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WORLD BUSINESS

Testing time for schools, students

GMAT offers standard assessment tool

By Ian Grayson for CNN

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The Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) is used by about 1500 U.S. and international schools.

FACT BOX

FT's Executive MBA Rankings
1. Wharton, U.S.
2. Kellogg, U.S.
3. Chicago GSB, U.S.
4. Stern, NY, U.S.
5. Fuqua, Duke, U.S.
6. Hong Kong UST, China
7. Columbia, U.S.
8. Instituto de Empresa, Spain
9. London Business School, UK
10. Tanaka, Imperial College, UK
Source: Financial Times 2005

FACT BOX

EMBA SNAPSHOT

Executives taking the top EMBA courses in the U.S., Europe and Asia have average salaries of around $130,000 to $200,000.

A typical EMBA student is likely to be aged in the early 30s, with 6-10 years of working experience.

A top EMBA course can cost $100,000. Customized courses start at a few thousand dollars.

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Schools

(CNN) -- While executive education students go to great lengths to select the most appropriate business school for their degree, the schools themselves also assess prospective candidates to maximise their chance of success.

Top-flight schools are judged on the calibre of their graduates, so ensuring incoming students have the academic skills and aptitude necessary to complete what are very demanding courses is important.

Because a large proportion of graduate students have spent some years in the workforce after completing their tertiary studies, it can be difficult to assess their propensity for success in a new academic environment.

With the curriculum of the MBA and other management courses presenting students with a punishing schedule and the requirement to absorb large amounts of information very quickly, it is vital that candidates have a solid foundation in basic academic skills.

To provide an accurate and impartial test of such attributes, a growing number of business schools are using the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT).

First devised by a small group of schools in 1953, the test has grown to the point where it is now used by more than 1500 schools throughout the United States and around the world.

Operation of the GMAT test is overseen by the not-for-profit Graduate Management Admission Council.

GMAC president and CEO David Wilson says the test was undertaken on paper until 1997 when it switched to a fully computer-based system. Last year, more than 207,000 people sat for the test around the world.

"Students pay $250 to sit the test and the results are provided to schools that subscribe to them," says Wilson.

Students can also opt to have their name included in the Graduate Management Admissions Search Service. This service provides listings of students to schools which are then able to contact them directly to offer placements.

The GMAT test does not attempt to measure a candidate's knowledge of business or any subjective qualities such as motivation and interpersonal skills. Rather, it focuses on assessing elements such as essential mathematical, analytical and verbal skills.

Skill sets

The test comprises a number of sections, each designed to assess a particular skill set required by MBA candidates. Together they provide an accurate profile of each candidate and their likelihood of success in their chosen course.

In the GMAT's qualitative section, students are assessed on their ability to interpret data, conduct quantitative reasoning and undertake basic mathematical tasks, including geometric problems and algebraic equations.

The test also covers the candidate's ability to reason and evaluate and formulate logical arguments. This section comprises questions that ask participants to critically assess an argument and determine whether it supports its final conclusion.

Other areas covered by the test include reasoning, analytical writing, issue analysis and verbal comprehension.

Wilson says the test is standard around the world and has been designed to adapt in response to answers given by candidates.

"The first multi-choice question is at a standard level," he says. "If a candidate gets that right then they are offered a more difficult question. If not, they are given an easier question. This ends up giving an accurate indication of a person's capabilities."

The essay writing component of the test is read by both a human and a computer. If they disagree by more than one point on the result, the essay is then referred to a second human reader.

"Interestingly, there tends to be a higher correlation in the results given by the third reader and the computer rather than the third reader and the second reader," says Wilson. "The system works well."

After undertaking their test, candidates can nominate up to five business schools to which they want their final scores sent. If a candidate wants his or her scores sent to more schools, an administration fee is applied.

As well as its flagship test, GMAC is also involved in staging regular professional development programs for business school staff and offering career assessment services to students prior to their entry into MBA courses.

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