GMAT and Your MBA Application Strategy

by Stacy Blackman Consulting, May 9, 2022

There is no such thing as a bad test, just opportunities to build on and learn from.

Nearly every MBA candidate submits a GMAT or GRE score as part of their business school admissions package. Yet not everyone understands how the GMAT fits into the overall MBA application strategy. Ideally, you would take the test right out of college while still in study and test mode. Both GMAT and GRE scores are valid for five years. Therefore, getting the exams out of the way early frees you to focus on the other elements of the application.

But what if, like most applicants, you didn’t have the foresight to take the exam right after college? The next best step is to get the GMAT out of the way before you finalize your list of schools. Your score isn’t everything, but it is an integral part of the admissions equation.

If you bomb the exam and can’t improve your score, you may need to reassess your target schools to include less-competitive options. Conversely, you may be able to add one more reach school if you scored higher than expected.

The round one deadline is about five months away at many elite schools. If you still need to take the GMAT or GRE, you have a lot of work ahead of you! Unless you’re a whiz at standardized tests, you’ll need to train your brain to get it back into test-taking form.


Most applicants devote at least 100 hours to test preparation. Depending on where you are in the process, you may have to take a prep class and perhaps take the test more than once. If this is the case, the first round may not be a realistic option—unless you’re prepared to immerse yourself in the process completely.

One client, Tasha, came to us just five weeks before the round she was targeting with some idea of her school choices and a GMAT score she wanted to improve. With her limited time, she needed to schedule the GMAT for two weeks before her application deadlines. That meant she didn’t have the luxury of focused studying for the GMAT in all her free time.

To help Tasha, we first wrote down all her tasks, including the number of essay iterations we expected of her. Next, we worked backward from her deadlines to see how many days she had to work. Tasha then started alternating essay writing and GMAT study until the day she took the test.

This abbreviated yet methodical time management system worked for her. Tasha improved her GMAT by 30 points and submitted a solid application to her three target schools. She ultimately gained admission to Stanford Graduate School of Business and Cornell’s Johnson Graduate School of Management. Tasha’s strategy won’t work for everybody, but we see applicants pull off the impossible every season.

We typically advise clients to plan for two attempts at the GRE or GMAT, leaving a buffer for a retake if needed. There’s no harm in taking the test two or even three times. Unless you score well right out of the gate, often, you will do better the second time. You’ll have fewer nerves, more familiarity with the process, and no big surprises.

Average scores are increasing every year at top MBA programs, making it hard to offset a bad GMAT score. We cringe when we read essays where people try to rationalize a low score. What you can do, however, is acknowledge the score and say you don’t find it truly reflective of your abilities. Then show why you are strong in quant or going to excel academically by pointing to your college GPA, work experience, or by encouraging your recommenders to focus heavily on your intellect.

Timing and planning are crucial to reducing the stress of the application process. We encourage applicants not to cram everything into too short of a timeline, but everyone has their own studying style. You just need to figure out what makes the most sense for you, your goals, and your schedule.


Stacy Blackman Consulting is the only MBA admissions firm with a complete panel of former Admissions Officers from every M7 program and the elite European MBA programs. If you are looking for guidance on your MBA application, we can help with hourly and comprehensive consulting services. Contact us to learn more.