GMAT preparation: Why you should not over-focus on your GMAT score

Three applicants with different profiles decide to apply to bschools:

Rishi (Chhupaa) Rustom:
IT professional | 2 years work experience | GMAT score 740 (confident of cracking 770+)

Gautam Gulgulaa:
Marketing professional | 6 years experience | GMAT score 640 (got 630 in the first attempt)

Arundhati Champavati:
HR professional | 4 years experience | GMAT score 710 (pleasantly surprised as she was getting 650-680 in practice tests)

They are all willing to take the GMAT again. What advice will you give them? Hold on to your answer and read on.

The best case situation is a no-brainer. You follow a structured and well-planned approach towards GMAT preparation, consistently score in the target range in mock tests and surpass your expectations in the first attempt. But not many would be fortunate to get that outcome. The most common gripe you hear from candidates who’ve taken the test for the first time is that their actual GMAT score is lower than their expected score.

The reasons fluctuate from ‘I wasn’t feeling well on the day of the test‘ to ‘The air-conditioner was too cold‘. So they give themselves some more time, try to figure out what can work better, focus on their weak areas, get some more reference material (books, downloaded GMAT prep material), take help from mentors/experts and give it another shot.

Generally, if candidates have had multiple attempts at the GMAT, bschools take the highest GMAT score. So candidates think there’s very little downside to the approach of – try, & keep trying till you succeed.

All this comes at a price, and it isn’t just money we are talking about.

There’s a general perception that a score of 700 or above is absolutely essential, especially if you are an Indian MBA applicant (God save you if you are an Indian/IT/Male/Engineer). The GMAT score no doubt is an important parameter. Going with 80:20 rule, if you’re spending 80% of your time on your preparing for the GMAT exam, you might be getting only a 20% incremental benefit over others who are balancing out their time on other aspects of the application which includes writing appropriate content-rich MBA essays, getting good quality recommendations from the right people and updating your resume.

Fact is when an application gets rejected, the reasons generally extend beyond a low GMAT score. There may be exceptions to the rule – for instance the Adcom member has to choose between two candidates who are equally strong on ALL other parameters.

We’ve had situations (in fact one, just a couple of days back) when someone with a pretty low GMAT score got an interview invite from a top school that would’ve been ‘Ambitious’ for this profile. Along with the invite, the Admissions Officer has gently ‘encouraged’ the candidate to re-consider taking the GMAT, but this was more for scholarship decisions and not to influence the acceptance decision. What does that mean? If the Admission officer had a strict GMAT cut-off, this candidate would’ve never crossed the first stage of review.

Are we saying, that you should aim for a low GMAT [waiting for 5 seconds to see if anyone says Yes]. Of course, not! Aim for 800 by all means (Read How to get a perfect 800 GMAT score). But if you don’t get it, don’t fret & fume. Don’t underestimate the impact of well-written MBA essays and recommendations, since they tell the Adcoms more about your real potential than simple scores.

If you think that you can significantly raise the GMAT score with another attempt and ensure that you aren’t doing so at the cost of your other MBA application components (MBA essays, recommendations, resume), then it might be worth considering.

One line philosphical lesson: It’s important to push yourself to do well on the GMAT, but it’s also important to know when to stop.

If you are still thinking about Rustom-ji, Gulgulaa bhaiyya and Champavati didi (despite their unusual names), go ahead and share your thoughts. We’ll stay quiet and allow you to become Admission consultants for a while.
If you care two hoots about fictitional characters, because you are worried about your own score and are thinking about re-taking the GMAT, tell us why.

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11 thoughts on “GMAT preparation: Why you should not over-focus on your GMAT score”

  1. Dear Sir/Madam,

    I took my GMAT test today and scored 610.
    (Quant : 85 percentile / Verbal : 33 Percentile / Total : 67 Percentile)

    This was my second attempt. I had scored 620 in the first one. Although disappointing the score is, I am not willing to attempt again as the scores pretty much matches my simulation test scores. Therefore I request you to guide me in what steps I should take. I was ,and still am, keen in doing my MBA in Singapore(NUS) or Germany (Manheim, Goethe, WHU). It surely does feel like a far fetched goal now :(

    One more information about my personal life is I will be getting married on coming Nov 2nd. This is one other reason why I do not want to take an attempt at GMAT again as doing so will not let me devote my time completely into one.

    Sorry to have taken time of yours but I really need some guidance.

    Thanks you in advance.

    Pavan umesh

    • Hi Pavan,

      Thanks for sharing your story, buddy. Marriage on the cards…Congrats!

      You haven’t talked about your background or the post-MBA goals you have in mind. So I can’t get into specifics. But here’s some food for thought.

      If you have done relatively well in your academics, then getting a decent score in the GMAT shouldn’t have to be a big ordeal if (a big IF) you approach it in the right manner. But I also realise that everyone can’t break the 700 barrier and that shouldn’t get you down.

      If you are convinced that GMAT isn’t the area where you want to put in more effort, then move on.
      NUS is a good school and quite competitive to get in. I’m not sure about German programs as Germany is generally not on the radar of folks who come to us.
      I’ve spoken to guys, with a sub-650 GMAT score, who’ve got into the good schools purely on the basis of their essays/recos/interviews.

