Minorities and the GMAT

A few weeks ago, co-founder Akil Bello presented the above topic at GMAC’s Annual Industry Conference. The session was well attended and garnered positive responses from many of the industry professionals in attendance.

With over 20 years of test-preparation experience, as well as a focus in the last 10 on helping underrepresented minorities excel at standardized tests, Akil was well-positioned to provide the insights interested parties where there to hear. After significant research, and analysis of a wealth of survey data provided by GMAC, Akil brought his observations and conclusions to sunny San Diego.

In assembling information for the presentation, Akil found some interesting trends that both minority test-takers and admissions officers should be aware of:

  • On average, URMs score lower than their white and Asian counterparts, as much as 130 points lower.
  • URM test-takers and business school applicants also tend to be older.
  • URM test-takers also tend to be predominately female, and are more likely to have families than are their non-URM counterparts.

This information begins to paint a clearer picture of who URM test-takers are, and more importantly, begins to clarify why there may be a gap in scores between URMs and non-URMs.

Because URMS are often older, they are more likely to be further removed from the fundamental concepts tested on the GMAT, as well as formal academic settings that, in part, breed testing success.

Even more interesting is what Akil found about how URMs perceive and/or find out information about business school-related topics:

  • Both Hispanics and African-Americans perceive the GMAT as a barrier to business school admission, while whites have no such perception.
  • URMs, particularly African-Americans, are more likely to get information about business school from objective sources such as school websites, and less likely to get subjective insights from friends and family as whites and Asians do.

With regard to the GMAT specifically, Akil indicated that URMs retake the GMAT more frequently, retake tests later, and, and report more hours invested in preparation than do their non-URM counterparts. All of these findings seem paradoxical in light of the fact that URMs generally score lower on the test. However, upon closer examination this data indicates that a likely setback to URMs is ineffective planning and preparation for the GMAT, as well as a potential lack of exposure or knowledge about the test and its role in the business school application process.

As many business schools are seeking to increase the number of qualified URM candidates in their programs, Akil offered a number of steps they might take to help this become a reality:

  • Address Your Audience – if URMs often come from a different demographic, with characteristics distinct from those generally considered qualified candidates, efforts must be made to bridge the gap between the two. If URMs get information about business school and the GMAT from sources you are not yet fully utlizing, upgrading information disseminated from those sources might help better inform and encourage.
  • Be Clear on the GMAT – because URMs often get their information about the GMAT from the internet (which is often full of inaccurate and subjective descriptions), business schools would do well to clarify online how they use the GMAT and how people can/should approach preparation for it.
  • Go Where They Are – to reach a wider pool of potential candidates, business schools might need to seek out URMs in places not traditionally tapped. Among these are professional and Greek organizations, and diversity events.
  • Get to Them Early – While generally spending more time preparing for the GMAT, URMs garner lower scores on average. To help combat this – and thereby help people become better candidates – the earlier schools can reach potential candidates and inform them of how the GMAT is used and how to prepare for it, the better chance URMs have of approaching the whole process in a more effective manner.
  • Address the GRE – many people with difficulties on the GMAT often look to the GRE as a potential alternative. With more programs accepting the GRE in lieu of the GMAT, this is becoming even more likely. The problem is that it’s often even less clear to potential candidates how the GRE is viewed in business school admissions offices.

Clearly there are still significant distinctions between URMs and non-URMs in terms of how they acquire information about business school, how they perceive aspects of the application process, and how they view, prepare for, and take the GMAT. But with better, more effective dissemination of information, these distinctions can be mitigated, and help better prepare more URMs to become more viable business school candidates. It would seem that both admissions offices and applicants have this vested interest in common, which is as good a starting point as any.

Click here to view the GMAC summary of the session.

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  • Suman

    Great article!

    “The problem is that its often even less clear to potential candidates how the GRE is viewed in business school admissions offices.”

    How IS the GRE viewed in the admissions offices? students are told officially that schools accept both… is this true?

  • http://www.bellcurves.com Akil Bello

    Many schools accept both. The big problem is that the GRE is a less known quantity and by most measures the quant is easier, so bschools are forced to try to adjust the comparisons between the two test to equalize it. Also candidates who take the GMAT and don’t do well but then take the GRE might be perceived as quitting. There are no firm answers.. the best advice i can give you is choose the test that works best for your goals, prepare fully so it showcases your skills, and take it as few times as possible.

  • Kaylabaker09

    This is a great, informative article.

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