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July 2012

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Using GMAT Test Prep to Boost Your Applicant Pool

Among the ways schools can draw more applicants with high GMAT scores is to help applicants raise those scores.

Schools around the world use GMAT test preparation to attract more and better applicants. The Graduate Management Admission Council does not hold test prep courses, nor does it endorse any specific test prep courses or companies. But GMAC does recognize that doing well on the exam helps students better prepare for business school, said Eric Chambers, GMAC school research and relations director.

“GMAC’s relationship with test prep companies is to make sure their information about the test is accurate and transparent,” he said. “GMAC does copyright GMAT test questions and publishes retired questions in official test prep materials, but we do not license material for others.”

At GMAC’s Annual Conference in Chicago, Chambers moderated a panel in which representatives of three very different schools with very different student populations shared how they take very different approaches to using GMAT prep to improve their applicant pool.

J. Mack Robinson College of Business, Georgia State University

Over the past decade, the Robinson school has built its GMAT preparation course from a pilot program aimed at executive MBA applicants into a revenue-producing program with 17 classes delivering better applicants to EMBA, MBA, and MS programs.  The US$625 course, which includes 28 hours of instruction and a textbook written by the course instructor, Gary Cohen, draws 500 students a year. Half the students apply to the Robinson school, and 40 percent are accepted, said Toby McChesney, assistant dean of graduate recruiting and student services.

The Robinson school has found that 30 percent of the students need a basic math skills refresher, McChesney said. Students are told from the start that just showing up won’t raise their scores, but students who’ve worked hard
have raised their scores 60 to 120 points from an initial practice test.

Graduate School of Management, Kent State University

Located in a college town in northeast Ohio and drawing a substantial number of first-generation college students, Kent State started a GMAT program in 2009 to help students who don’t have a lot of money or the time to travel to a commercial test prep program, said Louise Ditchey, administrative director of the graduate programs. About 30 percent of the students are minority, and 30 percent international students, with about half applying to KSU business programs within a month of taking the course.

The course uses MBA alumni as instructors and has helped take down the “self-imposed fear” students have about standardized testing, she said. The program runs four Saturdays, with Quantitative in the morning and Verbal in the afternoon. Charging US$125 for either subject or US$225 for both, the program meets its goal of breaking even.

Graduate admissions staffers are available during breaks, but the course focuses on the test and not Kent State. This separation helps if a student gets rejected from a program, Ditchey said. “If they don’t do well, they recognize the problem is with themselves, and this can lead to a positive dialogue.”

London Business School

Rather than running its own course, LBS partners with test prep companies for shared events and finds huge value in collaborating with them, especially in the global market, said Oliver Ashby, senior manager of recruitment and admission.  Test prep companies have regional expertise and work with candidates the school would otherwise miss, he said.

Test prep companies don’t share their client lists with partners, but LBS gets contacts by organizing the events. “If you run the event, you have to sign them up,” he said. “You can get 70 people who are completely new to you.”

Schools do have to be careful with whom they partner, Ashby said. “Brand is important; we work with top companies,” he added. “With carefully managed relationships, test prep can be an effective tool to increase and expand your applicant pool on a global scale.”

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