMBA programme focus much more on the relevance of the candidate’s work experience and his/her previous academic achievements rather than on entrance exam scores. In the meantime, GMAT scores are still being used by nearly 1,300 graduate management programmes throughout the world and an estimated 900 schools require GMAT scores from their applicants, says the author of The Insider’s Guide to EMBA, Jason A. Price, MS and MBA and EMBA World director with the US non-for-profit organisation MBA World.

EMBA programmes draw students with an average age of 37 and 14 years of business experience. For this reason alone advocates of the waiver argue that the GMAT is not a valid test of the applicant's strengths. Instead, they say, schools should base decisions for enrollment on academic records and work history – something the GMAT cannot gauge. The list of schools which have dropped the GMAT requirement for their EMBA programmes includes Chicago Booth, New York University’s Stern School of Business (US), Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management (US), Ageno School of Business at Golden Gate University (US), Loyola’s Sellinger School of Business and Management (US), Thunderbird School of Global Management (US), and ESCP Europe. In a Financial Times discussion panel held last October, Betsy Ziegler, associate dean of MBA programmes and dean of students at Kellogg, explained why Kellogg dropped the GMAT requirement: “At Kellogg, we do not require the GMAT for admission. Given the average age of our EMBA students is 38, we heavily weigh the quality of an applicant’s work experience and their overall potential in our admission decision.”

On the opposite site there are schools which strictly stick to the GMAT requirement. There are more names on this list than on the list with schools that have dropped the GMAT. Supporters of the GMAT say the test is a standardised tool measuring verbal, mathematical and analytical writing skills, comparing one applicant to the next by means of an unbiased, quantitative measurement. It is also known as a tool for predicting the student’s performance in the first year of business school. London Business School says that the GMAT provides useful information about quantitative and verbal reasoning abilities. The test also gives a useful benchmark to judge applicants across degree subject, academic institution, and nationality.

There are some schools which offer the opportunity for students to waive the GMAT; such as the Spanish IESE Business School where generally the GMAT is required but may be waived with more than 15 years of work experience. In the middle, there is a third category of schools – schools which have introduced their own admission tests instead of the GMAT. The list includes Belgium’s Vlerick Business School, INSEAD (France), and HEC Paris. For instance, INSEAD offers the opportunity for its EMBA candidates either to present a GMAT result or go through its own INSEAD Admission Test which retains some elements of the GMAT, such as questions which measure quantitative and verbal reasoning skills and removes some of the more obscure measures of mathematical ability. The test includes more subtle language nuances, and in their place introduces “mini case studies” and a personal interview. INSEAD says that among the reasons behind this step is that the applicants to an EMBA programme have typically been out of school for much longer than their traditional MBA applicant counterparts. Measuring their ability to calculate permutations and combinations quickly may not be the best way to assess their potential as upper level managers.

At the end of the day, the candidate’s career track is what will ultimately influence the EMBA admission committee when considering application files. Scoring high on the GMAT does play a role in the acceptance process but it indicates just one of the many aspects to be taken into consideration. Work experience counts the most.