Q&A with Eric Chambers of GMAC

If you’re considering entering an MBA program and have yet to take the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT), you may have a few questions. When is the best time to take the GMAT? Will I be penalized for submitting my application during a later round? What is the best way to prepare for the exam? To shed light on the GMAT and its role in graduate admissions, we spoke with Eric Chambers of the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC).

Eric Chambers is the Director, Market Development, Americas at GMAC, the company that owns and administers the GMAT exam. He earned his B.A. in Psychology from Kenyon College in 1991, and began his career in higher education shortly after.

When is the ideal time for prospective MBA students to register for, and take, the GMAT? How much time should be left between the GMAT and application deadlines?

Register for the GMAT 30 to 60 days before your chosen exam date. This allows you to choose the day and time that best fits your schedule and test-taking preferences. For example, if you’re a morning person, it’s best to pick a morning slot. You’ll also want to ensure that you are taking the exam 20 to 25 days before the first application deadline. While many schools allow candidates to submit applications with unofficial results (which are provided at the test center following the exam), and later confirm official results through a tool GMAC provides them, some schools will not consider an application complete until official results have been received. So, you should inquire about GMAT score submission policies at each of the schools you’re applying to.

When is the best time to apply to an MBA program—during the first or second round? 

Assuming that you have everything ready and feel confident in your application, there is no reason not to apply in the first round. If admitted, you can complete remaining applications knowing you have a spot at one of your top choices; if waitlisted, there may still be spots available when the next round of decisions is released; and, if unfortunately, you are not admitted, you’ll have time to focus on other schools.

If you don’t feel that your application items are up to your or the school’s standards, it may be in your best interest to submit your application during the next round. Typically, spots will still be available and your chances of admission are about equal to the first round. (You may find that the school’s first round admit rate is higher than other rounds. This is mainly because more top candidates apply in the first round.)

Finally, if you are not admitted, but are willing to try again the following year, it is not uncommon for candidates to reapply. The admit rate in this case is often higher, because reapplicants tend to come back stronger—with more work experience, improved GMAT scores or academic records, and more compelling essays.

The GMAT is accepted by more than 6,000 business and management programs worldwide. What about the exam makes it such a reliable predictor for success in an MBA program?

The GMAT was developed more than 60 years ago by business schools, for business schools. It has been updated regularly—including the most recent addition, Integrated Reasoning—to reflect the skills required to perform well academically. Hundreds of validity studies have been conducted and continue to prove that the GMAT is the most reliable predictor of academic success in business school.

What is one study tool or habit you’d recommend to test takers?

We highly recommend downloading GMATPrep® software, a free study tool with real GMAT questions and two full-length exams. It’s a perfect start to gauge your readiness for the exam and acclimate yourself to the computer-adaptive format. (Find five more ways to prepare for the exam here.)

Should prospective MBAs take the GMAT a second time?

If you feel that you weren’t adequately prepared, or didn’t perform to your full potential, then taking the GMAT a second time is a good idea. Not only will you likely improve your score, but b-schools usually accept the highest of the two. Additionally, admissions committees will appreciate your effort to put forth your best application.

Do you have any other advice you’d like to share with prospective MBA students, either regarding the GMAT or an MBA itself?

Going to business school is a transforming experience and a terrific investment in your personal and professional development. Preparing for and taking the GMAT is a first step in getting ready for the academic demands of business school, and is a great first step toward having a career with impact. It is also important to remember that the GMAT is just one part of a balanced admissions process, so invest time, not just in preparing for the exam, but also in preparing your application to ensure that admissions committees gain a holistic view of your candidacy.