Retaking the GMAT

GMAC Policies on GMAT Retakes

GMAC allows students to retake the exam after a waiting period of 16 calendar days. Students who attempt to register online before the expiration of this waiting period will receive an error message asking them to select another date. No student may take the GMAT more than five times within a twelve-month period. Exam retakes may be prohibited for violation of test center rules or of the required non-disclosure agreement. Depending on the severity of the violation, bans on retakes typically last from 31 days to five years, and lifetime bans can be given in exceptional cases. GMAT retakes necessitated by testing issues such as administrative errors, malfunction of testing equipment, or other circumstances beyond the test-taker's control are offered free of additional charge. In these instances, students must retake the entire exam in order to receive valid scores. Students whose scores are cancelled due to testing issues also have the option of declining a retake and receiving a refund.

GMAT Retakes and Business School Acceptance

Available information indicates that business schools do not necessarily develop a negative view of students who take the GMAT multiple times, and some business school officials will even encourage their applicants to do so. However, there is a limit to the number of times it is advisable to take the GMAT, and this seems to be about three test attempts. Business schools tend to be understanding about second and third test attempts if scores improve, but they will likely see applicants who have taken the GMAT four or more times as lacking the skills necessary for success in their programs. While scores from all test attempts are reported, many if not most institutions will consider the highest scores rather than the average (although a significant drop in the most recent score or an unusually long period of time between testing dates can adversely affect an application).

Data on GMAT Retakes

A GMAC study published in 2005 showed that repeat takers of the GMAT had lower mean total, quantitative, and verbal scores than students who took the test a single time. The average total, quantitative, and verbal scores of one-time test-takers were 529.2, 34.2, and 28.4 respectively, compared with 496.2, 33.7, and 24.6 for those who took the GMAT more than once. Undergraduate grade point averages were identical for both groups (mean of 3.2). It is important to note that the correlation between lower scores and GMAT retakes demonstrated by this study is entirely predictable when one considers the fact that higher-scoring students are less likely to take the GMAT again. A more recent (2011) and detailed GMAC analysis of retake data showed an average gain of 33 points on total scores, 2.5 points on verbal scores, and 2.1 points on quantitative scores associated with second test attempts, and progressively smaller gains on subsequent retakes. The benefits of retakes seem to be concentrated toward the middle and lower ranges of the scoring scale (students who scored above 700 on their initial test attempt had an average increase of only 8 points, while those initially scoring between 500 and 590 improved by a mean of 30 points). About 25% of all students who retook the GMAT received lower scores on those retakes. In demographic terms, the GMAT is most frequently retaken by international students who are not native English speakers and by minorities within the United States. Many students deliberately plan on taking the GMAT at least twice. These test-takers use the first test attempt to learn about the exam and their own strengths and weakness, which can help them more effectively prepare for the second test attempt.

Making Decisions on GMAT Retakes

The advisability of retaking the GMAT depends on the score received on prior test attempts and the standards of the student's preferred business schools. The highest performing students (700 or above) have the lowest statistical chance of improving their scores. If a student received this score on a first test attempt, he or she might improve their application to a highly selective school with an even stronger score, and may not be penalized if there is a modest score drop. If a student's score is already well above the average of accepted students at his or her chosen institution, then there is unlikely to be any additional benefit to taking the GMAT again. Students who scored below 600 should definitely consider retaking the GMAT, especially if the average scores for their chosen programs are above this level. Students in the 600 to 700 range should aim for scores that are ultimately 20-30 points above institutional averages when deciding whether or not to retake the exam. The total number of previous test attempts should also be a factor in this decision, and as noted above, the gains tend to be greatest on the second test attempt. Adequate preparation for any GMAT test attempt gives a student his or her best chances of success.