Nearly all MBA programme candidates must submit one or more test scores along with their application, but which MBA entrance exam is most often required by the B-schools and universities offering the degrees? The short answer is that it all depends on the school, but what follows is some practical information on how to jump-start your research.
Purpose of the MBA entrance exam
Just as you will thoroughly evaluate the possible B-schools and universities for the best MBA programme for your needs, so will the schools evaluate you for your potential to succeed, both during their programme and afterwards. After obtaining your MBA degree, you become an ambassador of sorts for the school. Your success reflects well on the school – and on the programme, in particular – so it is only natural for schools to seek out those candidates with the skills and abilities necessary to do well in a rigorous academic environment. The typical way these schools evaluate your candidacy is by requesting – and, in some cases, requiring – you to submit the results of at least one standardised test.
The tests you will likely encounter fall into two categories. First, most MBA programmes are taught in English, so the schools must ensure that you have total mastery of the language, which includes reading, writing, and speaking English as well as understanding the spoken word. This is evaluated through the English language proficiency tests described below. Second, graduate schools – and certainly MBA programmes – want an assessment of your potential to do well in the programme, and they often use your scores on aptitude tests to estimate your chance of success.
English language proficiency tests
A non-native English speaker might experience great difficulty in an all-English degree programme as advanced and challenging as an MBA. To minimise a student’s risk of failure, a B-school or university may require a minimum score on one of the English language proficiency tests below. This requirement is frequently waived if a student comes from a country in which English is a native language or, in some cases, all courses in the applicant’s undergraduate programme were taught in English.
IELTS or TOEFL
The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) and the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) are far and away the most common standardised tests required by B-schools and universities to measure the English proficiency of international students. Each is roughly four hours long, with sections dedicated to testing a student’s ability to read, write, speak, and understand English. One of the main distinctions between the two tests is that the listening section (understanding the spoken word) of the IELTS is conducted with a live instructor and can be taken up to seven days before or after the structured exam, whereas the TOEFL tests your listening comprehension with recordings. In addition, the IELTS is still a pen-and-paper test while the TOEFL is administered entirely on a computer.
Students may take either of these tests at any one of thousands of testing centres around the globe, and the scores can be sent to any B-school or university you designate, either at the time you take the test or later (for an additional fee) if you find your shortlist of possible schools changes. Your scores are valid for up to two years and you can retake the test if necessary after the test has expired or if you need to improve your score for your MBA application. You can retake the TOEFL test as many times as you like as long as two tests are not within the same 12-day period. With the IELTS, your retakes are only limited by the available testing dates and times.
Though the content is very similar for the two tests, the scoring is quite different. The score range for the IELTS is 1 to 9, and the range for the TOEFL Internet Based Test (iBT) is 0 to 120. The fluency in English required by MBA programmes is usually reflected in a score of over 100 on the TOEFL iBT test and over 7 on the IELTS exam.
Other standardised tests of English – TOEIC, PTE, Cambridge
There are many other standardised tests on the market that measure students’ proficiency with the English language, among them the Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC), the Pearson Test of English (PTE), and the Cambridge English exams. You will need to check the specific requirements of a particular school, but in most cases B-schools will accept minimum scores from any of these common tests. For example, the HEC Paris (France) MBA programme provides a list of minimum accepted scores for each of the different tests.
Some schools may not rely exclusively on outside testing providers to measure English proficiency. For example, the Monash Business School (Australia) accepts minimum IELTS or TOEFL scores, but it also offers international students another option. They can successfully complete the Monash University English Language Bridging Programme in lieu of a standardised test.
Aptitude tests – GRE or GMAT
Acceptance into an MBA programme is based on many different factors, the strength of a candidate’s application being only one of them. Many B-schools or universities additionally require a minimum score on an aptitude test, such as the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT).
Both the GRE and GMAT test a student’s verbal and quantitative reasoning as well as analytical writing skills. Traditionally, the GMAT was the preferred (or only) standardised aptitude test accepted by B-schools and MBA programmes. In recent years, however, the GRE has become much more commonly accepted, and it has the benefit of being accepted by Master’s programmes in many different fields rather than just business or management. Alliance Manchester Business School’s Full-time MBA admissions requirements illustrate well the policy of many leading business schools:
The test score provides us with additional information to compare applications from around the world reasonably and objectively. The GMAT or GRE score is only one of our admissions criteria – we are looking for the ‘right fit’ for the unique Manchester MBA and we use all of the admissions criteria to make a decision. A very high score does not necessarily give a stronger chance of admission and a below-average score does not automatically eliminate a candidate. You need to have a balanced score on all parts of the GMAT. You should aim for a score of 600+. We will take into consideration the highest score you have achieved.
The average GMAT score of admitted students to some of the most competitive B-schools in the world can reach 730, so make an informed decision about the B-schools that you will target based on your test scores and overall profile.
Graduate Record Examination (GRE)
There are two types of GRE tests – the GRE General Test and GRE Subject Tests in biology, chemistry, literature in English, mathematics, physics, and psychology. Many B-schools accept the GRE General Test as an alternative to the GMAT. The score range for the GRE is 130 to 170, and the score is valid for five years. The test is administered on a computer in over 160 countries at over 1,000 locations. You can retake the exam up to five times in any 12-month period, with a minimum of 21 days between tests.
Check out: What Is the Value of the GRE?
Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT)
The GMAT test, as the name suggests, is targeted at applicants for business and management fields of study. It is a common requirement for MBA admission, but also for some Master’s degree programmes – e.g. in Finance. The GMAT shares many of the characteristics of the GRE, such as scores being valid for five years, but it is only available in about two-thirds the number of countries and locations. You can also retake the test up to five times in a 12-month period, but the minimum time between tests is only 16 days.
Some B-schools have their own aptitude test as part of their admissions requirements, either in addition to or in lieu of a GRE or GMAT score. For example, the Vlerick Business School (Belgium) has its own pass-or-fail admissions test, called the VBAT, or Vlerick Business Admissions Test. Students must pass this test in order to be accepted into Vlerick’s MBA programme, and they can only take the test once per academic cycle. Alliance Manchester Business School (UK) also has its own exam – the Manchester Admissions Test (MAT) – provided as an alternative to GMAT and GRE for MBA applicants. School tests are an excellent option for professionals applying only to that particular B-school. Standardised tests, however, will be a better option if you are applying to several schools.
MBA entrance exams exist to help schools evaluate candidates, but they also prepare you as well. Studying for these exams – whether for English proficiency or general aptitude – is an ideal way to estimate your own readiness for an MBA programme. Even if the exams are not required by the school you finally select, their practice tests and preparatory materials can polish your skills, and your exam scores can demonstrate your preparedness to admissions counsellors – and to you. In addition, high test scores improve your chances of merit scholarships. Last but not least, GMAT test scores may be taken into consideration by employers, especially in fields such as management consulting and finance.
So, you have a good number of reasons to commit to test preparation well ahead of your MBA application.
This article is original content produced by Advent Group and included in the 2017-2018 annual Access MBA, EMBA, and Masters Guide under the title “Testing Your MBA Skill Set”. The latest online version of the Guide is available here.