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When Should I Re-take the GMAT?

Eric Allen

One of the top 5 questions we get at Admit.me is whether the applicant should re-take the GMAT (or in some cases, the GRE). While the GMAT score can’t get you into a school, it could certainly be a compelling reason to keep you out of being accepted.

There are lots of different circumstances around this decision, but I’m hoping to be able to shed some light on this topic for you. Here are some general ideas on when you should consider re-taking your GMAT.

1. When your score is below the median at your target schools

Seems obvious, but if you’re outside the 80% median range, you definitely need to take it again. In fact, I usually recommend that my clients consider re-taking the GMAT if they are below the median score and have taken the test fewer than three times. If that’s you, you might want to consider it.

2. When you have an especially competitive demographic

Sorry Indian IT males – your demographic for b-school stinks. You guys tend to score very well on tests, making your job harder…and there are a lot of you who seem to love business school!  

Jokes aside, though - for tough demographics like this, you should strongly consider scoring higher than the median GMAT score at your target school to put yourself in the best position for getting admitted. Remember, for every score below the median, they have to accept a score (or multiple scores) above the median to maintain that score.

Schools are looking for a diverse class and it’s a supply and demand game (that’s Econ 101) – if your demographic tends to score better on the GMAT, you need to do what you can to match that score. There is no hard and fast rule, but an underestimated factor for many applicants.

3. When you think you can make a substantial improvement in your score

OK, what is substantial? It depends. Assume the median is 680 and you’re at 650. Adding 20 points to a 670 is a big deal for your score relative to the median. However, if you have a 730 and the median is a 680, increasing your score 20 points to a 750 doesn’t have the same impact.

When you think about improvement, you should think about a few things:

  1. Where you’ve been scoring on your practice tests
  2. What your current score is relative to the median
  3. How many times you’ve taken the test
  4. Where you are in the admissions cycle (how much time you have before applying)

A general rule of thumb I like to give is: if you’ve taken it fewer than three times and you have plenty of time for your applications, go for it!

4. When you have significant holes elsewhere in your application

This is a very important point that is lost on many applicants.

When deciding whether to re-take the GMAT, put your score in the context of your school choice AND the rest of your application.

If you have a weakness in your GPA or have less significant work experience, your GMAT will matter more. Conversely, if you went to a great school, have strong work experience and have had an impact in your community, the school may be willing to consider a slightly lower GMAT.

Related: GMAT vs. Work Experience in MBA Admissions

5. When you have a positive ROI

OK, take out your computers, because we are in B-school 101.

When thinking about re-taking the GMAT, you should consider your Return on Investment (ROI): What is the incremental value you will get from spending time studying for the GMAT and getting a better score?

A simple formula is: Return/Investment.

The numerator: “Return”

How much will the improved score help your profile? Could it possibly hurt your profile? If it’s not meaningful enough, you are like to have a low ROI. If it is, keep reading.

The denominator: “Investment”

What is the investment associated with re-taking the test? Consider the following list:

  • Investment of time in studying for the GMAT
  • Lost time preparing for the application, visiting schools or enjoying life (opportunity cost - another b-school term)
  • Additional cost associated with taking the test (test prep, GMAC fee)

With this formula, making a decision can be easier - if the investment is low and/or potential return is high, by all means re-take it. If the converse is true, then focus your energy on other parts of your application.

6. When you haven’t taken it too many times

How many times is too many? I suggest not getting any more than 3 scores.

Notice I didn’t say how many times you sit for the test. It’s possible to cancel your scores if you didn’t like what went down at the test. In some cases, you may need to take more for one reason or another (Remember how Albert Einstein defined insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results).

The GMAT test can create quite a bit of anxiety for many people. However, don’t let the tail wag the dog. “I don’t want to take it again” is not really good enough if you should take it again. Taking the test again involves short-term pain (studying, discipline, longer hours, etc.) for long-term success (drinks at a really cool bar on an awesome campus and maybe a good job after graduation).

You don’t want to invest several hundred thousand dollars in business school if you’re not optimizing your school acceptances. So, put the big boy/girl pants on and make the right decision – not necessarily the easy decision.

Remember, these are general guidelines and every situation is different - including yours. If you want further advice specific to your case, MBA admissions experts on Admit.me provides a free evaluation of your candidate profile. Learn how to get a free evaluation on Admit.me.

Need more motivation for MBA? 4 Reasons Why You Should Stop Worrying and Start Acting.

Related: When You Should NOT Re-take the GMAT.

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Eric Allen


Eric Allen

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