Business schools have used the Graduate Management Admission Test, better known as the GMAT, to screen millions of MBA applicants since the test was first introduced in 1953. Taken by about 200,000 people globally per year, the multiple choice exam tests analytical writing and problem solving, along with math, logic and reasoning, according to the Graduate Management Admission Council. Possible scores on the exam range from 200 to 800, with two-thirds of test takers scoring between 400 and 600.
As standardized tests go, the GMAT is clearly a staple of graduate-level business education.
But how important is the GMAT for aspiring business students? How much weight do GMAT scores carry in the overall decision-making of admissions teams? What scores will you need to earn a spot at Canada’s top business schools? And why do some MBA programs not require GMAT scores at all?
To learn more, CourseCompare spoke with Sheri McKillop, Vice President of Academics at the University of Fredericton, where applicants aren’t required to submit GMAT scores as part of their application.
We also sought advice from John-Derek Clarke, Executive Director of Masters Programs at Western University’s Ivey Business School, and Darren Dahl, Senior Associate Dean of Faculty and Research at the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business, where standard GMAT scores are required.
But first, here is a detailed breakdown of GMAT requirements at Canadian business schools across the country.
|Business School||Program||GMAT required?||Avg. GMAT Score||Min. GMAT Score||Application Tips|
|Alberta School of Business, University of Alberta||MBA (full-time and part-time)||Yes||630||550||In your application, be specific and mention why you chose to apply to U Alberta. Articulate why the school is a good fir for you, and vice versa. Ensure that your goals and interests line up with the school's vision, as this is an important part of the application process.|
|Faculty of Business, Athabasca University||Online MBA||No||N/A||N/A||Athabasca has an "open university philosophy". It works to minimize barriers to entry, and may even accept students without an undergraduate degree if they have 8 yrs+ experience in business|
|Rowe School of Business, Dalhousie University||Blended Online MBA||No||595||550||Only required for international students|
|Degroote School of Business, McMaster University||Blended Part-time MBA||No||600||N/A||Does not require a GMAT as long as the GPA is above a B. Recommended 600 GMAT score if GPA is under a B|
|Desautels Faculty of Management, McGill University||MBA||Yes||675||580||Students with a graduate or undergraduate degree from any Canadian or U.S. university are exempt from completing the GMAT or GRE for Desautels.|
|Goodman School of Business, Brock University||MBA||Yes||610||550||Can request exemption if GPA above A-|
|Gordon S. Lang School of Business and Economics, University of Guelph||MBA||No||550||N/A||The GMAT is mandatory for applicants from an honours program who do not have the required work experience|
|HEC Montréal, Universitie de Montreal||MBA||Yes||625||570||HEC Montreal requires a 500 word written essay, and four video essays in its application process. For the video essays, professionalism matters. Good lighting, good audio, and making sure you are dressed well help.|
|Ivey School of Business, Western University||MBA||Yes||660||620||The GMAT requirement is waived only for applicants who have passed all three levels of the CFA designation, or have a valid and competitive LSAT score.|
|Ivey School of Business, Western University||EMBA||Yes||640||600||Can be waived based on "prior academic work in combination with work experience" - under exceptional circumstances|
|John Molson School of Business, Concordia University||MBA||Yes||640||580||Applicants from Quebec who have a diploma of collegial studies and a university degree from Quebec, a minimum of three years of undergraduate or graduate study, or applicants with five years of experience at an English milieu do not need to take the school's English proficiency test.|
|Laurentian University||MBA||No||N/A||500||Minimum GMAT score depends on GPA. GMAT scores not required in 2022-2023 due to COVID-19.|
|Smith School of Business, Queen's University||MBA||Yes||654||600||Students can opt to take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) instead of the GMAT.|
|Smith School of Business, Queen's University||Executive MBA - The National||No||N/A||N/A||GMAT scores aren't required, however they are recommended to strengthen your application|
|Sobey School of Business, Saint Mary's University||MBA||Yes||600||550||When submitting letters of reference, Sobey only accepts letters from professional email addresses. Make sure anyone providing reference is not using a gmail or yahoo account.|
|The Joseph L. Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto||MBA||Yes||670||550||New applicants with a CFA level 3 qualification will be able to submit their qualification in lieu of the GMAT.|
|The Joseph L. Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto||EMBA||No||N/A||N/A||Candidates need to take the "Rotman Executive Diagnostic Test" instead. Tests basic arithmetic and algebraic understanding, graphical data interpretation, logical reasoning, english-language skills. Only need to produce GMAT scores if required|
|UBC Sauder School of Business, University of British Columbia||MBA||Yes||650||550||For the essay portion of the application, start with a detailed intro about yourself and what you expect to get out of the MBA program. Establish your strengths, your current work position, and what you will do to get the most out of the UBC program.|
|University Canada West||MBA||No||560||N/A||Will take either GMAT, Bachelors of Commerce, GRE, CPA/CA, or 3 years' professional experience with evidence of career progression and/or training|
|University of Fredericton||Online MBA||No||N/A||N/A||UFred has a rigourous admission process that values work experience over standardized test scores.|
|University of Fredericton||Online Executive MBA||No||N/A||N/A||UFred has a rigourous admission process that values work experience over standardized test scores.|
How should students prepare for the GMAT?
