GMAT Mythbuster #1

(We’ll take a break from our normal “GMAT Tip of the Week” series to present something new from the GMAT team here at Veritas Prep. We call it… GMAT Mythbusters! Over the next few weeks we’ll dispel some of the most common misconceptions about the dreaded Graduate Management Admission Test.)

Myth: Schools will hold a low score against you (even if you subsequently post a higher one), so:

-You should cancel your scores if you’re worried about your performance
-You should elect not to send your scores to any schools until after you have seen them and know that they are competitive

Fact: In all but the rarest of cases, schools only focus on your highest score, and understand that it may take a second or third attempt at the GMAT to fully master it. Unless you know for a fact that your score is doomed, you should elect to receive it, and send your score reports to the schools.

There exists a common fear among business school applicants that your GMAT scores will go on your “permanent record,” and that a low score will stay with you like a poor grade on your transcripts (or a felony conviction). While it’s true that schools will see all of your scores when you apply, it’s also true that the schools in the vast majority of cases only care about your highest score.

Consider this about the GMAT:

  • It’s an easy test to underestimate. The concepts tested look easier on paper than they do in reality (arithmetic, algebra…the list of testable concepts seems taken from a high school syllabus, but in reality the questions can be quite difficult, and the individual skills that are tested are often the ones that you’ve forgotten most thoroughly). The admissions committees know this — you may need a “wake up call” with a poor test score before you realize the effort that the test will require, and it doesn’t make much sense for the schools to punish you for that. Furthermore, your successful pursuit of a higher score demonstrates a determination to accomplish your goals; this quality will serve you well in b-school and in industry, and is something that business schools will look upon with favor.
  • The GMAT is the easiest statistical category for rankings services to use when comparing schools. Few things about the admissions process are both quantifiable and standardized, but the GMAT is both. Schools, therefore, are beholden in many ways to their average GMAT score when it comes to their appearance in the rankings. Because the schools get to report the highest score of each of their students for such rankings purposes, it’s in the schools’ self-interest to report your 720 and ignore your 550.

Given the above logic (and the fact that admissions officers routinely reiterate that they are primarily-if-not-exclusively concerned with your highest score), you should approach the GMAT as an opportunity to add an asset to your application, and not as a final, binding referendum on your candidacy. Because of that, there are several reasons that you should elect to receive and send your scores when you’re offered the opportunity to do so:

If you elect to cancel your scores, you will never know how you did. If you did well, your high score will go unreported and wasted. If you didn’t do well, you won’t necessarily know how poorly you did, or why (a score breakdown could give you some insight). If you do see your scores, at a minimum you’ll have some information on where you most need to improve, and you may surprise yourself with a higher score than you thought (your humble author was nervous to see his score on test day, but was thrilled to see that 99th percentile pop up immediately after taking the plunge).

Similarly, if you elect to cancel your scores, your test registration fee will go wasted, as well, and you’ll need to pay to take the test again. As mentioned above, your author wavered on his decision to see his score. The deciding factor? If there was even a sliver of hope that he could save the $250 test fee and not have to take the exam again, he wanted to take that chance!

Another financial consideration: Your test registration fee permits you to send your score to 5 schools, provided you send those scores immediately as part of the exam (you make this decision before you see the scores). If you decide to wait until after you see your scores, you’ll need to pay $25 per school to send your score reports…and, as mentioned above, the schools won’t hold a poor score against you. (Editor’s note: There is no evidence that the schools think this way at all, but if it were me, I’d have reservations about admitting anyone to business school who was willing to throw away a $125 investment by not sending their scores right away!)

In summary, the upside of seeing your scores far outweighs the negligible downside. The downside? In rare cases — say, a string of several low scores (<500) followed by one high score, which indicates that it took you too many attempts at the exam to realize that you needed to try something different in your preparation — a score pattern may betray some doubt about your candidacy. On a first or second attempt at the GMAT, however, you won't be a candidate for such a rare event, so for several reasons you should welcome the receipt of your score.

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