When hoping to get into the top MBA programs in the world, achieving a lower GMAT score than what you had hoped for can be disappointing, and obtaining a flat-out low score devastating. You spent over $200 on your first go, and the thought of spending another $200+ is discouraging, especially when you were hoping to divert your efforts to other parts of your MBA application, such as the personal essays and reference letters.
But overcoming this hurdle is possible. While retaking the GMAT may not be necessary for some, redoing the exam with proper preparation can boost your score by up to 30 points. Additionally, it can show business schools your willingness to improve yourself—a common value shared amongst MBA programs. However, retaking the GMAT must be done at the right time and for the right reasons. Failing to be sufficiently prepared or retaking the GMAT too early could result in a lower score.
So, should you retake the GMAT? Deciding whether or not to retake the GMAT is ultimately a personal choice and depends on your personal situation, goals, time, and previous score.
This guide will help you determine if retaking the GMAT is the right decision for you.
Is Retaking the GMAT Worth It?
Whether applying to HBS, Columbia, MIT Sloan, or any other highly competitive program, your GMAT score will be an important representation of your quantitative and analytical abilities—an essential part of your application.
Retaking the GMAT a second time yields an average increase of 30 points, but even with rigorous preparation, a score boost that significant may not occur. As a result, retaking the GMAT should be a carefully pondered decision to determine if it is really necessary for maximizing the strength of your MBA application.
Various factors should be considered before retaking the GMAT—your initial and desired score, the time you have, your ability and motivation to prepare, and whether your previous attempt represents the best of your abilities; these are all critical variables to reflect upon before deciding to retake the GMAT.
Factors to consider before retaking the GMAT
Your initial and goal score:
Your initial and goal score are critical factors to consider when deciding whether or not to retake the GMAT. When analyzing your scores, there are two measurements you should evaluate: (1) how much you wish to increase your score and (2) how likely that increase is based on your initial score.
Ultimately, the lower the GMAT score you have, the greater chance you have to improve it and by a significant amount. According to Poets and Quants, people who score in the 600 to 690 range on their first attempt, saw an average score increase of about 20 points on their second attempt and 30 points on their fourth attempt. Those who scored 500 to 590 saw an increase of 35 points on average for their second attempt and 60 points by the fourth attempt.
However, these significant jumps in score become more difficult to achieve the higher your score is on your first attempt. Poets and Quants also reported that those who scored in the 700 to 790 range saw an average point increase by about 10 points on the second go, with no gain on the fourth attempt.
This plateau can be explained by looking at percentiles— by hitting a score of 700 or higher, you are already hitting the 88th percentile of all GMAT test-takers. Thus, hitting a higher score becomes progressively harder, as you compete for a higher percentage among other top-scorers.
Retaking the GMAT once you hit the 700 point mark may not be fruitful, especially if you are within the required range of percentiles of your dream school. Schools will usually accept a range of scores, which can usually be found on their websites along with the school’s GMAT admission average. But it is important to remember the business school application process is holistic, so bolstering other sections of your application may be more beneficial than chasing that 10 point increase.
The score reflects your ability:
If you feel your score does not reflect your ability, retaking the GMAT may be a good option. A good way to measure your ability is to take practice exams in an environment that mimics the real GMAT testing environment with quality GMAT testing materials.
To simulate the GMAT testing environment, ensure that you are in a quiet location with a timer on hand. Sticking to testing guidelines during this practice will best simulate the testing experience, making it easier the day of the test.
Your GMAT score may not reflect your ability if you performed significantly lower on the real GMAT than on your full practice exams (assuming your practice exams were timed and written in a very similar test environment.
Another reason your GMAT score may not reflect your ability is if you were unable to complete a section on the actual exam. Leaving an entire section blank will significantly impact your score, as each section is scored independently and has an allotted weight to it. In this instance, retaking the GMAT will likely be an advantageous step to improving your score.
