The de-facto business school entrance exam in the US and Europe has for decades been the Graduate Management Admission Test, or GMAT. But the needs of business schools in the admissions testing market vary across the world.
Alongside the GRE, one standardized test seeing rapid growth in uptake is the NMAT, a test originally developed for business students in India.
The NMAT serves a different need to the GMAT, designed for business schools in fast-growing, emerging markets. It’s now accepted by 21 business schools in India, and seven in South Africa. In 2017, more than 87,000 NMAT exams were delivered in India; 345 in South Africa.
With economies in emerging markets growing and therefore more demand for business education, there was a need to create an admissions test tailored to those countries—that’s according to Ronald Sibert, market development director for Africa at the Graduate Management Admissions Council (GMAC), which owns both the NMAT and GMAT.
A 2016 GMAC report found Africa has the highest proportion of people who are motivated to pursue graduate business education to make a social impact. The report identified 24% of South African business school applicants as ‘impactful innovators.’ Globally, 12% of candidates fit this segment. In South Africa, just 15% were deemed ‘socio-economic climbers’. So, investment in education will likely pay off.
National governments in many emerging countries, Ronald says, want more of their citizens to gain higher education, so they can improve employment statistics, supply domestic companies with more qualified professionals, attract more foreign investment, and improve overall quality of life.
GMAC launched the NMAT in South Africa in 2017. Ronald says business schools had requested an affordable, accessible test for Africa. It costs $75 for an applicant to take the NMAT; the GMAT is priced at $250. GMAC worked closely with African business schools—speaking to deans, faculty, and business school students—to develop a test for the needs of the market.
The GMAT, Ronald says, was viewed as “not necessarily relevant for assessing student preparedness for African programs” because candidates in African countries “typically take the GMAT for a chance to enroll in renowned institutions elsewhere in the world”, including at US, UK, and EU institutions.”
Business schools in emerging countries serve a primarily domestic market and don’t attract a high percentage of international applicants, adds Deepak Punwani, managing director of MBA4India, an admissions consulting firm in Mumbai. “So, in order to grow their enrolment, these schools are motivated to accept the lower-cost yet still credible NMAT, with relatively little concern about discouraging international applicants, especially those who have already taken the GMAT or GRE.”
With the NMAT, GMAC’s idea was to unify admissions standards at African schools which varied widely, says Ronald. “Wide regional adoption of the NMAT will enable schools to benchmark against each other to discern their relative market positioning, while giving them access to a much broader swath of candidates than they otherwise would have.”
The hope is that the test will help African business schools tap into to a generation of students who are prepared to take up graduate management education in Africa, rather than enrolling in a program in Europe or the US.
For African candidates, the NMAT should mean greater access to business management opportunities and more intra-regional mobility, with the ability to take one exam and apply to up to seven schools. This makes the NMAT stand out from local tests.
How is the NMAT structured?
Aside from the countries accepting the GMAT and NMAT, and their prices, the two tests differ on their format and structure. The NMAT is more than one hour shorter than the GMAT, lasting only two hours. There is no Analytical Writing Assessment component for the NMAT, the test that measures critical thinking and communication which is included in the GMAT.
The NMAT offers no scheduled breaks and allows candidates fewer attempts to crack it than the GMAT does (a maximum of three attempts in each seasonal testing window), which could be a disadvantage, notes Deepak.
He says that a prospective business school student would take the NMAT instead of the GMAT “if they are targeting business schools that accept the former test; believe their test performance would be stronger with the NMAT; or have budget or availability constraints that preclude the GMAT.”
Following the successful launch of the NMAT in South Africa, GMAC says it plans to refine the test, increase the number of available test centers and offer the exam in other emerging markets over the next few years. Test registration opens in South Africa in mid-August this year and will run through to mid-January 2019.
The NMAT is gaining ground in emerging markets, but there are doubts over any further expansion. Deepak says that a global roll-out of the NMAT (though that may not be GMAC’s intention) could be stymied by the already established popularity of the GMAT and the GRE among business schools.
“Taking the NMAT would require separate registration, preparation, and completion by applicants,” he says.
“Most accredited business schools already require either the GMAT or, in some cases, the GRE,” he adds. “So, accepting the NMAT would complicate the admissions process for those schools and possibly jeopardize their published ranking [as some rankings, including The Economist’s, include GMAT scores in the methodology]. These are substantial challenges in NMAT’s [potential] pursuit of global growth.”