FT : Business Ethics Issues Start With GMAT
Thursday, April 22, 2010
The GMAT has grown from a paper test taken 3,000 times in 1954 to a computer-adaptive one taken 265,000 times a year worldwide. A good score – say 750 out of 800 – gives applicants a better chance of admission: unsurprisingly, a few consider cheating. One of Mr Wilson’s first tasks when he joined in 1995 was to break a ring of cheats taking advantage of time zone differences. An expert test-taker in New York would call a test-taker in California at break time and give them the answers, which were then encoded on a pencil and taken into their test centre. GMAC sought to eradicate that kind of cheating by moving from paper-based tests to computer-adaptive tests, where an algorithm selects the next questions according to how well you are answering. The chances of sitting the same exam as another candidate are now one in 35,000. But in 2002 GMAC and the FBI uncovered another ring, led by Lu Xu, which, under the guise of “tutoring” services, used fake driver’s licences and passports to take the GMAT in New York on behalf of others for a fee of $3,000 to $5,000. Almost 600 exams were taken before Mr Xu and four friends were caught and sentenced – a fifth co-conspirator is still on the run.
In 2006, when GMAC switched to distribution partner Pearson Vue (the computer-based testing arm of the Pearson Group, which owns the Financial Times), it introduced digital fingerprinting to corroborate identity. However, fingerprinting has been replaced by palm vein scans where test-takers hold their palm above a sensor. Because blood veins in your palm stay in the same position as you age and through sickness or injury, Mr Wilson says the PalmSecure reader is more accurate than digital fingerprinting – and less invasive. Some countries, including France, do not accept fingerprint collection, but last year the French National Commission for Data Protection and Liberties granted GMAC approval for palm vein readers. Now each GMAT test taker provides a digital signature and photograph when they first check in and a palm vein pattern match each time they enter the testing room. GMAT premises are also subject to real-time audio/video monitoring and recording.
The security of the GMAT is vital if it is to be seen as the “gold standard” of tests by schools, says Mike Byron, author of How to Pass the GMAT. Until recently, the GMAT was unchallenged as the business school entry test. But Educational Testing Service (ETS), which administers the Graduate Record Exam (GRE), says 268 MBA programmes now accept GRE scores. The GRE is available in 165 countries – the GMAT in 110. And while the GMAT is taken via computer, the GRE offers paper-based tests in countries with less access to computers. Does that make it less secure than the GMAT? “Biometric scanning is only useful at identifying repeat impersonators,” says Tom Ewing, ETS spokesman. “We believe the current security measures we use protect us against this same concern, allow us to deliver a fair and valid test and do so at a reasonable price.” The GRE costs between $160 and $205, against GMAT’s $250. Rosemaria Martinelli, associate dean for admissions at University of Chicago Booth School of Business says security is one reason it prefers the GMAT. “Security is a very important factor,” she says. “The other reason is that the GRE test does not measure the same competencies as the GMAT.” However, Harvard Business School accepts both tests and is satisfied with GRE security. “HBS takes these tests seriously,” says spokesman Jim Aisner, “but as only one of many factors that go into our admissions process.” Mr Wilson maintains that improved security is not about competitive advantage. “We are concerned more about the pressures that schools are under. Given the pounding MBA programmes have taken recently, a cheat is the last person schools want to be giving their imprimatur.”