Weak GMAT? Don’t Say That! Say This!

Don’t Say That!

* Though often humorous, these are real comments that candidates made to me when I was the Director of MBA Admissions. 

1. “Yes, my GMAT score is low. You see, I’ve never been good at taking standardized tests.” 

Hands down the most common response to discussions of a low GMAT score. File this one along with “Oh, what’s my greatest weakness? I’m a perfectionist.” While it is true that some individuals do not perform well on standardized tests, MBA applicants might have me believing it is an epidemic. 

2. “My GMAT score? Oh, yeah that. Well, yeah, I know it is really low. I didn’t really prepare for the test. My friend had his bachelor party the night before I had the test scheduled and I was just not in good shape when I went to take the test, if you know what I mean. (wink, wink)”

Oh, where do I begin? Aside from the obviously inappropriate discussion (and winking) about the bachelor party, lack of preparation for the GMAT is never a valid excuse. The GMAT is scheduled far in advance. You know that it is an important part of the admissions process. You didn’t have time is more that you didn’t plan appropriately. If you didn’t plan appropriately for the GMAT, what else are you not going to plan appropriately for? 

3. “Yes, I know my GMAT score is not as strong as you’re looking for. I have an learning disability. Oh, documentation? I don’t have any. It’s an undiagnosed learning disability.” 

MBA Admissions Committees can consider a learning disability that impacts your ability to perform on the GMAT. For example, a candidate may need to take the GMAT without a time limit. If this is discussed during the application cycle, appropriate documentation from an independent third party must be provided. Furthermore, if you need to take the GMAT with a special accommodation, PearsonVue (the company that runs the GMAT) will also require appropriate documentation. Undocumented learning disabilities cannot be considered. 

4. “Yes, my GMAT score is low. However, I have such great grades and professional experience. And, besides, I’ve been told that standardized tests are not really accurate for admissions purposes. I’m sure the Admissions Committee can understand that my low GMAT score is just an outlier to my otherwise fantastic application.”

Genuine confidence is a great attribute. However, questioning the validity of the GMAT score and the process of the Admissions Committee is never a good idea. Top MBA programs continually check the validity of the GMAT exam as a predictor of academic performance. Further, the Graduate Management Admissions Council and PearsonVue annually validate the exam as an accurate predictor of academic success. 

5. “So, what’s the lowest GMAT score you’ll accept? Because I’m pretty sure I can hit that when I take the test.” 

In every interaction with the admissions staff, you’re trying to impress. You want them to see you as one of the top candidates, not one who is aiming for the bare minimum. 

Say This!

1. “I’d like to speak with you about my GMAT score. I realize that it’s lower than the average of your most recent class profile, and I’d like to talk about other factors that are indicative of my academic abilities.” 

While similar to number 4 above, this is a very different approach. It’s direct and humble. By being the one who introduces the subject to the conversation, you can take a proactive approach, rather than sounding defensive.

2. “I prepared thoroughly for the exam. I started off with a diagnostic test to identify my areas of weakness. I created my own study plan and followed it carefully. On the day of the test, things did not go as I thought they would.” 

Straightforward, this discussion shows that you took a methodical approach to planning and studying for the exam. However, it did not workout as planned. Advance to Step 3. 

3. “Admission to your school is important to me, and I want to show you that I am a very capable student. I’ve decided to retake the GMAT. I investigated which test prep firms were the most reputable in my area. I chose one that has small classes and a lot of personal attention. I start that class next week, and plan to take the GMAT again in 3 months. I will send those scores to you as soon as I finish that exam.”

Again, you are demonstrating a reasonable and methodical approach to the admissions process. This is also an approach that works better early in the process as opposed to later in the process. 

4. “I know that it is important to the Admissions Committee that I demonstrate strong quantitative skills. I believe my GMAT does not reflect what I am capable of. Therefore, I enrolled in this graduate level finance course at a local university and here is my transcript (optimally, with an A). I’m not asking you to transfer this credit; I just want to demonstrate that I’m capable of graduate level performance.”

This response demonstrates that you are thinking ahead by proactively taking a course to provide additional information to demonstrate the quantitative ability. You are not waiting for the committee to tell you what to do, you are taking action on your own. Additionally, you are not blaming the test or test makers for your score. 

5. A Special Note About Learning Disabilities

As the parent of a student with a disability, I clearly understand how a learning disability can impact your GMAT score. Some applicants are reluctant to reveal their disability for fear that they may negatively influence an admission decision. 

Whether or not you reveal a disability is up to you, but there are some things you should be aware of. If you decide to take a modified GMAT, the GMAT score will show that the exam was taken in a modified format. The GMAT score report doesn’t give detailed information, but this designation is one that can tip off the Admissions Committee to your status. 

If you do decide to reveal your learning disability, I suggest you speak about it in factual terms. Discuss the disability, how it impacts your ability to study, etc., and how you’ve successfully managed it in the past. Keep the discussion all business and all positive.

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