Correlated to the growth of international students and women interested in business education, and the changes to the test, the Graduate Management Admissions Council announced Sunday that 2012 was a record year for the GMAT exam. A total of 286,529 GMAT exams were taken, with 831,337 score reports sent to 5,281 graduate business and management programs around the world — all historic highs.
GMAT exam volume for the 2012 testing year (July 1, 2011, to June 30, 2012) was up 11% from the 2011 testing year, and 8% higher than the previous record of 265,613 in 2009.
In February, GMAC’s world geographic trend report, which compares data from 2007 to 2011, showed that in the five-year span East and Southeast Asia saw the largest increase in GMAT scores submitted at 67%. The growth in these markets also pointed to another trend supported by the study – more international students are taking the GMAT. In 2011, 55% of test scores were from non-U.S. citizens. In total, 2011 saw the third highest annual total of GMAT exams taken at 258,192.
“Both internationally and domestically, there’s a lot of diversity in work experience and age (in test takers),” said Andrew Mitchell, Kaplan Test Prep‘s director of pre-business programs. “What tends to set apart test takers from China and India, for example, is much higher quantitative performances on the GMAT, leading to overall higher overall performance.”
GMAT tests taken by non-US citizens rose 19% in 2012 and represented 59% of global GMAT volume. Chinese test takers, the second-largest citizenship group after the U.S., represented 20% of global testing. In 2012, the number of exams taken by Chinese citizens increased 45% to 58,196 exams. Indian citizens, the third-largest citizenship group, took 30,213 GMAT exams, a figure that increased 19% in 2012.
“If business schools went solely on GMAT scores, they could very easily fill their classrooms with students from China and India,” said Mitchell. “The good news for U.S. applicants, the GMAT rewards balanced performance. If a test-taker scores in the 90th percentile in the quantitative and verbal section, the score would be much better than if they scored in the 95th percentile in quantitative and 70th percentile in verbal. Going for balance will set any candidate apart, regardless of where they are from.”
Mitchell also says another difference between domestic and international test takers is where people want to work after business school.
“For MBA students in the U.S., the adage is ‘study in the same country you’d like to work in’,” said Mitchell, noting that concept doesn’t always hold true for international students. “Many U.S. schools’ brand names extend around the world, and students are coming to the U.S. coming for just the degree.”
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The trend report also found that the percentage of women taking the exam hit 41% worldwide in 2011, a new record and the percentage of exams taken by people younger than 25 rose from 37% in 2007 to 44% in 2011. Sunday’s announcement mirrors this trend, finding the percentage of exams taken by women hit 42.9% in 2012—a record for the third straight year.
In the East and Southeast Asia region (which includes China), the proportion of women taking the exam increased from 48% in 2007 to 57% in 2011, the sharpest growth for any world region during that period. In addition, the proportion of the region’s examinees who are younger than 25 nearly doubled during the period, growing from 32% to 61%.
“Today’s global students — who may be a citizen of one country, study in second and choose to work in a third — recognize the significance and the superiority of the GMAT exam in gaining admission to the best management programs around the world,” said David Wilson, GMAC president and CEO in the weekend’s release. “The record volume reflects an increase in graduate-level business and management programs that use GMAT exam to support their admissions decisions, in both MBA and other programs.
“Business and management skills are needed more than ever in an ever increasing variety of organizations. Business schools have responded by offering a deeper portfolio of programs to meet these diverse needs,” Wilson said.
Mitchell echoes this trend.
“In the domestic market, certain MBA options are still growing at a good clip,” said Mitchell. “Flexible options, like part-time programs, are on the rise and I no reason to think that is going to change. It’s really good news, because the more flexible the programs are, the more possible it is for people to get MBA training.
“The perception that part-time programs are lower caliber already has begun change and will continue to as the decision becomes more a choice of convenience rather than the caliber of program.”
The record volume partially reflects increased interest in the exam brought on by the addition of the integrated reasoning section on June 5. Historically, test volume rises just before changes are made to a standardized exam as test takers opt for a familiar format at the transition.
“I think people wanted to beat the timing of the integrated reasoning section,” said Mitchell. “Test taking is high, but applications have been cooler. MBA application volumes (in the U.S.) tend to be countercyclical – when the economy is down, applications tend to go up, as the economy, applications tend to decrease.
“In the U.S. as a whole, the economy has shown some positive some recovery, so applications, as expected, went down. Most students apply to business school within a year of taking the test, so I’d expect to see applications improve.”
Mitchell believes that after reviewing GMAT test taken June 2012-June 2013, which will reflect the new integrated reasoning section, we’ll get a truer sense of a developing trend.
–Alanna Stage, @AlannaTweets