How Many Times Should You Take The GMAT?

One-in-five GMAT-takers each year have taken the test before

This is a GUEST POST by Cara Skikne

A quarter of a million GMAT exams are taken each year, and approximately a fifth of those are taken by people who have taken the exam before. You can take the GMAT once every 16 days, but no more than five times in a rolling 12 month period and no more than eight times in total.

According to historic research from the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC, the makers of the GMAT test) repeat test-takers are more likely not to have finished one of the sections in their first test. GMAC also notes that average gains are ‘relatively modest’.

‘Those who score 700 and above gain, on average, only about 8 points on their first retest,' GMAC said.

'Those who score between 600 and 690, 500 and 590, and 200 and 490, gain, on average, about 20, 30, and 40 points respectively. Individuals who score 600 and above typically gain very little in their third and fourth attempts.’ According to GMAC, nearly 25% of retakers actually score lower the second time. 

My former quantitative teacher and now colleague Shimon Goldchmit is adamant: you should plan to take the GMAT only once. In Shimon’s opinion, there are good ways to measure performance with mock tests. So you can book to take the GMAT when you are ready to, and have an option to take it again as a backup plan only.

There are some situations however, when you should retake. The rule of thumb is this: if your score does not reflect your true ability (as measured by mock tests) then retake the test.

If your score does reflect your true ability, you need to be honest with yourself and access your process to see if there are ways of fundamentally changing the way you’ve been practicing.

There are three different scenarios:

1. Circumstantial factors dragged down your score

You’ll need this backup plan option if circumstantial factors like not getting enough sleep, having problems reaching the test centre or technical glitches dragged down your score. In these cases, you should retake the test as soon as possible (in 16 days' time).

2. Intrinsic problems dragged down your score

If intrinsic factors like problems with your initial preparation, incomplete understanding or time management issues caused your low score, you need to go back to the drawing board. You’ll need to fundamentally change the way you’ve been practising. In this case, you’ll need more than 16 days to improve. The good news is that incorrectly preparing for the GMAT is a common problem, and that this scenario will give you the best chance of improving your score.

3. The test reflects your true ability, but you’d like a higher score anyway

If you’ve prepared thoroughly and the test does reflect your true ability, you are unlikely to see a big improvement in your score. Research from GMAC shows that the average score improvement for all re-takers is only 33 points. And this average score improvement includes the score improvements in the previous scenarios.

The role of the GMAT in your application

If you are unsure about retaking the test, you can speak to admissions officers at your target business schools. After all, your reason for taking the test is to be admitted.

You can also find out the policies of your target schools. Most schools will look at your highest scores, and some will take the highest score from the verbal and quant sections across multiple tests. 

Some schools also want specific scores in each section. Wharton and Chicago Booth, for example, want to see particular scores in the quantitative section. Some schools will allow you to compensate. INSEAD, for example, may take your Integrated Reasoning score into account if your quantitative score is low. Some schools have minimum scores, while others do not.

In general, schools will view progress across multiple tests as a sign of commitment. Think carefully about cancelling scores (unless these scores do not reflect your ability due to circumstantial factors, or your score dropped from a previous test). Some schools may even extend your deadline to retake the GMAT, if this is the only issue you have.

You can take a look at the average test scores for each school, but remember to take this info with a pinch of salt. Often the ‘unofficial’ story is quite different. The GMAT is only one part of the application and scores for different applicants can vary widely depending on the rest of the application.

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