In a recent message from one of my readers, I was asked for a bit of advice about the GMAT.

My usual first piece of advice to GMAT questions is to remember, that it’s one part of your application and will almost never “bar” you from admission and that you should be careful aiming for a higher score if it comes at the expense of other pieces of your application. However, unlike most applicants with GMAT questions, this reader has already made it to the promise land and scored above a 700.  His concern is that took four attempts and a few bad testing incidents to get there.  Check out my response to the question below!

MESSAGE FROM MY READER

Hello Jeremy,

Your blog’s really nice. Very informative. I interviewed with Kellogg on campus yesterday for the jd-mba program. It was a wonderful experience visiting both the Evanston campus and the Chicago downtown campus (great views from the library there!). I work on Wall Street for a prominent Investment Bank (Bank Holding Company now) as a front office quant. The JD-MBA program at Kellogg is my first choice. My application is under review by the ad com now, however I was quite keen on understanding a few things about how Kellogg considers multiple GMAT attempts? I had to take the GMAT 4 times to crack the 700 barrier. Although unfortunate a couple of times, I had to file incidence reports with GMAC because of bad testing environment (with other co-test-takers shouting out numbers in their math section while i was doing my RC in the verbal etc), I cant possibly give those as reasons for my below-par-performances. I am proud of my perseverance toward cracking the 700 barrier however. Kellogg clearly says that they consider the best score if the latest and the best score are equal. Is this really true? Does the number of GMAT attempts weigh down an application heavily?

Thanks.

MY RESPONSE TO MY READER

Dear (Reader), thanks for writing in with your question about Kellogg and for reading my blog. I’m glad you enjoy the site.

First off, congratulations on finishing your Kellogg interview. It can definitely be a nervous part of the process for a lot of candidates. It sounds like yours went well, which is good news.  Also, you’re absolutely correct about our library. The views from that side of the building are pretty amazing, and they can be quite distracting in the fall and spring if you study by the windows, which can be a good or a bad thing. And finally, I’m glad Kellogg is your first choice and I hope you were that enthusiastic when you completed your application. My opinion is that the JD-MBA program does their best not only to select top tier applicants but also those who demonstrate that they  really want to come. While this is clearly not always so easy to predict, I suspect that the best applicants are able to convey this message pretty clearly.

Now to your email–First, I think this is a really good question, and it’s one that I also thought about back when I first considered applying to b-school.  It’s funny, but like you, I quickly noticed that generally some programs don’t clearly state their policies online–some seemed to exclude them while others made me search every possible link to find it.  Off hand, I don’t know where Kellogg fits into this sphere–and perhaps they may list it openly on the site. But I wonder if not focusing on this fact is actually a good thing, because it keeps students from worrying too much about the logistics and instead allows them to focus on achieving their target scores and giving their best efforts. That said, I still don’t really know why the schools have decided to go about it this way. Perhaps, it was not purposeful.

But from experience, I suspect that you may not need to worry too much about it.  I think the fact that GMAC allows you to take the GMAT up to 5 times per calendar year and that MBA programs don’t object suggests that you’re chances of admission will not “significantly” change.  I’ve met admits from other top MBA programs who have taken five tests. Also, the fact that GMAC sends the past three tests scores (and not just one), in my opinion, seems to be more correlated to the fact that schools may want to see scoring trends over time and changes in performance. I’ve actually asked admissions reps about this before, and most will concede to looking for positive trends from candidates, though I’ve never heard anyone mention seeking out negative trends. And third, the average GMAT score published by online by MBA programs, in my experience, reflects each person’s highest score across the entering class, not each admits average score. This suggests that schools may place more importance, at least in terms of public perception, on the highest scores.

What does all this mean? It’s hard to say for certain, but I think it reflects both admissions’ desire to see upward progression on the test, and their significantly stronger desire to see your highest score. And in my opinion, the only time that taking multiple tests really comes into play for those who improved is for candidates with mid-range scores or with borderline applications. Then the committee might look for upward score progression or look at quantitative and verbal score combinations over time, to see if you perhaps had a string of bad days in one section, to see if you’re a hard worker, or to find other (in)consistencies in the application.  For example, if there were two candidates for admission, where one that had a change in GMAT score from 600 to 640, and the second who scored a had 600, then I suspect that the extra effort would be applauded.  Conversely, if you have to take it twice to hit 600, just to apply with the same score as the other applicant, then while you might guess that the second person would look better, it’s also possible that the committee may admire your persistence, rather than think negatively of your profile. It’s hard to predict what anyone might say for certain, but I can’t think of many cases where multiple GMAT scores would “dramatically” ruin your application.

I do agree that your case seems a bit different, but I’m glad you didn’t write much about it in the information section. For one, Kellogg plainly tells you that it considers your highest score and second because most committees don’t want to hear anything that might sound like an excuse.  But, in terms of Kellogg specifically, they are usually pretty similar to other top schools when it comes to the GMAT, and I don’t have any reason to believe that they’d look at your scores any differently than what they said. So I’m pretty certain that they aren’t taking the average of your scores, but it’s always hard to say anything for certain. But here is what I do know for certain. I do know at least a dozen MBAs at top ten schools who had three and four GMAT attempts. I also know multiple JD-MBAs in this program who took the exam more than two times.  I personally did not crack 700 on my first GMAT attempt.  In fact, I was far from it. So rest assured that candidates like you, with upward trends in scores, final scores above 700, good resumes, and good interview (as you seemed to suggest) usually do pretty well in the admissions process. Of course, this assumes my very first point above, which is that you didn’t use the four attempts at the expense of other parts of your application.

I know may this not have been the perfect “yes” or “no” you were looking for,  but I hope it answers your question. Best of luck with all your applications, and with the JD-MBA program!  Feel free to let me know how things turn out.

#AskJeremy

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