Should I Cancel My GMAT Score? (Hint: Probably Not)

Over the years, the act of canceling your GMAT score has undergone a number of changes. Until 2014, GMAT takers had to cancel their score sight unseen: the cancellation option occurred before their Quant, Verbal, and overall scores were even revealed to them. On a computer adaptive test like the GMAT, it’s extremely difficult to gauge how you’re performing, and many students, even ones who end up scoring well into the 700s, feel like the exam is not going well for them. Speaking from personal experience, my actual score was about 60 points higher than what I expected to see when I clicked the button to see my GMAT score. 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 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. Cancelling without seeing scores left open the torturous possibility that some students may have canceled scores with which they would have been happy. Additionally, the score cancellation stayed on your GMAT record, appearing on any score reports sent to schools later on.

Lo and behold, in the summer of 2014 the GMAC, the company behind the GMAT, decided to change this policy in a very student-friendly manner and allow students to see their scores before spending two minutes deciding whether or not to cancel them. This decision was met with jubilation and applause from most prospective students (okay, maybe I’m the only person who actually clapped, but people were happy), as this situation was entirely preferable to the previous circumstances. However, it still wasn’t ideal: you had just two minutes to decide to cancel your scores, and, as before, a cancellation stayed on your GMAT score report. In many cases, the option just added one more stressful, time-pressured question – “should I cancel my GMAT score?” – to an already difficult timed exam.

In 2015, GMAC made an additional positive step: score cancellations would no longer be included on your record. While you could view all of your GMAT results in the dashboard of your account, canceled results would no longer be included on score reports sent to schools. Any GMAT score cancellation was now your business and no longer anyone else’s – if you didn’t like your GMAT score, no one would ever have to know that you even attempted the test that day.

Today, the situation is even more amenable to GMAT takers considering the score cancellation option. Previously, students who had just completed the exam were given only two minutes to decide whether to keep or cancel their scores. After a long, stressful test like the GMAT, making a level-headed, rational decision, especially about a topic as important as your scores, is exceedingly difficult. Now, students still have those two minutes to cancel their GMAT score at the testing center, but they also have the option of canceling their scores from home, up to 72 hours from the completion of the exam (note: if you wait to cancel from home, you will have to pay a $25 cancellation fee to do so. Given the weight of this decision, it’s probably worth it if you’re unsure just after completing the test). Additionally, if you cancel but later decide that your GMAT score was worth keeping, you can reinstate it up to 4 years and 11 months later (aligning with the 5-year validity of your exam score), but keep in mind that there is a $50 fee for reinstatement of a canceled GMAT score (as always the gatekeepers to business school are quite good at business).

Now that we understand how the parameters for canceling your GMAT score currently stand, let’s discuss some legitimate reasons why someone would consider making the decision to cancel a GMAT score. One of the most common reasons is that factors outside of your control prevented you from putting forth your best effort. For example, if you sleep very badly the night before, come down with an illness, get swamped at work, or have something go very wrong in your personal life (worse than Netflix canceling your favorite show), you may be incapable of concentrating properly and your score will suffer as a result. In these situations, when you are absolutely certain you will do significantly better on your next exam, it may be a good idea to cancel your score.

Another valid reason might be that you saw a significant decrease in your GMAT score. If you took the exam and got some score, perhaps a 600, and then bombed the retake and ended up with a 450, canceling could be a smart strategic move. Since the goal is to try to show marked improvement from one GMAT to the next, a dramatic decline could send the wrong message to the schools of your choice. This is another instance where cancelling your score may be a legitimately smart option to take.

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, if “cancel my GMAT score” is running through your mind after you’ve finished the test, you’re probably not in this boat.

The reality is that most people end up taking this exam more than once (and some far 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 a score with which they are comfortable. If you’re aiming for a 650 and only manage to achieve a 550 on the first try, then subsequent scores will demonstrate perseverance and determination, two skills that are highly sought after in business school admissions (and in your professional career after graduate school).

What if you did see some GMAT score improvement, but you feel like the improvement wasn’t enough to avoid cancelling the second score? 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 score improvement, but many people become concerned that it doesn’t show enough improvement, especially if they studied for several months to achieve this moderate increase. Still, it’s probably worth keeping a score that shows modest improvement, even if you are set on taking it again. Most graduate business schools take the applicant’s 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 if you’re strong in the other components. 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 also not worth fretting about: consider it a minor hiccup that demonstrates that you can consistently stay within the same range (according to GMAC, the margin of error of the GMAT is plus or minus 30 points). And hopefully you learned something from the GMAT test day experience, too – what stands out about this exam sitting that you can improve for the next time you take the GMAT?

In some scenarios, the idea of cancelling your score will come up before you’re even done with the test. Halfway through the Verbal Reasoning section, when you’re wallowing in the fact that you ran out of time and had to blindly guess on the last three questions, your brain may take solace in the idea of canceling the exam score. Sometimes you’ll contemplate it during a difficult stretch in the quantitative section (sometimes even on question 1 if you have the misfortune to draw a question that hammers one of your weaknesses!). 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 either at the exam center or a couple of days later when you’ve had a chance to cool off, 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 changes over the past few years allows us more flexibility and time in our decision making process, but the same factors must still be considered when coming to a final decision. 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, and you are absolutely sure that you will crush the GMAT on your next try, 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 GMAT score has been removed for 2019 and beyond.

If you choose to take the Veritas Prep GMAT course or work with one of our excellent private tutors, you can also discuss the option to cancel GMAT scores with your instructor or tutor. They’ll be able to consider your concerns, goals, and other factors to provide feedback and advice that can help you come to the best decision for your individual situation.

The short verdict: only cancel your GMAT score if it’s a score so below your goal that you’d be embarrassed if anyone saw it. Schools really only care about your top score so a less-than-ideal one on your report won’t hold you back, and just in case you never quite make it to your dream score you won’t regret having a “good, but not great” score on your record to at least give yourself a chance to apply.

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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.