The GMAT and the Law of Diminishing Returns
There is a time in every applicant’s life where you need to look long and hard at your GMAT score and ask: “Is my score high enough to get me into my schools of choice? Or should I retake the GMAT? What are my chances of getting into b-school with low stats? How will retaking the GMAT help my case? Can it hurt?”
You should retake the GMAT to achieve your highest possible score, but beware: the law of diminishing returns applies to the GMAT and sometimes overtaking the exam can be to your detriment.
Why Too Much Effort Doesn’t Always Pay Off
The classic economic theory of diminishing returns implies that if you continue to put forth effort into the GMAT, you will reach a point where the effort you put into the test will have negative consequences (diminished returns). You may in fact continue to raise your score, but there is a point at which the number of times you take the GMAT, could negatively impact your application.
So How Many Attempts is Too Many Attempts?
How many times should you retake the exam? At what point do you become a serial test taker?
When I was an admissions dean and director, I liked to see candidates take the test two or three times to try to raise their score. If they did, that was certainly in their favor – and if they didn’t, we simply used the highest score.
However, taking the test six, seven, or eight times did negatively impact the way I looked at the candidate. But times have changed with the flexibility the Graduate Management Admissions Council is now giving candidates to cancel their scores.
Canceling the Score
Since July 19, 2015 a test taker has the option to cancel scores at the test center for no charge or within 72 hours of the start of the test for a fee. A test taker can also reinstate a canceled test score for a fee. Regardless, the schools will receive a candidate’s score report that does not reflect instances when the test taker cancels the score within the 72-hour timeframe. This ability to cancel the score without ramifications has also encouraged test takers to take the test multiple times. However, candidates need to be cautious when a school asks its candidates to upload scores from his/her own score report as those cancellations do appear on the document. And the Graduate Management Admissions Council has now set a lifetime limit of 8 attempts at the test (5 attempts within a 12-month period).
The GMAT Isn’t Everything!
While one can argue that a director should reward the student’s persistence, I would argue that the candidate who takes the GMAT too many times is putting too much emphasis on only one aspect of the application. While the GMAT, along with the academic record, offers schools a strong correlation to a student’s academic performance in the core, it does not give the admissions board an indication of leadership, impact, business skills, or fit.
You need to show that you are a well-rounded applicant and if after taking the GMAT two or three times, you still don’t achieve the score you want, cast your school net a bit wider.
By Natalie Grinblatt Epstein, an accomplished Accepted consultant/editor (since 2008) and entrepreneur. Natalie is a former MBA Admissions Dean and Director at Ross, Johnson, and Carey. Want Natalie to help you get accepted to business school? Click here to get in touch!
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