SHL Assessment over GMAT for our MBA| Stellenbosch Business School Skip to main content
If you wish to lead and improve the performance in any organisation, or if you have an entrepreneurial spirit

If you wish to lead and improve the performance in any organisation, or if you have an entrepreneurial spirit and a desire to start your own business, chances are you’ve considered a Master’s in Business Administration, more commonly known as an MBA, or a Postgraduate Diploma in Business Management and Administration (PGD BMA).

The MBA aims to provide individuals with the advanced knowledge and skills they need in order to steer a business towards success in a highly competitive environment. After completing the MBA, graduates are equipped with theoretical as well as practical knowledge around a variety of functional areas, including accounting, operations and strategy, and soft skills such as communication, negotiation, critical thinking and leadership competencies. The PGD BMA aims to develop your entrepreneurial and key management skills, helping you grow a profitable business.

But before you can enrol for your MBA or Postgraduate Diploma in Business Management and Administration, you must first successfully complete a rigorous entrance exam, which forms a part of the criteria for candidate selection .

Why the rigorous entrance exams and selection criteria for the MBA / PGD BMA?

USB embodies the values of integrity, inclusivity and excellence in everything it does. This includes the way students are selected for its internationally accredited programmes. The aim of selection criteria and entrance exams is to ensure applicants are measured in a fair, reliable and valid manner. These selection tests therefore help to ensure that those passing at a certain level will be able to cope with the level at which a programme is presented. This also allows applicants to show what they have to offer as students and as future leaders.

MBA and PGD BMA entrance exams differ from region to region

Depending on where you live or the institution you are applying for, the entrance requirements for an MBA or PGD BMA may differ. For example, business schools in India have upwards of ten different exams depending on which school you are applying for, including the Common Admission Test (CAT), Common Management Admission Test (CMAT), Xavier Aptitude Test (XAT) and Symbiosis National Aptitude (SNAP). Various Indian Business Schools also use the NMIMS Management Aptitude Test (NMAT). American business schools require students to either complete the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) or Graduate Record Examinations (GRE).

Business schools in South Africa also have different entry exams for these programmes.

GMAT and SHL in South Africa

In South Africa, two popular methods for acceptance into an MBA or PGD BMA are the GMAT and SHL assessments.


The GMAT is a standardised computer adaptive test (CAT) made up of four sections which test analytical writing assessment, integrated reasoning, quantitative and verbal assessments.

While the GMAT is considered the international standard for entrance exams, there are a few reasons why South African business schools, such as USB, have a preference for using a more comprehensive assessment battery. One of the reasons is that more research is required to demonstrate that the GMAT is not biased against the South African context, with specific reference to language, learning exposure, culture, gender and various elements that may affect previously disadvantaged individuals. That being said, USB does accept applicants who have completed the GMAT.

SHL – a key part of USB’s selection process into the MBA or PGD BMA

Join Janine Truter, Manager of Career Services at USB, explaining what the SHL assessment is and why it is used at USB. For a written breakdown, continue reading our article below.

The SHL selection test is a battery of psychometric assessments that USB and many other business schools across the globe use for entrance into an MBA and other Master’s programmes. The SHL assessment battery was chosen by USB to complement its inclusive approach, which takes into account a variety of quantitative and qualitative criteria, including:

  • Occupational Personality Questionnaire (OPQ)
  • Verbal Reasoning
  • Numerical Reasoning
  • Inductive Reasoning.

The above-mentioned forms part of USB’s overall selection process, which aims to assess an individual’s aptitude, personality attributes, management competencies, motivation and previous work experience.

The core difference between SHL and GMAT, or NMAT, would be that GMAT/NMAT looks at attained knowledge, which is learnt information, about what you know and what you can do now, whereas SHL looks at potential. – Janine Truter, Manager of Career Services at USB

The SHL assessment specifically identifies behavioural styles and abilities that are critical to USB and that offers insight into your academic performance as well as your future effectiveness as a leader. The output of the SHL assessment battery is also used for personal reflection and discussions during the MBA as part of the leadership discourse.

‘We look at both current performance and future performance – it’s very important to us as a school.’ – Janine Truter, Manager of Career Services at USB

South African studies have also identified the SHL assessments as valid, reliable and culturally fair. It is registered with the HPCSA.

SHL testing format

This battery of online assessments is split into two major components: a personality / behaviour questionnaire, and cognitive ability assessments. The personality / behaviour questionnaire is aimed at identifying your individual work style preferences, as well as providing an understanding of your personality. This is an untimed component of the assessment, but takes on average between 20 and 30 minutes to complete.

Verbal reasoning

The verbal reasoning component measures verbal skills that are relevant for positions that require detailed analysis, interpretation of written and oral information, preparation of written documents, and the preparation and delivery of presentations. This part of the assessment consists of 30 questions, and candidates are expected to complete it within 20 minutes.

Numerical reasoning

Numerical reasoning is used to assess the ability of the individual to analyse and interpret numerical data, budgets, costs, margins, trends or other statistical information. This part of the assessment consists of 18 questions, and candidates only have 25 minutes to complete it.

Diagrammatic (or inductive) reasoning

Diagrammatic (or inductive) reasoning tests the individual’s ability to identify connections and understand the relationships between concepts. This part of the test consists of 24 questions, and candidates are expected to complete it within 25 minutes.

The advantages of the SHL assessments

The benefits of this assessment include:

  • No lengthy preparation for the entrance test is required.
  • It is a slightly shorter assessment than many of the other exams used to assess a candidate’s suitability for an MBA.
  • It provides a more complete picture of the candidate through the personality and behavioural questionnaire.
  • It is used extensively across South Africa and is considered a well-validated instrument in the local context.
  • It also offers the opportunity for personal development feedback upon request.
  • Candidates can complete it online, in their own time, and in a comfortable environment.
  • The online assessment allows for quicker processing and scoring.
  • Due to the online nature of the assessment a random verification assessment is done on campus and it is triangulated with other information sets of the individual.

In essence, the key reason why we prefer SHL as our assessment is really because we like to measure potential because of our all-inclusive approach. It’s also important for us to have an assessment tool that is relevant to the South African context, in that it is fair, culturally fair, and is not biased against any of our fundamental South African criteria, such as learning orientation, background, culture or gender.’ – Janine Truter

Now that you have a better understanding of the SHL and the critical role it plays in USB’s selection process, be sure to take a look at our internationally recognised and accredited MBA or PGD programme. Our Business Administration programmes will provide you with the skills to not only thrive locally but also in the international business market. For more information, contact us today

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