MissionGMAT probably raised a few eyebrows among his readers when he revealed that he recently scored 700 on the GMAT, but decided to retake it. “I could not resist my urge to retake it simply because I had a wonderful time studying (and great momentum going) during my second attempt,” he wrote. “I believed I could easily score 20-30 points more than 700.”
Were he an American technology consultant, or a European investment banker, or a Latin American brand manager, or an African pharmaceutical salesperson—if his demographic had normal representation or little representation in the business school applicant pool—this is what I would do. I would digitally extend my hand to him through the Internet, virtually smack him upside the head, and text to him, “What were you thinking?!” I would do this because he had already cleared the “80-80 hurdle” with his 700—his quantitative and verbal scores placed him above the 80th percentile in each section—so his GMAT score was no issue and retaking the test was a waste of time that could have been better spent elsewhere. “Looking back, I now realize that I have lost one whole month and with it the opportunity to do a lot other things like campus visit, school research, apply for round one, etc.” he says. Exactly. To you folks who are standard applicants: once you’ve cleared the 80th percentile on the quantitative and verbal sections of the GMAT, you are done with the GMAT. Move on.
But here’s the thing: MissionGMAT is not a standard applicant. He categorizes himself as a “seemingly typical Indian IT male” with a “good GPA” and “low, virtually non-existent extracurricular activities,” which places him squarely in an overrepresented part of the applicant pool at top business schools—a part that has tremendously high GMAT scores. How high? Years ago, a major business school sent letters to rejected Indians indicating that the GMAT scores of its Indian applicants were 50 points higher than those of its average applicants—a difference that would no doubt show up, at least to some extent, in the accepted class’s numbers. A second school told a rejected Indian applicant that he would need to pull up his 710 GMAT score to be competitive. Neither of these was a top-five school. Today, the GMAT situation remains the same: Indians continue to score 50 points higher than the average test-taker, and the 90th-percentile score for Indians is 720while for average test-takers it’s 700. Indians set a higher GMAT standard upon themselves before they ever reach the applicant pool.
So—was MissionGMAT right to retake the GMAT? He may not know it, but yes, he was: because of his demographic, his 700 score may not be competitive at top schools. What’s unfortunate is that his new score did not top his old one. He considers the 700 “not a spectacular success but I can live with it.” He can, as long as he adjusts his school choices and applies to programs where a 700 within his demographic will be competitive.
By R. Todd King, an MIT MBA, who has worked with MBA applicants since 2001. Todd can help you make the most of your strengths and mitigate your weaknesses.