I remember when I was young and would ask my dad a question, more often than not he would respond, “Would you like the short answer or the long answer?” It didn’t matter which option I chose, because at some point he would inevitably launch into the long answer. And while I hated it at the time, looking back, there were always some great nuggets of wisdom in the nuances of his long answer.
So in the spirit of my dad’s sage example, I present to you the short answer – and the long answer! – to the question, “When should I take the GMAT?”
The Short Answer
You should take the GMAT any time that you have 2-3 months, or approximately 80-100 hours, to adequately prepare for it.
Remember that your GMAT score is good for five years, so you can take the GMAT whenever you’re ready – even if you don’t plan on applying to business school for another year or two. Why not get it out of the way early?
Now, why do I say that you’ll want to devote 80-100 hours studying for the GMAT? Because statistically, that’s how many hours students study to score above average on the GMAT. You can read my full article about how long you should expect to study for the GMAT.
The Long Answer
Telling you to take the GMAT whenever you want, which is essentially what I’ve done in my short answer, may seem like a bit of a cop-out to you. At the very least, it’s still pretty vague. So let me dive deeper and give you three additional guiding principles for when you should consider taking the GMAT.
1. In what application round are you applying?
It’s a good idea to have a sense of when you’ll be applying to business school. Pretty basic, right? Once you know when the application deadline is for the round you’ll be applying in, you can work backwards from there.
For example, Round 1 deadlines for many MBA programs are at the end of September for matriculation the following Fall. If you’ll be applying Round 1, then, you should start studying for the GMAT in May or June and plan to take it toward the end of August. For Round 2 deadlines, you’ll usually want to take the GMAT in late November or early December, and for Round 3 deadlines, mid- to late- February is a good time to take the GMAT for most schools.
2. Leave time to retake the GMAT if necessary
As confident as I am that you’ll get the GMAT score you’re looking for on the very first try (especially if you’ve taken one of our GMAT prep courses!), the reality is that many students end up needing to take the GMAT a second (or even third) time. The GMAC makes you wait a minimum of 16 days before retaking the GMAT, so take that into consideration and plan accordingly. For example, if the Round 3 application deadline for your target school is April 1st, then plan to take the GMAT before March 15th to give yourself that 16-day buffer.
While technically a school will need your official GMAT results before granting you admission (official scores can take up to 20 days to arrive), often admissions offices will work with you and grant you provisional acceptance based on the unofficial score you receive immediately after finishing the GMAT, pending that final score report. When in doubt, call the admissions offices of your target schools and ask them what the absolute latest is that they’ll accept a GMAT score from you. They want to work with you, so don’t be afraid to ask.
3. Don’t drag it out
One of my favorite teaching points when I’m training my team on the importance of taking action goes as follows: “Five birds are sitting on a wire. Three decide to fly off. How many are left?”
Answer: All five.
Why? Because deciding to do something isn’t the same as actually doing it! The same goes for the GMAT.
I can’t tell you how many times I have students sign up for one of my courses and despite having completed all of the course material and taken all of the practice tests, they drag out the process of actually signing up for the real thing. The truth is, you’ll probably never feel 100% ready for the GMAT. You’ll always feel like there’s one more thing to learn or one more practice problem to solve. But really, it’s fear that’s holding you back. And the best antidote to fear is action. So my advice is to pick a date based on the guidelines I described above and lock it in stone by actually submitting your registration. That way you’ll have a fixed target on your calendar that you can start working toward!
Getting ready to apply to your dream MBA program? Our expert admissions consultants can work with you to craft an effective admissions strategy that will help you get ACCEPTED! Check out our MBA Admissions Consulting services for more information.
Brett Ethridge is the founder of Dominate the GMAT, a leading provider of GMAT courses online and topic-specific GMAT video lessons. He has taught the GMAT for 10+ years and loves working with students to help them achieve their highest potential. Brett is an entrepreneur, a triathlete, and an avid Duke basketball fan.
• The GMAT: Low Scores, Retaking & Strategies for Success, a free webinar
• Preparing for the GMAT: Video Tips to Live By, a short video
• The GMAT and Your MBA Admissions Profile