When business schools announce their application deadlines, I often hear from candidates who do not yet have the GMAT score they want. What to do?
First, do a little research. What kinds of scores are posted for the schools to which you plan to apply? Check their websites; most will publish scores for admitted students. If you cannot find scores for a certain program, you can try checking various MBA ranking reports (though many require you to buy the information). How far are you from the goal?
Next, consult the experts. First, talk to an admissions consultant (hint, hint, mbaMission) to gain help in deciding how far you really need to go with the GMAT. The general rule is that you would like to be at or above the average to be competitive for a certain school, but you may need to push higher (or you might get away with a lower score), depending on other aspects of your application profile. Be sure to discuss multiple scenarios: if I apply first round, can I get away with a slightly lower GMAT score? If I wait to apply second round, is the possibility of a higher GMAT score likely to make much of a difference? (Disclaimer: Of course, nobody can tell you whether you will definitely get into any particular school, just as nobody can tell you that taking the test again will definitely net you a higher score. As always, you take your chances!)
When you have an idea of your “ideal” goal score, talk to some GMAT experts to see whether your desired goal score and your time frame are reasonable, given your starting point. If someone tells me that she just scored a 600 and wants a 720 in 30 days, that person has an “expectation adjustment” conversation in her near future, because not many people would be able to raise their score by 120 points (particularly to such a high final score) in only one month.
Next, think about what resources would help you to learn better than you have in the past. Online forums? A friend who has already taken the test? A private tutor? A mix of all three? (I am not suggesting a course here, because I am assuming that we are talking about six weeks or fewer, in which case—if you are going to spend money—you might as well spend it on a tutor. That will give you much more targeted and customized help, which is crucial in such a short time frame. If you have more time, though, add “a course?” to the list of possibilities.)
You may have to make a tough choice between going for your goal score while postponing your application and lowering your goal score while sticking to your application time frame. Either way, take advantage of the expert advice out there to help you with this decision.