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Number of GMAT Takers Reaches All-Time High

By Catherine Groux
Posted September 26, 2012 10:00 AM

A record number of students took the GMAT during this past testing cycle.
A record number of students took the GMAT during this past testing cycle.
Today, a majority of business and management programs require students to take the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) as part of their applications. While the exam has been a common part of the graduate school admissions process for some time, new data shows its popularity is still growing.

Between July 1, 2011 and June 30, 2012, prospective students around the world took a total of 286,529 GMAT exams, according to a press release by the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC). This marked an 11% increase from the previous year, and also beat the former record of 265,613 test takers in 2009.

"2012 was a remarkable year," said David Wilson, GMAC president and CEO. "GMAT testing rose from 2011 to 2012 in all world regions. The number of programs receiving GMAT scores rose to an all-time high. And we and our partners were able to scale our systems and delivery to individual test takers seamlessly to accommodate the high demand for the exam in the spring." 

Factors Behind the New GMAT Record

Andrew Mitchell, Kaplan Test Prep's director of pre-business programs, said there are a few factors affecting the rapid increase in the number of GMAT exams students took last year. One of the biggest components of the trend has been the increase in the number of test takers outside of the U.S., particularly in China. Between 2011 and 2012, the number of GMAT exams taken by Chinese citizens increased by 45%, while tests taken by Indian residents saw a 19% jump.

Another factor that has led to the GMAT record was the addition of the Integrated Reasoning section on June 5, 2012. Mitchell said that among Kaplan students, he saw many individuals striving to take the exam before June to avoid having to prepare for the new section. Therefore, it is only natural that more people would have taken the GMAT during the July 1, 2011 to June 30, 2012 timeframe.

"That is not so much a long-term growth in the market," Mitchell said. "It is more of a temporary shift with test takers who might have taken the test later this year, but instead decided to take the opportunity to beat the test change, so to speak."

Along with this change to the GMAT, the growing popularity of part-time and flexible Master of Business Administration (MBA) programs is also affecting the growth of the exam. These programs have made it easier for working adults and parents to earn an MBA, when only a decade ago they would not have had many options available to them. Therefore, an increasing number of adults are finding it is now possible for them to take the GMAT and enroll in an MBA program, whether they turn to part-time or online programs.

MBA Admissions Remain Slow

These three factors have had to work against the fact that admission to American MBA programs is currently decreasing. Recent data shows that this year, 62% of full-time, two-year MBA programs saw a decline in applications, Bloomberg BusinessWeek reports.

However, Mitchell said this is typical, as applications to MBA programs tend to rise during troubled financial times, then decrease slightly as the economy improves. As the U.S. economy is currently recovering, it makes sense for the number of applications to decline. Still, this decrease in interest in full-time MBA programs is not strong enough to outweigh the factors leading to an increase in GMAT test takers.

"We have a little bit of countercyclical decline in applications because the economy is on the road to recovery, and at the same time we still have all these factors that outweigh them and lead to a bigger market than ever before in testing," Mitchell said.

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