      Having said that, there’s more to life than GMAT scores and MBA degrees. Depending on what your goals are, there are multiple ways to get there. To know how to do that, pick up a copy of Beyond The MBA Hype and turn to Chapter 11 (called ‘So what’s your goal?’).

      Btw, you might be interested in this post – MBA, Career or Marriage? Welcome to the ugly desi dilemma.

  2. Hi Sameer,

    I have just taken my GMAT and score 640 (disappointed!!!).

    I have 4yrs of exp now ….3 yrs in an IT giant and 1 yr in a startup comp (typical Indian IT male).

    I am currently acting as a team lead and mentoring few persons.

    what chances do I have for ISB,NUS,Nanyang?

    Thanks in Advance.

    • Gaurav,

      It’s tough to talk about chances based on what I know about you so far.

      But just to share some perspectives, we just helped another candidate with a similar GMAT score but different profile to get an interview call from ISB. And we’ve had similar stories of candidates with low GMAT scores getting calls from other competitive international MBA programs as well. So we do believe that Admission committees look at the whole profile.

      Though the names in the blog post above are fictitious, their stories/profiles are inspired by people who’ve come to us. So if you’ve got something to offer Adcoms that your competition can’t – well-presented accomplishments, crystal clear career plans, strong execution of MBA essays, recommendations and the interview – then you do have a shot.

      But to be brutally honest, going in with a significantly low GMAT score for the schools you have on your mind does put you at a severe disadvantage. Though we’ve had the occasional success stories with such scores, these are more of exceptions. So I don’t want to raise hopes and expectations that will be difficult to convert.

      If you can get the GMAT score higher, then you are making it just a little easier for the Admission Committee to focus on the more important aspects of your MBA application.

      Hope that helps.

  3. an electrical Engineer by qualification

    Work Experience in an electrical MNC (Manufacturing sector). Function :Sales, Marketing and Business Development. I have been in this field for the past 42 months and I have some sound work experience in marketing and sales. I have decent exposure to channel sales, key account management, Logistics, Order Handling , Business Development, Contract Management , Negotiation for big orders, Application engg
    Education : Engg I have a 7.58/10 in Electrical and Electronics Engineering and I have a fairly decent extra curriculars and community service work (Nothing Extra Ordinary). I have a 87.4% 12th CBSE and 83.4% xth cbse

    TARGET SCHOOLS : Any good 1 year program . Emory One year MBA, NUS , NTU, HHL LEIPZIG
    Schulich , Rotman , Queens

    Extra Curriculars :
    Sports : Hockey team player for school ,college and University . ( We were district champions thrice in a row). Cricket player for school. Table tennis player for school.
    Community Service :
    * We helped the fishermen struck by Tsunami rebild their lives by making switchboards in our sheet metal workshop by hand and help with masonary
    * Member of a club engaged on holding evening classes for the villages near our college mainly for woman and children
    * Friends of Nilgiris : Working on teaching woman and helping farmers with organic farming for lively hood
    * Hanlding CSR activities for my company in Coimbatore Region : Arranged blood donation campaign and also Aids awareness program

    . Can you comment on my chances ? I intend to continue in the same line( Work in O&G , Energy / Mining Segment)

  4. Shiv,

    Standard response first. We can’t talk about chances based on what you’ve shared, as our profile evaluation process is similar to how Admission committees look at it. This is what we do as part of the MBA MAP – profile evaluation process.

    Right, now the 40 point jump that you are expecting isn’t a small thing. It gets you into the 80 percentile for several of the schools on your list. So if you can submit a strong application, it becomes more difficult for Admission officers to reject you primarly on the basis of a low GMAT score.

  5. i passed my in computer science in 2012 got into infosys but the joining was postponed so thought i would prepare for GMAT and other mba exams…i scored a 610 in GMAT…i do not have a work experience but i do have a 6 month communicative training on german language.
    10th – 87%
    12th- 81% CGPA-8.10/10
    can you suggest a college for me??

  6. In India, people aim for high GMAT score. Instead of burning out of high gmat score, work as an entrepreneur and prepare for the GMAT test. Trust me, writing down this experience will make your profile a notch ahead than those who are book worms. B Schools want those candidates who have the ability to take decisions.

  7. Hello Guys,

    GMAT Score : 600
    CGPA : 9.0 (Electrical and Electronics Engineer)
    10th : 95.83 %
    12th : 89.6 %
    Work Experience : 2 years 6 months [MNC] experience in R&D

    Will I be able to make to German Universities.
    I am considering both Masters in Management and MBA ?
    Please help

    Thank you

  8. Hello! I am currently pursuing my bachelors of commerce and I’ve got over with 5 out of 6 semesters. All through these sems I’ve worked hard to push my cgpa to an agg of 8.41(note I still have last sem to go). With a heavy study schedule I still wanted to start with my gmat prep early so giving an attempt I got a score of 430 only with could not have got worse and I agree! Now all this time i have not been able to focus on work ex as such which I’m craving for after all that continuous studying with no breaks but also I feel I need to push up my gmat score now using my last sem cause after leaving studies l, starting all over can be hard for me! I am in dearth of some clarity,guidance and motivation! Please help me get through this!!Also let me know if I chuck another attempt at the gmat and continue focusing only on gpa and have a work ex then can get into the top notch Schools?


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