ROn Point: Canceling your GMAT Score

The pope’s recent announcement that he would be leaving the papacy came as a surprise to millions of people around the world last month. After all, election as pope carries a lifetime mandate by definition, and no sitting pope has resigned in the past 600 years. This string of some 60 popes serving their full mandate has now been broken, and the news brings up the topic of abdicating in the scope of the GMAT exam.

As many of you probably know, you can write an entire GMAT exam and decide at the end not to have the score published, which means that you will not see the score nor will it be on your record. The usual reason for this sort of reticence is that you feel that your exam did not go as well as it should have, and you don’t want a disappointing score to appear on your record, as well as have this score be sent to the schools of your choice. Upon taking the GMAT, you can select up to five schools that you want your score sent to for free, whereas submitting to additional schools is an supplementary fee of $28 per school. As such, the catch 22 some students feel is that they want to select a few schools to receive their scores, but they don’t want the scores to go out if it will hurt their chances of acceptance.

This is the theoretical rationale behind the option of cancelling your score. However, many students report in practice not having a good feeling about their scores and opting to cancel them without ever finding out if they had an adequate score. Again, there is no pass/fail score on this exam, simply a percentage representing your relative score compared to other test takers, and most students are aiming for a specific score to get into the school of their choice (or, failing that, their favorite number… mine just happens to be 760). This means that, if you’re aiming for a score of 650, you have to cancel before you know whether your score was above or below that threshold based on your gut feeling.

Now, there are legitimate reasons to cancel your GMAT score, usually things like “I couldn’t sleep last night”, “my relative’s health is on my mind” or “Justin Bieber’s concert last night was off the hook”.  Unfortunately, many students simply feel that they could have done better and don’t want a subpar score to affect their candidature. The very nature of a Computer Adaptive Test, however, plays against this notion. After the first few questions, the exam is designed to hone onto your actual level, meaning that every question you see will be challenging. As a result, you tend to feel like you’re not doing that well because many of your choices are hunches and educated guesses without much conviction.

If I could use my own experience as an example, I did quite well on sample exams, but never exceeded 710 as a score. Of course, I would have been thrilled to get that score on the exam, so I went in feeling confident that I could beat the GMAT and be part of an exclusive GMAT club.  About halfway through the quant section, I started feeling like there were a lot of questions I was deducing and approximating instead of solving using rigorous algebraic methods. Fast forward to the verbal section, and the same feeling was trending (#whyGMATwhy) in my gut. By the time I got to question #41, I had visions of 500 and 600 in my head, as I felt sure about 1/3 of my exam, somewhat confident on another 1/3 and essentially guessing the final 1/3.

At no point did I think I should cancel my score, but I didn’t have a feeling of supreme confidence when the exam spent 20-30 seconds to calculate my score. Incidentally, that is still the longest 20-30 seconds of my life. To defuse any remaining anticipation, I actually got 99th percentile on the exam, a score that lead me to a scholarship to the school of my choice in Montreal and spring boarded me to an eventual job with Veritas Prep. Nonetheless, while the computer was calculating my score, I imagined all kinds of scenarios in my head and I was already figuring excuses to tell my parents and friends as well as potential dates to retake the exam should my score be disappointing. (I never got to use any of the excuses but my favorite was that the GMAT was actually in Spanish, mucho to mi sorpresa!)

Needless to say, if I managed to get 99th percentile on this exam and I still didn’t feel confident in my score, it’s eminently possible that a very large proportion of students feel the same way when waiting for the results of their exam. The option of cancelling your scores is always on the table, but it is likely overused given the adaptive nature of the exam. Students also overvalue the concept of having one good GMAT score. Having a low GMAT score followed by a higher score on a subsequent exam demonstrates tenacity, determination and the ability to adapt. Three qualities highly sought after in business professionals (also in matadors).

If you’re really sure you want to cancel your scores, the option is there. However, if you’re just not feeling confident, there is very little downside to seeing whether you were another victim of the GMAT’s web of insecurity. If you’re contemplating on cancelling your scores on test day, just think about how much thought had to go into the pope’s resignation. If you still feel like cancelling the scores, be secure that there can always be another test day, as there will assuredly be another pope.

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Ron Awad is a GMAT instructor for Veritas Prep based in Montreal, bringing you occasional tips and tricks 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.