Retaking The GMAT: Should You Retake?

by on September 4th, 2009

Einstein said insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.  So should you consider retaking the GMAT?  Absolutely… if you have a reason to believe the next time around is going to be different.

Your GMAT performance should be measured against a specific goal.  It’s true that schools identify the GMAT as the number one application killer.  But have you spoken to your target schools to find out if the score you’ve already achieved will get you into the program?  GMAT scores are only one part, albeit a very important part, of a complex admissions calculus.  Median or mean GMAT scores define only a statistical mid-point.  Your unique background may shift your threshold score significantly to one side or another of the mid-point.  If you haven’t already engaged an admissions officer at the b-school of your dreams, do it now.  It’s just possible that it’s already time to focus on your essays.

One of the best ways to show that you are a serious and professional b-school applicant is to nail the GMAT the first time around.  Nevertheless, if your score is not where it should be, re-taking the test could actually do more for your application than just raising your score. In several recent panel discussions, I’ve heard admissions officers state explicitly that how an applicant preps for the test is a key indicator.  Say you studied on your own and only casually the first time around.  On the first attempt at the test, you fell well short of your goal.  If you then go out and engage professional resources, and implement them in a disciplined program, two things will result.  First, your score will go up.  But second, and more importantly, you will be able to tell your schools that you learned from your earlier experience, took the initiative to find a fix for the problem, and used the new tools to achieve your goals.  That’s a story the admissions committee will find persuasive.

If something went dramatically wrong on test day – such as illness or a severe breakdown in concentration or nerves – you have a reason to think that retaking will give you different results.  Otherwise, the only difference is going to come from substantial additional practice.

What should you do differently (nod to Einstein) when you prep the second time?   Here are some specific fixes to consider:

  • Know your score goal and then plan to at least slightly exceed it when you prep.
  • Commit yourself 100% to a realistic study program
  • Review each practice test error with the goal of transforming it into a strength
  • Take multiple practice tests
  • Track errors and excessive-time answers
  • Focus on highest productivity errors first
  • Fully utilize your study materials
  • Use a tutor to help break through persistent obstacles
  • Get more sleep (this will help you retain and process information better)
  • Exercise (same results as more sleep)

Ryan raised his score 200 points to 710.  It took two attempts to do it.  What’s Ryan’s advice?  “tell students that if they are truly willing to set goals and work hard enough to achieve them, they will absolutely reach their goals. I went from 510 on the diagnostic, back down to 490 and then straight up from there. It is definitely possible but you have to be willing to put the time in.”

What if you don’t have the time?  Well, why not?  What’s the point of trying to make the first round deadline if it means you’re not likely to have an effective score?   One alternative solution is to shoot for a significantly higher score in a subsequent round.  Another is to put off your application for a year.  The value of getting into a better school may justify the wait.  (Plus you’ll have time to refine your pitch, as reflected in exceptional essays.)

Retaking the GMAT is realistic if you realign your priorities and your approach.  This is not to say that you should continue to retake the GMAT indefinitely.  What’s the max?  Three attempts is probably a realistic limit, unless you have some special considerations.  While admissions officers certainly appreciate tenacity, at the end of the day they want to see results.


  • Hello,

    I just would like to know if someone re-takes the GMAT after one month, will the GMAT test have much harder questions than usual?

    A friend told me that for a second attempt, the GMAT test will hit you with much harder questions.

    Thank you

    • Juliano -

      Thanks for your question. The difficulty of questions on the GMAT is based on your performance during that sitting. They will only be harder during a retake if you're doing better!


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