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Why fewer people are taking GMAT exam

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In testing year 2017, as many as 250,761 MBA aspirants took the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) exam; in 2021, it dropped to 156,453

First administered in 1954, the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) exam is relied on by more than 7,000 graduate programmes worldwide, and nine out of 10 new MBA enrolments globally are made using a GMAT score.

But over the last few years, the number of test takers has been decreasing.

According to data from the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), which owns and administers the GMAT, in the testing year (TY) 2017, as many as 250,761 MBA aspirants across the world took the GMAT, but in TY18 it dropped to 242,714, and further to 225,621 in TY19, 173,176 in TY20 and 156,453 in TY21.

In the US, which has the maximum number of people taking the GMAT historically, the number of people taking the GMAT has dropped by over 50% from 79,746 in TY17 to just 38,509 in TY21.

In China, the number of GMAT test takers has reduced from 68,906 in TY17 to 39,739 in TY21.

In India, the country which has the third largest GMAT exam takers, the number of aspirants dropped from 32,514 in TY17 to 32,425 in TY18 to 30,590 in TY19 and 26,129 in TY20, before increasing marginally to 27,445 in TY21.

Education analysts FE talked to said that the political dispensation in the US prior to 2020 and political events such as the Brexit brought about a lot of uncertainty across the globe, and GMAT exam takers rethought their higher education plans in those two countries.

“As many as 1,501 universities in the US accept or require GMAT scores for admission to their programmes, making the US the most preferred destination. The visa policies of the government in power from 2017-20, which placed restrictions on foreigners to work in the US, indirectly impacted those who were planning to study and work in the US,” said an analyst who didn’t wish to be named. “At the same time, while only 84 universities in the UK accept or require GMAT scores for admission to their programmes, the Brexit added to global uncertainly.”

But the biggest impact was the Covid-19 pandemic, which led to embassies shutting down, visas not being issued, flights stopped, and general chaos all over. With physical mobility severely affected, the number of test takers also dropped.

To add to that, until TY19, GMAT didn’t have an online exam option, and during the first lockdown in 2020 all GMAT physical test centres closed.

“Covid-19 took all of us by surprise. Soon after the first lockdown, we all started to realise Covid-19 is in for the long run. That was when GMAT introduced the online option,” Gaurav Srivastava, regional director, South Asia, Middle East & Africa, GMAC, told FE.

In TY20, just 5.4% of MBA aspirants across the world took the online GMAT exam, but this increased to 37% in TY21. “This proves that the online option is getting increasingly popular amongst exam takers,” Srivastava said.

He also believes that this year onwards the number of test takers will start rising. “The Covid-19 pandemic caused some amount of disruption in candidates’ plans to pursue management education in terms of delaying the decision-making due to uncertainties that were thrown up on account of travel restrictions, preference for in-person versus online learning and differing Covid-19 regulations across countries,” he said. “This delay also led to deferment towards GMAT test taking, which slowed down in 2020 but bounced back stronger than ever in 2021, once the situation improved and is presently on a firm growth path in 2022 as the aspiration for management education remains strong.”

GMAT taken by testing year

(Number of students)

Period TY17 TY18 TY19 TY20 (Online %) TY21 (Online %)

World 250,761 242,714 225,621 173,176 (5.4%) 156,453 (37%)

USA 79,746 73,556 63,945 45,648 (9.6%) 38,509 (45.3%)

China 68,906 71,223 70,473 50,686 (1.7%) 39,739 (16.6%)

India 32,514 32,425 30,590 26,129 (2.4%) 27,445 (42.1%)

(In April 2020, right after global lockdown due to Covid-19, the GMAT Online exam started, which will continue even as offline exam centres have reopened)

Source: Graduate Management Admission Council

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