Last year, I wrote an article for this blog discussing the pros and cons (and pros and cons and pros) of cancelling your GMAT score. At the time, you had to sit through an entire 3+ hour exam, go through every question asked and then be offered the possibility of cancelling your score without ever knowing what your grade would have been.
Needless to say, many people opted to cancel their scores out of fear that a disappointing result would reflect badly on them and hinder their chances of being accepted into the school of their choice. The overall takeaway of my article was that most people felt that they did badly on the GMAT, and therefore tended to cancel their scores more often than they should have.
Lo and behold, in the summer of 2014 the GMAC (the FIFA of the GMAT) decided to change this policy and allow students to see their scores before deciding whether or not to cancel them. This decision was met with jubilation and applause (by me) from most prospective students, as this situation was entirely preferable to the previous circumstances. However, some students still are unclear when they should cancel their scores and when they shouldn’t. As such, I figured this would be a golden opportunity to revisit this topic and discuss cancelling your scores under the new world order.
First, let’s begin with the bad news. If you cancel your score, you are not refunded your 250$ fee for taking the exam. Nor can you retake the exam the next day; the same 31 day waiting period applies. Perhaps most jarringly, your record will still indicate that a score was cancelled, meaning that there will still be some record of the GMAT having been taken, just no accompanying score. Finally, if you do decide to cancel your score, you can subsequently change your mind and ask for the score to be reinstated, although this will incur an additional cost of 100$, and must be done within 60 days of the test date.
Let’s begin with some valid reasons why someone would consider cancelling their scores. Firstly, if you sleep very badly the night before or something goes very wrong in your personal life (worse than Menudo breaking up), you may be incapable of concentrating properly and your score will consequently suffer. In these situations, when you know you can do significantly better, it may be a good idea to cancel your score. Another instance would be if you took the exam and got some score, perhaps a 600, and then retook it and scored 450, a considerably worse result. Since the goal is to try and show improvement from one GMAT to the next, a marked decline could send the wrong message to the schools of your choice. This is another instance where cancelling your score may be a legitimate option.
If we explore some of the situations where it may be less advisable to cancel your score, we can start with a good rule of thumb: If it’s your first GMAT, you should (practically) never cancel your score. Why? Because if you cancel your score, you remove your baseline GMAT score. The best case scenario may be to take the exam once, ace it, and never look back (or possibly go back to teach it years later), but the reality is most people end up taking this exam more than once. The current average number of times someone takes the GMAT is about 2.7, meaning that many people take the exam two or three times before getting the score they want. If you’re aiming for a 650, and only get a 550 on the first try, then subsequent scores will demonstrate perseverance and determination, two skills sought after in business professionals. Cancelling your first score will only raise questions as to how badly it went (210?) and why you elected to remove the only thing on an otherwise blank canvas.
Sometimes, you score a 600 the first time, decide you want a 650, and retake the exam and only get a 610 or 620. This shows some improvement, but many people become depressed that it doesn’t show enough improvement, especially if they studied for several months to achieve this moderate increase. Again, cancelling this updated score will only raise questions as to how badly the test went, and a small improvement is still an improvement. Most GMAT schools take the best GMAT score as their reference, so even a 10 point progress from 600 to 610 could be enough to make a difference in your application. The same principle applies if your score went down slightly, say to 580. While a slight decline isn’t cause for a celebration, it’s a minor hiccup that demonstrates that you can consistently stay within the same range. Also, cancelling a slight drop opens the possibility that you did very badly on this second attempt and opted to cancel the score, artificially exaggerating how poorly the test actually went.
Sometimes, the idea of cancelling your score will come up before you’re even done with the test. Halfway through the verbal section, when you’re wallowing in the fact that you guessed the last three questions, your brain may take solace in the idea of cancelling the exam score. Sometimes you’ll contemplate it during a difficult stretch in the quantitative section (sometimes even on question 1!). The fact that you can now see your score before deciding whether to cancel it is a huge benefit in your choice as it removes the guesswork from the equation. No matter how badly you think you’re doing, at least you can see the score, make a decision, and even potentially reverse that decision within a couple of months.
When it comes to cancelling scores on the GMAT, the rule of thumb is that you shouldn’t cancel your score unless some “force majeure” or act of God came into the equation. The rule change allows us more flexibility in our decision making process, but the same factors must still be considered. If this is the first time you take the exam, your score is higher than any of your previous scores or if you just feel like you’re stinking up the exam (figuratively, not literally), you probably shouldn’t cancel your score. If your score truly is abysmal, then you can take a page from Pacific Rim and say “We are cancelling the apocalypse!” and be confident in your decision. The GMAT is designed to be tricky, but at least all the guesswork about cancelling your score has been removed for 2014 and beyond.
Ron Awad is a GMAT instructor for Veritas Prep based in Montreal, bringing you weekly advice for success on your exam. After graduating from McGill and receiving his MBA from Concordia, Ron started teaching GMAT prep and his Veritas Prep students have given him rave reviews ever since.