After a 690 Score, The Big Question: Should I Retake the GMAT?

Mood: A little disappointed but not defeated.

Music: Ice Cream Paint Job; my roomie’s CD wound its way into my car when she borrowed it last week and I’ve been jamming to her hip-hop beats.  I was really hoping that my theme song would be “All I do is win” by DJ Khaled but today’s results provided that, well, that song might have to wait.

Musings: Most people in line at the test center are entirely way too relaxed.  Maybe its because I live in the PNW, and a test center in Manhattan might have a very different atmosphere.  Then again, it’s probably because not all of them are there to take the GMAT (I’m pretty sure I was the only one).  Among the tests Pearson VUE offers include “Florida Auctioneer”, “DC Board of Funeral Directors” and “North Carolina Bail Bondsman”.  I’m kind of curious as to the actual test you have to pass to be a certified, legitimate auctioneer; I’ve been told I talk way too fast and figure that might be a viable career option if B-school doesn’t pan out.  🙂

After what seems like months of preparing, panicking, mini-celebrating, and a whole range of emotions, G-day finally arrives.  I spend the final days reviewing my weak spots (still data sufficiency and certain word problems) and take my last practice test Sunday morning, at 8am with timed breaks so I can get used to testing early morning and score a respectable 720.  I know that much of the advice has been to “rest my brain” before the exam.  I take it relatively easy on Sunday, attending a co-workers baby shower, grocery shopping and catching up with a friend on the phone for an hour, but I still felt the need to be immersed in GMAT – historically speaking with studying, this is how I’ve always been.

So this morning I get up early, shower, eat, put on yoga pants (elastic waistband makes all the difference!) and a red sorority t-shirt (for luck).  After receiving text messages of support, Facebook wall posts and even an E-card, I had some amazing support and I’m very thankful for the great friends that have put up with me during this time.  As I hit the freeway my mind alternates, dancing between thoughts of Vegas and the test.  Part of me wanted to just be done with the whole thing and the other part of me already started to miss the GMAT.  If I can make a bizarre analogy – it’s like that eccentric, slightly annoying family member that comes and stays with you for an extended period of time (think cousin Cody on Step-by-Step), but after a while starts growing on you because you are forced to spend so much time with them, and when they are gone you are wondering how to fill the void in your life.  Hah.

I arrive at the test center 30 minutes early, which is a rarity since I’m usually right on time or late, and I spend the time in line reviewing this very helpful guide to writing the AWA – it was the first time I had given any thought to this section, since I’ve been told it would be a breeze.

Now onto the test itself:  I started with the AWA and emerged very confident.  Both topics related somewhat to shopping and consumers, which of course are right up my alley, and found myself referencing Gilt Group, Netflix, Zappos, Amazon, Yelp, Vogue and Lucky magazine and feeling pretty good throughout.  Took the short break, then headed into Quant.

Oh boy Quant.  This was probably the most random, unpredictable Quant I had ever seen, and more than a few times got thrown off.  Not necessarily hardest, but question types I had not encountered before.  With the exception of the first question, I started out strong, but then ran into some very basic questions in the middle which made me nervous.  I was doing great on time as compared to before, but got bogged down on a few questions towards end and was barely able to finish.  Verbal was not much better, in fact, this was the toughest Verbal I had seen yet, and Verbal has always been my strength.  Usually I rush in Verbal but told myself to slow down.  Perhaps too slow, since I ended up running out of time towards the end and guessed on some final verbal responses, something I had not ever had to do.  The last few questions was a blur, and ended knowing that I had paced myself terribly.


By the time the 30-minute experimental section for the upcoming 2012 GMAT rolled around, I was a ball of nerves. I knew for experimental purposes I was to try my best on the questions, but I was mentally drained.  Side Note: If the GMAC really thinks that test-takers are going to put in 100% effort on these problems, they are severely mistaken.  If test-takers are going to do a mental marathon for nearly 4 hours beforehand, how can the GMAC expect us to take this section seriously when all we want to do is see our score and get outta there?!

More interpreting graphs, charts, I slugged my way through, guessed on some, felt relief that I would not have to take the 2012 version of the GMAT and finally got to the review screen.  I had 2 minutes to decide whether to send my scores or cancel, and for a split second considered canceling.  Then I realized that I had spent $250 and grudgingly clicked on through to the result screen.

My score? 690 (88%) with a 47Q (76%) and 38V (83%).  My biggest fear had come true, I was stuck at the 690-mark. How did the timing get to me again?  I had resolved that if my score was in the low 700’s, I would stick with it and move on to my application.  My last two scores were 720 and 750, before that a combination of 710’s and 690’s so I wasn’t entirely surprised.  But this was a score that I did not think accurately reflected my test-taking capacity and preparation, but instead encompassed my nerves and lack of pacing.

