Scott Woodbury-Stewart

Leveraging the “New” GMAT Rules to Earn a Higher GMAT Score

As of July 19, 2015, some important new rules are in place for the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT). These new rules are significant, and GMAT candidates can use them to their advantage.

In this article, I’ll show you how you can leverage these rules to earn a higher GMAT score. We’re going to discuss the policies on retest waiting periods, maximum number of GMAT attempts in a year, score cancellation and reinstatement, and the Enhanced Score Report (ESR).

Candidates Can Retake the GMAT After 16 days

Under the old set of rules, a 31-day waiting period was required before a GMAT could be retaken. Under the new rules, a candidate can retake the GMAT after a 16-day wait.

The good news about this new rule is that students have a lot more flexibility regarding when they can take the GMAT. For example, let’s say you’ve put in plenty of time prepping for the GMAT, but you don’t feel well the day of the exam and get a low score, or you were scoring above 700 on your practice tests but just got nervous on test day. You can retake the exam after 16 days; this is great news. The shorter waiting period means that you will have less chance of forgetting test material and more opportunity to retake the exam and still meet your admissions deadline.

The potentially not-so-good news about the new waiting period is that the policy can encourage some students to be unprepared, becoming serial GMAT takers. Imagine a student who is underprepared for the GMAT, but who sits for it anyway and earns a poor score. Under the old set of rules, the student would have had to wait a full month before trying the test again. Arguably, 31 days is a reasonable length of time during which a student could rigorously prepare and have a reasonable chance of earning a higher score. Under the new rules, the student can cram for 16 days, which isn’t a long period of time, and then retake the exam. It’s very plausible that those 16 days would not be sufficient time for the student to achieve a score increase. A downward spiral of low scores and frustration might ensue. Following this pattern, the student would begin to study in disconnected 16-day fragments and would retake the exam as frequently as allowed. If the student were not to improve after multiple exam sittings, he or she might simply give up, incorrectly assuming he or she is not capable of earning a better score.

Thus, when it comes to retaking the GMAT after a poor performance, it’s important for the student to carefully and dispassionately analyze his or her unique situation. The main question the student should ask is, “Will 16 days’ time give me sufficient opportunity to improve?” After some honest self-evaluation, the answer might be no.

To be clear, I am a fan of the 16-day retake policy; it gives students much more latitude and flexibility than was offered in the past. I think the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) took a step in the right direction with this change. However, students need to continue studying and preparing as they did before. Just because students have the latitude to take the GMAT every 16 days doesn’t mean they should–students should take care and be cautious while deciding when to retake the GMAT.

Candidates Can’t Exceed Five GMATs Within a 12-Month Period

Each student may take the GMAT up to five times in any 12-month period. Although this rule is not brand-new, it’s important to keep in mind. Sitting through five exams might sound alarming, but don’t panic. The good news is that most well-prepared students should reach an impressive score without needing to retake the exam five times. In most cases, a well-prepared student will retake the test once after pinpointing areas in need of improvement, or perhaps twice if several sections caused problems. It is rare to see a truly well-prepared student, who has put in the time to study, reach a fourth or fifth retake in a year. It’s difficult enough. Who wants to take the GMAT more times than necessary? Yes–that was a rhetorical question.

One important thing to keep in mind is that, although the retake rule allows a candidate to retake the GMAT after 16 days, the underprepared serial GMAT taker runs the risk of burning through all five of his or her allowed GMAT sittings in a very short time. Imagine taking your first GMAT on, for example, January 1, and then taking the fifth retest on April 1, but still needing to sit again? Yikes! There’s a long time between April and the following January.

Students Can Cancel Their GMAT Scores Without Schools Knowing

As of the July 2015 rule change, a student can take the GMAT, view his or her unofficial score on the test center computer screen, and then decide to cancel the score. When a student canceled his or her score under the old policy, a “C” was entered on the GMAT score report that was sent to schools. Under the new rules, this C is no longer part of the student’s score report. Now only the student knows whether a GMAT score was cancelled.

This change has made the GMAT more student-friendly, because it empowers students to strive for the highest possible GMAT score without having to worry about schools seeing poor past scores. In addition to the option of canceling your score at the test center for free, students can now cancel their scores online, within 72 hours of their exam, for a $25 fee.

Students can leverage this change to maximize their visible score. We know that proper practice makes perfect, and it’s a reasonable strategy to plan to take the GMAT a few times. If you take the exam and don’t earn the score you want, that’s ok; you can cancel your score. By sitting for the exam, you will have gained valuable experience and learned in which areas you need to improve before you take the next exam. You’ll also be able to see your score and get an ESR, which will help you in your study efforts.

