Should I re-take the GMAT

One of the top 5 questions we get at Admit Advantage is should I re-take the GMAT (or in some cases, the GRE).  There are lots of different circumstances around this decision, but I’m hoping to be able to shed some light on this topic for you.  Here is some general guidance to help you make your decision.

Make an unbiased decision.

First and foremost, the test can create quite a bit of anxiety for many people and I get it.  However, don’t let the tail wag the dog.  “I don’t want to take it again” is not really good enough if you should take it again.  Taking the test again involves short-term pain (studying, discipline, longer hours, etc.) for long-term success (drinks at a really cool bar on an awesome campus and maybe a good job after graduation).   You don’t want to invest several hundred thousand dollars in business school if you’re not optimizing your school acceptances.  Put the big boy/girl pants on and make the right decision – not necessarily the easy decision.

Put the score in context

This is a very important point that is lost on many applicants.  You need to put your score in the context of your school choice AND the rest of your application.  If you have a weakness in your GPA or have less significant work experience, your GMAT will matter more.  Conversely, if you went to a great school, have strong work experience and have had an impact in your community, the school may be willing to consider a slightly lower GMAT.

Understand your demographic

Sorry Indian IT males – your demographic for b-school stinks.  You guys tend to score very well on tests making your job harder…and there are a lot of you and you seem to love business school!  For tough demographics like this, you should strongly consider scoring higher than the median GMAT score at your target school to put yourself in the best position for success.  The bottom line: schools are looking for a diverse class and it’s a supply and demand game (no charge for economics 101) – if your demographic tends to score better on the GMAT, you need to do what you can to match that score.  No hard and fast rule, but an underestimated fact that you should consider.

030313-N-3228G-002 Pearl Harbor, Hawaii (Mar. 16, 2003) — Nearly 250 candidates for E-5 mark their answer sheets while taking the March 2003 advancement exam at the Club Pearl Complex. Island-wide, a total of 701 candidates took the test and included Sailors from shore commands as well as those temporarily assigned from deployed Pearl Harbor ships and submarines. U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 1st Class William R. Goodwin. (RELEASED)

No more dessert

I have a huge sweet tooth and I have almost no discipline when it comes to sweets (my co-founder, Kofi, is quite fond of jelly beans and in the same boat), so I have to go into dinner with a plan – dessert or no dessert depending on how heavy my main course is.  You have to have a test-taking plan and know when to say no.  If you have taken the test a few times and had significant inconsistencies in your score OR if you scored at the top range of your practice tests, you may just have to say no to a re-take.  Schools will be able to see trends, so if you peaked at 680 and subsequently scored a 650 and 630, schools are going to wonder if that 680 was a “real” score.  It’s much better to quit while you’re ahead.

Post submission strategy

One strategy to consider is to take the test after you submit.  If you do better, you can give the school an update that they will put in your file.  If you don’t – no harm, no foul.  I like this strategy, especially for candidates who aren’t confident they will do better, but some schools don’t accept post-submission updates, so be aware of your school’s policy on this.

So, the million dollar question is, what score should I get?   I always say to shoot for at, or above, the median of your target schools and above your stretch schools.  That being said, you need to take into account your demographic and the rest of your application to really know for sure.

Eric is the President of the admissions consulting company, Admit Advantage.  Eric has his B.S. from Brown University and his MBA from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.  Eric previously served on the admissions committee at Wharton.