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Should I Retake the GMAT?

Stacey Koprince

Stacey Koprince - Manhattan Prep

Stacey Koprince is an mba.com Featured Contributor and the content and curriculum lead and an instructor for premier test prep provider Manhattan Prep.

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At the beginning of your studies, assume you’ll take the GMAT twice and build that time into your study plans. But you’re going to make the real decision later in your studies—and, in this post, we’ll discuss how to decide whether you should retake the GMAT.

Why should you plan to take it twice? You could get sick or just have a really bad day on test day. Work or life could cause you not to do as well as you’d hoped on your first try. Or you could get a score that you feel matches your preparation so far—but you believe that you have what it takes to do better.

Does retaking the GMAT look bad?

Nope. Business schools use your best scores when evaluating your application. It won’t matter to them if you took it three times, and it won’t matter if your lowest score is 200 points lower than your highest score. It also won’t necessarily matter if you don’t improve your score (more on this later).

If you do improve your score, then if anything, a business school is going to consider that a positive – you stuck with a hard task and succeeded, improving the odds that you’ll be able to stay focused and do well during school, too. (There are other ways to demonstrate perseverance in your application; you don’t have to show it in your GMAT performance. But this is one way to show it.)

There is one possible circumstance that might not look so great: taking the test four or more times very close together and without any improvement. That might point to someone who isn’t disciplined or effective in their studies – an obvious concern for schools.

But if you’re only taking it a few times or you take it more but improve your score, you’ll be fine.

How many times can you retake the GMAT?

First, there is a 16-day waiting period between exams of the same format (both in a testing center or both online). If you switch formats – for example, first take it in a testing center and then switch to the GMAT Online – there isn’t a waiting period. [NOTE: GMAT policies have been updated since this article was published. The 16-day waiting period now applies across exam formats – test center and online. Now, if you switch formats, the 16-day waiting period does apply.]

You can take the GMAT up to five times total in a rolling 12-month period, regardless of format. For example, you could take it three times online and twice in person in a 12-month period and that would be your five-test limit. Likewise, you can take the GMAT up to eight times total in your life, regardless of format.

So, should I retake the GMAT?

There are four good reasons to consider retaking the GMAT, beyond the obvious “I had a bad day / I don’t like my score” scenarios.

Reason #1: I experience strong performance anxiety on standardized tests.

We all feel nervous when taking the GMAT. Some amount of anxiety is actually a good thing; the adrenaline will help to keep you energized and focused during the exam. But some people have such strong symptoms that it significantly interferes with their ability to perform.

Familiarity with something helps us to feel less anxious about that something. So use your first GMAT as your dry run to get used to the entire testing experience. This will go a long way towards helping you better manage the anxiety you feel during your second test—though you will still have nerves on test day.

Take the first test about 4 to 8 weeks before you plan to take it “for real”—that is, plan your dry run for later in your studies, but still before you are truly ready. (Your score doesn’t matter! It’s just a dry run.)

Reason #2: My score is in range for my target schools but below their average.

If a school’s average is 700 and the range is 650 to 750, you might be fine with a 680. If you’re below a school’s average, though, it’s ideal to show that you tried hard to reach their average—even if you don’t end up making it.

Several years ago, a student of mine was waitlisted at a top-10 school. She was 20 points below the average and the school asked why she hadn’t tried again. She explained that she had actually taken the test a second time but got the same total score and canceled her second test scores. Then she reinstated her canceled scores (you can do so for a fee) to show the school. She was ultimately accepted off of the waitlist, so the fact that her score didn’t improve on her retake didn’t hold her back – but they wanted to know that she’d tried.

Reason #3: Picking up an extra 30-50 points could help you gain a better financial package.

Business schools offer financial packages – grants, stipends, scholarships, fellowships – to those applicants that they really want in their programs. One factor in these packages can be your GMAT score.

Earlier this year, a top-10 program admitted a student of mine. Shortly after, he retook the exam and improved from 20 points below the school’s average to 30 points above. Based on the totality of his application, the school offered him a US$75,000 financial package; they did not base this solely on his GMAT score, of course, but an above-average score makes a difference in the overall picture.

Reason #4: For all test takers, the average score improvement from first official test to second official test is approximately 30 points.

Given this statistic from GMAC, if you have the money and the time to take the GMAT a second time, why not give it a go and see what happens?

Your current scoring ability is not a single number – it’s a range. On better days, you’ll hit at the higher end of your range and on worse days, you’ll hit at the lower end. If you didn’t have your perfect day on first-test day, you might have a better day the second time and pick up an extra 10, 20, 30 points. 

In fact, your odds of having a better day the second time have improved, because now you know what to expect. You can improve those odds further by using your first official GMAT experience to target your practice for 3 to 6 weeks before you take it again.

If one or more of these scenarios apply to you, look at your calendar and start making your retake plans. If these scenarios don’t apply in your case, move on to your applications with a clean conscience. Good luck!

Stacey Koprince

Stacey Koprince - Manhattan Prep

Stacey Koprince is an mba.com Featured Contributor and the content and curriculum lead and an instructor for premier test prep provider Manhattan Prep.

She’s been teaching people to take standardized tests for more than 20 years and the GMAT is her favorite (shh, don’t tell the other tests). Her favorite teaching moment is when she sees her students’ eyes light up because they suddenly thoroughly get how to approach a particular problem.