Taking the GMAT
Registering for the GMAT
Unlike the SAT and the LSAT, which are offered only on select dates each year, the GMAT is offered daily, Monday through Saturday, at over 470 test centers in over 110 countries. You can search for the closest test centers and, upon selecting a center, view all available appointment dates and times for the next six months. For some reason, most available appointments in the U.S. are at 8:00 a.m., so you have to hunt for a more suitable time if you’re not an early riser.
GMAT appointments tend to get booked up, particularly on Saturdays and during peak demand periods, so schedule well in advance. Allow 20 days from your test date for schools to receive your score report, although turnaround is typically five or six days. We recommend that you schedule your appointment at least an additional 31 days in advance, to allow time to retake the GMAT if necessary.
Although you can schedule your test appointment via phone or mail, the best way to register for the GMAT is online. You can register for a test date up to six months in advance. The fee for the GMAT is $250. The preferred payment method is credit or debit card. You may also pay by personal check or money order, via postal mail registration only. When registering, be sure that you enter your name exactly as it appears on the identification that you will bring to the test center.
Rescheduling Your Exam
You can reschedule your GMAT appointment more than seven days in advance of your appointment time for a $50 fee. You may also cancel your GMAT appointment more than seven days in advance for a $170 fee (i.e. you will receive an $80 refund). If you cancel or reschedule within seven days of your appointment, you will forfeit your entire $250 test registration fee.
Test Center Check-In and Rules
Your appointment time is the time that your test is scheduled to start. You should enter the test center 30 minutes earlier to check-in. Plan to arrive at the test center at least an additional 15 minutes earlier, to allow for traffic and other delays. If you arrive early, you can relax for a bit and review some notes in your car before entering the test center. But you don’t want to become stressed out because you’re running late. If you arrive more than 15 minutes late, your appointment may be cancelled and you forfeit the test fee. Come alone, because friends and relatives are not allowed to wait in the test center or have any contact with you until your test is complete.
Test Center Security
The GMAC and Pearson VUE take test center security very seriously. We highly recommend that you read through all the rules and regulations, as presented in the official GMAT Handbook. When checking-in at the test center, you must present a current government-issued photo identification that exactly matches the name and birth date used when registering. In the U.S. and some other countries, if you are a permanent resident but not a citizen, you must present either a passport book or permanent resident card (green card). You will also be required to agree to the GMAT Rules & Agreement at the test center. A test center employee will take your digital photograph and scan your palm vein pattern for identification purposes.
Locker for Personal Items
You will be assigned a small locker for your personal belongings. Bring the absolute minimum to the test center. In particular, do not bring any study notes or books into the test center. If possible, also avoid bringing in a cell phone. Leave them in your car or behind at home. Other than the clothes you are wearing, you can bring into the testing room only your photo ID, the keys to your locker, prescription eyeglasses, and a light sweater or jacket without a hood. Bringing anything else into the testing room can lead to score cancellation. You are not allowed to bring in any food or beverage (including water), wallet or purse, watch, calculator, electronic devices, medicine, personal care items (e.g. lip balm, lotion, tissues), hat, heavy sweater or jacket, hair clip, large jewelry, earplugs, or anything else not specifically approved. If unsure, ask permission from a test center employee. A test center employee may provide you with tissues upon request to take into the testing room, but you cannot use your own.
Although we cover all the important points on this page, we highly recommend that you watch GMAC’s Tour of the Test Center video. This video reiterates the important points and gives you a visual look at an actual test center. Please note that, contrary to what is stated in the video, students can now see their unofficial scores before deciding whether to report or cancel their scores.
During Your Test
Whiteboard PacketOn the GMAT, you are not allowed to use scratch paper and a pencil. Instead, the proctor issues you a whiteboard packet. This consists of five double-sided 8.5” x 14” yellow thin whiteboards with a 1/4” check pattern, spiral bound at the top. Since the first page has GMAC information on it, you effectively have nine pages to write on. You cannot erase the whiteboards. You are also given an ultra-fine-point marker; unfortunately the provided markers do not always write very well.
We suggest that you try out the marker and whiteboard in front of the proctor before the test starts; ask permission first. You can exchange your whiteboard packet or marker at any time with the proctor, and should plan to do so during the two scheduled breaks. Unless you write excessively or really big, the whiteboard packet should be sufficient to get you through a section.
The testing room is continuously videotaped and watched by the proctor. If you need any assistance during the test, raise your hand and wait for the proctor to come to you. The various students in the testing room may be taking tests other than the GMAT, on different time schedules, since many different computer-based tests are administered by Pearson VUE at its test centers.
In order to do your best, focus fully on your test and don’t get distracted with the proctor coming and going to assist other students. The testing room can be a bit dark, not brightly lit. The testing room environment is supposed to be quiet, but can be a little noisy with different students typing away at their respective work stations. Upon request, the proctor will provide you with disposable foam ear-plugs, but they are not very comfortable.
