You know your GMAT (or GRE) score is low. You’ve debated whether to take the test again, but it’s August. You’re getting stressed about deadlines coming.
What if you just write the optional essay about your low score? Shouldn’t that be sufficient?
You can tell the adcom that you’ll take the test again if they want you to.
Uh, sorry Charlie, but no.
No to all of it.
1. You cannot explain a low GMAT score. The only way to “fix” the weakness of a low GMAT is to take the test again and raise the score higher. All attempts to explain it will land with a thud.
2. Telling the adcom you’re willing to take the test again is really unfortunate messaging — because what you’re saying is, “I know I should take it again but I am not going to unless you say that I have to” — which is what you do when you’re 12 and your mom says you need to eat your broccoli before you leave the dinner table. The only way this is interpreted by the admissions person reading it is a) you’re actually kind of lazy or at best, unmotivated and/or b) you’re perhaps kind of arrogant and think that you’re so great that they should just accept you even though a standard requirement of entry is lower than they normally would accept.
This is not a good look, Brave Supplicant.
There are only very rare occasions when we would even suggest writing any optional essay around the GMAT. One is when you’ve already scheduled your retest date and you need to let them know — though some schools let you enter this into the application itself, and others won’t accept an updated score anyway, unless you want to be bumped to the following round. However there are a few schools where writing this statement in the optional essay can help quite a bit.
Of course, then you need to follow through with it and actually take the test again, and send in your score as promised (even if you don’t do as good). So the stakes are high, and there’s no guarantee that an updated score would even make a difference in their evaluation. It’s a strategy that can work out, though, so don’t dismiss it without considering it thoroughly.
Another possible case where a quick optional essay might be warranted is if you have more than three test attempts on your score record, particularly if they’re scattered over an extended period of time, like more than two years. Helping the adcom understand how you approached the test and what you changed in your test prep, and what you learned about yourself in that process, that let you finally figure out how to improve, might be worthwhile.
Or, provided you did actually improve your score over time, you can just let the improvement speak for itself. But if you have more than two separate scores that are quite similarly low, that don’t show improvement from one to the next, then an acknowledgement or explanation of what you didn’t do well sometimes can help. Just be sure it’s short and sweet, and that you’re imparting new information.
Many times, the optional essay — on any topic — adds literally nothing to the app. It’s just a blah-blah-blah upchuck of more words. Always go through and carefully examine that the optional essay is additive. Submitting an optional essay because it’s available is never, ever good. Submitting a wordy and wandering-around optional essay even when one is indicated is only marginally better. Be short and sweet, and to the point, with what you say.
Here’s what Tuck said in a chat not long ago on the topic specifically of the GRE and the optional essay:
That response about sums it up!
We have a bunch more posts on topics of the optional essay and a low GMAT score if you want to research these issues further and figure out what to do on a low GMAT. They’re important, and they contribute a lot to how your application will be received (sometimes positively, sometimes not so much!). Be strategic on how you’re approaching each element and make sure that when you try to counter a weakness, that the messaging you use really does counter it — or consider ditching that messaging entirely.