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Common GMAT Concerns: Taking the Test Again and Dealing with a Low AWA Score

When candidates who have already taken the GMAT once ask us whether they should take the test again, we always reply with this key question: “Do you think you can do better?” If the individual does indeed believe that they can improve, the next question we inevitably get is “What do business schools think of multiple scores?”

Fortunately, most MBA admissions committees do not frown on candidates taking the GMAT more than once. Many applicants feel that they must be “perfect” the first time and that any subsequent test they take—particularly if they receive a lower score on it—might be damaging to their candidacy. This is not the case. Dartmouth Tuck, for one, anticipates that applicants will take the exam more than once and openly states its willingness to “consider your highest quantitative and highest verbal scores,” if they occur on separate tests. Meanwhile, other programs have been known to call candidates and tell them that if they can increase their GMAT scores, they will be offered admission.

Accepting a candidate’s highest GMAT scores is actually in an MBA program’s best interest, because doing so can help raise the school’s GMAT average, which is then reported to rankings bodies such as Bloomberg Businessweek and U.S. News & World Report and could positively affect the school’s position in these surveys. So, do not be afraid to take the test two or even three times. It can only help.

Now, if you took the GMAT and feel like you finally “nailed” the exam but later learn that your score on the Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA), the essay portion, is low, should you panic?

In short, the answer is no. Although we have always encouraged business school candidates to do the best they can on the AWA, the truth is that we have never been told by an admissions officer—nor, as far as we know, has a candidate ever been told in a feedback session—that the AWA score is a factor in a school’s decisions. Generally, the AWA is not used to evaluate candidates but to detect fraud.

If, hypothetically, you had tremendous difficulty expressing yourself via the AWA essays but wrote like a Pulitzer Prize winner in your application essays, the school would get suspicious and begin to compare the two. Not to worry—the schools are not punitive and are not acting as fraud squads. Your AWA essays are expected to be unpolished, so no one will seek out your file if you did your best in both areas. However, if an enormous discrepancy arises between the two, the AWA serves a purpose.

So, if you did well on the GMAT and have a low AWA score, that is unfortunate, but it will not be the difference in a school’s decision about your candidacy. Rest easy—as long as you truly did write both!




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