One of the first ways anyone planning to take the GMAT should prepare is by looking into the official guide book, released each year by GMAC itself. The 2024 bundle includes three separate books for quantitative questions and verbal review, as well as online tools, access to a mobile app, and more than 1900 practice questions.
A less expensive alternative can be found in the long running “For Dummies” series of reference books. The GMAT for Dummies 2023 book is a fraction of the price of the official guide, but still offers seven practice tests, hundreds of online flashcards, and tips for each individual section of the test.
Courses are also available for those looking for more help in the months preceding the test. Companies such as Manhattan Review have training centres set up in Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver, as well as offering online tutoring for students.
The GMAT takes three hours to complete, with 79 questions spread across three sections: Integrated Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, and Verbal Reasoning. The GMAT also features one essay question that tests analytical writing. Students taking the test have been given a choice to take the test in whichever order they choose since 2017.
Students should start studying for the GMAT at least three months, and possibly as many as six months, ahead of time. John-Derek Clarke, Executive Director of Masters Programs for Ivey Business School at Western University, says students can expect to spend about 120 hours preparing for the GMAT.
“You’ve got to study as if it’s a marathon, not a sprint.” Clarke says. “You should have a date in mind and work backwards, start putting a study schedule together.”
Darren Dahl at the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business echoed this approached.
“I truly believe you just have to practice,” Dahl said. “I always say take a few weeks off and just dedicate yourself to understanding what will be on the test.”
When applying for an MBA program, what is considered by administrators other than a GMAT score?
As important as the GMAT is to being admitted to many MBA programs, administrators and professors say that your resume is equally, if not more, important than the test results.
Having valuable work experience in addition to a previously earned bachelor’s degree in a chosen field is imperative to success in an MBA program.
Dahl says when applying, each student should be articulating a clear story about who they are and why a particular business program is right for them.
“A lot of what we’re looking at is how you present yourself,” Dahl says. “Do we see you fitting the values and the goals of this program specifically? Sometimes students are exceptional in some areas, but don’t fit with the type of cohort in class we’re trying to build.”
The type of work listed on your resume is critical to MBA admission teams, who want to know what you have done in the past that makes you stand out from other applicants.
Students who can prove that they made an impact at their places of work are often top candidates for MBA programs, even if they do not have a GMAT score towards the top of the range, around 700.
Clarke says that a student’s grade point average (GPA) from their undergraduate degree is also a significant factor and that the importance of each section is dependent on your undergrad GPA as well.
“We will never deny somebody just because of their GMAT score, provided it meets our cutoff point,” Clarke says. “If their concern is a low GMAT score, we will often provide them with a conditional offer upon getting a higher score.”
What that means for students, Clarke says, is if they get around a 540 GMAT score (Ivey’s average score is 660) and are not admitted, there is likely another aspect of the application holding them back. Though students can be admitted with a less-than-ideal score, they will have to rewrite the test and achieve a higher score. Stellar work experience and the interview process can lead to that conditional acceptance.
It is important to be improving in all aspects of the application, Clarke says. If grades in your undergrad were not up to par, you can work on GMAT prep. If you are not the best test taker, you can apply after a few years of work experience.
The one thing each of the professors and administrators interviewed for this story repeated was that work experience is invaluable for an MBA applicant to include, particularly work experience that highlights your outstanding accomplishments.
Why do some schools require the GMAT while others do not?
There are select MBA and EMBA programs in Canada that do not require students to take the GMAT, instead focusing on overall GPAs and other work that prospective students have done in their academic and professional lives.
The University of Fredericton is one such university with an entirely online MBA program that takes anywhere from two to three and a half years to complete.
Dr. Sheri McKillop, Vice President of Academics at UFred, says that it may not be fair to have someone’s entire academic future hanging on one test.
“We rigorously screen our applications,” McKillop says. “Through the application process, we find if a person is or is not suited for the program, and we have a very low dropout rate as a result. I stand by our approach in terms of not just looking at a test score. Some people get test anxiety, or have learning disabilities which may make them not perform as well in a test, but that does not mean they cannot be successful in an MBA program.”
Dr. McKillop says the school is looking for students who can get an independent recommendation, meaning a former boss or manager that sends in a recommendation letter to the school, praising the prospective student.
Dr. McKillop says that this thorough vetting process results in a small number of students dropping or failing courses.
“We look for students who have experience in 10 course areas,” McKillop says. “Everything from economics, finance, global business, accounting, and HR to name a few. What we consider to be general business areas.”
What do I need to know going into the GMAT?
MBA programs have a minimum cutoff point that prospective students must meet in order to be considered in the first place. For example, Sobey School of Business at Saint Mary’s University requires a minimum score of 500, while Smith School of Business at Queen’s has a minimum of 600. The GMAT is a way for schools to get an overview of potential students, but not the whole picture.
Universities want the best quality students possible, and as UFred has seen, that doesn’t necessarily mean soaring GMAT scores. The life experience of those applying, in addition to grades and scores, helps create the backbone to develop future business leaders.