INSEAD Launches Its Own Entrance Exam... Could Others Follow?

Last week INSEAD announced that it will launch an executive MBA (EMBA) program on its Singapore campus, and that it will introduce its own admissions test for the school’s EMBA program. Built in conjunction with test prep company Prep Zone (which was founded by INSEAD alumni), the exam will mark the first time that a top MBA program has created a proprietary entrance exam for its admissions process.

The new exam will keep some elements of the GMAT, such as questions that measure quant- and verbal-related reasoning skills. (“Higher-order thinking,” anyone?) INSEAD will remove some of the more obscure measures of one’s mathematical ability and grasp of more subtle language nuances, and in their place will introduce “mini case studies” and a a personal interview. In this way, the line will be blurred between the entrance exam and the rest of the admissions process.

This move makes sense for a lot of reasons, most notably that applicants to an EMBA program have typically been out of school for much longer than their traditional MBA applicant counterparts. Measuring their ability to quickly calculate permutations and combinations may not be the best way to assess their potential as upper-level managers. So could other schools — especially other EMBA programs, which may also find that the GMAT doesn’t quite meet their needs — follow suit?

Building such a test is hard, but maintaining it and constantly ensuring its validity is especially challenging. GMAC and its partners put a great deal of time and money into creating new test items, validating them, weeding out bad or compromised questions, chasing down cheaters, and ensuring that a test result generated today can be fairly compared with a score generated four years ago. None of this is trivial, and it takes a great deal of resources to keep at it.

INSEAD and Prep Zone may have plenty of resources to get the job done, but we have a hard time seeing many more schools tackling this same challenge. It’s simply too expensive and time consuming for most schools to build and maintain such a test. What’s more interesting is this: What if this particular test takes off, and other schools engage Prep Zone to manage their EMBA admissions exams? It’s hard to see Prep Zone doing it for just one school, but if a dozen schools sign on… Well, that’s more believable. But we don’t see a dozen schools launching a dozen different entrance exams.

Meanwhile, you can be sure GMAC is paying close attention to this development. Again, INSEAD made this move for its EMBA program, and the overwhelming majority of GMAT takers are targeting traditional MBA programs. But any indication that schools need to go elsewhere to meet their standardized test needs (see: GRE) surely will make GMAC think about what else it needs to do to keep the GMAT relevant for its member schools.

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