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The Problem With GMAT: It May Hurt African MBA Application Rates

The Problem With GMAT: It May Hurt African MBA Application Rates

The need for graduate business education is growing along with economic growth in African countries, and demand is high for African MBA candidates at business schools outside the continent.

Business schools in Europe want to diversify their classes and they know African talent can be formidable once they get the students in their programs, according to a report in Business Because, an online network for the world of business schools.

But scores for GMAT — which tests for admission to graduate management educational programs such as an MBA — are lagging for African MBA applicants compared to the global average. The African applicant pool is small.

African test takers struggle with the standardized GMAT admission test. They’re looking for alternatives and the market is providing.

African MBA students make up less than 5 percent of the class at London Business School and one reason is the GMAT, Business Because reported. The number of African GMAT test takers has stagnated over the past five years.

Same story at London-based Cass Business School, where 5 percent of the full-time MBA class is from Africa.

The U.S.-based owner of the GMAT, Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) has launched pilot tests for people interested in graduate management education in Africa. The idea is to establish common continent-wide admission standards for post-graduate studies, Moneyweb reported.

Based in Virginia, GMAC is an international nonprofit selling products and services to prospective students, colleges and universities. The GMAT is widely used by graduate business administration programs.


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But the GMAT is intended to assess certain analytical, writing, quantitative, verbal, and reading skills in written English. It requires knowledge of certain grammar and math. It does not measure business knowledge, skill, or intelligence, instead assessing analytical writing and problem-solving abilities, while also addressing data sufficiency, logic, and critical reasoning skills that it believes to be vital to real-world business and management success.

“We see that African candidates often avoid the (GMAT) test out of fear they cannot perform well,” said Ron Sibert, director of business development in Africa for GMAC.

The global average GMAT score in 2015 was 554 (out of a possible 800). In Africa, it was 450, according to Business Because. In Nigeria, the score was 415.

“African applicants don’t prepare for the GMAT effectively,” Sibert said. “For most Africans, test prep means memorizing. And that has no value on a reasoning and problem-solving test.”

The pilot test, already distributed to prospective African students registered with GMAC, is skewed toward quantitative reasoning, Moneyweb reported. It’s based on the NMAT — also by GMAC — an admissions exam used by a number of graduate business schools in India.

“Analysis of prior GMAT exams and preliminary NMAT performance suggests that quantitative reasoning poses a greater challenge for African students on average than their global peers,” Siebert said. “Based on interviews with educators across Africa, the early and sometimes tertiary education systems in most African countries provide less exposure to this type of reasoning than what exists in more developed regions. Verbal reasoning is less problematic. Therefore, initial phases of the pilot are focused on the areas that most likely would pose more significant design challenges.”

The intention is to provide an admission assessment that African schools can uniformly adopt to provide access to a broader segment of African students and be recognized outside of Africa, Sibert said.

Institutionalized rote learning means many high-achieving African MBA applicants struggle with the GMAT and look for alternative tests. A poor GMAT score can be a barrier between them and the world’s top schools, according to Business Because.

There are about 20 official GMAT test centers in all of Africa, with most testing concentrated in Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa. “We’d like to increase the number of test centers in smaller markets,” Siebert said.

In 2015, just 1.3 percent of GMAT test takers were based in Africa; 3,201 Africa-based applicants took the GMAT, compared to almost 110,000 in the U.S., 20,000 in Europe and 6,000-plus in Latin America.

Some African business schools accept both the GMAT and the GRE (Graduate Record exam). Madrid-based IE Business School, which has a Nigerian office, offers its own test. The IEGAT tests decision making, analytical skills and comprehension, and requires no prior preparation.

Many local tests use basic psychometric or internally developed admissions tests and some don’t require an entry exam at all, Moneyweb reported. The $250 cost of the GMAT exam is considered too expensive for their recruits.

A growing number of African students are taking the GRE, said Onyekachi Eke, head of IE Business School’s Lagos office.

“The GMAT is a less common assessment tool in my region and not widely known,” said Ivy Musora, a Zimbabwean MBA student at Maastricht School of Management in the Netherlands. “It’s difficult to locate its authorized exam centers and taking the exam involves travelling to a neighboring country which then increases inconveniences in time and cost.”

Despite low mean test scores recorded in many African countries compared to other parts of the world, Sibert said hundreds of Africans achieve high GMAT scores each year. They are admitted to top business schools around the world and perform as well or better than non-Africans. Of the prospective students in Africa who took the GMAT in 2014, 81 percent intended to study outside their country.

An Africa-wide admission test will help address fragmented admission standards across the continent and develop a strong management school community comparable with those in other parts of the world, Sibert said, according to Moneyweb. “African school adoption of a common admission assessment would be an important step toward Africa establishing a cohesive, globally-recognized graduate management school community.”