11 Ways to Address a Low GMAT Score

Ilana Kowarski
·6 min read

Overcome a low GMAT score.

When a GMAT score is lower than expected, it can diminish confidence, but obsessing over the number isn't going to make it better. "Business school hopefuls can be incredibly hard on themselves when they make mistakes on the GMAT, but each error is a learning opportunity and a chance to improve," former U.S. News contributor Stacy Blackman wrote in a blog post. "So don't become discouraged if your first score isn't where you'd hoped." Here are 11 strategies experts suggest for dealing with a low GMAT score.

Consider a retake.

Experts say first-time test-takers are often nervous during the GMAT and some are ill-prepared, which hinders their performance. Data from the organization that administers the GMAT, the Graduate Management Admission Council, or GMAC, reveals that three-fourths of B-school hopefuls who retake the GMAT perform better than they did before. "Sometimes just having sat through the exam once, learned the procedure and how it feels, will be enough to help a second time," Alexander Lowry, a professor of finance at Gordon College in Massachusetts, told U.S. News.

Study more.

As a general rule, business school hopefuls who study more for the GMAT tend to perform better on the test. It is difficult to do well on the GMAT without a significant time commitment, and it is unwise to attempt to cram for the test at the last minute. Because the GMAT focuses on reasoning skills rather than content knowledge, memorization isn't an appropriate study method. Continuous practice is a far better strategy, experts say. Dennis Yim, director of live online courses at Kaplan, recommends 100 to 120 hours of study over several months, and he says GMAT test-takers should allocate that time wisely by focusing on aspects of the test they find hardest.

Reach out for help or use free test prep resources.

If you need guidance on how to deal with certain aspects of the GMAT or if you need accountability to ensure that you study enough, experts say a course or a tutor could be valuable although either costs money. The GMAC offers free test prep resources online. GMAT test-takers should also consider participating in a GMAT study group or support group and may be able to find such a group on Meetup.com.

Evaluate what went wrong.

Looking at your previous GMAT test will reveal mistakes that you can correct on a future test, Blackman wrote in a U.S. News blog post about how to decide whether to retake the GMAT. "After your first test, it's time to go over your entire GMAT performance to determine your weaknesses and double-down in those areas as you resume your studies," she wrote. "Don't completely ignore the sections you did well on, however. You wouldn't want to improve in one area but do worse in another the next time."

Pace yourself and answer every test question if you can.

Meeting time limits is a challenging aspect of the GMAT, so test-takers should take practice tests with time limits. Answering test questions speedily and confidently is necessary in order to secure a good score on the GMAT, according to David D. Schein, director of graduate programs at the University of St. Thomas--Houston's Cameron School of Business. GMAT test-takers should aim to complete all of the test questions, Schein told U.S. News.

Try the GRE.

Experts say prospective MBA students who do not have a quantitative background often perform better on the GRE than the GMAT, and they note that many business schools are willing to accept either test. "The GMAT mathematics section is just more difficult," Mary Pat Jacobs, the founder of Apply Point Admissions Consulting, told U.S. News in 2015. "If someone has a weakness in the quantitative section, then I recommend the GRE."

Demonstrate math skills.

If your GMAT score won't budge, experts say to show MBA admissions officers that you are ready to handle the rigorous quantitative courses in business school. Take supplemental math courses or describe in your application the quantitative work you have done throughout your career. "The admissions committee will sometimes give candidates the benefit of the doubt if other aspects of their application are exceptionally compelling," Blackman wrote about getting into business school without quantitative experience.

Avoid panic.

Experts say eliminating test day jitters can improve GMAT scores. Blackman wrote that getting a video tour of the GMAT test center and researching test procedures can prevent surprises the day of the test. Meditation can also help reduce anxiety, she wrote, as can taking the GMAT in the same location where you took a previous test -- which also reduces the chance of getting lost. Schein told U.S. News that GMAT test-takers should schedule the test for the time of day when they are most alert.

Identify your learning style.

Dave Killoran, the CEO of PowerScore Test Preparation, told U.S. News in 2014 that students should consider how they learn best -- whether independently or through the structure of a course -- before choosing a study method. "If you're a real procrastinator, you do not want to self-study. Because you'll put it off all the time."

Highlight your strengths.

Some students are not good test-takers. An MBA hopeful whose GMAT score is lower than typical at his or her dream school can overcome that deficit by submitting an otherwise stellar application, experts say. Someone who has taken the GMAT multiple times without success should increase focus on other portions of the MBA application, Blackman wrote in a blog post. "Put your energies toward boosting your candidacy in the areas of your application you can control, namely the essays, extracurriculars and, to some extent, the recommendation letters, where your recommenders can highlight your quantitative skills."

Apply to a test-optional MBA program or get a test waiver.

Some business schools don't require MBA hopefuls to submit test scores. Meanwhile, some schools that technically require standardized tests are willing to waive those requirements for prospective students who have certain impressive credentials, such as an extremely high undergraduate GPA or a significant amount of management experience.

Learn how to prepare for the GMAT.

Learn more about preparing for the GMAT. Access our complete rankings of the Best Business Schools to create a school short list. You can learn more about business schools by following U.S. News Education on Twitter and Facebook.

Here are 11 ways to deal with a low GMAT score.

-- Consider a retake.

-- Study more.

-- Reach out for help or use free test prep resources.

-- Evaluate what went wrong.

-- Pace yourself and answer every test question if you can.

-- Try the GRE.

-- Demonstrate math skills.

-- Avoid panic.

-- Identify your learning style.

-- Highlight your strengths.

-- Apply to a test-optional MBA program or get a test waiver.