If you’re thinking about going to business school, one thing you’ll probably have in common with just about everyone else applying is that you’ll have to take the GMAT. Taking the GMAT is a long, arduous process. Sometimes it feels like trying to sprint a marathon. And for most people going through it, they can’t wait for the whole process to be over.
But what happens after you take the GMAT? Maybe you’ve heard rumors about some of these crazy people who take the GMAT again, even though they’ve already taken it. Is that possible? Are you considering it? Wondering whether you can, or should? Well you’re in the right place—we’ve gathered all the information you need to know about re-taking the GMAT.
THE FIRST QUESTION: WHY DO YOU WANT TO retake THE GMAT?
We’re assuming no one is interested in re-taking the GMAT for fun (although you never know; there are a lot of crazy people out there). Most people interested in re-taking the GMAT tend to be motivated by raising a score they’re unhappy with. Others—the perfectionist type—might be happy enough with their score, but are curious to see if they can do any better.
THE SECOND QUESTION: IS IT POSSIBLE TO retake THE GMAT?
If you were selling an expensive product that people were happy to keep paying for, and you weren’t short on supplies, would you limit your customers to buying it once? Probably not. Neither does the GMAC, the organization that creates and administers the GMAT. In other words: yes, you can definitely retake the GMAT.
However, there are some rules and restrictions regarding when, how often, and how many times you can take the GMAT.
You have to wait sixteen calendar days after a previous GMAT exam to take another one. Although given that the point of re-taking is, presumably, to raise your score, you’ll probably want to take even a bit more time than this, if you can.
If you want to retake it more than once, you can do that. However, you can only take the GMAT a maximum of five times in a twelve-month period. And you can only take it eight times in your lifetime. Hopefully, these are limits that no one reading this article will have to seriously worry about.
THE THIRD QUESTION: SHOULD YOU retake THE GMAT?
This is where the questions get harder, and where the answers change depending on the individual student.
If you’ve already earned a score you’re happy with, we advise against re-taking the GMAT. If you’re happy with your score, there’s nothing to be gained by re-taking the exam. For one thing, it’s not a given that you’ll improve your score. And even if you do, there’s nothing especially important about getting any particular GMAT score. Beyond its role in helping you get into business school, your GMAT score doesn’t carry much importance.
You should only retake the GMAT if your score is more than 10 points lower than your target score.
SUB-QUESTION: BUT HOW DO YOU KNOW WHAT SCORE TO AIM FOR?
Your target score doesn’t just exist in a vacuum. The reason you take the GMAT is to help you get admitted to business school. So your target score should depend on your target business school programs.
One thing you can easily do is make a list of the average GMAT scores for admitted students at all of your target schools. You should build your target score with these scores in mind. We recommend aiming for the highest average GMAT score for your entire list of target schools—this will help ensure you’re taken seriously by every program you’re interested in attending.
Most schools share their average GMAT scores on their websites, alongside the rest of their admissions information. If a school you’re interested in doesn’t list their average accepted GMAT scores on their website, you can try calling their admissions office—most programs are not tight-lipped about this information. There are also plenty of third-party sources for this information. For example, this page lists the 25 highest average GMAT scores for 2017.
THE FINAL QUESTION: HOW DO BUSINESS SCHOOLS FEEL ABOUT STUDENTS RE-TAKING THE GMAT?
Many students worry that business schools will look down on students who retake the GMAT, or will not seriously consider any scores after the first exam. We understand why students feel this way. The hurdle of business school admissions seems so significant that it can be easy to think that the admissions process exists to keep you out of business school. In reality, it’s more designed to do the opposite.
First of all, business schools only know about those scores you choose to report. So if you were unhappy with and canceled your previous GMAT scores, the school your applying to won’t ever know you took them!
Even if you report multiple scores, business schools do not look down on students who retake the GMAT, and they don’t tend to take later scores any less seriously. For one thing, it would be impractical for business schools to look down on re-taking the GMAT, since so many business school applicants take the exam more than once.
But also, don’t lose sight of the fact that re-taking the GMAT can even look good to business schools. It can demonstrate perseverance and a commitment to excellence.
However, re-taking the exam only looks good if you actually improve your score. It won’t impress a business school if you take the test multiple times and don’t improve at all. This is another reason not to retake the exam if you’re already happy with your score.
SO HOW MUCH WILL YOU BE ABLE TO IMPROVE YOUR SCORE?
The first thing to know is that, according to the GMAC, the average improvement for students taking the exam a second time is 30 points.
However, this will be different for every student depending not only on their abilities, but also on how much prep they put in before their first exam and how much prep they are able to put in before their second exam. Additionally, the average improvement changes drastically with the original score achieved – if your first score was 500, it will be much easier to improve than if it was a 650.
We recommend most students put in 100-120 hours of prep time before taking the GMAT. If you were unable to put in this many hours than this before your first exam, that could mean you have a lot of room for improvement. On the other hand, if you’ve already put in upwards of 100+ hours, there may not be that much room left for you to improve your score.
We also want to emphasize that it’s pretty unusual for students to improve their scores by much more than 50 points, unless the score was particularly low or you had a really bad day on test day. If you fell short of your target score by more than 50 points, you may want to consider adjusting your target score and even your target schools.
SUB-QUESTION: BESIDES STUDYING MORE, CAN YOU CHANGE ANYTHING FROM THE FIRST TIME YOU TOOK THE GMAT?
Sometimes students underperform on the GMAT for reasons other than just not knowing all the material well enough. Sometimes students underperform because they’re sick. Other times students forget to acquaint themselves with the structure of the test ahead of time and something about it upsets their expectations. (You’d be astonished how frequently this has to do with the GMAC’s rules regarding calculators.)
Sometimes, the reason is more strategic in nature. For example, not figuring out your guessing strategy (which questions to answer and which to skip) before entering the exam. Alternatively, putting your weakest section last and then being tired by the time you get to it. Figuring out optimal strategies is difficult to do by yourself; if you think this is the reason you didn’t succeed it would be well worth your time to ask for help from a professional tutor or test-prep company.
Try to learn everything possible from your first GMAT experience, so you can do everything possible to improve your score the next time around.
IS THERE ANYTHING ELSE I SHOULD KNOW?
In considering whether and when to retake the GMAT, don’t forget to check your target schools’ application deadlines. It takes about twenty days for your test scores to be sent to business schools—and that’s assuming you specified the schools you want to receive your scores before taking the exam.
Also, don’t forget that every time you take the GMAT you will have to pay the full $250. Unfortunately, there’s no discount for repeat offenders. So if you’re going to take the GMAT a second time, consider yourself extra incentivized to do well, so you don’t have to take it a third time.