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One In Four Now Cancel GMAT Scores

wastepaper basket full of crumpled papers.

More than one in four people who took the GMAT exam this year cancelled their scores after learning the results, preventing business schools from ever seeing the scores. That’s a massive increase in the number of test takers who pay to take the test and then immediately discard it.

In the 2016 testing year ended June 30, 27.2% of all GMAT test takers cancelled their scores, up from 19.2% a year earlier and only 1.6% in 2014.

Not surprisingly, far more test takers who failed to score 650 or above tossed away their scores. The Graduate Management Admission Council, which administers the test, said that roughly a third of all candidates with a total score lower than 650 cancelled their exam scores. The canceled score rate for these test takers this year was 32.9%, up from 23.8% in 2015, and a mere 1.9% in 2014.

PROSPECTIVE STUDENTS WITH GMATS OF 650 OR ABOVE LESS LIKELY TO TOSS A SCORE AWAY

Conversely, candidates whose total score was 650 or higher were far less likely to cancel their scores. In 2016, only 10.8% of these test takers rejected their scores, up from 5.3% last year and 0.4% in 2014. The stats were released this month in a new report from the Gradaute Management Admission Council on this year’s test scores by country.

Even more revealing was the difference between the scores applicants sent to schools and the overall results they got on the test. In East and Southeast Asia, where the gap was widest, the overall GMAT score was 576 but the scores sent to business schools was 59 points higher at 635. In Canada, applicants sent average scores of 612 to schools, 38 points higher than the Canadian average of 574 of all test takers this year. In the U.S., the difference was 28 points, 575 for reports sent to schools vs. 547.

These are overall averages, of course. It’s far more likely that applicants to highly selective MBA programs retake the GMAT at even higher percentage rates. In fact, MBA admission consultants estimate that anywhere between 60% to 80% of their clients are retaking the GMAT–more than twice the overall GMAT rate. “We have even started to hear applicants who have great scores of 700 and above worry that taking the test once might send a negative ‘lazy’ message, says Jeremy Shinewald, founder and CEO of mbaMission, a leading admissions consulting firm. “We don’t think that that is the case, but it is interesting that some candidates think that the AdCom expects them to take it twice at this point.” He estimates that more than half of his firm’s clients are repeating the test.

While the ability of a test taker to cancel an exam is not new, before June of 2014 candidates were unable to see their results before making the decision to cancel a score. GMAC made the policy change after losing marketshare to its chief test rival, the Educational Testing Service and it’s Graduate Record Exam (GRE), which earlier allowed test takers to opt out of sending their scores to schools after the exam was completed on test day and the results were revealed at the test center. Before the change on the GMAT, a prospective student had to sit through an entire 3+ hour exam and cancel a score without ever knowing what his or her grade would have been. Now you can even accept your score on test day and cancel it online within 72 hours for a $25 fee. If you reject it at the test center, there is no cost to cancel the score.

SCORE CANCELATIONS MAY HAVE ALSO LED TO AN INCREASE IN REPORTED GMAT SCORES BY SCHOOLS

Although no cancelled score reports are distributed to schools, candidates do have the option to reinstate their scores and submit them to schools of their choosing at a later date. “Ultimately, the majority of test takers who cancel their exam results go on to retake the GMAT exam and generate a new set of reportable scores, according to a newly released GMAT report on the GMAT test taking over the past five years.

GMAC suggests that the new policy may well be a reason why more schools are reporting higher average GMAT scores for incoming classes. “These dynamics have led to a more refined candidate pool, with higher-scoring candidates representing more of the global GMAT exam pipeline and directing a greater number of GMAT score reports to business programs around the world,” according to the report. “Care should be taken, however, when comparing aggregate score-sending figures in TY2016 with previous years, as fewer score reports overall are now being sent as candidates have changed their score cancel behavior in line with the new policy.”

It’s possible the percentage of prospective students canceling their scores would be even higher if not for the fact that GMAC does not refund those test takers the $250 they pay for taking the exam. Those who do retake the test also must wait 31 days before sitting for another test. If you later want to reinstate the cancelled test, GMAC also charges test takers an extra $50 and that reinstatement must occur up to four years and 11 months after taking the exam.

Who should cancel a score? “If the score is way below (more than 50 points or so) what someone’s been scoring on practice tests I’d say cancel,” advises Andrew Geller, founder of prep company Atlantic GMAT and a Poets&Quants columnist. “That said, if someone was starting at a 500, battled up to a 700 on practice tests but got a 650 on the real deal, even though that’s probably not the score they want, I’d still say hold onto it as it’s a massive improvement from the starting score. With the new cancellation/reinstating policy there’s isn’t much reason for GMAT takers to stress. Making the decision to keep/cancel on test day just comes down to saving the fees. If you don’t mind paying the fees you can do everything after the fact.”

ONE IN THREE STUDENTS WHO SCORE BELOW 650 CANCEL THEIR GMAT SCORES

Source: Profile of GMAT® Testing: Citizenship Five-Year Summary, TY2012–TY2016

Source: Profile of GMAT® Testing: Citizenship, Five-Year Summary, TY2012–TY2016