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The Case for Objective Evaluation of Talent_GMAC_3
attached file : GMAC_Feb 2021.docx

The Case for Objective Evaluation of Talent

Posted by Sangeet Chowfla
Sangeet Chowfla is the president and chief executive officer of the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC)

Posted on Jan 18, 2021 1:40:04 PM

The disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, along with the imperatives of the racial justice movement, have reignited the debate about the use of standardized testing as an admissions instrument for Graduate Management Education (GME) programs. 

There are generally three arguments put forward by the proponents of the no-test or test-optional movements: 1) that standardized tests lack validity and predictive ability correlated to real-world performance in academic programs and that undergraduate GPAs (UGPA) combined with a holistic admissions process are an effective substitute; 2) that dropping the use of standardized testing would decrease racial and gender disparities in admitted cohorts; and 3) that standardized tests are biased against historically underrepresented communities, undermining our societal goals of equality. These arguments are well intended but are either not backed up by empirical evidence in GME or, when data is cited, such data is generally drawn from undergraduate admissions and tests such as the SAT/ACT rather than graduate level admissions tests such as the GMAT.

On the contrary, a close reading of the data shows that use of the GMAT in GME admissions is an effective tool for the admissions professional and reduces subjectivity and the potential for underlying bias. The data also shows that the GMAT provides a more accurate predictor of performance than other available data such as the UGPA, particularly in constructing a diverse classroom. Reliable test scores reflect objective, science-based data that an experienced admissions professional can use to complement their judgement about an applicant’s merits and fit within the GME program under consideration. In doing so, they provide an objective anchor point that is free of the variations of GPA across systems and countries and the unconscious biases that may be inherent in even the best trained admissions professional. It is the science that complements the art.

The GMAT has demonstrated predictive power and other available data, such as undergraduate GPAs, are ineffective substitutes.

A common argument against standardized tests is that they lack predictive validity and that other data, such as the UGPA, are effective substitutes. This is not backed by empirical evidence. On the contrary, recent studies1 have shown the UGPA to be an unreliable indicator for GME programs, largely due to the wide variability of GPA scoring across the US and the inherent differences that exist across the globe. As the tables below illustrate, the incremental contribution of the GMAT over the UGPA in predicting classroom success in US GME programs is significant across racial groupings of US citizens and amongst the region of origin for international students.For African Americans, the UGPA seems to have no predictive ability and all such predictive validity comes from GMAT scores.

The incremental predictive value of the GMAT also increases with age, the raw predictive value of the UGPA declines as the population gets older while the incremental predictive value of the GMAT increases. As time passes, classroom grades such as the UPGA seems to have lesser relevance. This is of importance to programs designed for a post-experienced student base.

GMAT test taking diversity closely mirrors the mix of undergraduate degree holders in the US

Another common argument against the use of standardized tests is that their test taking populations do not adequately reflect the racial mix that schools are looking for in their classrooms. This is the result of an incomplete reading of the data. It is true that the racial mix of the GMAT (and GRE) test taking population is not representative of the US population overall. For example, African Americans in the 20-34 age group comprise 14 percent of their age cohort but only 8 percent of GMAT test takers (and a similar 9% for GRE). What is left out in this comparison is the fact that African Americans comprise 9 percent of bachelor’s degree holders in the US and, since a bachelor’s degree is a pre-requisite of graduate education, that and not the overall population mix is the appropriate benchmark.

Analyzed further, data shows that the GMAT test taker mix in the US is more diverse – with the lowest percentage of test taker who are white Americans – 59 percent for the GMAT, 65 percent for GRE, and 69 percent amongst the bachelor’s degree universe.

This is not to diminish the importance of the gap in college attainment that the falloff from 14 percent to 9 percent for African Americans represents, and what it says about the progress that we, as a society, still need to make in order to achieve greater equality in America. It’s just that graduate admissions tests reflect current reality today. Waiving them will not change this picture – graduate schools would still recruit from the population that has a bachelor’s degree, not the entire population - but could have the unintended consequence of introducing more bias as we will discuss later.

The GMAT is designed so that each test item is free of racial bias


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