Should I Retake the GMAT? Advice and Study Tips

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Have you taken the GMAT once (or more than once) and don’t feel satisfied with your GMAT score? If so, you might be contemplating, Should I retake the GMAT? and would like some advice on this topic. Read on to determine if taking the GMAT more than once is a good option for you.

Taking the GMAT more than once is not unusual. According to GMAC stats, 1 in 5 tests are taken by people who have taken the exam before.

On the other hand, while there might be good reasons in some cases to retake the GMAT, there are also many scenarios in which taking the test once is the best decision. Like everything else in the GMAT universe, you need to be strategic – about how, when, and even if you should retake the test.

Table of Contents

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Can you retake the GMAT?

GMAT Retake Policy

Yes, you may retake the GMAT exam! If your next question is, How soon can I retake the GMAT? you should know that there are some restrictions. According to the GMAT retake policy from the GMAC, you can’t take it more than five times in a 12-month period and not more than once every 16 days. Also, there’s a cap so you’re only allowed to take the GMAT eight times total. Considering that you have to pay full price for each retake, there are likely some financial restrictions as well. The online version of the test costs $250.

These timelines are important if you have application deadlines coming up and need to decide whether it’s worth leaving extra time for a possible rewrite. And even if you take the test just once, it takes off some of the pressure to know it’s not your only shot at it!

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Who should retake the GMAT? Things to Consider

Can you get a better score?

The biggest factor to consider is whether or not you can get a better score if you retake the test. Sounds obvious right? But it is not that simple. If you look at GMAC data it is clear that returns are diminishing with each retake. As you would expect, the higher your score, the harder it is to make big improvements. What is worse – a quarter of test-takers get a lower score on their second attempt.

So how do you know if you should be scoring higher? Well, one way is to look at your mock test scores. If you have been scoring much higher on your mock tests than you did on the day of your actual test – you probably had a bad day. It’s definitely worth taking the test again to improve. You can take the test again in 16 days.

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But what if you are not scoring as well as you think you could be, and your mock tests are reflecting this as well? Then you should seriously consider making fundamental changes to your approach. If you are doing the same things as you did last time, you are unlikely to get a huge score improvement the next time you take the test. 16 more days of studying are probably not going to make a big difference. Rethink your strategy!

Estimated Time to Study for a Retake

In a nutshell, you don’t need to wait more than 16 days if poor performance was unusual for you. If there was a drastic drop in your score compared to your mocks, you probably had a bad day, or let anxiety get the better of you. If your lower score is consistent with your mock test scores, you’ll need to practice a whole lot more.

Obvious Areas for Improvement

Top Tip: You get an Enhanced Score Report when you take the GMAT at a test center. It has amazingly useful insights into your strengths and weaknesses to help you prepare for a retake. It also gives you insights into your time management. Unfortunately, this option is not available for the online version of the test.

Goals for the GMAT

The GMAT is not an end unto itself. It’s all about getting into your target business schools. So if you feel that:

  1. Your academic ability might be questioned (say, because of a low GPA), AND
  2. If you are applying to top tier business schools, AND
  3. If your hopes are grounded in good valid reasons that, with good prep work, you could get a great score—THEN, retake the GMAT.

You should also consider whether you have the time, energy, and determination to throw yourself into an intensive GMAT review. Remember that it isn’t worth putting intense time and energy into nudging up your GMAT score if other aspects of your application suffer.

Consider the overall balance of your application. The GMAT is just one piece of a full picture of any business school candidate. Yes, take the GMAT more than once if you believe this will move your score closer to the range of the schools you are targeting, but be careful not to put so much energy into a retake that you neglect other equally important parts of the application process.

If you get over 720 on the GMAT, you have clearly demonstrated that you can handle the academic coursework at any business school in the world. That box is checked. So should you retake the GMAT? Bumping up your GMAT another 10 or 20 points when your “academic ability” box is already checked does absolutely nothing for you. There is no reason to retake the GMAT when you score over 720 unless you are scoring substantially higher in your mock tests.

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Does retaking the GMAT look bad?

As a rule, schools generally see multiple GMAT retakes as a sign of commitment. As long as you are improving, that is. You have the option to cancel your GMAT score on the day of your test so that schools don’t see it. You should only really cancel your score if it is lower than a previous test, or a huge misrepresentation of your true ability.

Most business schools will consider your highest score only. Some schools will look at your highest sectional score (for Quant and Verbal) across different tests. It’s worth finding out how your target schools view these scores. Note that some schools will have a minimum sectional score, usually for Quant.

