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72-Hour Decision: Should You Cancel Your GMAT Score?

By Ajay Amar, Ph.D., Mar 29 2016 04:59PM

After you take the GMAT, you have an important decision to make – accept the GMAT score, or cancel it? You used to have to make the decision in two minutes or less, but as of March 10, 2016, you have a full 72 hours after your test to decide whether to cancel the score. If you cancel the score, it will not appear on your official GMAT score report – not even as a “C” for “Cancel.”


Your choices now are:


2 Minutes After Your Test – With a preview of your GMAT score in front of you, you decide to keep or cancel the score.


Up to 72 Hours After Your Test – If you kept the GMAT score at the test center, you may still cancel your score online (for a small fee).


Up to Four Years and 11 Months After Your Test – If you previously cancelled your GMAT score, you may reinstate your score online (for another fee).


Two years ago, immediately after taking the exam, you would have had to guess what your score might be, and decide to keep or cancel the score right there on the spot. GMAC’s more flexible policy is a significant improvement that should ease some of the pressure on test-takers. That said, I urge you to prepare in advance to make that big decision: Keep or Cancel?



1. Know the GMAT score that you are capable of achieving – that means taking at least two full official GMAT practice tests before taking the real exam.


Download GMATPrep, the practice software, from mba.com, and take a full practice test under true exam conditions. Spend four hours on the test. Don’t cheat with notes or a calculator. Don’t nosh on food, or listen to soothing music. Don’t take extra breaks. Your goal is to achieve a close proximity of what your real GMAT score will be.


Knowing your capabilities, you will be better able to make an educated decision on test day.


If you break 700, Keep The Score, even if you had been scoring higher on your practice tests. If you have time before the MBA deadlines, you can retake the exam, but 700 will put you in the game for top business schools.

If your score fell slightly below the score you had been achieving on practice tests, Keep The Score. Recognize that statistical variations are a part of life: GMAC states that the standard error of measurement is 30 points.

If your score fell dramatically (60 points or more) from what you were scoring on your practice tests, and you need a higher score for your target schools, Cancel The Score. Retake the exam after 16 days, and choose which score to reinstate. (Leave yourself enough time before your MBA deadlines.)


From my own GMAT students, I have heard a few stories of terrible test days caused by bad news, illness, and in the case of one military officer stationed overseas, warning sirens going off periodically throughout the test. Sometimes, canceling a bad GMAT score is the only thing to do. However, in most cases, accept your GMAT score if it is within 50 points of what you were expecting, and move on from there.


2. Keep a record of all of your cancelled GMAT scores and the associated test dates.


Should you decide to cancel a GMAT score, record your total score and the breakdown of math and verbal scores, as well as the date of the test. If you retake the GMAT several times, and cancel the score several times, you may reinstate your best score – but GMAC will not show you the cancelled GMAT scores, only the test dates.


3. What GMAT score do you need?


Stanford, which has the highest GMAT average, 733, has scores ranging from 570 to 800. Rival business school Wharton, with an average GMAT score of 732, has a range of 620 to 790.


So, you could get into Stanford or Wharton with a score of 620, or even below, right? Not really. I don't recommend pushing the envelope at the lower end. Realistically, you want to get within a school’s 80% range of GMAT scores. Wharton’s range is 700-770 – that tells you to aim for 700+, and ideally above 732. (Stanford does not publish its 80% range.)


Let’s look at two strong regional schools that are based in tech city centers and have growing international reputations. UT McCombs, based in Austin, has an average GMAT score of 694, with an 80% range of 640 to 740. UNC Kenan-Flagler, based in Raleigh, has an average GMAT score of 710, and an 80% range of 640 to 750.


Say that you have your heart set on attending one of those schools. You have been scoring over 700 in GMAT practice tests. On test day, the GMAT score preview comes up, and you see that your official GMAT score is a 690. You know that’s within the 80% range of many schools, and so you hit “Accept.” You’re now in the game.


But what if something went wrong on test day, and for reasons that you can guess, you scored significantly lower? What if you scored a 640, when you had been scoring above 700 on practice tests?


Accept your GMAT score at the test center, but then go home, research target schools’ ranges, consult an expert, and think realistically about what you can achieve in the time allotted. You may decide to cancel the score within the 72 hours, knowing that you can reinstate the score at a later date.


4. Know your schools’ application deadlines.


It should go without saying, but if you are taking the GMAT in late December, and your schools’ Round 2 deadlines are in early January, accept the GMAT score, whatever it is. In the next 72 hours, your decision ought to be whether to go ahead with your applications. You may decide to cancel the GMAT score and apply for next year’s MBA classes instead.


5. Be realistic, and have a Plan B.


Make realistic decisions, and avoid the temptation of magical thinking. Everyone hopes to achieve peak performance on test day, but if you scored a 600 on your last official GMAT practice test, don’t expect a magical leap to 700 on test day. And don’t cancel a low GMAT score and hope to magically raise your score on a retake within three weeks. Finally, you should know that you can only take the GMAT five times in one year, and eight times in all.


GMAC is offering you the benefit of 72 hours to make a decision – take advantage of the time to fully consider all of your options.


Hopefully, you have joined the 700 Club, but if you have not, you still have options. You may study for a retake, or you may put away your books and focus on your applications. But with GMAT’s new Keep or Cancel options, the possibilities have just expanded.


Wondering whether you should take the GMAT again? Read my blog post to review your critical decision points: Retaking the GMAT.


Austin GMAT Review is the premier GMAT test prep company in Central Texas, offering structured GMAT courses to professionals preparing to enter full-time MBA or executive MBA programs. Austin GMAT Review caters to busy professionals who don't have the time to sort through masses of generic study materials. Meeting with an experienced professor face-to-face in limited-size GMAT classes, students receive the personalized coaching that they need and strategies to excel on the GMAT.


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