NDA and Test Controls
At the beginning of the test, you must agree to the GMAT Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) on the computer before proceeding. If you do not agree to the NDA within 30 seconds, you will be reminded and given another 30 seconds. If you do not accept the NDA within that timeframe, your test will automatically end and you will forfeit your test fee. You should already be very familiar with the test instructions and controls from your advance use of GMATPrep. For example, on each question you must choose an answer and confirm your selection (with the pop-up Answer Confirmation dialog box) in order to proceed to the next question. You will also know from GMATPrep that an onscreen clock counts down how much time you have left, and will alert you by turning yellow when you have five minutes remaining in a section.
If you wish to leave the testing room, even for the scheduled breaks, you must raise your hand and wait for the test proctor to escort you out. Breaks start from the moment you end a section on the computer, not from when you are checked-out of the testing room by the proctor. Every time you check-out of or check-in to the testing room, the proctor requires a palm-vein scan to verify your identity. Breaks end very strictly on time; if you are not checked-in and back in your seat by the time a break is over, you will lose time for the next section. So be sure to allow a couple minutes of your break time to have the proctor check you back into the testing room and escort you back to your seat.
During Your Breaks
During the breaks, you are allowed to access only water, food, and tobacco products. Using any other items, including medicines, tissues, or toiletries, must be pre-approved by a test center employee. You are allowed to use the restroom during your breaks, but you should ask permission from a test center employee first. If a test center employee observes you accessing any study materials, cell phone, or electronic device at any time before your test is over, your score will immediately be cancelled and you will forfeit your test registration fee. Other penalties may apply as well. To avoid any possible confusion, do not bring such items into the test center.During each of your breaks, we recommend that you do the following, roughly in this order:
- Keep an eye on the clock – allow enough time to check back into the testing room so that the test doesn’t start without you. Eight minutes goes by very quickly.
- Avoid worrying about your performance so far – regardless of whether you think you did well or poorly, the last section is over and deserves none of your focus going forward.
- Avoid smoking – there simply is not enough time.
- Use the restroom – even if you don’t think you need to. Ask permission from a test center employee first, to avoid any confusion about your whereabouts.
- Eat a light protein-based snack – quickly. Proteins help boost mental concentration, whereas carbohydrates can cause drowsiness. Whole-wheat carbs are fine if accompanied by protein. Avoid candy and sugary snacks. A few good snack ideas: a cheese stick, a protein snack bar, some almonds or cashews, a couple slices of turkey lunchmeat, a hard boiled egg, or some peanut butter with whole wheat crackers.
- Drink a few sips of water – not too much, because you shouldn’t need to use the restroom until the next break. Coconut water and Gatorade are also good alternatives. These are better options than soda, juice, coffee, Red Bull, and other drinks. You want to be well-hydrated without consuming too much sugar or caffeine, which can negatively impact your mental functioning.
- Stretch – to relieve tension and to give your body some change before sitting raptly in front of the computer for the next 75 minutes.
- Take some deep breaths – to reduce tension and stress, and to help clear your mind.
- Say a couple positive affirmations – to help put yourself in the right mindset and to bring positive energy with you back into the testing room. Some examples: I’m totally ready for this next section, I’m very confident in my GMAT skills, or I’m going to destroy the next section. Use whatever affirmations are relevant for you.
Score Cancellation Option
At the conclusion of your test, you will be shown your unofficial test scores. You are then given the option to either cancel or report your test scores. If you do not select “Report Scores” within two minutes, your scores will automatically be canceled. So be sure to pay close attention for this screen. If you cancel your scores, your scores will never be reported and your official score report will not show any record of this test adminstration. Business schools will not be informed of your cancelled test attempt. You are not given a refund of your test fees.
To Report or Not to Report
In order to make this decision easier, you should decide in advance upon an expected target overall score, based on your diagnostic test performance and personal expectations. We recommend that you do not cancel your scores unless your actual overall score is more than 40 points below your expected target score. By keeping your scores, you at least establish a baseline from which you may improve upon with a retake. Since there is a risk that your score will decline with a retake, keeping a score within 40 points of your target provides a backup. Business schools consider only your higher GMAT score, so rest assured that reporting a lower score will not hurt your chances of admission (assuming that you score higher on a retake).
Why might you score significantly lower than your target score? One reason is that you fell sick a few days before the exam but decided to take the test anyway because you were past the 7-day window for rescheduling. Another reason is that you left several questions unanswered at the end of the math and/or verbal sections because you ran out of time. There is a huge penalty for running out of time and leaving questions unanswered. We discuss some more subtle reasons for scoring well below your expectations in this FAQ.
Reporting on a GMAT RetakeSince cancelled score attempts no longer show up on score reports, there is less incentive to reports scores on a GMAT retake unless you achieve specific improvement:
- If you reported scores on your prior attempt, of course report any improvement in your score.
