History of the Executive Assessment (EA) Test

The Creation of a Business School Admissions Test

In 1953, deans of nine of the top business schools in the United States (Harvard, Columbia, Northwestern, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Michigan, Rutgers, Seton Hall, the University of Chicago, and Washington University in St. Louis) met with representatives of Educational Testing Service (ETS). The purpose of these meetings was to develop a standardized admissions test for graduate business degree offerings. The goal was to make the business school application process more transparent and accessible by testing skills seen as necessary to business school success in a statistically reliable and uniform fashion. Harvard Business School had begun offering the MBA in 1908 but did still did not have a test for admission to the MBA program. The combined efforts of the nine business schools and ETS resulted in the Admission Test for Graduate Study in Business (ATGSB), which was administered for the first time to 1,291 students on February 6, 1954. Approximately 2,900 applicants to 10 business schools took the test in its first year. The sections on the original test were called Verbal Omnibus (which included analogies, antonyms, and sentence completion), Quantitative Reasoning (data interpretation and problem solving), Best Arguments, and Quantitative Reading.

The ATGSB to 1976

The ATGSB was revised a number of times over the first twenty years, especially its verbal assessments. In 1955, the test was divided into separately scored sections for verbal and quantitative skills. Analogy and antonym questions (part of the Verbal Omnibus section) were eliminated from the exam in 1961, reinstated in 1966, and then discontinued again in 1976. Reading recall sections, in which students had to answer questions about reading passages without being able to reread the text, were one feature of the ATGSB in the 1960s. Data sufficiency questions, which measured the ability to analyze quantitative problems, were added to the ATGSB in 1961. In 1970, the Graduate Business Admission Council (GBAC) was incorporated as a separate entity from ETS. GBAC's original membership consisted of 30 business schools. Practical business judgment questions were added to the ATGSB in 1972. These questions asked test-takers to classify facts contained in reading passages, and they would develop into critical reasoning questions by the late 1980s.

The ATGSB was renamed the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) in 1976, and that same year, GBAC renamed itself the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC). Reading recall was replaced by reading comprehension questions in 1977, and assessment of this skill has persisted to the present day. The Analytical Writing Assessment was added to the GMAT in 1994. International member schools were first admitted to GMAC in 1995 (the first of these were London Business School and INSEAD). By this time, the GMAT had been administered to approximately 200,000 students over the first 40 years of the test's history. GMAC began a number of initiatives during the 1980s and early 1990s, such as a series of publications on major issues in graduate business training (1984), a low-cost loan program for MBA students (1988), and the establishment of the Minority Summer Institute (1990), the latter intended to attract underrepresented groups to careers as post-secondary business educators.

1997 to 2016

The most significant change of the mid-1990s was the adoption of computer-adaptive testing, which was introduced in 1997. This change allowed the test to be offered much more widely than before, and has led to an explosion in the overall number of test-takers. The GMAT is currently taken by about 250,000 students each year at testing centers in 113 countries, and the GMAT is currently accepted by 5,200 programs at 2,100 universities. GMAC severed ties with ETS in 2005, and the test is now administered by Pearson VUE. The most important recent content revision to the GMAT is the introduction of an integrated reasoning section in 2012, and the latest GMAT also includes a shortened analytical writing assessment in which test-takers are only required to complete one writing task instead of two.

As students became increasingly fixated on obtaining ever higher GMAT scores, it seemed a shift in focus was occurring…while the GMAT was initially created to identify those students who could succeed in business school, the test began to be treated less as a predictor of graduate school success and more as something to be mastered in order to attend the most prestigious business schools. The average amount of time students were studying to prepare for the GMAT continued to rise, reaching anywhere from 100 to 200 hours. For those professionals already in the business field but seeking to take their education and their career to the next level, finding so many hours to study for such an exam proved exceedingly difficult. In response to this, the GMAC developed the Executive Assessment in March 2016.

The EA: 2016 to the Present

The EA is a 90-minute, computer-adaptive, standardized assessment designed to provide information on business school readiness by incorporating both industry-specific knowledge and real-world experience. Intended to measure higher-order reasoning, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills, the EA is becoming an increasingly popular test for those intent on attending an advanced business program. The EA is currently accepted at more than 100 part-time, full-time, hybrid, and Executive MBA (EMBA) programs around the world, and more business programs are accepting the exam every semester.

The EA consists of 40 questions delivered across three sections: Integrated Reasoning (12 questions), Verbal Reasoning (14 questions), and Quantitative Reasoning (14 questions). Unlike the traditional GMAT, the EA is not intended to function as the type of test where the higher you score, the better. Instead, the EA serves as a threshold indicator, meaning if you score above the threshold of the business program you hope to attend, they can be confident you are ready for the academic rigor of their program.

The EA is a computer-adaptive exam, meaning your performance on one section determines the level of difficulty of a subsequent section. Every test taker starts with six Integrated Reasoning questions. It is important to note that there are no penalties for wrong answers, so every question should be answered to the best of your ability. After completing the first six questions, you will be given six more Integrated Reasoning questions, and the mixture of easier, medium, or harder questions you will receive depends on how well you did completing the first six questions.

After you complete the Integrated Reasoning section, you will move to the Verbal Reasoning section, where you will receive seven questions. The mixture of easy, medium, and difficult questions will depend on your performance on the entire Integrated Reasoning section. The start of a new section does not mean you have a "clean slate," as those who perform well on the Integrated Reasoning section will start with more difficult questions on the Verbal Reasoning section, just as those who perform poorly on Integrated Reasoning will begin with easier questions on the Verbal Reasoning section. The complexity of the last seven Verbal Reasoning questions will depend on your performance on the first seven Verbal Reasoning questions.

The Quantitative Reasoning section works the same way: your first seven questions will depend on your overall performance on the Integrated Reasoning section and the difficulty of your last seven questions will depend on your performance answering the first seven Quantitative Reasoning questions.

The EA is scored on a scale ranging from 100 to 200. Each of the three sections (Integrated Reasoning, Verbal Reasoning, and Quantitative Reasoning) receives a score ranging from 0 (low) to 20 (high). In addition to these three scores, you also receive a total score, which is calculated by combining the scores from each section and adding 120. If you received a score of 10 on Integrated Reasoning, 8 on Verbal Reasoning, and 12 on Quantitative Reasoning, you would have a combined section score of 30 and with the addition of 120, your total score would be 150. An EA score of 150 to 155 has been noted to roughly approximate a GMAT score in the upper 500s to lower 600s range, although conversions between the two scoring systems are not standardized.

Given the relative newness of the EA, no significant content or format changes have been made since 2016. Available feedback seems to suggest that business professionals appreciate having the option to take an exam that typically requires 20-30 hours of study and preparation, and the fact that the exam is only 90 minutes long makes it easy for those with busy schedules to take. Additionally, the EA can be taken from the comfort of your own home with rolling appointments available, ensuring there is nothing stopping a prospective graduate student from taking the next step in attending the business program of their dreams.