Over the last couple years, the makers of the GMAT have instituted changes making it easier for you, the test-taker, to pick and choose your best GMAT score to send to business schools. Not only that, but you can make a low score disappear by canceling within 72 hours after taking the exam. Due in part to these test changes, the mean total GMAT score for U.S. test-takers rose 10 points in two years, from 532 in 2014 to 542 in 2016.
However, then the GMAT introduced another change – you can now only take the exam eight times overall. If you were planning to take the GMAT for the first or second time, do not take your preparation lightly. Make every attempt count.
If you are applying to business school programs this year, you should be both studying for the GMAT and researching schools. Your minimum goal for your GMAT score is to reach the lower end of your target school’s range of scores. An even better goal is to exceed your school’s average GMAT score, obviously more of a challenge. As I have written before, the GMAT average score at Top 10 business schools is hovering around 721, and if you are aiming for that bracket, your GMAT preparation needs to be both intensive and strategic.
Don’t start by walking into the test center to “see how you do.” You only have five attempts at the exam this year, and you don’t want to waste any of them. Start by going to mba.com to take a full practice test, so that you can assess where you currently stand on both GMAT math and verbal sections.
Most likely, you will discover that you need to start studying. Then, after you work on practice questions (found on mba.com and in the Official GMAT Guide), should you walk into the test center? Take a practice test first. Don’t waste a GMAT exam attempt without having any idea of how you will probably score.
Many people end up retaking the GMAT at least once. If you are going to retake the exam, assess whether you need a new strategy.
The first time that you took the GMAT, it is possible that you did not perform at your best. If so, it is time for you to decide whether to retake the exam (for seven questions to consider, read Retaking the GMAT).
If you decide to retake the GMAT, you are not alone. Of all test-takers in 2016, 28% were retaking the test (up from only 18% in 2005). According to GMAC data, for the second try, a GMAT test-taker who scored between 600 and 690 gained about 20 points, on average, and test-taker who scored between 700 and 790 gained about 10 points. (Sidebar: if you scored 790 on the GMAT, you really don't need to retake the exam.) Be aware that the business schools typically look for a 40-point gain, the standard error of the difference between two scores.
Be an optimist, but a realistic optimistic. If you are far from your GMAT score goals, you will need to assess how long it may take you to better prepare for your next attempt. Take advantage of the Enhanced Score Report on mba.com to get more information on your performance by section, question type, and time management. Accept that it will take time, focused preparation, and expert help to bring your GMAT score up.
Again, you have only four more attempts for the year, seven attempts in all! Bring your A game to every single attempt.
In 2016, 27% of U.S. and Canadian test-takers hit the "Cancel" button (as compared to only 1.6% in 2014). However, you should not go into the exam thinking, “Oh well, if I don’t make my goal, it’s no big deal; I’ll just cancel and try again.” Go in with realistic goals based on business school research; go in with a few practice tests under your belt; go with the best preparation. You’ll do better on the GMAT, and you won’t have to take a difficult exam anywhere close to eight times.
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Thinking about skipping the GMAT for a "test-optional" business school application? Maybe think again.
The Analytical Writing Assessment section of the GMAT is mainly unused and not very useful for anybody – in other words, it's a time-waster. GMAC, it's the perfect time for a clean sweep. Get rid of it.