Knowing how to improve your GMAT score is helpful if your first attempt at taking the Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT) does not result in the minimum score required by an MBA programme – or even if the score is lower than you feel you are capable of achieving. Thankfully, there are valid tips and strategies regarding when or if to retake the test and, if so, how to improve your score on subsequent attempts.

GMAT minimum and average scores

The makers of the GMAT, the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), designed it for prospective business students and programmes related specifically to business or management. Hailing it as “created by business schools for business schools”, GMAC claims its test is a proven and trusted predictor of academic success in post-graduate business degree programmes such as an MBA.

For that reason, many schools offering MBA degrees pay close attention to the GMAT scores of applicants, and many establish a minimum for acceptance into the programme. This ensures a certain level of academic ability across all candidates for the degree.

Some MBA programmes require a GMAT score as part of an admission application, but do not have a set minimum for acceptance. Instead, they offer guidelines about what scores they desire to see from a candidate or what the average score of their enrollees is. This is insightful information that will help you set a personal goal for your GMAT score, which then becomes a good basis for your decision whether to retake the test or not.

For example, under the Academic Capacity section of INSEAD’s (France) MBA Admissions Criteria, you find that the school advises candidates to “aim for a score at or above the 70th-75th percentile for both the quantitative and verbal sections” and a score of 6 or above on the integrated reasoning section. At the same time, it assures applicants that “a high score does not guarantee admission, and a below average score does not eliminate a candidate.”

Similarly, Oxford University’s (UK) MBA programme requires a GMAT (or GRE) test score, but it does not set a minimum for acceptance. Instead, it gives a suggested score goal for the student (650) and also lists the average score for its current class (690) to give you a basis for comparison.

Even if an MBA programme does not require a minimum score – or even any score – from a GMAT, this does not mean you should disregard the test altogether or even pay little attention to your score. If your intention is to distinguish yourself from other candidates, a high GMAT score will go a long way toward accomplishing that.

GMAT scores of top MBA programmes

To be a competitive candidate for a top MBA programme, you need to look further than the minimum score GMAT score required for admission, which is often posted on a school’s website. The more important statistic to consider is the average GMAT score for the latest class. That will reveal the calibre of your competition for admittance and assist your decision whether or not to retake the test.

An analysis of 2016-17 enrollees in top MBA programmes revealed that average GMAT scores continue to increase from year to year, with Stanford University’s (US) average GMAT score of 737 establishing a new record high.

When to retake the GMAT

The minimum GMAT score for a particular school’s MBA programme – if the school even requires one – is specific to that programme. Still, one rule of thumb regarding optimal GMAT scores for MBA programmes is to aim for 650 or above, while understanding that top business schools with very competitive programmes will look for candidates with scores of 700 or higher.

One particular section of the GMAT weighs more heavily in the minds of admissions’ officers than the others. The quantitative section score you achieve is typically the most important. You may have a perfect or near-perfect score on the writing or verbal sections, but if you scored low on the quantitative section, you should seriously consider retaking the GMAT. By contrast, if your quantitative section score was at or near perfect, but your verbal or writing scores were somewhat lower, it may not be as important to you to retake the test.

If you already achieved a high (680+) GMAT score, the decision of whether or not to retake the test for the opportunity to only marginally increase your score should be made carefully. Is an increase of a few points worth the time, money, and energy you will need to devote to a GMAT retake, or would those resources be better spent improving the other parts of your application?

Will retaking the GMAT improve your score?

According to a GMAC report, GMAT test-takers saw a net increase of roughly 31 points on subsequent tries. That is quite a significant gain that could make all the difference for you when it comes to MBA programme acceptance. Notable to mention, however, is that the higher your original score, the harder it is to improve it significantly. Also, many of the larger score jumps could be attributed to the completion of the quantitative section on a subsequent try when that student never completed that section on the first attempt.

Check out: Crack the GMAT – How to Score Your Best

Tips on how to improve your GMAT score

Do not lose heart if your first GMAT score does not meet your expectations. As the saying goes, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” Just be sure to put effort into your preparation to increase your odds of getting a higher score. Here are five tips to help you do just that:

  1. Allow enough time to prepare properly. A minimum of three months should be devoted to your first GMAT attempt, so plan on a year-long process of preparation, practice tests, and official GMAT scheduling to give you plenty of time in case you decide a retake is in order.
  2. Devote time to practice tests immediately prior to the actual test. Use realistic, professional practice tests, and try to replicate the conditions you will need to achieve a high score, like good sleep the night before, lack of distractions, and timed work.
  3. Study the recommendations of others. Many personal testimonials and advice on how to improve your score can be found online. One such list is “19 Ways to Improve Your GMAT Score as Told by 700+ Performers.”
  4. Analyse your previous test score. Identify which areas of the test were the most difficult for you the first time and devote extra time to those areas. At the same time, do not sacrifice practice time for the sections on which you did well. That will keep your better subjects fresh in your mind while improving other areas.
  5. Seek other forms of assistance. You do not need to prepare by yourself with just books and practice tests. There are a variety of other study techniques available, such as individual or group courses and professional-level, one-on-one guidance.

A high GMAT score alone will not get you admitted to a reputable business school. It is just one of many components of your overall application, with others being academic transcripts, personal essays, and letters of recommendation, among others. However, a high GMAT score is a simple and quick indicator of the quality of a candidate’s application, so do not underestimate its importance as you begin the admissions process. Regardless of the score, however, the study and practice you gain from the GMAT experience will hone your academic skills prior to admission into a post-graduate programme, increasing your likelihood of success.