When to Take the GMAT

NOTE: This post was updated in December, 2015, to incorporate recent changes in the GMAT test-taking experience. When in doubt, always check out www.mba.com to get the latest into on the GMAT!

We dispense a lot of high-level advice on this blog, from advanced GMAT strategy to some of the more subtle nuances of the MBA application process. Sometimes, it helps to go back to the basics and answer questions that someone might have when they’re just starting the GMAT prep process. Some applicants not only don’t realize that the GMAT is computer-adaptive, but they also don’t have any idea of when they should take the exam.

First, keep in mind that you can take the GMAT almost any time you want. Unlike the SAT and LSAT, the GMAT is administered all year long. You simply log onto mba.com to schedule an appointment at a test center near you. Register and pay your $250, and you’re ready to go. No need to wait months and months for the next time the test is offered.

Sounds easy enough, right? But when should you actually take the GMAT? Work backward from when you want to apply to business school… If you plan on applying in Round 1, then that means you’ll need to be done with the GMAT by late September (when Round 1 deadlines start to come), right? Well, technically yes, but it’s far from ideal to take the GMAT while you’re scrambling to finish your business school applications. Assume that your whole September will be taken up by your applications. So, you want to take the test by August, right?

Well, if you know for certain that you’ll ace the GMAT on your first try, then this plan just might work. But the reality is that many test takers take the GMAT more than once, and you’re required to wait at least 16 days between test sittings. (This 16-day window shouldn’t bother you… If you need to retake the GMAT, you should spend at least a couple of weeks preparing before taking it again.) To be safe, you really should build in enough time to retake the test at least once. So, that means scheduling your test date no later than late July. We consider this the latest that you can realistically target Round 1 without cutting too many corners as you prepare for the GMAT.

Speaking more generally, for whatever MBA admissions round you’re targeting, your target date for taking the GMAT should be at least two months before your first application is due. So, if you plan on applying in Round 2 and your deadlines are in early January, that means taking the GMAT no later than late October. If your need to retake the test, you can do so by December 1, which will still give you plenty of time to work on your business school applications.

Have even more time? Great! Use it! Remember that your GMAT score is valid for five years, and it’s pretty hard to take the GMAT too soon. The more time you have, the better, but we consider two months the absolute minimum amount of time you should build into your calendar between your test date and your application deadlines.

Also, build in plenty of time to take at least a couple of GMAT practice tests before you take the real thing. We normally advise Veritas Prep GMAT students to take one practice test before they start our course, not necessarily to see what their score is (if you haven’t prepared at all yet, don’t put any stock in this score!), but to get a feel for the test and to understand just how long and involved of an experience it can be. Then, plan on taking a couple of practice tests over the course of your GMAT preparation, and at least one more when you think you’re finished preparing and are ready to take the real GMAT.

Don’t worry if your test date is approaching and you’re still nowhere near where you want to be on the test. You can always reschedule your test date, although we usually advise that students try not to reschedule unless they have to… Having that deadline is a great motivator for you as you get ready for the GMAT!

Plan on taking the GMAT soon? We have GMAT prep courses starting in many cities in September. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

By Brian Galvin