By Chioma Isiadinso
I’ve said before and I'll say it again, test scores are not the be-all and end-all of business school admissions.
An application has several important parts, from recommendation letters to essays to transcripts. They all play a vital role in painting a complete picture of you as a candidate.
With that, it must be understood that test scores are a crucial part of your MBA application. If you want to be admitted to your target schools, you’ll need to think critically about your test score in the context of your application and your personal brand. Crucially, that means understanding what a competitive score is for you, and under what circumstances you need to re-take the test.
I often receive questions often from my clients wanting to know if they should retake the GMAT to bolster their application. My answer is always the same. If you're capable of applying with a 740 or a 750, why limit yourself to applying with a 720? The same messages apply to the GRE as well.
But ultimately, those types of question come at the issue from the wrong angle entirely. You need to be asking yourself questions like these:
Do I have the highest score I can possibly achieve?
If the answer to this is yes, then you've done all you can. Pat yourself on the back and move on to the other parts of the application process.
If your answer is “probably not”, then you're not done. You owe it yourself to put in your absolute best work, to apply with the highest score you can. If you look at your score and realistically know that you could earn another ten, twenty, even thirty points, then you need to re-take the test.
Are the elements of my score consistent with each other?
Applicants often assume that they can tell what a good score looks like just by checking out their target school's average class profile. They look at the median reported GMAT and figure out a score range that they think is “good enough” to get them in.
What applicants rarely realize though, is that the median score snapshot only tells part of the story.
Most schools report their median overall score, and not their subscores, which are equally important. If you've achieved a good overall score, but your verbal is significantly lower than your quant, or vice-versa, then your score is worse than it may seem.
The same is true of your integrated reasoning (IR) score, which has recently been growing in importance for admissions committees. If you've got a 740 overall, but your IR score is a 2, then the reality is that that may prove to be a red flag for top business schools.
When you're trying to decide whether your score is competitive enough for the b-schools you want to go to, consider the whole picture.
Do I have the time to spend on studying to improve my score?
Sadly, no one can truthfully answer this question for you. The best advice is to be realistic about how much time you can actually spend on studying, and whether that's likely to be enough to raise your score.
But you must also push yourself. Remember that you’re asking yourself if you have the time to study more, not whether or not you want to.
No one really wants to take the GMAT again if they don't have to. If you've taken the test five times and your score isn't going up, taking it a sixth time is unlikely to help you. But, if you know that you could put in a couple more weeks of studying and pull your score up, it's almost always worth it to spend that time.
For example, you might have a GMAT score of 690. It’s good, but not enough to make the cut at top b-schools. Should you apply in the first round with that score, or retake the test and go for the second round with a 710 or 720?
Unless you offer something truly exceptional in your work experience or your own personal story, re-take the test. I’ve advised clients of this countless times. It's far better to apply in the second round with the best application possible than to submit a “good enough” application earlier.
In that scenario, use your extra time to study as much as possible, improve your essays, and get your application materials into the best shape possible.
She's also a former Harvard Business School admissions officer and the author of the Best Business Schools' Admissions Secrets.
Chioma publishes on the topics of personal branding, leadership development and business school admissions for college students, young professionals, entrepreneurs and executives.