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When Should I Stop Working on the GMAT? Part 2

A couple of days ago I promised that we’d tackle the question, “When does it make sense to set aside GMAT prep and focus on other parts of your application?” I got a little carried away so I’m spreading the answer out over a few days. If you missed Part 1, go ahead and read that one first.

These posts take us a little beyond our specific area of expertise (we’re test experts, not admissions consultants) but they provide general answers to questions we hear quite a lot. For answers specific to your applications you might turn to the admissions staff at your target schools, to their representatives at admissions fairs, or to an admissions consultant.

When does it make sense to set aside GMAT prep and focus on other parts of your application?

Part 2: For you, even higher may be even better.

Here are a few of reasons that improvements above 700 might still matter.

First, schools like to admit high-scoring students not only because those students have demonstrated some sort of aptitude, but also because schools actively manage their rankings. All other things being equal, higher GMAT scores mean higher rankings.

You can see evidence of this in comparisons between average GRE scores and average GMAT scores among students accepted to the same MBA programs. Many very competitive programs seem to have much lower standards for GRE scores (which are not generally considered in rankings) than for GMAT scores (which are).

Anecdotes I’ve heard first-hand from admissions staff support this. For instance, several years ago an admission officer for a school on the periphery of the top twenty—let’s call that school East Coast Business School—told me at an MBA fair that his staff gave greatest weight to the GMAT once they’d already “admitted everybody we’re crazy about” and were “filling out the class.” He reported that an exceptionally high GMAT score sometimes meant acceptance for a student who was otherwise unexceptional and who had no serious black marks against him.

My take-away is that if a reasonable amount of work could take you from a 700 to a 740 then that work might be worthwhile. Yes, the difference between 660 and 700 is typically much more important than the difference 700 and 740. Yes, once you hit 700 you’ve probably done most of what you can with the GMAT and most of what matters. But an otherwise borderline applicant who happens to be really good at standardized tests might profit from further work even after that magic score is within reach.

(I should add that I know of no evidence that people admitted in later rounds, or later in a given round, have higher GMAT scores on average than do people admitted earlier, so even if the East Coast practice is common to many programs, GMAT scores probably don’t have a much greater impact for many students in later rounds or later in a round than they do for all other applicants.)

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