Are you actually ready for an Official GMAT?
GMAT attempts are limited, 5 attempts per year, 8 per lifetime (with some exceptions), and not inexpensive, $275 per attempt (depending on where you live), but there may be a time to take an official exam even if you are scoring below your goal.
Maybe you hit the jackpot and then you are off to the races.
No more late-night post-work grueling GMAT study sessions.
No more weekends lost to exponents, combinatorics, and sentence correction rules.
It is mighty tempting give it a shot but may not always be the best course of action.
Below we’ll break down when you should go for an official GMAT and when you might want to hold off a bit.
Green light: go take an official GMAT!
If you happen to be at or above your goal on official practice tests then, yes, of course, take an official GMAT ASAP!
No need to wait.
Doesn’t matter if you are done with your GMAT tutoring program/class/book/video course or not.
The goal isn’t to absorb as much GMAT knowledge as possible. It is to get a great GMAT score that will put a gold star on your Harvard MBA application.
The trickier question is: should you take an official GMAT before you have consistently reached your goal on official practice tests?
There are certainly times when it makes sense to chance one.
There are times when you should avoid this 100%.
Reasons to delay taking an official exam
If you are 150 points or more from your goal do not take an official GMAT.
It’s a waste of money, time, and precious attempts.
If you are 100 or more points from your goal then most times you should also not take an official GMAT.
Same as above. You are so far out that it is extremely unlikely that a lucky day is going to boost your score into any useable range.
It is worth noting that the points change a bit at the upper end of the scale
Not every GMAT point is equal.
For instance, if you are scoring around a 680 and your goal is a 740 (60 point gap) I would also recommend proceeding with caution as it is highly unlikely that the sun shining on you during your attempt will close that, more challenging, 60 point chasm.
So let’s say that points in the high 600s and 700s are worth double. With that in mind I’d say that 50+ points away could be too much of a stretch for this more subtle area.
Quick reminder: The score ranges above assume fresh official practice tests taken in real exam conditions (no pause button, no long breaks between sections, no googling questions during the test…).
When does it makes sense to take an official GMAT even if scoring well below the score goal?
In a student’s GMAT tutoring plan, depending on the goal/profile/timeline, we lay out multiple GMAT attempts.
Sometimes the additional tests are simply retakes (just in case attempt 1 doesn’t go smoothly).
Sometimes they are stepping stones to the ultimate goal.
In the latter case we plan on GMAT attempts (sometimes well below the goal) in order to break up the studying.
For instance, if someone has a baseline of 600 and is aiming for a 750 it is highly likely that we will plan a first attempt aiming for 700 and a second aiming for 750.
Planning for the 700+ can be different than planning for the so it can be better to approach those two goals in two discrete steps.
Over many years of preparing people for the GMAT we have noticed that splitting up the goal gets you to the highest score possible faster.
This “stepping stone” GMAT is a bit more of an advanced idea and does require a bit more nuance and planning but is certainly something that you can work into your GMAT prep.
How you approach this is very profile/goal dependent so you just need to think about your situation and then plot the course as best you can.
As long as you are honest with yourself about where you are then you should be able to get things about right.
Additional Considerations for GMAT Attempt Planning
- What is holding the score back
- Where you are in your studies
For instance, if your content knowledge is spectacular but you have a timing issue or a test anxiety issue that is severely depressing the practice test scores then it may still make sense to try an official GMAT even if the practice test scores are below your goal.
It is possible to address those things relatively quickly and they can disappear overnight.
BTW, to help with the above it is worth taking a moment to read our in depth article on GMAT timing strategy.
Deep into your studies then you may just want to go for it regardless
It is unhealthy to be in perma-study mode. At some point you need to sit for the exam.
Yes, you may not achieve your dream score but at the very least you are putting something on the scoreboard.
And it is possible that getting an official date on the calendar provides focus to your studying.
If you want to get an idea of where you are then take an official GMAT practice test
Official practice tests are nearly identical to the real deal and will give you an accurate (as possible) assessment of your current level.
But, hate to add more stress here, those practice tests are also precious and if you are just starting out studying and haven’t yet made much progress it is probably NOT worth taking one.
Generally reserve your practice tests for when you have 70%+ of the content nailed down and are starting to get into test-mode.
I would venture to say that unless you are ready to put an official GMAT on the calendar you aren’t ready for practice tests.
Some people like to think the other way around: I will put an official GMAT on the calendar after I feel comfortable with my practice test scores
That method has issues.
First off, it tends to extend studying.
It also puts extra pressure on the practice tests.
The practice tests are to practice. And, at least initially, the practice test scores are not what we are focusing on but improving the process.
Just because you don’t do well on a single practice test doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have an official GMAT planned
It could very well be that on the third practice test you nail the score and then are in perfect shape for the official test. And then: you are done!!!
This is one of the reasons why working with a professional GMAT tutor can be very helpful: they can help assess your level and plan your GMAT attempts.
I can’t speak for other tutors but that planning is something that we have found to be an important part of our success at Atlantic.
If you want to take a GMAT for whatever reason: go for it. You will still have 4 attempts to work with and in most cases 4 whacks are more than enough.
But, if the goal is to get the best score possible, it is much better to plan out your attempts so you use them at the point at which you are most prepared to achieve your goals.
Along the way it may be productive to take an official as a “stepping stone” to your final destination.
But even for those tests you should be deep into studying and not more than 100 points (depends a bit on the score range) from the goal.
In know planning GMAT attempts can be a very stressful part of GMAT prep so I hope that this is helpful. Fire over any questions or comments. Good luck on your GMAT!