How to Explain Low GMAT Scores

Business schools understand that students are more than their test scores.
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The Graduate Management Admission Test is an aptitude test that measures analytical writing, reasoning, and quantitative and verbal skills. Almost all students who wish to attend business school must take the GMAT. The highest score possible on the exam is an 800, and students admitted to the top business schools, such as Stanford and Columbia, have average scores in the low 700s. Students who score poorly on the GMAT should not give up hope of attending business school, or even a good business school. They can share the reasons for their low score and reinforce their application with their other credentials.

1 Discuss Extentuating Circumstances

Sometimes, life gets in the way of even the best-laid plans. Perhaps you suffered a serious accident or illness just before the exam, which made studying more difficult. Maybe you lost someone close to you at exam time, causing you to become distracted by grief. Write a letter explaining these circumstances, or include an explanation in your personal statement. Point to other evidence of your academic achievement, such as your GPA or your rigorous curriculum, to argue for your likely success in business school. If you are able to land an interview, briefly discuss these circumstances and refocus the conversation on the other evidence of your likely success.

2 Provide Information About a Learning Disability

Not everyone performs well on standardized testing, and that has nothing to do with intelligence or academic ability. Some learning disabilities can make it difficult for students to perform within the strict guidelines of the GMAT. If you have a learning disability, or if there is another reason why you cannot perform well on standardized tests, explain it in your application materials. Provide evidence of your learning disability, such as a report from a learning specialist or an Individualized Education Program from your early school years.

3 Note Struggles Within a Specific Area

The GMAT includes four sections, and your score on each contributes to your overall test score. You may perform well on two or three of the sections and perform poorly on the last. However, performing poorly on even one section can bring your score down for the whole test. If this is the case for you, explain to the admissions committee that you performed poorly on the specific section and explain how you plan to correct the weakness identified by the test. For example, you may pledge to get additional tutoring in math or you may offer to take a class in persuasive writing once you enroll in business school.

4 Focus on Who You Are as a Whole

Instead of dwelling on why you didn't score well on the GMAT, focus your self-presentation on what makes you a good candidate. You may reference your low GMAT score, but instead of going into great detail about why you got the score, spend your effort explaining why you are a good leader, talking about your extensive work experience, playing up your outstanding GPA or your degree from a highly ranked school and sharing your involvement with meaningful extracurricular activities. Provide exceptional letters of recommendation that do the explaining for you, championing you as a top candidate because of your previous achievements, your dedication and your academic ability. Write a personal statement that provides a complete picture of you as a person, a student and a future business executive, setting you apart for your personal qualities and goals.

Maria Magher has been working as a professional writer since 2001. She has worked as an ESL teacher, a freshman composition teacher and an education reporter, writing for regional newspapers and online publications. She has written about parenting for Pampers and other websites. She has a Master's degree in English and creative writing.