If you’re preparing for the GMAT, at some point the question will probably run through your head: “If I finish the GMAT and feel that I did terribly, should I just cancel my score on the spot?” Of course, on test day you will be faced with this question before you see your score (I write “of course,” but many applicants actually don’t realize this!), so your decision about whether or not to cancel will be a blind bet on how well you think you did.
Our advice is this: Unless you’re certain that you bombed the test and scored well below your intended score, you should NOT cancel your score. Why not? Well, for one, you won’t know how you did if you cancel your score. Many applicants have finished the test and felt certain that they did poorly, only to find out (after deciding to report their scores) that they did even better than their target score! This is entirely possible because of the computer-adaptive nature of the test, and its ability to home in on your true level of ability — getting lots of questions that you couldn’t easily solve may simply mean that test test had taken you to the edge of your ability, and so you were struggling with the questions more than you ever did on practice tests. Even if you got more wrong than usual, you may end up with a good score.
In terms of knowing your score, the score report won’t give you a detailed diagnosis of how you did, but you will be able to see your quantitative and verbal score breakdown, so you will at least know (or confirm, if you already knew) where you need to focus your time and energy when you hit the books again.
Also, if you cancel your score, business schools will see this on your official report. This isn’t a horrible “black mark” on your report, but it’s there, and doesn’t necessarily look any better than a low score. So, keeping a possibly low score away from MBA admissions officers won’t keep them completely in the dark — they’ll still know that you took the test and probably didn’t do very well.
If you’re worried about how a low score will look on your record, know that admissions officers are forgiving of low scores, and will generally only look at your highest score. If you don’t believe that, consider this: When submitting data to the major publications for their annual business school rankings, it’s in each school’s best interest to only submit its students’ highest scores (to keep the school’s mean/median GMAT score as high as possible). Even with a low score or two on your report, admissions officers will look at your best one.
So, as much as it may pain you to click “submit” and risk sending a terrible score to your target business schools, the pros heavily outweigh the cons. You’re not gaining much by withholding your score, and you’re missing out on a shot that your score was better than you thought!