To Keep or to Cancel Your GMAT Scores?

by on March 4th, 2017

Yes or NoThe GMAT offers various kinds of flexibility around keeping or canceling your GMAT scores—but also some restrictions. It’s important to understand your options so that you make the best decision for you!

How does it work?

At the end of the test, you will be shown your scores (for everything except the essay) and you will then be asked whether you want to keep or cancel your scores. If you keep your scores, they’ll go on your official record. If you cancel them, they won’t; the school won’t see those scores, nor will the schools even know that you took the test that day.

Right at that moment, you’ll have 2 minutes to decide whether to keep or cancel. Later, you can change your mind—but you’ll have to pay a fee to change the status of your scores. So let’s first talk about how to make the best decision during that first 2 minutes.

In short, you need to have an idea of what you’d want to do before you even walk in the testing room.

What do your schools want to see?

First, what kind of program do you want? MBA programs generally care only about your highest score. Other kinds of programs, such as Ph.D. programs, may look at all of your scores. So it’s important to find out how your schools are going to use the data.

If you are applying to an MBA program, you can assume that they don’t care if you take the test multiple times. They’re just going to use your best score and that’s that. If you are applying to a Ph.D. program or another type of Master’s program, ask the schools directly whether they care about multiple tests and, if so, how they use the multiple data points.

(By the way, for any school communication, I highly recommend attending one or more of the various MBA tours that travel around the country, giving you an opportunity to meet representatives from different schools. There are a bunch of different ones, some of which are tied to specific groups of people, such as women or other underrepresented groups. Ask your questions directly, make some connections, and get the ball rolling!)

What is your goal score?

Based on where you want to apply and how those schools use GMAT scores, you’ll come up with a goal score for yourself. Broadly speaking, you can classify the programs into one of three categories:

  • Safety. I’m almost certain to be accepted to this school.
  • Regular. I’ve got a good chance to get in, but it’s not a certainty.
  • Reach. This school is a stretch, but hey, if I don’t even apply, I definitely won’t make it, right? So I’ll give it a shot.

Your GMAT goal should be above the average for your safety schools and at least at the average for your regular schools. You may not be above average for the reach schools, but you’d still ideally be within that school’s general range.

For the purposes of this discussion, let’s say that your goal score is a 650.

What is your minimum acceptable score?

Your ideal goal is 650, but let’s say that (based on your research) your minimum score is really a 620. You’d still feel comfortable applying to your schools with that score.

So, first, if you do hit a 620 or higher, you are not even going to think about canceling. You’re good to go!

What if you score a 610? Close enough. Keep it.

600?

580?

560 … ?

See where I’m going with this? :) At some point, the decision will switch to, “Nope, I’m going to cancel this one.” Where is that point?

Consider the worst possible scenario

Your ideal goal is 650. Your minimum is 620. But what if you just can’t score above 590? You don’t want to take the test and score 590 and cancel, and then sign up again and get another 590 and cancel again, and then take it a third time and get a 550 because you’re so stressed out…and now you’ve taken the test three times and you have no score on your record at all.

The above scenario is even more likely for those who have really high goals. If someone really wants a 730 and keeps canceling 690 scores … that person might never make it to 730.

(You can reinstate your canceled scores at a later date—but you’re going to have to pay to do so. Let’s minimize your expenditure here.)

Know (more) about what the schools want

Remember how I said that MBA programs don’t really care if you take the test multiple times? For those programs, then, you don’t actually have to cancel anything. They don’t care. Just keep all your scores.

I know most students won’t be totally comfortable with this. I’m going to try to change your mind, though.

Anecdotally, we have heard that MBA programs, if anything, consider it a positive to see that you tried again. Let’s say that a school’s average is 650. You first score close a little under 650—say, 620 to 640. That’s probably good enough, but you decide to go for it again because you want to hit that average, if possible. This could play out in a couple of ways:

  • You score 650+. Yay! You’re at/above the average for that school! Your hard work paid off.
  • You increase your score a little but not all the way to the average. You are closer now, and you’ve signaled to the school that you were willing to try hard to succeed. They like to see that.
  • You drop below your initial score. You still keep the score to signal to the school that you were willing to keep trying. Yeah, it did drop, but so what; you still have your original (higher) score locked in.

I would definitely keep the score in the first two scenarios. I also think it’s worth it to keep the score in the third scenario, but I would understand if a student didn’t feel comfortable doing so (particularly if you knew you would take the test a third time).

Final advice: Keep or cancel?

So all of the above leads me to this:

  • If you’re applying for an MBA and you’re okay with my recommendation just to keep everything, then keep your score no matter what.
  • If that idea makes you uneasy, then keep any score that’s within 100 points of your minimum goal score. If you want a minimum score of 650, keep any score of 550 or higher. (If your ideal score is 650 but your minimum is 620, keep anything at 520 or higher.)

Caveat: if your goal score is crazy high (e.g., you want a 780), keep anything within 150 points of your goal. I know, I know, a 630 isn’t anywhere near a 780. But less than 1% of the testing population hits a 780! That’s super ambitious. Be really happy if you get there, but don’t assume that anyone who just “studies enough” will get there.

I canceled but now I’m thinking I should reinstate the score … (or vice versa)

As of this writing, here are the details for canceling or reinstating a score after you leave the testing center. (Note that any details, especially pricing, could change in future—so check mba.com to make sure that nothing has changed.)

If you keep your scores in the testing center but later decide that you want to cancel them, you have 72 hours to do so; after that, you cannot cancel your scores. You’ll have to pay a $25 fee.

If you cancel in the testing center but later decide that you want to reinstate your scores, you can do so as long as the scores are still valid (they expire after 5 years). This will cost you $50.

It costs less to cancel after the fact, but you have a time limit of 72 hours. If you’re just not sure what to do in the testing center, I would recommend keeping the scores, then using the next day or two to think about what to do (and ask others that you trust for their opinion). Then, if you do decide to cancel, you’ll only have to pay $25 to do so.

One unusual circumstance in which you actually should cancel

This last bit won’t apply to 99.9% of people taking the test, but just in case this happens to you, read on.

If you become ill or otherwise feel that you cannot finish while you are at the testing center, then a weird thing happens if you leave the test before getting to that “keep or cancel” screen at the very end. You won’t have any reported scores (since you didn’t finish) but the fact that you showed up to take the test that day will still show up on your official score report. It’s sort of an in-between case with an odd outcome.

So, if this happens to you, here’s what I recommend you do. If you have to leave the testing room (maybe you feel queasy and have to go to the bathroom), do so. Just let the test keep running. If you decide, when you get back, that you can’t keep going, then click through all of the remaining questions randomly to get yourself to the end of the test. On the Keep or Cancel screen, cancel your scores.

In sum

Know what your goal scores (ideal and minimum) are.

Know what you want to do before you get into the testing room. (For example, tell yourself, “If I score 530 or higher, I’m keeping my score. If I score 520 or lower, I’m canceling.”)

If you just can’t decide at the end, keep the scores. Know that you’ll have 72 hours to change your mind and cancel instead. Get out of the testing room, clear your mind, decide what to do, and move ahead.

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