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How Many Times Should I Take the GMAT?

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Things don’t always go as hoped — or planned — on test day. Sometimes you don’t reach your target score on the first try. It’s actually quite common for someone to need to take the GMAT multiple times before they get the score they need. This of course begs the question: How much do retakes help? How many times should you retake the GMAT to get your target score — or get as close as possible?

WHAT IMPACT DOES A RETAKE REALLY HAVE?

The first inevitable question is will retaking the test make much of a difference. The last time GMAT did an analysis of repeat test takers was some time ago: in 2011. At that point, the organization found that roughly a fifth of the tests taken in any given year are by people who have taken the exam before. Although there are no meaningful differences in the gender, average Quantitative scores,
and undergraduate GPAs among repeat test takers, there are some other key differences between those who choose to retake the exam and those who don’t.

GMACGMAC found that tepeat test takers are far more likely to have failed to finish either the Quantitative or Verbal portion of the exam. They are also more likely to have a lower GMAT total score than their self-reported undergraduate GPA would typically indicate. In other words, those who take the test again are a self-selected group that is more likely to think they did not do as well as they could have the first time they took the GMAT exam.

The other big question, of course, is what impact did retaking the test generally have for the people who sat through it again? Among the self-selected pool of repeat test takers, the average gains are relatively modest–though not if you are a candidate who is on the cusp. The overall average gain was 33 points (on a 200-800 scale) on a second testing, with increasingly smaller cumulative gains in successive test sittings. The difference between a 690 and a 720 can be very significant for many applicants who want to get into a highly selective business school. But here’s the scary news: Nearly 25 percent actually score lower the second time.

WHO ACTUALLY TAKES THE TEST MORE THAN ONCE?

However, GMAC found that 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) when taking the test a second time. It is also worth noting those who failed to 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. Individuals who score 600 and above typically gain very little in their third and fourth attempts.

GMAC found that there are some cultural differences between those who retake the exam and those who do not. Not surprisingly, 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,” according to a GMAC analysis.

  • Cam

    I really think unless you’re a natural test taker that you should plan on 2 or 3 (certainly 2). That first time there are real jitters and no matter how much you practiced it’s still not quite the same. Then even if you did well but could do a little better not only will you have experience with the test but you’ll have a fallback option in case you need to cancel.

    For example I scored a 650 after poor nights sleep and all the usual test day anxiety then did a retake with a 710 16 days later but the quant wasn’t good enough so I did one more retake 16 days later and got a 740. If you are able to zero in on those weaknesses in conjunction with your test day experience I think each time you take it you should be able to walk the score up closer to your potential and given the very forgiving test reporting abilities now it’s well worth it 2-3 (maybe even 4 now) if you can stick to a schedule given the importance GMAT plays in admissions.