GMAT Volume: What Does It All Mean?

Earlier this week the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) reported that a record number of GMATs were taken in testing year 2012, which ran from June 1, 2011, through June 30, 2012. In that period 286,529 GMAT exams were administered, up 11% from the 2011 testing year, and up 8% compared to the previous record of 265,613 in 2009. That’s right. Amid all of the doom and gloom and reports of double-digit percentage declines in applications sent to some of the top U.S. MBA programs, applicants took more GMATs last year than in any year before!

What gives? has the market for graduate management education turned the corner? Could we see 300,000 GMATs administered in a year pretty soon?

The explanation is actually fairly simple. Don’t forget that on June 5 GMAC introduced the Integrated Reasoning section to the test. GMAC alludes to this fact toward the bottom of its press release:

The record volume partially reflects increased interest in the exam brought on by the addition of the Integrated Reasoning section on June 5, 2012. Historically, test volume rises just before changes are made to a standardized exam as test takers opt for a familiar format at the transition.

Although we have been telling applicants for months not to get too worried about Integrated Reasoning, it’s not a huge surprise that large numbers of applicants rushed to take the GMAT before June 5, just so that they wouldn’t have to face the new section.

The result is that many (it could be in the tens of thousands) students took the GMAT at least a month or two earlier than they otherwise would have, meaning that an unnaturally high number of people took the GMAT in testing year 2012. While we may not know this until GMAC officially reports numbers for testing year 2013 next year, we fully expect to see a dip in testing volume in the summer of 2013. This is completely normal, and is not a reason to get overly bullish or bearish on the GMAT (or graduate management education) overall.

So, approximately 365 days from now we’ll probably write a blog post explaining why GMAT testing volume dropped from 2012 to 2013, and we’ll probably link to this article to remind everyone of what we wrote (Hello, readers from 2013! We’re glad the world didn’t end!). In the meantime, focus on what you can do best, which is prepare yourself for the GMAT (including Integrated Reasoning) and for your MBA applications to the best of your abilities. The rest is just noise.

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By Scott Shrum