When MBA Candidates Should Retake the GMAT: 3 Factors to Consider
MBA candidates typically approach admissions tests in one of two ways: either they determine their target schools first and then take and retake the GMAT (or GRE) until they have a competitive score; or they take the test first in order to determine which schools are realistic options for them to target.
There are pros and cons to both approaches. If you’ve planned your application strategy around a particular set of schools, only to discover that your GMAT and the totality of your application package doesn’t make you a good fit, it can be incredibly difficult to switch approaches and re-tailor your application materials for a different set of schools. But if you choose a set of target MBA programs based on your test score, it can be very easy to get complacent and not push yourself toward the best possible outcomes.
When it comes to b-school admissions, it’s not generally possible to say, “Here is the exact score you need to meet or exceed in order to be admitted to this particular school.” Admissions committees look at so many different factors, from work experience to GPA to test scores to admissions essays to recommendation letters, that you can’t always tell from the outside what will be the deciding elements.
But what is important—what I can say with 100% confidence when it comes to MBA admissions—is that you need to apply to your target business schools with the absolute best application that you’re able to put together.
So with that in mind, how can you tell when you need to retake the GMAT in order to get a better score, and when your time is better spent elsewhere? Here are three factors to consider:
1. Can you get a better score?
This first question is a purely pragmatic one. Preparing for a test—especially a retest—requires resources: time to study. Books, practice tests, and other study materials to work from. Possibly money as well, if you decide that you need additional help from a GMAT prep course or independent tutor.
Before you can decide whether it makes sense to retake the GMAT, you need to take stock of your resources. Locate books to work from, or choose a prep class or tutor that you can commit to, and make a study plan that you know you will have time to follow. If you want to retake the GMAT, you have to put in the work to make a difference in your score.
Both the GMAT and the GRE can be taken up to five times within a year, the GMAT every 16 days and the GRE every 31. But if you can’t actually make the time in your schedule to study during that time, it doesn’t make much sense to postpone your application and pay the test fee again.
2. How does your score compare?
Applying to business school is an intensely personal, sometimes insular experience. Creating an effective application requires you to spend a lot of time thinking about your experience, your background, your career path and goals. All of that introspection is important, even vital—but at the end of the process, you also need to be able to think about your competition.
Whether or not you have a good (or good enough) MBA score doesn’t hinge on your ability alone. It has to be decided by comparison with the other applicants at the schools where you plan to apply. Most business schools publish information about the GMAT scores of their accepted applicants.
If you want to get a full pictures of the candidates who are actually admitted to your target schools, you need to look beyond just the average score. For example, Yale’s class of 2019 had a median GMAT of 730, with the middle 80% of GMAT scores ranging from 690 to 760. Columbia Business School reported the same middle 80% as Yale, with an average score of 724 and an overall range of scores for admitted students from 530 to 790.
When you’re deciding whether it makes sense for you to retake the GMAT, you need to evaluate your score in comparison to the rest of the pool of applicants at your target schools. Unless the rest of your background is uniquely incredible, you really need to aim for that middle 80% range.
3. What does the rest of your MBA application look like?
Columbia Business School admitted an applicant to the class of 2019 who scored 530 on the GMAT. So did Wharton. Does that mean that GMAT scores aren’t really important, or that you shouldn’t worry about retaking the test if you score a 600?
Of course not. What it means is that you can’t look at your GMAT score alone. You have to consider the entirety of your MBA application, as well as the competition you’re likely to face at your target schools.
If you’re coming from an extremely common background, and you know there will be hundreds of other candidates just like you applying to the same schools, an excellent GMAT score is a great way to set yourself apart. If you’ve got some truly unique experience, whether it’s a uniquely impressive resume or a personal brand that sets you apart, you can get away with a score that hovers in the middle (or maybe even lower end) of the range.
Admissions committees generally look for well-rounded candidates. If your score is unbalanced, your time may be better spent looking for other ways to even things out: a low quant score can sometimes be balanced out by a high college GPA with lots of quant-heavy courses, or post-bachelor quant courses, or workplace experience that makes it clear you know your stuff when it comes to numbers.
Not sure what message your application is sending to the admissions committees? EXPARTUS can help. With our free MBA application assessment, we can give you insight into how an adcom might view your application package, as well as guidance on the best schools for you and a path toward creating a personal brand that will help you stand out from the crowd.
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