GMAT Behind the Scenes: Repeat Testing

Dec 4, 2012
Tags: Official GMAT

GMACProvided by Lawrence M. Rudner, vice president, Research and Development and chief psychometrician for the Graduate Management Admission Council.

Should you retake the GMAT exam if you are unhappy with your score? 

The GMAT exam has been shown to be a reliable indicator of academic potential for graduate management study. By reliable, we mean that randomly selected test takers would perform similarly over repeated testings. If that’s the case, why retake the test? It’s useful to look at who retakes the test, why, and how they perform. 

The GMAT exam is given more than a quarter of a million times each year, and approximately a fifth of those tests are being taken by people who have taken the exam before. There are no meaningful differences in the gender, average Quantitative scores, and undergraduate GPAs among repeat test takers, but there are some key differences: Repeat test takers are far more likely to have failed to finish either the Quantitative or Verbal portion of the exam, and they are more likely to have a lower GMAT Total score than their self-reported undergraduate GPA would typically indicate. In other words, they are more likely to think they did not do as well as they could have the first time they took the GMAT exam. 

Average Gains Are Modest 

Among this self-selected pool of repeat test takers, the average gains are relatively modest. The overall average gain was 33 points (on a 200-800 scale) on a second testing, with smaller gains for each successive sitting. It is worth noting that nearly 25 percent actually score lower the second time than the first. Interestingly, although repeat test takers have slightly lower average Verbal scores than first-time test takers, they gain, on average, 2.5 points on the Quantitative and 2.1 points on the Verbal score (on a 60-point scale) in a second sitting. It is also worth noting that those who didn’t finish the test the first time nearly always finish during repeat testings. 

There are notable differences by score group. Those who score 700 and above gain, on average, only about 8 GMAT 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.

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There are some cultural differences between those who retake the exam and those who do not. Non-white, non-native English speakers, and non-US citizens are more likely to retake the exam. We have learned that some sit for the test the first time fully intending to retake it later, viewing the first sitting as sort of a baseline to see how they’ll do and where they need to focus their study efforts.

Format Should Be Familiar

Although the GMAT exam has evolved over the years, it has always been designed to measure academic skills necessary to succeed in graduate management study. Some of the question formats, 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 the 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 so you finish each section in the allotted time.  

For these reasons, GMAC provides free GMATPrep® software, which contains two computer adaptive tests with retired questions. You can be familiar with the content and format and can practice pacing yourself before you sit for the test. 

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.  This is true for reading comprehension questions as well.

Lawrence M. Rudner, PhD, MBA, is vice president of research and development and chief psychometrician for the Graduate Management Admission Council. This blog post is reworked from a Demystifying the GMAT column that originally ran in Graduate Management News in October 2011.

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