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What To Do if You Bomb the GMAT

Posted in Test Prep on November 17, 2010 by

Obviously, no one wants to get a low GMAT score. But at the same time, doing poorly on the test isn’t the end of the world, and beating yourself up over your score isn’t healthy, or productive. Instead, try to deal with your disappointment in a way that will help you prepare for the GMAT, round two – if and when you feel up to it.

Here’s how to bounce back if you get a score much lower than your target:

The GMAC claims that statistically speaking, retaking the GMAT is unlikely to raise your score. But don’t give up hope! We’ve seen students get huge score gains from their first attempt to their last, and there are many factors that can lead to someone falling short of their best possible performance.

If you feel that “something” wasn’t up to par on test day, getting a better score might be as simple as fixing that something. Maybe you could have studied harder; maybe test day presented unexpected psychological challenges; maybe you just weren’t feeling well.

If you did poorly on the GMAT, ask yourself a few questions to help guide your thoughts about what to do next:

1. How far is your score from where you would like it to be?

Start by assessing the damage. You should have had a realistic target score in mind. The Standard Error of Measurement (SEM) on the overall score is 29 points (David Kuntz, Knewton VP of research, can explain more on that). If you were aiming for a 670 and got a 650, your target score and your actual score fall within the standard error; 20 points lower does not constitute “bombing” the test. Retaking may not be worth it if you’re only hoping to gain 20 points or so.

Remember: when you submit your scores to a b-school, they receive all of your GMAT scores from the last five years. Admissions officers will see not just your scores—they will see your decision to retake the test. And they will evaluate whether or not you made a good decision. If your score was well below your target, retaking the test might be a good idea.  A much-improved score will illustrate your perseverance.

So, if your score was well below your target, ask yourself this next question:

2. What, if anything, made your performance on test day less than optimal?

Inadequate preparation is an obvious culprit. Most test-takers spend several months of concerted effort preparing for test day. Even if you have the best GMAT teachers, not practicing is a surefire way to keep your score lower than it could be.

Maybe you did practice as hard as you could, but you did so without the right guidance. If you self-studied, try to assess your methods. Did you target your GMAT weaknesses, while still setting aside time to “maintain” your stronger skills? Studying for the GMAT is like working your muscles – if you do a month of chin-ups, and then stop to focus solely on sit-ups, your upper body strength will fade away. The same logic applies to studying Verbal and Quant: for optimal performance, it’s important to develop your skills on both sections in tandem.

If you self-studied, you should also be sure that you didn’t overlook any key strategies: sometimes, a simple tip on a certain section of the test can help shave off time, increase accuracy – and improve your score.

Or maybe you took a GMAT course, but still didn’t get the score you wanted. Did you attend class regularly? Did you complete your homework assignments? When you had trouble with a question type, did you seek extra help and/or complete additional exercises until you had the question type down pat? Taking a GMAT course can be very helpful in providing structure and guidance, but you still have to do the heavy lifting.

3. How much of your difficulty with the test was mental?

A test like the GMAT doesn’t just require verbal and quant practice; success also depends on mental preparation and focus. Sometimes, even if you’ve prepped as much — and as wisely — as possible, you still don’t achieve your target score.

Did test anxiety affect your performance? Maybe you were so nervous about not finishing or doing poorly that you weren’t able to focus on the questions. Or perhaps you weren’t able to sleep in the days or weeks before the test, and fatigue threw you off your game. If this is the case, check out our blog posts on how to conquer GMAT test anxiety and how to train your body for the GMAT.

Were you exhausted halfway through the test? This might be a result of not doing any (or enough) full-length GMAT practice tests under test-like conditions. In a sense, the GMAT is like a marathon. Just as you wouldn’t run 26.2 miles without adequate practice beforehand, you shouldn’t take the GMAT without preparing yourself for the mental strain.

If there were legitimate short-comings that you can address, move on to the next question:

4. How do I retake the test?

First, note that you can only take the GMAT once per calendar month. Also, note that schools won’t receive your new score automatically. If you’ve already sent your scores to any schools, you’ll need to do so again. (This will require re-selecting the programs when you retake the test, or ordering an Additional Score Report later, which requires an additional fee.)

When you do reschedule, don’t panic and select the soonest possible date. Give yourself enough time to actually address the issue(s) from question 2. Again, honesty is key—if it you have a lot of work coming up, don’t lie to yourself and think that you’ll take the next month to study more. Take the time you need to feel confident. Three months is often a good timeline to shoot for. If you feel like this timeframe is right for you check out this post on How to Study for the GMAT in 3 months. Then retake the test and show those admissions officers that you take self-improvement seriously.