Students who took the GMAT under the old rules and cancelled scores will also benefit from this rule change. The policy was applied retroactively, so previously canceled GMAT scores will be hidden (score reports with cancelled scores that have already been sent to schools can’t be modified). Anyone who was nervous about schools seeing a C can relax and feel more confident about applying.

Strategic Cancellation of GMAT Exam Scores

The new cancellation policy hides this information from schools, so it might be tempting to cancel any score that’s not perfect. However, this may or may not be the best approach toward reaching your target score, and your individual situation is important to consider when deciding on a score cancellation threshold.

For example, let’s say your sights are set on Harvard Business School, but you score a 650 on the GMAT and don’t cancel your score. Is a 650 the end of the world? No. Is a 650 going to be impressive for admissions officers at Harvard? Only those admissions people can say for sure; however, if we’re being realistic, you might want to consider retaking the GMAT and aiming for at least a 700. Going into your retake, you might decide to cancel any score at or below 650 because another 650 probably won’t strengthen your case for admission. In addition, another 650 probably doesn’t make a good impression because it can look as though you hadn’t put in the necessary effort to improve; it could show a lack of dedication or strategic planning, or both. In fact, you may even decide to cancel any GMAT score less than 700 since you feel you’d like to show an increase of at least 50 points, for example, on this retake.

It’s important to also understand that, even if you cancel your GMAT score, the score can be reinstated. That’s right: if you cancel the score at the test center, you can reinstate the score later. As long as your exam was taken on or after January 1, 2014, you have up to 4 years and 11 months to reinstate a canceled score.  You can reinstate your canceled score online for a $50 fee. 

In some cases, this canceled GMAT score reinstatement feature can be handy. For example, I recently worked with a GMAT student for about a month. This student wanted to present one solid GMAT score above 700 to schools; she did not want a collection of GMAT scores on record. She began the process with practice GMAT scores hovering around 520. We spoke the night before her test, and based on her personal situation, we decided that she would cancel any GMAT score below 700. Why? Because we knew she was capable of earning a high score, even if she didn’t earn it on that test sitting. The next day, she canceled her 690. We worked together for another few weeks and she retook the GMAT, scoring a 720. Without the canceled score reinstatement feature, I would have never advised her to cancel a 690. By canceling her 690, we were able to meet her objective of presenting to schools one impressive GMAT score of 720. The lesson here is that you can leverage this feature to put your best foot forward. Some might say that not much difference exists between a 690 and a 720, but if you’re capable of a 720 why not present one solid, impressive GMAT score, while knowing you have a short-term backup score you can use (reinstate) if necessary?

Even with the score reinstatement policy in place, some students may not be comfortable canceling a good score, such as a 690. If you fall into that camp, a wise strategy to consider is to keep any GMAT score that’s within 50 points of your target. For example, if your target GMAT score is a 700, you would not cancel any score that was 650 or higher.

Either way, make sure you have a strategic plan of attack before exam day. Remember, if you are not prepared to make a decision immediately after your exam, you have up to 72 hours to cancel your score.

The Enhanced Score Report

Now students can order an Enhanced Score Report (ESR) from GMAC. I see many students who still don’t know about the ESR or don’t fully understand the nature of the report. The ESR costs $24.95 and is available for GMATs taken after October 1, 2013.

I think that the ESR is well worth the money that GMAC charges. One big reason for my thinking is that the report highlights (in summary fashion) strengths and weaknesses. For example, it would be great to know that, on that particular exam sitting, critical reasoning and reading comprehension were strengths and sentence correction was the score-lowering culprit. Now, not all students will find such anomalies in their performances, but $24.95 is a small amount to pay to determine whether high value areas exist that you should be focusing on during your study efforts.

Additionally, the ESR provides data about your time management. Such information can be helpful to help in determining whether your pacing needs work, and if so, where.

Furthermore, some students are under the impression that an ESR cannot be ordered for GMAT exam scores after cancellation. In fact, the opposite is true; students can order an ESR for cancelled scores. In other words, a student can take the GMAT, see the unofficial score on the test center computer screen, and decide to cancel the score. Even after the cancellation, the student can order an ESR for that exam. It’s especially helpful to order the ESR for cancelled scores, as the report will break down more specifically which areas caused the low score.

Once you have reviewed all of these rule changes, you’ll be better prepared when it’s time for the GMAT. Leverage these new rules to your advantage. As always, be sure to put in the appropriate time to study, take care if you decide to retake the test, think of your cancellation strategy before test day, and use the ESR as a tool for growth. Good luck!

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