So the big day is fast-approaching, and you’re pumped. You’ve studied hard, improved steadily and are ready to crush the GMAT!
However, fortune favors the prepared… and we have to make sure we are also ready for the off-chance that the test doesn’t go as planned.
The Reveal… and the decision
Immediately after the test is over, cross your fingers and brace yourself: on screen will appear a preview of your Verbal, Quantitative and Integrated Reasoning scores.You don’t have time to (probably) celebrate or (less likely) mourn, however – from the moment the preview appears on the screen you have two minutes to decide whether to keep your score or not.
What does cancelling your score mean?
If you keep your score – it will be reported to the schools you select at the beginning of the test. If not – it won’t be reported to anyone, and also won’t appear together with whatever future scores you do send the schools.
In this option, not only will schools not know what your grade was, but also that you didn’t even take the test. The only place the cancelled score will appear is in the version of the score report you can see. In short – only you will know about it.
Another effect of cancelling is a shortening of waiting period before taking another test: without cancelling, you must wait 31 days before a retake; with cancelling – this is reduced to 16 days. Cancellation does not change, however, the maximum amount of times one can take the test in a 12-month period: five times, no matter what.
Cancellation does not give you a refund of any kind on the test, or make future tests any less expensive – so even you’re disappointed and feel like your test was a waste of time, cancellation is unfortunately not the way to make yourself feel better.
For more information, look at the official MBA cancellation and reinstatement explanation.
What does it mean that the score you’re shown after the test is a ‘preview’?
In general, nothing. GMAC calls these scores a ‘preview’ or ‘unofficial’ because it reserves the right to change them until it sends you the official score a few weeks later, but the truth is – this virtually never happens. You should treat these scores as your real GMAT score, and act accordingly.
So what do I do?
Now, the moment after you’ve finished a stressful, 4 hour exam is not the best time to make important decisions. Therefore, keeping or cancelling the score the moment after the test won’t really be a decision at all: you will have already done all the thinking beforehand, and will arrive on exam day with a clear strategy what to do when get your score preview.
How to plan a GMAT cancellation strategy
Your keep-or-cancel strategy is going to consist of deciding on a cutoff, above which you will keep your score and under which you will cancel.
Your cutoff score isn’t the same as your target score, the score you’re hoping to get, but rather a score below which you’d rather not report your score at all.
There are two factors which comprise your cutoff score:
- What is an acceptable score for you – based on your practice test scores
- What the schools you wish to apply to demand.
This first factor is not the same as what you think you theoretically could get, what’s your best practice test grades were, and unfortunately not even what your average pre-test average was. The reason for this is that in taking the GMAT itself there is a stress factor that doing a practice test at home doesn’t have, which means many people simply don’t do as well on the test as during their practice rounds (this is what makes learning how to stay laser-focused on the exam so important).
The bottom line is that your focus shouldn’t be on “will this score look bad on my score sheet?”, but rather on “can this score get me into the business school I want?”
This leads us to the second factor, which is one you need to figure out in relation to the specific schools you are thinking of applying to: what are the GMAT scores they expect from applicants?
You will get an answer to this either by correspondence with the school itself, or through some online research about the average GMAT grade at the specific institution.
That being said, there usually won’t be a one-size-fits-all answer, but rather one that is factored together with the rest of your admission information (your GPA, your essay, your interview) and more.
All these things together should help you figure out what the minimum GMAT grade you should keep is.
Another important bit of information, which you should be able to get from the school directly, is how each school reads a candidate’s GMAT score report:
- Do they look at all the scores, or do they only care what your highest score is?
- Do they look unfavorably at retaking the test, or not mind at all?
- Might they actually look at a low score followed by a high score as a sign of improvement, and therefore a good thing?
It is important to get answers to these questions, since even if you do get a low score which will make you retake the test, this doesn’t automatically mean cancelling is required.
Let’s address a few ‘disappointing’ scenarios:
- Your target school requires a score of 720, but in the practice tests you keep scoring around 690. You take the GMAT with the hope of making 720 on the real test. You score 690. – examPAL recommends you keep your score.
- Your target school requires 720, but 690 is enough for your 2nd best school. You end up scoring 690. – examPAL recommends you keep your score.
- Your simulations are around 770 but you end up getting 720, which is enough for your target school. – examPAL recommends you keep your score.
- Your target school and 2nd best school require 700, and you keep getting 720 in your simulations. On the test you get 670, not enough to get into either. – examPAL recommends you cancel your score and schedule a retake.
What if I change my mind?
Despite your best intentions, it is possible you will want to change your mind: you might realize that a score that seemed okay at first is actually simply not enough to get where you want to go, or, alternately, a score that looks terrible right after the test might actually be fine, once you get over the disappointment of comparing it to what you were hoping you’d get.
These changes of heart are fine, and the decisions can be reversed – but GMAC will make you pay for the privilege:
- For 72 hours following the test, you can still cancel your test score online for a fee of 25$. You do this through your online mba.com account.
- For five years (four years and eleven months to be exact) you can reinstate a cancelled score for a fee of 50$. This will automatically send a report to the schools you selected back when you took the exam.
To summarize – any decision you make CAN be reversed later, BUT for a price. Therefore, there’s nothing to get stressed about – but it is worth spending some time figuring out your strategy before.