University to test applicants’ street smarts

By Kelly Cryderman
The Ottawa Citizen
May 28, 2000

Frustrated with having to judge applicants only by how they look on paper, a US university is developing a test to find out whether MBA wannabes possess the intangible "X-factor" - a combination of qualities including common sense and street smarts - that will help them succeed in the real world

You certainly hear quite a few stories how so-and-so is now heading a company who was kind of a so-so student, but is a man who knows how to get things done," says Keith Decie, communications director at the University of Michigan, where the test is being developed.

Administrators at Michigan Univer-sity's School of Business felt that the exams, essays and interviews they were requiring applicants to complete weren’t giving them the rounded picture they wanted of applying students. The test was devised because the ranked university which charges $26,500 US. a year in tuition fees for its MBA program, wanted a broader way to measure people.

The dean of the school, B. Joseph White, says the test will try to ascertain who has practical, creative and analytical intelligence - along with a healthy dose of emotional intelligence and common sense - which he sums up as the "X-factor" of business success.

Though the specific questions are "top secret," in a general sense, the test will look at the applicant's ability to assess problems and opportunities, to set priorities, to cope with ambiguous information, and to anticipate obstacles and courses of action. One method of testing deals with barraging the student with e-mails, memos and financial statements

Instead of having a tidy, essay-like scenario to deal with, the student has to make a quick decision faced with numerous inputs coming from different directions.

Peter Eddison, founder of several high-tech companies in Ottawa who now mentors start-up firms, says he thinks Michigan University is on to something.

"If one of the things they’re saying is there’s more to success than raw intellectual horsepower, they’re clearly correct," he says.

Margaret Northey, dean of the School of Business at Queen’s University in Kingston, says the test sounds interesting but without seeing the test’s specific questions she’s hesitant to comment on its effectiveness.

"In the business world, teamwork is very, very important," she says. "Those are factors that are hard to measure, in any kind of a test."