- If you reported scores on your prior attempt, report your scores on the retake if one or more of your section scores (particularly quantitative) improves noticeably, even if your overall score declines. Business schools do look at section scores, and especially want to ensure that admitted students can handle quant-heavy classes.
- If you reported scores on your prior attempt and your overall score declines (without a boost in any section score, as noted above), do not report your scores.
- If you cancelled the first time, report your scores on the retake if your score is at least what you achieved on the first attempt, even if the score is still well below your expected target score. If your new score is lower, consider the option to reinstate your first score (option available for 60 days from your test date for a $100 fee). There must be some reason why you have scored lower on two live attempts. According to GMAC data, the chance of scoring significantly higher on a third attempt or beyond is relatively low for those with scores above 600.
Graduate Program Selection
During the introductory portion of the GMAT, before the main test begins, you can select up to five graduate programs to which your scores will be reported. Since the cost of these five reports is included in your test fee, take advantage of this. You must choose the programs at this time; subsequent score reporting will incur a fee. You cannot take a list of programs into the testing room, but should still search the GMAT programs database in advance to find programs that you are interested in to make the selection process faster. Many schools have several different programs listed, so be sure to select the correct one.
Your Score Report
Upon leaving the test center, you are given an unofficial score report that lists your overall score, your IR score, and your math and verbal section scores. Your official score report with AWA score comes up to 20 days later, although five or six days is more typical. You will receive an e-mail with a link to access your official score report. You will need to enter the authorization number printed on the unofficial score report that you received at the test center. Scores are valid for five years, and your official score report includes all your GMAT scores from the past five years.
Enhanced Score Report
The GMAC offers an Enhanced Score Report to GMAT test takers for $24.95. This report includes additional data about your test performance, including performance ranking by question type and average time spent on each question type. You can view a sample report on the GMAT website. This report is also available for a test administration in which you cancelled your scores. Although the report is not as an informative as we would like, we recommend that any student considering a GMAT retake order the report.
Reports Sent to Schools
When your official score report becomes available, the GMAC will send the report to the programs you selected, usually electronically but sometimes by mail if a school prefers. The official score report sent to schools includes the essay you wrote as part of the AWA section. You can have the GMAC send your score reports to additional schools for a fee of $28 per report. These additional score reports will be sent to schools within seven days after your official score report is available.
You can request testing accommodations from the GMAC if you have a disability, as defined under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Such a disability can include learning and cognitive disabilities, physical and systemic handicaps and disabilities, ADHD, psychiatric disabilities, and sensory (vision and hearing) disabilities. Accommodations may include allowance of a medical device in the testing room, 50% or 100% additional testing time, and/or additional or extended breaks. Score reports do not indicate that the test was taken with accommodations.
You must be approved for any special accommodations before you schedule your exam. Accommodation requests take at least three to four weeks to process. You must provide documentation that demonstrates your disability, including a comprehensive assessment within the past three years on official letterhead. The outcome may be a request for additional documentation, which will take a further three to four weeks to process. The accommodation process is described and necessary forms are included in the GMAC Supplement for Test Takers with Disabilities.
Retaking the GMAT
The GMAC has some restrictions on how often you can take the GMAT. There is a 16-day waiting period to retake the GMAT, and you can take the GMAT only five times in any 12-month period. If you are fortunate enough to score a perfect 800, you cannot take the GMAT again for five years (until after your score expires). Each time you retake the GMAT, you need to reselect graduate programs to which you want to send your score reports. Score reports are not automatically sent to the programs that you chose on your first test.
Average Performance on Retakes
Many students improve the second time taking the GMAT, with an average increase of 33 points (smaller gains for each successive sitting). The first time, many students are somewhat stressed and intimidated by the unfamiliar testing environment. The second time, this discomfort tends to be much less. Furthermore, most students undertake targeted studying in between test administrations that helps improve their GMAT skills. Finally, repeat test takers are far more likely to have run out of time on at least one section during their first exam, and these students usually finish on time during repeat testings.
But a higher score is not guaranteed; almost one quarter of students score lower the second time they take the GMAT. After three attempts, very few students achieve a noticeably higher score on subsequent retakes. Given the high cost and time commitment involved in taking the GMAT, if you want to take the test more than three times, you should have a very good reason to believe that you will now score higher than you did on prior attempts. If you are thinking about retaking the GMAT, this GMAC blog post provides some additional insight. Also be sure to order an Enhanced Score Report.
How Business Schools Interpret Retakes
Business schools consider only the highest of your GMAT scores, so there is no harm in retaking the GMAT (other than the time and cost involved). If your performance improves on a retake, schools assume that your first score was not truly indicative of your potential. Perhaps you did not adequately prepare for the GMAT, and your subsequent higher score after further studying is a better reflection of your capabilities. If you score lower on a retake, schools will still give you the benefit of the doubt. It is also in the schools best interest to take your highest score, because the average GMAT score for the first-year class is a factor in school rankings.