HBR Blog: MBAs Should Take Competency Tests


Comments and Thoughts?

It’s hard to make a single test for all MBA graduates, since different people specialize in different areas. Furthermore, such a test would encourage students and MBA programs to adopt a test-focused attitude, which is not necessarily what these programs are meant for. Test taking ability does not always equal success in business.

Such a test would also be trivial to many graduates of top tier MBA programs. A test designed to be passed by a vast majority of average MBA students would be very easy for many students in top ranked programs.

A better approach would be to offer quantitative or specialized focuses within MBA programs. So for instance, if you have the “financial engineering” concentration from Harvard, people will know that you passed a certain set of difficult courses. Such concentrations could be optional, so you can still do a broad program if you want.

I think a test would not be a bad idea.

In general everybody who is admitted to an MBA program passes, even if they use the two years to party. So why not introduce a general test which just measures if you know the most general things (unrelated to any specialization) to make sure they at least did something?

And it is true people would just study what is needed to pass the test, but its the same with every test (CFA, FRM, etc).

I say force all MBA’s to pass L1. SIt back, and watch a ton of them fail. haha

i imagine most MBAs from top schools can pass teh CFA without much problem…the ones not in top programs have a ton of problems they will likely deal with upon graduating…tests really are overrated imo…

The “test” for MBA graduates is whether they get hired and how they perform in their jobs. Academic results are far less relevant to the purpose of MBA programs. If business school X keeps producing lousy graduates (or at least those who are uncapable of reaching influential job positions), eventually, no one will hire these graduates. Market results are better than theoretical numbers. Isn’t that the underlying principal of all this “business” stuff?

Many MBA graduates, from all levels of schools, struggled to get through the core finance and economics classes, which are not much harder (if any) than the undergraduate classes. They would get crushed by the CFA curriculum, which is not so say they are not intelligent folks. If you restrict your population to MBAs with finance concentrations, I would agree that they should get through the CFA curriculum without major difficulty, assuming they took the harder electives while in school.

A lot of of people here are forgetting that MBA curricula cover a lot more than financial theory.

An extremely beneficial learning experience doesn’t have to be difficult, or standardized. At a top MBA program, the best formative experiences come equally from your peers, guest speakers, and the courses you take, at least in my case.

The learning experience there starts with the annual class design. For instance, even though I worked for one of the most well-known pre-MBA firms and somehow I got a 99th percentile in the quant section of the GMAT, for a while I kept asking myself why in the world one of the best business programs would use an spot to admit an Argentinian when you can have yet another extremely accomplished person from Asia or the U.S., and the answer was that the class as a whole needed to hear stuff from many different people to create the intended learning experience.

Regardless of nationality, when you’re getting to know each other during the first weeks, a common theme among classmates is, “yeah I worked for GS and before leaving the firm to get here we made a gazillion dollars with this deal”, or “before coming here we in FedEx optimized our distribution algorithms and saved two gazillions”. Then comes this guy from the U.S. army, a first class West Point Academy graduate and says “before coming here I was in Irak and was the officer in charge of the supply chain running from port X to our base in the city Y and the lives of 2000 soldiers depended on my calls”. [Silence in awe, then we’re all asking the guy lots of questions]. That process repeated with many people all the time thanks to the diversity of backgrounds our class had.

In business school you mostly learn common sense, and perspective. A set of tests is a very poor way to measure that, in my opinion.

I’d just add that a lot of business school takes ordinary common sense and tries to put it into a structured framework so that you (and your peers) don’t forget it as often as you normally do.

There are also a few things that are genuinely new and enlightening, but it’s the process that’s really being built for the most part.

In addition, don’t forget that business schools don’t try to recruit smart students - they try to recruit students who will be influential in the future. At top tier programs, a small but extremely important minority are like Harvard MBA GW Bush - they are academically mediocre but have circumstantial potential to be very important people. Imagine if Harvard made a test for the 750 GMAT crowd who comprise 90% of their student body, but by doing so, scared away all the GW Bushes.

I like that.

Good post IEV.

I do agree with the blog and think that there should be some sort of a test. Reason is simply that for MBAs that are not from “Top” MBA schools, they don’t get the same exposure to quality peers when compared to the “Top” schools.

I’d go even further to say that some MBA programs, I wonder if there is any learning happening. I’ve ran into people with MBAs (they say with concentration in Finance) who flat out dunno what options are.

All that being said, I do think that the CFA program is probably overkill to test MBAs…

I think people need to understand that the real value of the MBA [for people in the finance route] is purely for its brand value and recruitment opportunities.

I once met a guy doing his MBA at some local school. He had a HW assignment on excel and couldn’t get it to work. He didn’t realize it was f*cked up that he was adding Revenue and Expenses in trying to get net income at the end.

If you want to say ‘oh the MBA gives you leadership and organizational behavior classes’ then fine. maybe that does help some. But then we’re talking senior level, and you’re not going to become a great leader with a few classes. You need to find someone with great potential and smooth away the rough edges.

My man Shaq would stomp you such a post. Why the hate?

Can we include grammar tests on this too? I think grammar is important.

I think that is what the GMAT is for. It’s an IQ test plus an English communication test.

Das racist mang! Where I come frum, we speke a dialict that is not consistent wit English normz. Feel me?

I just think that people who are complaining that MBAs aren’t qualified enough shouldn’t be bastardizing the language as they say it.

n yer awn tyme, u kin dew whut u want. Das awl Ima sayin’.