Mission Admission: Should I Retake the GMAT?

Mission Admission is a series of MBA admission tips; a new one is posted each Tuesday.

“Is my GMAT score too low?”

In a competitive environment, we hear this question quite regularly from candidates who have scores in the 90th percentile and higher. So, what constitutes a solid GMAT score?

With regard to top MBA programs, an overall score of 700, with an 80th percentile standing on both the quantitative and verbal sections, is generally considered “safe.” However, if your score is lower than this benchmark, this blog post should not be a source of anxiety. We have seen many candidates with sub-700 scores—and more than a few with sub-600 scores—get into top programs. As admissions officers are at pains to tell candidates, the GMAT is but one metric that schools consider and must be viewed relative to other indicators, such as grades/GPA, professional experience, community leadership, international experience and personal accomplishments.

Candidates who are concerned that their scores may be too low should consider them in comparison to their target school’s GMAT average and distribution. For example, Yale’s Web site states that its Class of 2012 has a GMAT average of 722 and that the mid-80% of that class scored between 680 and 770. So, 680 and 770 form a range for candidates with low to average scores to consider. Taking this range into account, a male investment banker with a 640 score and limited community experience, for example, might consider retaking the GMAT. By contrast, a male investment banker with a 710 and significant community experience might be better off working on his applications instead.

The key point—and the one that is most often missed amid GMAT hysteria—is that candidates must be confident that they can improve their scores, otherwise retaking the GMAT is senseless. If your actual score is higher than your pre-tests had indicated, then you might assume that test day was your best attempt and thus focus your energies elsewhere going forward. On the other hand, if you are confident that you underachieved on test day and can boost your scores by at least 20 points (or more) without compromising your work on the rest of your applications, then you should consider taking the test again.

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