How to Deal with a Bad GMAT Score

Bad GMAT score

You’ve been studying for months, possibly losing sleep as you go over the practice questions in your head and, as a result, getting some oh-so-enjoyable stress dreams. If any of this sounds familiar, you probably have had to—or currently are—preparing to take that Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT).

If you are considering applying for business school, it’s likely that the idea of taking the GMAT is constantly looming. For many, especially those who struggle with test-taking, the idea of taking the GMAT can be incredibly daunting. What happens if your scores are less than what you’re hoping for—even after all that studying?

Don’t panic. While the GMAT can be an important way for many business school’s to evaluate your skills and abilities, a low GMAT score doesn’t need to ruin your chances to get into the school of your dreams.

Why is the GMAT Important?

The GMAT is an exam created by the Graduate Management Admissions Council (GMAC) to measure important and relevant skills for both schools and businesses. The 3.5 hour-long test consists of four sections: integrated reasoning, quantitative, verbal, and an analytical writing assessment.

By taking the exam, potential graduate students can demonstrate that they have the necessary knowledge and abilities to succeed in a degree program and in the workforce. Accepted by more than 6,000 business and management programs around the world, many schools require the exam so that they can make informed admission decisions about students based on the skills they demonstrate. Not only can the score benefit business schools looking to learn more about your skills, but the process of studying for and taking the GMAT can also benefit students prepare for the rigorous academic environment of an MBA or other graduate program.

After taking the GMAT, students will be given a score for each of the four sections plus a total score. Total scores typically range from between 200 to 800, with two-thirds of all test takers scoring between 400 and 600.

A Bad Score is Not the End of the World

Even if your score is less than what you were hoping for, there’s still no need to assume that your dream school is now out of reach. There are a number of reasons why someone might get a lower score than expected: test anxiety, lack of preparation, and outside stress can all make test day an uphill battle. Thankfully, most business schools acknowledge this, looking to work experience, GPA, and leadership activities as other important factors that can help determine admission.

“Put your energies toward boosting your candidacy in the areas of your application you can control, namely the essays, extracurriculars and, to some extent, the recommendation letters, where your recommenders can highlight your quantitative skills,” suggests U.S. News and World Report.

The average GMAT score of any one particular business program is just that; an average. There may be several scores included in that average that are significantly lower than what they typically expect. This is a result of a holistic approach to graduate admissions. Certainly, many business schools value high performance on the GMAT exam. But they also value strong professional experience, a high GPA, writing skills, and many other features that can help someone excel in business school and in business.

Schools that Do Not Require a GMAT for Admissions

Although many business schools value the GMAT as an indicator of success, the GMAT is not necessarily a requirement for every program that you might pursue. If the simple idea of preparing for and taking the test is overwhelming, you need not worry. There are a number of programs for which you do not even have to submit scores.

Many executive MBA and Online MBA programs in metros across the country do not require the GMAT, or offer the opportunity to waive the GMAT requirement given a number of years of professional experience. Still other programs make the GMAT an entirely optional component of your application. Below are just a few schools that do not require the GMAT or offer a waiver.

  • Kellstadt Graduate School of Business – DePaul University: the Weekend Cohort and other various programs at the Kellstadt Graduate School of Business in Chicago offers students the opportunity to waive the GMAT requirement if they have extensive work experience. The school also offers the waiver to students who have completed another graduate degree, such as an MD, Ph.D. or JD.
  • Lake Forest Graduate School of Management: Lake Forest College in Chicago, IL, does not require the GMAT for admission. Other admission requirements, such as academic transcripts, letters of recommendation, and a personal statement will be considered to make admissions decisions.
  • MIT- Sloan School of Management: The Executive MBA program at MIT’s Sloan School of Management does not require GMAT scores for admission. Many Executive MBA programs, including at top schools like Sloan, follow this form, replacing the GMAT with a requirement for several years of professional experience. At Sloan, instead of GMAT scores, Executive MBA applicants are required to submit three essays, two letters of recommendation, official transcripts, and a statement of purpose.
  • Stillman School of Business- Seton Hall University: At Seton Hall’s Stillman School of Business in South Orange, NJ, senior managers with at least five-plus years of full-time managerial experience may be exempt from the GMAT requirement. Professional experience, combined with GPA’s, a two paragraph person statement and one letter of recommendation is all that is required for admission.

What If You Need To Take The Test Again?

If you have your heart set on a program that does require the GMAT exam, and simply aren’t satisfied with your test scores, there is always the option to take the exam again. Especially if you think the low performance was the result of nerves, illness, or lack of preparation, this is probably your best recourse. Retaking the test, especially after having the hands-one experience, gives you a second chance to get the score you’ve worked hard for. Although test takers must wait 31 days before retaking the exam, they may take it as many times as they want and self-report their highest score when applying to programs. In fact, according to U.S. News, many admissions committees actually value students who take the GMAT more than once, as it shoes a dedication to improving yourself.

Retaking the test also gives you a chance to evaluate where your weaknesses were the first time you took the exam and allows you to specifically focus on addressing these areas. Try to remember the sections that you know you struggled with during the first round of testing, and be sure to focus on those areas in particular during preparation the second time around. It’s also good to know when to ask for help—if you simply can’t understand why your having difficulty with a particular section, joining a test prep class or studying with a tutor can give you a big boost.

If test anxiety was the biggest challenge on exam day, simply acknowledging this can be helpful. Preparing for anxiety can help you develop techniques or approaches that can help reduce nerves and create a more positive test-taking experience overall.

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About the Author

Alanna Shaffer

Staff Writer, covering MetroMBA's news beat for Atlanta, Houston, and Dallas.

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