Timeout with Trav: Retaking the GMAT

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Dear Trav,

My GMAT score was 700 (with a 99th percentile in quant, and a 60th percentile in verbal). Should I retake the exam?

Congratulations on your 700 GMAT score!  I think people tend to think that getting a 700 is a piece of cake, but remember that only 1 in 10 test takers gets a 700+, and the population of GMAT takers is primarily college-educated, ambitious, smart people.  Top 10% is a tough crowd!

If you’re shooting for top-10 schools, you really want to avoid having a significant weakness anywhere in your application, and a 60th percentile on either section of the GMAT is not ideal.  However, there’s quite a bit of nuance to your question, and I’ll try to address several possibilities.

Generally speaking, MBA programs are much more concerned about a low score on the Quantitative Reasoning section of the GMAT than on the Verbal section. They want to ensure that every admit is going to be able to succeed academically in their program, and a solid MBA curriculum requires significant quantitative skill. A major justification for B-school’s existence is to take a nebulous topic like “business management” and apply quantitative analysis to produce better results.  Therefore, quantitative skills are highly valued.  So in most cases, the fact that your overall score is weighed down by the Verbal section rather than the Quant is better than the opposite.

One of the things you want to avoid in your application is reinforcing doubts or common stereotypes.  For example, if you are an IT Engineer, then the admissions committee will already expect that you’re strong in quant but may be lacking in verbal skills. You don’t want to give them more evidence to reinforce this stereotype. MBA programs are looking for well-rounded leaders, and this requires both quantitative and verbal skills. (In fact, did you know that your overall score on the GMAT is increased if your quant and verbal scores are balanced, rather than having a strong strength in one side and a weakness in the other?) If you’re concerned that your verbal score will reinforce doubts that the admissions committee may already have about you, then it may be a good idea to retake.

On the flip side, I was a Broadcast Journalism major in undergrad and worked in television for four years before attending business school. My essays were very strong and my verbal skills unquestioned. If, for some reason, I stumbled on the Verbal Reasoning section of the GMAT but excelled in the quant, it would not be terribly difficult to show the admissions committee that I would bring both quant and verbal skills to their program through other elements of my application.  (However, it may raise a few eyebrows that I didn’t score well in a section that SHOULD have been my strong suit!)

At this point in the admissions season when you still have plenty of time before your target deadline, my advice is almost always to retake the GMAT if you feel you under-performed your abilities.  A higher GMAT score is always better than a lower one!  However, if you feel that this is the absolute best you can possibly perform on the exam, a low verbal score is not the end of the world. Perhaps your time and energy would be better spent bolstering other elements of your profile to assure the admissions committee of your strong candidacy.

Of course, if you’re interested in raising that verbal score, I can think of a fantastic company to help you do it!

Very Best,

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Travis Morgan is the Director of Admissions Consulting for Veritas Prep and earned his MBA with distinction from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. He served in the Kellogg Student Admissions Office, Alumni Admissions Organization and Diversity & Inclusion Council, among several other posts. Travis joined Veritas Prep as an admissions consultant and GMAT instructor, and he was named Worldwide Instructor of the Year in 2011.