The Executive Assessment: A New Standard for EMBA Programs?

GMAC's admissions test designed for applicants to EMBA programs

In March of this year, GMAC launched the Executive Assessment (EA), a business school admissions test designed for experienced professionals who are applying to EMBA programs. The test is currently being piloted at six business schools that are located in the US, Europe and Asia. Why are these schools using the EA? How are the scores being used? In order to get answers to these questions, spoke with three schools piloting the EA – Columbia Business School, CEIBS and HKU’s Faculty of Business and Economics.

What is the Executive Assessment?

The Executive Assessment (EA) was created by the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) in order “to evaluate the business school readiness of seasoned professionals.” Specifically, the test focuses on assessing skills deemed necessary for applicants to be successful both at work and within EMBA programs – higher order reasoning, critical thinking, analysis and problem solving.

Designed with busy professionals in mind, the EA is shorter than the GMAT. The entire test lasts 90 minutes, is made up of 40 questions and has three different sections: Integrated reasoning, verbal and quantitative.

As mentioned above, the test is currently being piloted at six different business schools: Chicago Booth, Columbia Business School, HKU, INSEAD, London Business School and China Europe International Business School (CEIBS). All of these schools are currently accepting the executive assessment as an alternative to the GMAT.  

Why are top business schools piloting the Executive Assessment?

There are two main reasons why business schools are interested in offering the Executive Assessment. Firstly, the questions are tailored for EMBA applicants. “The new test was developed to more accurately measure the professional knowledge our EMBA applicants can bring to the classroom,” states Columbia Business School’s assistant dean of admissions, Amanda Carlson.

Nikos Tsikriktsis, associate dean and director of the global EMBA program at CEIBS, has a similar viewpoint: “The types of questions used by the GMAT are primarily designed for MBA-level applicants. The Executive Assessment uses questions that are more appropriate for the skills required of an executive-level MBA applicant.”

The second reason is that the GMAT’s time-consuming preparation process doesn’t always sit well with EMBA applicants. At CEIBS, “the level of preparation required for the GMAT was putting off some applicants, especially busy executives,” reports Tsikriktsis.

Associate dean (postgraduate) and marketing professor at HKU's Faculty of Business and Economics, Bennett Yim, also cites less preparation as a reason for offering the executive assessment, pointing out that the EA is “designed to require minimal preparation and is significantly shorter in length, at 90 minutes.”

How is the EA being used for admission to EMBA programs?

EMBA applicants can currently take the Executive Assessment at 600 test centers and business schools are already receiving EA scores. Over half of this year’s applicants to the EMBA program at CEIBS took the Executive Assessment instead of the GMAT. The University of Hong Kong also reports that some applicants to its EMBA’s most recent intake (May 2016) had sat the test. Meanwhile, over in the US, Columbia Business School says that it has already accepted EA-takers into EMBA programs across its roster of offerings.

While the pilot program has only been in place for a few months, CEIBS is already advising EMBA applicants to take the EA in lieu of the GMAT. “CEIBS is recommending that candidates make the EA their first choice (of admissions test) and ultimately, it is hoped that all applicants will take this test,” states Tsikriktsis.

At the same time, however, CEIBS will be closely monitoring results from the first years of admission in order to ensure that there is a strong correlation between EA results and academic performance in its EMBA program. Data gathered by CEIBS will then be used to assess whether the GMAT or the EA is the better predictor of success for a challenging program.

At Columbia, the EA joins the GMAT and GRE as one of three test options open to EMBA applicants. Prospective students “should select the test best suited to their needs,” advises Carlson. HKU is taking a similar approach, according to Yim: “The Executive Assessment is an acceptable alternative to either the GMAT or GRE. One of the three tests is required.”

When it comes to how the scores are used, CEIBS and HKU say that they are being used to assess an applicant’s overall candidacy for their EMBA programs. At Columbia, Carlson states the EA scores are used to determine “readiness” for their executive MBA offerings as well as to identify “skills that may need to be sharpened in order to be successful in an EMBA program.”

Clearly, it’s still early days for the EA - there is, as of yet, no proven method of comparing EA scores with GMAT scores, for one. “As it is the first year of operation, finding a suitable benchmark is somewhat difficult, but GMAC has provided an approximate comparison with what an EA result would be on the GMAT scale,” states Tsikriktsis. Time will tell whether the EA will become a standard in executive MBA admissions, but at these schools the option of a shorter and more tailored test is already there and looks set to be an attractive one for their prospective executive MBA students.

Written by Nicole Willson

Nicole is the SEO manager of, as well as a contributing author. She holds a BA in history and sociology, and a master's in library science. Aside from her work for QS, Nicole is a long-time contributing editor and administrator for WikiHow.

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