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Considerations for Repeat GMAT Testing

Occasionally I have students come to me with a seemingly simple question:

Should I retake the GMAT?

Here are five (5) considerations to help you answer that question:

1. What is the range of acceptable GMAT scores for your target business school(s)?

This is a good place to start. A common adage in goal-setting is that if you don’t know where you’re going, it’s going to be very difficult to get there! In determining the GMAT score you should be shooting for, then, it’s important to know what GMAT score your ideal business school(s) will expect. You can often find a school’s median and average GMAT scores directly on their website. Or, for a small fee, you can find a lot of that type of information synthesized for you on the U.S. News & World Report‘s “Best Business Schools” rankings. Keep in mind that even if your current GMAT score falls slightly below the school’s average range, it’s still possible to be admitted if the rest of your application is solid.

2. How much did you prepare for your first attempt?

This is a huge consideration. How many hours of GMAT study time did you put in? Did you take a GMAT prep course? Did you take any full-length GMAT practice tests?

It’s amazing how many students sit for the GMAT without doing any substantial preparation at all. They may thumb through a GMAT book and assume that because they’re smart and got good grades in college, they’ll be fine on the GMAT. The reality, however, is that some of the question formats on the GMAT — such as Data Sufficiency and the four Integrated Reasoning question formats — were designed specifically for the GMAT exam and remain unique to this test. Therefore, it is important that you are familiar with these question formats before sitting for the exam so the questions measure what they are supposed to measure. Equally important, because it is a timed exam, you should know how to pace yourself to finish each section in the allotted time. If you didn’t really study for the GMAT the first time around, then it may be a good idea to retake it — but be sure to study adequately!

3. What sort of score increase can you reasonably expect?

Ultimately, the only reason you should retake the GMAT is if there’s a reasonable expectation that your score will increase to such a degree as to get you into the business school you’re shooting for. So, what sort of score increase can you expect?

Statistically, according to an article by the GMAC called “Behind the Scenes: Repeat Testing,” the average overall score gain on a second testing is 33 points (on a 200-800 point scale). Interestingly, a lot of what you can expect depends on your score on your first attempt:

Those who score 700 and above gain, on average, only about 8 total scaled score points on their first retest. Those who score between 600 and 690, 500 and 590, and 200 and 490, gain, on average, about 20, 30, and 40 points respectively. Those who score 600 and above typically gain very little in their third and fourth attempts.

Note: Students who take Dominate the GMAT‘s comprehensive online GMAT course can expect to improve their score by more than average. See our Score Improvement Guarantee for details.

4. How many times have you already taken the GMAT?

As you see in the chart above, you can only expect to see a minimal change in your GMAT score after the second or third retake. “The GMAT exam has been shown to be a reliable indicator of academic potential for graduate management study,” says Lawrence Rudner, VP of R&D for the GMAC. “By reliable, we mean that randomly selected test takers would perform similarly over repeated testings.” Thus, if you’ve already taken the GMAT two or three times, it may not be worth taking it again.

Additionally, even though in theory MBA admissions officers are only supposed to look at your highest GMAT score regardless of how many times you’ve taken it, in practice, taking the GMAT too many times can be a red flag in your application. Rather than continuing to take the GMAT over and over again, at some point you may need to revise the list of schools you’re applying to in order to be more in line with the level of your GMAT performance.

5. Did any anomalies or test-taking “no-no’s” occur when you took the GMAT the first time?

Sometimes you just have a bad day. Maybe you woke up on the wrong side of the bed. Maybe a crisis of some sort happened in your life the day/night before the test and so you didn’t get as much sleep as you otherwise would have liked. Maybe you happened to be going through a stressful time and you know that you were distracted and your mind was wandering. Or, for whatever reason, maybe your time management was off and you ran out of time on the Quantitative or Verbal sections — something you know is a big no-no!

Thus, here is some good parting advice from Lawrence Rudner of the GMAC: “As to whether you should retake the test: If you didn’t finish a section or if you have reason to believe you did not perform as well as you could have, it may be worth taking again.  Be sure you have prepared adequately and are comfortable with the types of questions you will see on the GMAT exam.  You should only need to read a question once before selecting your answer.”

If you’d like further consultation on whether or not you should retake the GMAT, please contact us. We’ll look forward to work with you to help you improve your GMAT score so that you can dominate the GMAT the next time around!