Another important factor to consider is your application timeline. MBA application deadlines typically occur in three rounds, so there are three possible deadlines to aim for. The earliest you can retake the GMAT is 16 days following your last attempt. It will take approximately five to 20 days to receive your scores. Thus you need to budget for at least 20 business days (worst case scenario) to take the GMAT and submit your scores to your school before your application deadline—minimum.
But, this tight timeline does not allow room for error. Approximately one-third of applicants have to retake the GMAT at least a second time, pushing back their application timeline. This can be a hassle, so it is important to consider the feasibility of preparing for, retaking, and submitting your scores before your deadlines.
Ability to prepare properly:
It may be possible to retake the GMAT before your application deadline, but if you have to take it immediately after the minimum 16-day period, it may be worth reconsidering. Retaking the GMAT in such a short time frame with minimal preparation may not yield the desired 20 or 30 point increase.
You have to consider how much time you have to study, your goal, and if you have enough time to dedicate to preparing for the GMAT.
Why should you retake the GMAT
After considering these factors, you should retake the GMAT if you are someone who fulfills all the following requirements:
- You need the score boost to reasonably get accepted into your program.
- The required score boost is attainable (determined through evaluating the aforementioned factors).
- You have the time needed to put in the work.
Don’t just take it for the sake of taking it, and don’t take it for a three-point boost—strengthening other areas of your application will vastly outweigh a $250 or $275 deficit and a five-point gain.
Who Should Retake the GMAT?
Let’s break it down. The purpose of the GMAT is to help business schools gauge your preparedness for the curriculum in a standardized manner. Business schools want to know if you will excel in the demanding academic requirements of an MBA program; they also want to see you participating in the school and school community, reflecting an emphasis on leadership, and that you have strong academic abilities.
As a result, it is critical to demonstrate a baseline proficiency in the quantitative and verbal sections. If you struggle in these areas, retaking the GMAT is a must—especially if you are looking at highly competitive business schools.
A good strategy is to pick the skill you are best at and improve that skill to differentiate yourself. For example, maybe you graduated with a Bachelor’s in Political Science or communications. The last numbers-based course you took may have been in your first year of undergrad, if not in high school.
With your skills, you may not be able to compete with an engineer in the quantitative section. However, as long as you demonstrate numerical sufficiency, you can differentiate yourself on your strongest section, which may be verbal. And vice versa for someone who has a strong numerical background.
However, one thing to really emphasize—you could score in the 100th percentile in either the quantitative or the verbal section, but if your other sections suffer, that is where you should focus your attention. Building on your strengths is a great way to differentiate your score, but only if you demonstrate a baseline understanding in other sections.
What is this “baseline”? Top schools want to see a quantitative score in the 80th percentile. However, if you are close to this and have a strong quantitative background and a decent overall score, there may be no need to retake the GMAT.
Suppose you didn’t demonstrate sufficient strength in the quantitative or verbal sections, you may want to consider retaking the GMAT because those two sections are a strong reflection of the academic rigor and soft skills that business schools actively seek.
When Should You Retake the GMAT?
The worst time to retake the GMAT is if you have done zero preparation since your last GMAT and are just hoping to get lucky. The way the test is designed will prevent you from doing better, as it requires a strong application of analytical skills—something which is nearly impossible to demonstrate purely by guesswork.
The GMAT should only be retaken when you have prepared enough and if you have enough time to send it to your selected school before their application deadline. Whether it's 16 days after your last exam or four months down the road, the selection of your next testing date should be scheduled to allow you to meet the deadline of your desired school.
Pros and Cons of Retaking the GMAT
- By retaking the GMAT a second time, you have a good chance of boosting your score with proper preparation. With proper preparation, retaking the GMAT can be advantageous when applying to competitive programs.
- Retaking the GMAT can give you another opportunity to practice and refine your analytical and communication skills, which will ultimately serve you in any MBA program.
- Retaking the GMAT can show your progress, which reflects dedication and hard work— values that business schools hold and will look for.
