With few exceptions, the average GMAT score at top business schools has been slowly creeping up. Here are a few GMAT averages from the Class of 2024: Stanford, 733 average GMAT score, +3 points from 2011. Wharton, 728, +2 (prior years were in the stratosphere with Stanford). Kellogg, 727, +13. Chicago Booth, 724, +5. NYU Stern, 723, +4. It’s not surprising that the anxiety levels of GMAT test-takers have also risen, and aren’t always relieved when that highly important score appears at the end of the test.
The question: Should I retake the GMAT? The answer: Maybe. Given the time that it takes to prepare for the GMAT exam and apply to schools, the decision to retake the GMAT is not made on a coin toss. Here are eight questions to consider – the answers will help you decide.
Become familiar with the class profiles of the MBA programs you are targeting. When deciding whether to retake the GMAT, I recommend that you focus less on a school’s GMAT average than its middle 80% range of GMAT scores. More than that, however, you must factor in the school’s size and selectivity.
Let’s take a look at Stanford, for example. Its entering class in 2020 had GMAT scores ranging from 570 to 800. “Woo-hoo!” you cry. “I have a 680 GMAT score! Stanford, here I come!” Not so fast. With a class size of only 436 students, and its global reputation attracting 7,324 applications last year, Stanford is highly selective. Your GMAT score would ideally be at the average or above, and must be accompanied with demonstrated leadership and vision – and even then, you may not make the cut. Retaking the GMAT to ensure that a lower score will not weaken your candidacy might make sense.
Also on the West Coast, UCLA Anderson has a 706 average GMAT score, with a middle 80% range of 660-750, and a small class of 360. The Anderson MBA program had 2,865 applications last year, a sizeable decrease from the 4,000+ applications it would receive in past years, but still a very selective school. The narrow range of GMAT scores seems to signal that the admissions team is still putting weight on candidates’ scores. If your score falls closer to 660 than 706, you probably need to retake the GMAT.
Yet if you fit the school’s MBA profile, you’ve got a strong resume, and clear career goals, your 680 score may be enough to get you in the door.
Your takeaway: The GMAT score is just one part of the total picture. If you fall in the lower 10% of your target school’s range, depending on the school, you may just need to focus on building a compelling application. If you fall well below that range, you probably need to retake the GMAT.
MBA admissions officers often say reassuringly that the GMAT score is only one of many criteria they use in their decision process. MBA candidates rarely believe it – but it’s true.
When deciding whether to retake the GMAT, don't fixate entirely your GMAT score. Just as the admissions officer would, consider yourself as a whole package. If you have other outstanding qualifications, including a high GPA and a track record of accomplishment in your career, I recommend turning your focus to assembling a stellar application.
Your takeaway: Your GMAT performance demonstrates that you can function in the core MBA classes, but ultimately, the GMAT score is just a number. You’re more than a number.
I assume that you took the GMAT exam having already taken several GMAT practice tests from GMAC, and that you had a baseline score for comparison.
Oftentimes, GMAT test-takers don’t do so well the first time around. You may have been nervous or lost track of time. If you did not finish the GMAT, statistics from GMAC (the company that offers the GMAT) suggest that you will probably finish the second time. In that case, simply practice, practice, practice, and try again after the mandatory month’s wait.
However, if you have been struggling with certain types of GMAT questions all along, then my guess is that you were not that surprised by your GMAT score. Plan to retake the GMAT, but not immediately.
You will need a corrective plan of action, and fundamentally better GMAT preparation, typically taking more than a month. For example, if you obtained a scaled score of 27 on GMAT verbal (46th percentile), scoring a 39 (89th percentile) will take several months of sustained effort.
Your takeaway: If your GMAT score fell below a recent practice score, determine why. Was it your nerves, or were you really not ready? Yes, retake the exam – the question for you is “When?”
You are unhappy with your GMAT score. The application deadline will soon be here. You’re in a panic, so you schedule a new exam date as soon as possible.
Do not retake the GMAT without systematically evaluating (1) what needs to change in your concept mastery and strategy, and (2) whether a month is enough to make the requisite changes. Evidence suggests that test-takers often overestimate what they can change in a month. Remember, your GMAT score could go down, especially if you do not change your strategy and methods.
Your takeaway: Be realistic. If you really need to retake the GMAT, consider moving your MBA application to Round 2 from Round 1, if that’s what will give you adequate time to achieve a significant improvement in your GMAT score.
Otherwise, Keep Calm and Carry On.
Can you retake the GMAT after you have submitted your application?
Yes, you can. Have an improved GMAT score sent to the school, and admissions will usually take it into consideration.
Here is the tale of two Javiers.
One of my former students, Javier, had taken the GMAT four times before he finally came to me, focused intently on his studies for a month, and radically improved his test performance on his fifth attempt and final attempt for the year.
Another of my former students, also named Javier, wanted to raise his GMAT score after first attempt, but still could only find the time to study erratically. Distracted by work and social events, he crammed in his study time just before his GMAT test date, took the exam and got the same score as before, and then became discouraged, taking long study breaks before his third, fourth, and fifth attempts. He was embarrassed by what he considered to be failure, so he didn't reach out to me for the additional help that I offered. He faced each attempt with growing dread (he told me, much later). Therefore, each test-taking attempt resulted in exactly the same result, every single time.
Both Javiers were extremely bright, but only one went to business school. In short, if you retake the GMAT without attempting to modify your study time and test-taking approach with extra guidance, you will probably get the same results. You will have wasted precious time that could have been better spent on the rest of your application.
You may not have the time to change course. In that case, forget retaking the GMAT yet again, and run on your resume. If you have the kind of background and track record that are of interest to a business school, a standardized test score won’t stop admissions from inviting you to an interview.
Your takeaway: You can only beat your head against the wall for so long.
I cannot emphasize enough: Do not take the official GMAT test as a practice test! You can only take the GMAT eight times in all.
Of course, MBA admissions would prefer you to have a high GMAT total score and be the perfect candidate. In reality, admissions may overlook a low verbal score if it’s balanced out by a high quant score and well-written essays.
A student of mine from overseas lost his nerve on test day and received an average score on GMAT verbal, although he did exceptionally well on GMAT math. He concentrated on perfecting his application, and after being wait-listed at a Top Ten school noted for its emphasis on quantitative skills, he was accepted.
Your takeaway: If you received a high GMAT quant score, you may not need to retake the GMAT.
Assess your target. For example, if your target business school is known to be quantitatively challenging, like Wharton or Chicago Booth, and you believe that you can raise your GMAT math score, you may decide to re-focus your GMAT preparation and retake the GMAT. However, if you are really afraid of math, there are many other excellent business schools that might make a better fit for you.
Your takeaway: Sometimes retaking the GMAT makes less sense than readjusting your goals.
The GMAT was designed to test your ability to do well in business schools' core courses. However, its computer-adaptive test format and certain question types may be hindering your test performance. Feel free to contact us to discuss whether you should continue pursuing the GMAT or perhaps switch to the GRE for better results.
The truth is that no matter what your score is, you’ll always feel a little regret. One of my more motivated students got a GMAT score of 740. Yet she felt that she had left points on the table and wondered whether she should retake the test.
Again, your GMAT score is just one part of your MBA application. If retaking the GMAT exam makes sense for you, give it all you’ve got! But rarely is the decision simple.
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