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Business school recruiters have a new tool to help identify top MBA candidates – the ones who also are in high demand by employers.

This week, amid high anxiety from prospective test-takers, the Graduate Management Admission Council introduced a new "integrated reasoning" section to its MBA entrance exam. The 30-minute segment, scored separately from the official results of the Graduate Management Admission Test, examines a candidate's ability to analyze large amounts of data and evaluate information from a variety of sources, especially graphs, tables, charts and spreadsheets.

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"We have changed the structure of the exam to give candidates the ability to showcase new skills of integrated reasoning – skills they have developed over time and are considered highly relevant in management education as well as by employers," says Ashok Sarathy, vice-president of the GMAT program.

In a 2009 GMAC survey of 740 business schools worldwide, faculty identified data analysis as an increasingly relevant skill for B-school graduates. Over the past two years, GMAC piloted test questions on more than 40,000 students before the official launch this week.

Much of the 3.5-hour test is unchanged, with the official score (800 is perfect) based only on a candidate's answers to questions in the verbal (reading comprehension and critical reasoning) and quantitative (math comprehension and problem-solving) sections. Since GMAT results last for five years, recruiters can still compare scores prior to and after the revised test.

The new segment replaces one of two analytical writing essay questions, which are scored separately from the official GMAT result. The "integrated reasoning" score, on a scale of 1-8, sheds more light on the skills and ability of a prospective B-school candidate.

"It's almost table-stakes in terms of what we are looking at for candidate skills in the MBA program," says Niki da Silva, director of recruitment and admissions for the full-time MBA program at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management. "It is more than just being able to answer some of the math or verbal questions," she adds. "That is not what separates the good from the great, in terms of candidates."

Like others, she has heard the "panic and concern" from fearful GMAT test-takers.

But Ms. da Silva cautions that GMAT scores are only one element of the selection process. At Rotman, which offers a two-year MBA, the school conducts a personal interview and also looks at university marks, references, and experience.

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Still, students looked for ways to duck the revised test, with the volume of GMAT test-takers in April and May up "quite significantly," according to a GMAC spokesman.

At the Robert H. Lee Graduate School at the University of British Columbia's Sauder School of Business, assistant dean Wendy Ma was among those surveyed by GMAC.

"What they are providing us with is another point of reference for our measuring tools," she says. "It would help better in our selection process of finding candidates with stronger skills in that area [business analytics] to ensure we are providing graduates from our program that industry really wants."

Both she and Ms. da Silva say it will take a few years to see if the new segment correctly identifies those with the data-analytic skills sought by employers.

The latest GMAT revision, the 10th since its inception in 1954, won't be the last, predicts Mr. Sarathy.

"We will continue making changes as business evolves and school curriculum evolves to make sure we are staying relevant to business schools' needs and the needs of the global marketplace," he says.

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Real estate MBA

In response to industry and student demand, Université Laval's Faculty of Business Administration will offer a graduate business program in urban and property management this September.

"It is becoming clearer that the tools being used in portfolio management and finance have to be modulated for real estate," says Prof. Marie-Claude Beaulieu, head of the department of finance, insurance and real estate at Laval's business school.

For example, real estate is not as liquid as shares so that different legal and other considerations come into play when buying, selling or managing property. The recent housing crisis in the United States highlighted the close interaction between real estate and financial markets, with sometimes-questionable use of specialty financial tools such as derivatives blamed for the mortgage meltdown.

"The more managers know about the market they are in, the better off they will be," says Prof. Beaulieu, who will teach a course on derivatives for the new program. As well, in cooperation with the faculty of law, business professors will teach a course on risk management in real estate leases.

The real estate MBA is one of only three such specialty degrees in Canada.

Laval expects 10 students for the first class this fall.

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