- Extra costs—is it worth an additional $250 or $275 for a chance to improve your score?
- Retaking the GMAT requires additional preparation. As a result, it may require a hefty time investment that (a) may be difficult to fulfill depending on when your deadline for submitting scores is, and (b) may take away from your time developing other parts of your application, which are often equally as important as your GMAT score.
- May require you to delay your application to allow for adequate time to receive and submit your scores.
Tips to Prepare for Retaking the GMAT
Deciding to retake the GMAT can seem like a daunting experience, but there are ways to break down your preparation, so it seems manageable.
Analyze your previous attempts and craft a study plan
Even though your first GMAT score may be disappointing to reflect upon, there is a silver lining. Your GMAT results will provide you with great information detailing your strongest and weakest sections, which will help you decide where to focus your valuable time.
Two possible strategies are to target your weakest areas or build on your strengths. Whichever alternative you choose, be sure not to neglect other sections—focusing your study on one section is valuable, but not if it comes at the expense of other sections.
Using this information, craft a study plan. By making a study plan, you can decide which application round might be best for you and build a time buffer to allow for one more retake, so you are not crunched for time.
When doing practice questions, it may be tempting to get caught up in one question, spending four to five minutes analyzing and solving it. However, actively timing yourself will give you a better idea of how to pace yourself on the exam. The average time it takes to complete one GMAT question on the exam is approximately 1 minute and 54 seconds. Try to aim for this amount of time when practicing.
This one may seem obvious, but it is worth mentioning, as the other preparation strategies listed here would not go far in boosting your score without this step. Practicing GMAT test questions and analyzing where you went wrong will help you learn, reducing your mistakes on the actual exam, while increasing your speed.
Private GMAT tutoring can boost your score through targeted training and personalised study plans. Getting support from experts can also help with test-taking strategies and time management.
1. Does retaking the GMAT make you look bad?
Not at all. It is fairly common to retake the GMAT, especially if it is your second time; the GMAT is designed to benefit those who take it multiple times with proper preparation. People who retake the GMAT, on average, will see a score boost of 30 points—a sizable increase.
However, retaking the GMAT five, six, or seven times, while demonstrating insignificant improvements or regression may be frowned upon at top schools. Consistently taking the exam with little improvement can show a lack of preparation or attempts to “be lucky,” so be mindful of how much preparation you intend to put into each retake and ensure each retake is worth your time and money.
2. Does it look bad if I cancel a GMAT score?
Programs will not be able to tell if you have cancelled a score. When you view your score, you will have two minutes to decide if you wish to cancel or accept it. If you accept it and wish to cancel it after exiting the testing center, you will have to pay a fee of $25.
3. How much time should I take to study for the GMAT if I want a 700+?
To achieve a 700 or higher on the GMAT, you should aim for approximately 100-120 hours of focused studying over a few months for the best results.
4. How much does it cost to retake the GMAT?
In North America, it costs $275 to take the GMAT and $250 in most other countries. Retaking the GMAT will cost the same amount.
5. Will the score report sent to MBA programs contain the scores of all my previous attempts?
Yes. Your score report sent to MBA programs will have all your historical scores shown except for any scores you cancelled.
6. How long are GMAT scores valid?
GMAT scores are valid for five years.
Retaking the GMAT has tangible benefits. With proper time investment, you have the potential to seriously boost your score and refine your analytical skills, which will be put to work at business school.
However, there are downsides. For one, you will still have to pay the GMAT cost in full, and any additional time you spend preparing takes away from time you could be directing towards strengthening the remainder of your application. Depending on your timeline, retaking the GMAT may require you to delay your application, forcing you to apply in another round.
Ultimately, retaking the GMAT is a decision that should be made after careful consideration of your circumstances—including the time you have to prepare, your prospects of increasing your score, and your desired target score.
Taking a holistic approach to evaluating your situation will best help you decide if retaking the GMAT is the right next step for you in your MBA journey.