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How to Study for a GMAT Retake

1. Follow a Strict Study Plan

It is important to keep up the momentum and get right back into it. The GMAT is often compared to a marathon and you don’t want to ‘lose fitness’, by taking a break now. Make sure you stick to a GMAT study schedule to keep you on track

2. Take Plenty of Practice Tests

We all need to practice sitting for a long period of time, dealing with focus and motivation over a long period, and testing and refining pacing strategies. Before you took the real test, you should’ve taken at least 4 – 6 practice tests. If you didn’t then you know exactly what to do this time.

Some of you might have taken this many tests, but not all practice tests are created equally. We only recommend GMAT Prep tests, Magoosh tests, and Manhattan tests. All other tests are of questionable quality.

This time around, make sure you are taking high-quality, complete practice tests once a week. Since you are taking the test for a second or third time, you won’t need to spend time learning the question types or working on fundamentals. So use your time to take these practice tests. With the time between tests, comb through your performance. Identify problem spots. Locate weaknesses. Track your progress on each question type and each skill. Ultimately, the goal is awareness. With a catalog of your mistakes and weaknesses, you can be on guard during your next practice test, and in the end, on the actual test.

3. Use Reputable Prep Materials

If you weren’t using the highest-quality materials, then you were at a disadvantage on test day. If you were using poor materials, you didn’t have a chance. If you choose to retake the GMAT, read about the best GMAT books and resources so that you know what to use this time around.

Now that you know that all resources are not created equally, get rid of the ones that are poor and surround yourself with the best of the best—Manhattan, GMAT Official Guide, and Magoosh. Revisit our GMAT Reading List (for Verbal practice) and How to Study for GMAT Quant (for Quant tips). Also, don’t just settle on one resource; the more variety, the better prepared you will be.

Seeing the same material more than once is still valuable, and you can still make improvements this way. Actually, attempting questions that you have already seen is a great metric for how much you have learned or improved.

4. Know and Address Your Weaknesses

Success is only achieved with an honest assessment of one’s abilities. When you took the GMAT, did you have a strong sense of your weaknesses? Did you know if you struggle with geometry more than algebra? Further, did you know that you struggle more with compound interest questions than simple interest questions? Were you keeping track of your repeated errors and mistakes? Did you know what grammar concepts you continually missed in Sentence Correction questions? What slowed you down the most when reading a passage? Did you tend to make “silly” mistakes when you were almost done with a problem?

This time when you study, your goal should be to know the answers to these questions. And you can only do this by keeping track of your mistakes and spending more time analyzing questions and reading answer explanations. What you need is an error log.

Some of you may be able to keep a mental error log, but memory is a tricky thing. It’s harder to notice patterns this way, so we recommend using a notebook for your error log. Write down the question number, the source, question type, and concept tested. Then write down answers to the following questions:

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  • Why did you miss the question?
  • Why was your answer wrong?
  • Why was the correct answer correct?
  • What will you do to avoid this the next time around?

You want your common mistakes and errors present in your mind when you retake the GMAT so that you can consciously avoid them. If you do this enough, by the time you sit for the actual test, you will be aware of your common errors and “silly” mistakes and you will work to avoid them or notice them when they happen.

5. Tune Into Your Body and Mind

Stress and anxiety have a powerful effect on our ability to concentrate and focus. Just the right amount of stress can make us more focused, more in tune with our task, and less prone to error. But there is a threshold where stress is no longer beneficial and starts to hurt our performance.

If you scored dramatically lower on the actual test than on the GMAT Prep mock exam, then stress may have played a major part in not reaching your target score.

Luckily there are many tangible ways you can work on minimizing stress and anxiety:

  • Get enough sleep. REM sleep is essential for memory encoding, and we only get enough REM when we get a full eight hours at night.
  • Keep physically active. Exercise is one of the best stress relievers you can get.
  • Practice deep breathing, meditation, and mindfulness.
  • Cultivate the mindset that enhances memory and intuition, and decreases stress.

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As you look up at the hill of GMAT studying ahead, a hill that you have already trailblazed once, stay confident and positive. You have experience on your side and know what lies at the top of the hill.

With experience comes confidence, and with confidence comes domination. Learning to manage your stress and anxiety will be easier this time since you have the experience. Make practice tests the main part of your studying. Use quality materials and don’t be afraid to tackle the same book again. Finally, keep a log of your errors, slip-ups, and mistakes.

If the journey is arduous and requires hard work, by the time you reach the apex and take the test, you’ll be able to look down and know that you will never have to climb that hill again. Happy studying!

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  • Cara Skikne

    Cara is a communications specialist, admissions consultant, and one of those lunatics who genuinely loves the GMAT. Cara is the Senior Editor at Studyportals, a global study choice platform used by over 50 million students each year. Prior to working at Studyportals, Cara wrote for BusinessBecause, an MBA news site owned by the GMAC, and co-founded a company dedicated to admissions support for business school candidates from Africa. She has an MBA from Oxford University and a Bachelor of Journalism from Rhodes University. Reach out on LinkedIn if you’d like to get in touch!