Your GMAT Test Date

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There are a lot of considerations you must weigh when scheduling your GMAT test date. Too soon, and you may not be prepared; too late, and you may be forced to rush the rest of your application. Here are several factors to keep in mind:

1. Study Time

How much time do you need to study for the GMAT? I generally recommend somewhere between 6 and 10 weeks. If you have a very demanding job or are looking at math for the first time in years, 10 is closer to accurate. If you are comfortable with standardized tests or have a lot of time on your hands, 6 may be appropriate.

As soon as possible, commit to a test date. This has the dual benefit of locking in a reservation at a test center (they can get busy, especially at peak times!) and forcing you to stick to your schedule.

2. The Rest of the Application

If you need to submit an application on December 15, don't set a GMAT test date on December 14. Technically, yes, schools will accept that score, but it is a horrible idea.

In the final weeks before your applications are due, you have a lot to worry about. Writing and editing essays, confirming that your recommenders have done what you asked, putting together packages to mail ... you don't need more to add to the list. Further, do you want to have all of those other things on your mind when you're taking the GMAT? I wouldn't.

Plan on giving yourself a bare minimum of two weeks between your test date and your first application deadline. As we'll see in a moment, five weeks or more may be wiser.

3. The Second Try Safety Valve

The GMAT is hard, and part of what it makes it so challenging is its unfamiliarity. Many people have bad experiences the first time they take the test, and not simply because they didn't study hard enough.

I've had a number of students who were able to increase their score by 50 or more points in the space of a month. In some of those cases, I'm convinced that much of the improvement had to do with their comfort level. When you take the GMAT for the second time, you know what to expect, and the stress level is lower.

So, rather than taking the test two weeks before your first application deadline, try six weeks earlier instead. That way, if you have a horrible experience with your first GMAT test date, you can still retake the test 31 days later without jeopardizing your entire application.

4. Test Dates and Test Center Locations

Plan ahead! As I've noted, many test centers get busy, especially this time of year, as students rush to complete every aspect of their application. In some cities, you may be required to schedule a GMAT test date at least one month in advance. Perhaps even more if you need a specific time, such as a Saturday morning.

Making a reservation well in advance gives you the added benefit of selecting your preferred time and location. In New York City, there are several test centers, but for most people, only one or two of them are convenient. Ten years ago, I spent a miserable 70 minutes on the subway early in the morning just to get to the test center to take the GRE. Don't let that happen to you!

Which Round?

If you are reading this and wondering how you could possibly follow my advice and still make the deadline for a first or second round application, it's worth considering waiting until one round later.

While your chances might be slightly higher if you submit for the earlier round, keep in mind how much better your application could be if you have two extra months to prepare it. There's no one solution that's right for everyone.

Just don't stick to a certain deadline because you feel you have to. Ensure that you've weighed the options and made the choice that gives you the best chance to succeed, both on the GMAT and in the bigger picture of your business school applications.



About the author: Jeff Sackmann has written many GMAT preparation books, including the popular Total GMAT Math, Total GMAT Verbal, and GMAT 111. He has also created explanations for problems in The Official Guide, as well as 1,800 practice GMAT math questions.

Total GMAT Math

The comprehensive guide to the GMAT Quant section. It's "far and away the best study material available," including over 300 realistic practice questions and more than 500 exercises!
Click to read more.