On my drive home, I was determined to schedule a retake.  Yes, I would have to drag it out an additional month, and yes this might mean less time on applications (Round 1 is a little under 2 months away) but did I really think that I would only take it once?  I took the SAT three times, and drastically improved my second time (1420 to 1530).   Some people thought I was crazy then, but I knew I had a better score in me after I completed the first time.  (If you are wondering why I retook the SAT after the 1530, no I was not a deranged perfectionist in high school, but I had scheduled the 3rd test before I took the 2nd test, so I figured oh what the heck.  Needless to say, my score went down, which I definitely want to avoid here.)

Back home, I immediately Googled “retake 690” to see what the recommendations were, and to see if I was crazy for retaking with that score.  Apparently this is a dilemma that is plaguing lots of people, as evidenced by the forums and blogs.  To retake or not to retake?  690 is a pretty frustrating score for most, just because it is right below the 700 cut-off.  Yet I truly believe that whether retaking is the right decision differs for everyone, and can think of good reasons for both.

The advice was all over the board, but I have condensed it and made it applicable to my situation:

Reasons Why I Should Retake:

  • I know I can do better, I spent a lot of energy preparing. I want my score to be a reflection of my efforts
  • What do I have to lose?  According to many, schools only care about the highest score, even though they may frown upon taking 3+ times (which I do not plan on doing)
  • I took the SAT 3 times. Different tests, different circumstances, but I did my best the second time.
  • Retaking, or even debating whether to retake with a sub-700 score is not that uncommon, as evidenced by the plethora of forum and blog postings. I am totally a “what if” kind of person, and would kick myself if I didn’t try just once more.
  • I was a bundle of nerves and ran out of time in both sections. If I can get my timing down, I will be fine, in addition to now knowing the testing center setup.
  • The schools I am applying to (top 15) are highly competitive and only take the highest scores, with averages around 720.  While I’m in the 80% range, I think my chances improve if I’m at the average instead of below it.
  • My college grades are average but not stellar.  Though attended a top-10 non-Ivy university, I was in the middle of my class and majored in a social science, not a numbers-heavy discipline.  With respect to the quantitative component of my application, I want to have a GMAT score that will at least make up for some of what my GPA lacks.
  • Apparently some employers ask for your GMAT score.  While I’m certainly not looking to go into Finance or I-Banking, some of the top Management Consulting firms ask for the GMAT on the resume and it could be a hindrance down the road, even if I do make it into my dream B-School.

Reasons Why I Should NOT Retake The Test:

  • Could spend that time writing essays, working on the rest of my application.
  • Other parts of my application are strong, including work experience, leadership and extracurricular activities and I feel like I can put together solid essays.
  • $250 can go a long way 5 hours in Vegas 🙂
  • I would need to take another vacation day for the exam, since weekend slots have filled up, which I would love to save up for actual vacations.
  • I’ve been looking forward to getting the rest of my life back in place after the GMAT. Oh well, what’s another month in the grand scheme of things?
  • Of course, there is always the possibility that my score could go down, and that might reflect negatively.

Was I overly confident heading into the GMAT? Not as much confident as ready, since I felt like I had practiced sufficiently, though the quality of my practice is up for debate.  For the GMAT, there is a margin of error of +/- 30 points.

Where do I go from here?  I’m a pretty positive, optimistic person and really think I need to keep moving on, but most importantly, I should probably start on the applications, especially the essays.  To get organized, I’m putting together an Excel spreadsheet of where I am planning on applying, with the Essays prompts and starting essay outlines.  I really didn’t want to be writing essays at the same time as my exam, so I will schedule the retake as close as possible to the 31 day mark.  I’ll be meeting with my study buddy “H” and plan out application strategies.

My friends are excited to be seeing me again, and of course I am looking forward to being more social, though I’ll still be hard at work to make the R1 deadlines.  After Vegas this weekend, my travel schedule picks up again starting next week for two weeks and before I know it, it will be GMAT time all over again.  This time, I plan on not letting my nerves or the test pacing get the best of me.

Alright, heading out to turbo-kickboxing class (it’s been too long!)



Mango is a consultant in the Pacific Northwest who is applying to business schools so she would graduate in the Class of 2014. This report is adapted from her blog posts at Por qué MBA? One Girl’s MBA Application Journey!

Her previous posts on Poets&Quants:

Introducing Mango and her pursuit of a seat in the Class of 2014

Why I’m Applying to Business School

Applying to B-School Is a Marathon–Not a Sprint

Making a Date with GMAT

Breaking 700 on the Third GMAT Practice Test

The GMAT Test Is a Beast!

A Happy Dance After Scoring 750 on a GMAT Practice Test


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