When To Retake The GMAT—And When Not To

by on June 15th, 2017

“Do I need to retake the GMAT?”

That’s a question plaguing hundreds, if not thousands, of MBA applicants this time of year. By now, many MBA hopefuls have taken the GMAT at least once but aren’t sure if their score is “enough” to get them accepted to their dream programs. While the GMAT is only one data point in a holistic application process, it packs a big punch, especially if you’re part of an over-represented applicant pool (finance, consulting, Indian IT/engineering, etc.). With essentially no downside to re-taking the test and then canceling your score if you’re not happy with it (except for the time and money spent, of course), it’s an option worth considering. And if you’re applying to the top MBA programs, you want to ensure you’re putting your best foot forward at every opportunity.

So if you’re doubting whether or not you should give the GMAT another go, here are a few guidelines and questions to consider in your decision.

1. Is your score below average for your target schools?

If so, by how much? And how does that fit in with the relative strengths and weaknesses of your profile? Now it doesn’t mean that a below average GMAT is a deal-breaker, just like an above average GMAT isn’t a golden ticket to admission, but if your GMAT score is 30+ points below your target schools’ average, you’re part of an over-represented applicant pool, and your undergrad GPA is also below average, it’s probably worth taking a long, hard look at what you can do to bring your score up. If, on the other hand, everything else about your application wows, including some incredibly unique work experience, background, or some other achievement, and your undergrad GPA is stellar, then you may feel more comfortable applying with a so-so GMAT score. For the folks in the middle who are right at the average for their target schools but wonder if they need to do better in order to be noticed by the adcom, keep reading. :)

2. How many times have you taken the GMAT and how far have you come since your first attempt?

If you took the GMAT once and were disappointed by your score, it may very well make sense for you to retake it. Most applicants take the GMAT more than once—our clients have typically taken it at least 2-3 times. However, if you’ve taken it 4+ times and still haven’t achieved your target score, it’s probably worth sticking with your best of 4 and focusing on the other areas of the application you can impact such as the essays, networking, and adjusting your school list so that you’re hedging your bets. Another thing to note with multiple retakes is how far you’ve progressed with each one. If you’ve experienced 20+ point bumps every time, then you may still have a ways to go and you should probably try again. However, if you’ve gotten the same score in your last two retakes, for example, it’s probably not realistic to expect further significant improvement, assuming you’ve really given it your all in terms of prep.

3. How hard did you study for the GMAT?

In other words, did you really give it your all? This is basically asking yourself if you think you have upside left in your score. If you took a reputable course, did all the homework, drilled incessantly on your weak areas, took real practice tests, etc. and then still got what you got come test day, assuming nothing went wrong that day, then there may not be a lot left you can do to keep improving. You could retake the test and possibly squeeze out another 10 points but it’s arguably not worth it for that little movement. If, on the other hand, you took the test after minimal studying, or at least no structure or strategy in your studying, then you may have the opportunity to improve quite significantly. In that case, take the time to prep properly and then schedule a retake. Whether your best score so far has been a 620 or 720, if you have this kind of upside left, why not capture it?!

4. How does your score compare to your practice test performance?

This is another way to determine if you might have upside in your score. If you took real, simulated, full practice tests and scored quite a bit better than you did on your actual test day, that’s often a good indication that you could easily score better with your next attempt. Sometimes test day jitters or simply not knowing what to expect when you show up at the test center are much less of a factor the second time around. If, however, your score reflects your practice test performance and you were simply hoping to get lucky and do better, then it’s probably not worth planning a retake based on a hope and a prayer.

5. How much time do you have left before the deadlines?

Finally, time may be a deciding factor in whether or not you retake the GMAT. If you have limited time before the deadlines, say less than 2 months, and you still have a lot of work left to do on your applications, trying to squeeze in another GMAT retake may be unrealistic. Your time will be better spent on higher-return efforts, such writing killer essays. You could consider postponing your applications to round 2 if you’re committed to improving your GMAT score and you don’t have time to do it all, but that’s not an option for everyone (those wanting to take advantage of early decision tracks offered by certain programs, for example). However, if you’re reading this in June or earlier, you still have a good 3 months before the earliest round 1 deadlines, so we say go for it!

Other factors, such as an uneven Q/V breakdown and low IR or AWA scores, may also lead you to consider re-taking the GMAT, and the questions above can help with that as well. In general, when in doubt, it’s always good to get a few different opinions to ensure you’re considering all angles. If the GMAT really isn’t working out for you, the GRE is always an option. It’s continuing to grow in popularity across the top schools, with programs such as Yale SOM admitting upwards of 20% of its class with GRE scores. The GRE is a particularly appealing alternative for applicants who are struggling with the quant portion of the GMAT. If you’re considering the GRE, we recommend taking a diagnostic test and seeing how you do as a baseline. You may be pleasantly surprised!

The decision to retake the GMAT or stick with the score you have is ultimately an individual one, based on the nuances of your particular situation and application profile. If you have any further questions about what the right decision is for you, our team is happy to help! You can sign up for a Free Consultation with an experienced admissions expert who can weigh in on your decision and provide a helpful evaluation of your profile. We look forward to hearing from you!

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