The GMAT offers various kinds of flexibility around your decision to keep or cancel your GMAT scores—but also some restrictions. It is 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 GMAT scores. If you keep them, they will go on your official record. If you cancel them, they will not; the schools will not see those scores, nor will the schools even know that you took the test that day.
Right at that moment, you will have two minutes to decide whether to keep or cancel your GMAT scores. Later, you can change your mind—but you will have to pay a fee to change the status of your scores. So let us first talk about how to make the best decision during those first two minutes.
In short, you need to have an idea of what you would want to do before you even walk into 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 PhD programs, may look at all your scores. So it is 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 do not care if you take the test multiple times. They are just going to use your best score, and that is that. If you are applying to a PhD 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 will come up with a goal score for yourself. Broadly speaking, you can classify the programs into one of three categories:
—Safety. I am almost certain to be accepted to this school.
—Regular. I have a good chance to get in, but it is not a certainty.
—Reach. This school is a stretch, but hey, if I do not even apply, I definitely will not make it, right? So I will 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 would still ideally be within that school’s general range.
For the purposes of this discussion, let us say that your goal score is a 650.
What Is Your Minimum Acceptable Score?
Your ideal goal is 650, but let us say that (based on your research) your minimum score is really a 620. You would 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 are good to go!
What if you score a 610? Close enough. Keep it.
See where I am going with this? At some point, the decision will switch to, “Nope, I am 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 cannot score above 590? You do not 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 are so stressed out… and now you have taken the test three times, and you have no score on your record at all.
This 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 are going to have to pay to do so. Let us minimize your expenditure here.)
Know (More) about What the Schools Want
Remember how I said that MBA programs do not really care if you take the test multiple times? For those programs, then, you do not actually have to cancel anything. They do not care. Just keep all your scores.
I know most students will not be totally comfortable with this. I am 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 us say that a school’s average is 650. You first score was a little under 650—say, 620 to 640. That is 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 are 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 have 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 is worth it to keep the score in the third scenario, but I would understand if a student did not feel comfortable doing so (particularly if you knew you would take the test a third time).
Final Advice: To Keep or Cancel Your GMAT Scores?
So all of this leads me to this:
—If you are applying for an MBA and you are 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 is 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 is not anywhere near a 780. But less than 1% of the testing population hits a 780! That is super ambitious. Be really happy if you get there, but do not assume that anyone who just “studies enough” will get there.
I Canceled, but Now I Am 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 the 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 will 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 five 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 are 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 will only have to pay $25 to do so.
One Unusual Circumstance in Which You Actually Should Cancel
This last bit will not 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 will not have any reported scores (since you did not finish), but the fact that you showed up to take the test that day will still show up on your official score report. It is sort of an in-between case with an odd outcome.
So, if this happens to you, here is 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 cannot 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.
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 am keeping my score. If I score 520 or lower, I am canceling.”)
If you just cannot decide at the end, keep the scores. Know that you will 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.