why you should (almost) never cancel your GMAT score

Suppose that you took the GMAT exam, and you felt like you got the living #$^%*&@! beaten out of you.  Maybe the quant section felt ridiculously difficult, and you had to race through the last 12 questions to finish the section before time ran out.  Maybe all of your reading comprehension passages felt completely incomprehensible.

By the time you finish the exam, your heart is pounding out of your chest, and you have two minutes to decide whether to cancel your test or view your GMAT scores.  Should you cancel your test?

Probably not.  And here are three reasons why:

Reason #1:  it’s almost impossible to know how well you did

Once upon a time, I worked with a skittish woman who always seemed to doubt her capacity for GMAT success, especially on the quant section.  She earned a 660 on her first attempt at the test, and then contacted me for some help.  After a couple of months of tutoring, she went back to face the beast.  And I made her promise not to cancel her score, no matter what.

The poor woman was convinced that the quant had beaten her to a bloody pulp.  The questions seemed strange, and she felt bewildered for most of the section.  She only had about 15 minutes left for the last 12 questions, so the final third of the quant section passed in a blur.  Pardon the expression, but she was convinced that she had shat the bed.

And guess what?  She got a 760, and was offered merit-based scholarships everywhere she applied.

I’ve heard this sort of story dozens—or maybe even hundreds—of times over the years.  The GMAT is a sneaky, slimy, deceptive creature.  You never know how well (or how badly) you’re doing until the score pops up.  Unless you literally wet your pants during the exam, you can’t possibly know whether you did terribly.  And if you don’t believe me, click here or here or here or here to read recent GMAT forum debriefs written by test-takers who struggled during the exam, but were somewhat surprised by their fantastic scores.

So “feeling bad” about your test is a lousy reason to cancel.  You might be canceling the GMAT score of your dreams, and that wouldn’t be cute at all.

Reason #2:  even if your GMAT score was bad this time, you’ll learn from the result

I’m sure that many of you are thinking, “No really, ninja dude:  I know when I’m getting my butt kicked by the GMAT.”  And I respectfully disagree, but let’s pretend that you do know that you had a crappy test.  Should you cancel your score?

Again, I’d argue that you shouldn’t.  While it’s maddening that you can never see exactly what you missed on the actual GMAT, the score does provide you with some feedback.  You might be surprised by how high (or how low) your score is on one or both sections.  And as you prepare for your next battle with the test, that can be an invaluable piece of information.

Let’s suppose that you were aiming for a 710, but only got a 600Now you know exactly what it feels like to get 600, and as you replay the test in your mind, you’ll almost certainly learn from it.  Even a disappointing exam can be a great learning experience, and the score provides you with some feedback that can help you move forward.

Reason #3:  why waste $250?

This might sound silly, but I always feel like a complete chump whenever I spend money on something I don’t use.  For example, there are a few test-prep books on my shelf that I almost never touch.  The $20 or $30 that I spent on each of the books isn’t going to destroy my bank account, but I still feel like a moron for buying them.

Couldn’t we say the same thing about a canceled GMAT test score?  If you “buy” a GMAT test for $250 and never actually get a score from the experience, wouldn’t it feel like a complete waste of money?  You’ll basically spend $250 for some frayed nerves and an unsatisfying, blank line on your GMAT score report.

The GMAT is already sodomizing your wallet for $250 whenever you take the test; personally, I would feel even worse if I didn’t at least get something back from them in return.  A bad score at least counts as something.

So don’t feel like a chump with a sodomized wallet:  take a good look at your score, even if you’re pretty sure it’s going to be crappy.  At worst, you’ll have a rallying cry for your future studies.  And at best, you’ll be surprised with a 760, even if you felt terrible during the exam.

One last thing:  if you’re worried about having a crappy result on your GMAT score report, don’t be.  An upward score trajectory always looks great, and MBA programs are being completely honest when they say that they consider your highest score.

So unless you really do have a bladder malfunction during your test, please don’t cancel your score.  At the very least, you’ll have a data point to work with as you continue your GMAT studies.  And if you’re really fortunate, your score might surprise you.

3 responses to “why you should (almost) never cancel your GMAT score

  1. Great insights Ninja.

    However, I’m curious to know that now GMAC allows test takers to preview his or her score before deciding whether or not he or she will accept it, do you think canceling the score is still a bad idea? More specifically, I would like to know whether canceling the score has an impact on MBA admission.

    In my case, I had 4 GMAT attempts and my breakdown is as follows:

    1st attempt: canceled
    2nd attempt: 650 Q47 V33
    3rd attempt: 690 Q49 V35
    4th attempt: 660 Q50 V29 (canceled it but considering to reinstate the score)

    the 4th attempt was taken after the new cancelation policy so I knew I scored lower than my third attempt (which was frustrating) so I canceled it.

    Now my question is, if I reinstated it, would the score hurt my chances? On the other hand. if I chose NOT to reinstate it, how will adcom view this? Assuming that the 4th attempt is my last attempt.


    • Thank you for writing, Wellington! Sadly, my little blog post is now pretty darned obsolete with the changes to GMAT policy. Now that you can preview your GMAT score, there’s less of a downside to canceling the score, especially since you can always reinstate it if you change your mind.

      In your case, I really don’t think that canceling your GMAT score (or “leaving it canceled”, as the case may be) really makes much of a difference one way or the other. I suppose that it doesn’t look great to have two canceled GMAT scores on your record, but it’s also hard to imagine that adcoms will really care all that much. Imagine that a business school is about to accept you, and then they see the two canceled scores and say, “Well, I THOUGHT that Wellington was pretty awesome, but now that I realize that he canceled two GMAT scores, let’s reject him.” That doesn’t seem remotely plausible to me.

      More broadly, it’s common practice to take the GMAT a whole bunch of times these days, and I still think that MBA programs are being honest when they say that they just look at your best score. As I mentioned in the original blog post, an upward trajectory might even help you. Will a bad performance on your 4th and final test hurt? I really don’t think so. Again, we’d have to imagine that adcoms would say, “Well, I THOUGHT that Wellington was pretty rad based on his 690 and the reams of other information we have about him, but now that I see the 660 on his fourth GMAT attempt, let’s reject him.” That doesn’t seem remotely plausible to me, either.

      So that was a very long way of basically shrugging my shoulders and saying that it’s not going to make much of a difference, one way or another. If I had to pick, I’d probably go ahead and reinstate it, but I definitely wouldn’t lose any sleep over the decision.

      Good luck with your applications!

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