Behind the Scenes: Repeat GMAT Testing

by on December 6th, 2012

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.

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.



Provided by Lawrence M. Rudner, PhD, MBA, vice president, 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.


  • Hi This article is both motivating and at the same time demotivating

    I did not complete my quant section because of it i could not do well in verbal and got a bad score

    can you tell me how much penalty is there for not answering a section in quats so i can know should i be retaking the test

    Kind Regards

  • 50 points

  • Let's take things in the right perspective… I think there’s a lot to do even if the GMAT is not 750! you may want to take a look at this lecture:

  • Sir,
    I want to ask something about GMAT that is it possible that retire paper of GMAT can be got by some way.can you help me in this regard? or send me some informative and appropriate data for quantitative as well as verbal? i have sent you my Email.
    Thank You.

  • GMAT exam is a black box. The test taker does not where he has gone wrong. So It would be absolutely ridiculous to say it is a reliable indicator of academic performance. For all we know they might be downgrading candidates scores just prove that the scores are consistent. They will have to be a lot of more transparent to claim it is a reliable indicator of anything.

  • Did any independent agency conduct a research or looked into what GMAT passes off as questions and certify that the content is a reliable indicator as claimed by GMAC? Just becuase a lot of business schools are following it blindly does not mean it is effective.

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