GMAT Testing Volume: Flat in the U.S., Up in Asia

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The number of people taking the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) is on the rise this year, bolstered by a surge of people trying to take the GMAT exam before the addition of a new section several months ago, as well as by growing interest in the business programs from students outside of the U.S. GMAT testing volume in the U.S. is basically flat.

The number of GMAT exams administered in the year ending June 30 hit 286,529, up 11 percent from the previous year, according to the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), which administers the GMAT. Test-takers sent 831,337 GMAT score reports to 5,281 management programs around the world, a record high, GMAC said. The vast majority of those score reports, or 560,000, were sent to MBA and EMBA programs, with the remaining 240,000 scores being sent to other business master’s degree programs.

A report last week released by GMAC showed that application volume was making a comeback at many business programs, most markedly at MBA programs outside the U.S and at specialty master’s degree programs. That was not the case for full-time, two-year U.S. MBA programs, where nearly two-thirds of schools reported a decline in applications.

As with application volume, the increase in testing volume appears to be driven by similar factors, primarily a growth in non-U.S test-takers and a spike in the number of them applying to non-MBA programs.

“I think it shows the geographic mobility of graduate students today, and it is typical that you will see graduate students following economic trends where employment opportunities occur,” said James Bradford, chair of GMAC’s Board of Directors and dean of Vanderbilt University’s Owen Graduate School of Management, in an interview. “As a consequence, the growth that we are seeing is very nice, and I think it will continue.”

Tests taken by non-U.S. citizens rose 19 percent in 2012, representing 59 percent of global GMAT testing volume. Chinese test-takers now make up the second-largest citizen group taking the GMAT, after U.S. residents. This year the Chinese continued to account for an increasing share of the testing market, with 58,196 taking the GMAT exam—a 45 percent increase from last year. Indian citizens, who make up the third-largest testing group, took 30,123 GMAT exams, a 19 percent jump from 2011.

“Asia is sort of going gangbusters. It has played a pretty large role across the board over the last couple of years in terms of volumes,” said Rich D’Amato, GMAC’s vice president of global communications.

Globally, more women continue to be drawn to business programs. This year, 42.9 percent of GMAT test-takers were female, marking the third straight year women racked up record-level volume.

“I think this is a delightful development,” Bradford said. “Law and medicine have long had higher levels of female practitioners and graduate students than business, so I’m glad to see this happening in business programs.”

The testing-volume figures may be good news for GMAC, but it is unclear whether they will have any impact on sagging application numbers at two-year, full-time MBA programs in the U.S, which have started losing ground to alernative business programs, including online MBAs and specialized master’s degrees.

GMAC declined to supply data on U.S. testing volume, but the numbers it provided allow anyone with basic math skills to do the reckoning. In the year ending June 30, according to Bloomberg Businessweek‘s calculations, 117,417 U.S. test-takers took the GMAT, a year-over-year increase of about 1 percent, or 1,400 additional tests. Since the bulk of applicants to U.S. full-time MBA programs are domestic applicants, it seems unlikely that the application drought will soon disappear.

The news isn’t all grim, though. Several U.S. metro areas experienced increases in GMAT testing, including New York (where testing volume was up 8 percent), Los Angeles (8 percent), and Washington (10 percent), GMAC said.

Another reason testing volume may have risen this year was the impending addition on June 5 of the new Integrated Reasoning section of the GMAT. Eager to avoid the exam’s new section, many test-takers rushed to take the old version before the new one went into effect just weeks before the June 30 close of GMAC’s 2012 testing year.

A student’s GMAT score is valid for five years, so it is unclear whether the spike in global GMAT volume will translate into a flood of B-school applications from international test-takers next year or several years down the line.

“At this point, there are an awful lot of people in the pipeline,” D’Amato said.

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