“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” ― Benjamin Franklin
The above quote holds true for all GMAT aspirants on their journey to business school. Unlike the CAT which is conducted once every year, the GMAT can be taken around the year. And while this provides the test takers much-needed flexibility, it can also be a source of confusion for many as the question arises – What is the right time to take the GMAT?
In this article, we answer the above question and present all the factors that you should consider in the process of deciding your GMAT test date. Planning at this stage ensures that there are no nasty surprises which may cause setbacks in creating a compelling business school application.
Here is a brief outline of the article:
- Factors which determine the right time to take the GMAT
- When should you take the GMAT if you are still a student?
- When should you take the GMAT If you are a working professional?
Factors which determine the right time to take the GMAT
At e-GMAT, we advocate a data-driven approach to preparing for the GMAT, since with the right data you can derive meaningful insights which allow you to estimate your GMAT preparation with precision and thus the right time to take the GMAT. Similarly, consider the factors that follow as data points required for you to estimate the right time to take the GMAT.
If you are looking to book your GMAT test date and commit yourself to GMAT preparation, read this article on how to choose your GMAT test date where we explain the “looking backward” approach.
Factor 1: Deciding target Business Schools
On test day you have the option to report your GMAT score to 5 business schools. The cost of forwarding your score to these business schools is included in your GMAT application fees. It is prudent to report your scores only to those school to which you’ll be actually applying to, as each additional GMAT score report costs $35.
Thus, you should finalize your target list of business schools before you decide when to take the GMAT.
Confused about how to select business school? Read this article to kick-start your business school research and develop a list of target business schools
Factor 2: Application Deadlines of Target Business Schools
Once you have finalized your target business schools, you need to find out their application deadlines. A rule of thumb is to have your GMAT score ready at least 3 months in advance of your target business schools application deadline. Also, most business schools have multiple application rounds. Thus, you have to determine which application round you will be applying to along with the application deadline for that round.
Most business schools have the following application cycle:
|Application Round #||Deadline|
|Round 2||Early January|
For your reference, we have compiled the application deadlines for the top business schools in this article.
Having your GMAT score ready at least 3 months in advance of the application deadline ensures that you have enough time to complete the other parts of your applications such as essays, recommendations, etc. It also ensures that you do not have to worry about preparing for the GMAT during this crucial time as creating compelling essays requires focus.
Factor 3: Number of hours of preparation required
Now that you know your target business schools and their application deadlines, it is time to estimate the number of hours required for your preparation. You can estimate the number of hours of preparation required using the following formula:
Time required for GMAT Preparation (in hours) = [Target GMAT Score – Current estimated GMAT score] X [7/10] X [1 + CBT]
- Target GMAT Score = Final score that you are aiming for
- Current Estimated GMAT score = Starting score from GMAT Mock Test
- 7/10 = 7 hours of effort for every 10-point score improvement
- CBT = Confidence Building Time factor; its value can be 0.0 or 0.25
The CBT or Confidence Building Time Factor can be thought of like the additional time required to build up the foundational conceptual knowledge tested in the GMAT. The GMAT is a test of Quantitative and Verbal Reasoning. Thus, if you are extremely weak in either (determined based on your mock test score) the value of CBT would be 0.25.
According to a survey conducted by GMAC 90 hours is the median amount of time taken by students who score 700+ in the GMAT.
Learn more about how long it takes to prepare for the GMAT in this article.
Thus, the right time to take the GMAT is when you have 3 – 4 months of uninterrupted preparation time or approximately 90 – 120 hours for GMAT preparation.
Factor 4: Including time for a GMAT retake
The GMAC reports that out of the 250,000+ GMAT exams taken every year, a fifth are retakes. There can be many reasons for retaking the GMAT such as:
- Target business school has a higher average GMAT score.
- You belong to an over-represented applicant pool
- Anxiety led to a low GMAT score in the first attempt.
According to the GMAT terms and conditions, you have to wait 16 days between consecutive GMAT attempts and cannot take the GMAT more than 5 times a year. Also, there is a lifetime limit of maximum 8 GMAT attempts.
Considering all the above factors and while 3 months may seem enough time to prepare for the GMAT, you should build some time into your plan for a retake. Thus, along with time for a retake, you should ideally get done with your GMAT at least 6 months before the application deadline of your target business school. This builds in enough time for retaking the GMAT if required.
Read more about how to create a perfect GMAT retake strategy to hit your target GMAT score
Factor 5: Other components of MBA application
The MBA application process is not a sprint but a marathon. From taking the GMAT to getting the interview call and eventually an admit from your target business school may span 8-12 months.
Besides the GMAT, you have to create compelling essays, work with recommenders on putting together a stellar recommendation and prepare for business school interviews. Not to mention the paperwork and processing time required for visa formalities for international students.
Depending on whether you are a working professional or a student, all this can take anywhere up 3-6 months.
Did you know? – The GMAT score constitutes 22% weightage in your b-school application. Learn all about the MBA application process – factors and their weightage in this article.
Thus, factoring in all the above information, the right time to take the GMAT is 12 – 18 months before the start date of your target business school program. E.g. if you are applying to a program that starts in Fall 2020, you should ideally have your GMAT score ready before August 2019.
Factor 6: Time required to take other tests (TOEFL etc.)
If you are a non-native English speaker, you may be required to take ESL test such as the TOEFL. This also depends on the requirements of your target business school and hence is something to figure out and factor in while deciding the right time to take the GMAT.
Factor 7: Test center availability
As the business school application cycle is a fairly predictable, GMAT test centers tend to be extremely busy during certain times of the year. Thus, to ensure that you can stick to your MBA application timeline, you should book your GMAT test date 2-3 months in advance of your target test day.
Confused about how to select a GMAT test center? – This article contains all the information on how to select and book a slot for your GMAT test at any testing location.
If a suitable time-slot is not available for you to take the test, you may be required to travel to another city or wait out the delay in testing at your present location. In either case, you need to account for this in deciding the right time to take the GMAT.
Now that we have covered the factors that determine when you should take the GMAT, let us address related common questions.
Common questions about when to take the GMAT
Should I take the GMAT while I am completing my undergraduate or postgraduate studies?
There are many advantages to taking the GMAT while you are still a student, including:
- Concepts are fresh in your mind
- You’re still in study mode and hence are not averse to testing in timed conditions
- The GMAT score is valid for five years
- You have greater flexibility and availability of time
However, the above only applies if you are serious about pursuing a graduate management education down the line.
Thus, if you are planning to pursue an MBA in the near future, i.e. in 3-4 years or if you are applying for programs such as the ISB YLP or HBS 2 + 2 programs you should take the GMAT now. These programs offer the opportunity to secure an admit while you continue building on your work experience and refining your post-MBA career goals.
When should I take the GMAT if I am a working professional?
If you are a working professional, it is important to factor this in your decision of when to take the GMAT. Ideally taking the GMAT 12-18 months before your target program start date should leave more than enough time for the other activities in the application process.
Arjun Bardhan, a working professional, spent a year in GMAT preparation. He scored a 730 in his 4th attempt, read more about his GMAT journey in this article.
- Planning is key to a successful GMAT attempt
- Work backwards from the start date of your target program to estimate the right time to take the GMAT.
- Since GMAT scores are valid for five years, it is prudent to take them while you are still a student and in study mode.
- As a working professional with a busy schedule, you should build in time for a GMAT retake in your decision about the right time to take the GMAT. You should have your GMAT score ready ~12 – 18 months in advance of your target program’s start date.