This is a common question we get as head consultants. At what point is your GMAT good enough that you can move to the next stage? If you read my previous post on timelines and milestones, I recommend getting the GMAT out of the way first as it serves to guide your school selection, and, frankly, is pretty stressful – having to take the GMAT close to a school deadline will only add to that stress.
The short answer to the question is to always retake the GMAT if you think you have a decent shot at improving the score by ~20 points. The top tier business school admissions process is so competitive that you really cannot afford to not improve every single part of the application when possible.
That said we cannot expect every single applicant to score 750 on the GMAT. Not everyone is capable of that score, and there are additional constraints to consider, such as time to a deadline. Given that, I think there are some basic rules of thumb that could help guide your decision to whether to retake the GMAT.
To help guide us, let’s assume a fictitious top tier b school with a mean or average GMAT of 730, overall range of 620-780 and middle 80% range of 710-750 (meaning 10% of students score above 750, and 10% below). Let’s consider a few factors:
Generally speaking, you should always strive to beat the average of the school to which they are applying. If you haven’t done that, it means the rest of your application needs to be that much stronger and differentiated. If it’s less strong, or if there are likely to be many similarly looking applicants, then retake.
On the other hand, if you are scoring above 750, or above the middle 80%, it means you are among the top 10% of GMAT scores for this school – probably ok to move on to other parts of the application.
If you are scoring below the middle 80% percentile, you should probably retake assuming you have the time.
If your GPA is low, say more than 5-10% below a school’s average, your GMAT needs to be that much higher to remove any doubt that you can handle the academic coursework (GMAT is acts as a predictor of academic aptitude). Best to try to beat that average score, or at least get into the middle 80% range. This is especially true if you are coming from a less reputable school.
Applicants from b school feeder industries, such as finance and management consulting, or those with engineering backgrounds are expected to help raise the average. Just getting within that middle 80% is not good enough, you should be scoring above the average. An i-banker with a 710 is not getting that interview invite.
Applicants from the government, active duty military, NGOs, or those from other non-traditional backgrounds, will typically get a break. This doesn’t mean that you should be happy with a 650. If you have the time, sit down and assess what sections of the GMAT are more challenging for you and attack those (a competent GMAT tutor will help you with this).
Of course, there might be plenty of personal situations and specifics to your specific situation that need to be considered, but hopefully this serves to provide some initial guidance.
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