Taking the GMAT – How many times is too many?

You took the GMAT once. Maybe twice. If you already have a score in the 700s – stop! You don’t need to take the test again. On the other hand…maybe your score isn’t what you hoped it would be. Perhaps you have your heart set on attending Harvard or Stanford, whose class profiles include GMAT averages in the 700s. You are holding onto a 660 and you’ve already taken the exam twice. What should you do? Should you take the GMAT a third or even fourth time?

It depends. Here are 3 questions to ask yourself as you consider retaking the GMAT.

1. Does your current score fall within the desired range of your chosen university?

Did you already attain a score that is above average for your top choice schools? If so, then it’s likely you can focus your efforts on something else – such as spending more time on your essays. Unsure about your score? Do your homework. Check the schools’ websites. For example, at the Boston College Carroll School of Management, the average GMAT score for the current class is 667. At Chicago Booth, a top-five business school, the average GMAT score is a lofty 726. Many schools will also report the mid-80% range of scores, which is useful in determining where you fall.

If your score doesn’t put you in a solid position for acceptance at your top choice school, you should consider retaking the GMAT.

2. Are my Verbal and Quant scores balanced?

Perhaps you achieved a fairly high overall score but your quantitative percentile ranking is much lower than your verbal percentile. Watch out. This could be a red flag to business schools. They may question whether you’ll be able to be a successful problem solver in your business courses. If your scores are skewed in either direction, it’s worth studying to retake the GMAT so you achieve a better balance.

3. Are you willing to put in the time (and money)?

If you aren’t willing to spend time studying for the exam, don’t take the GMAT again. Just showing up at the test center and hoping your brain will function better because you ate a more nutritious breakfast than the last time probably isn’t going to help you score many more points. Worst case – your scores could even go down! This is not uncommon. If you intend to take the test again, make a study plan and stick to it! Seriously. Remember, even if your application only includes your top score, GMAC (the Graduate Management Admissions Council) sends admissions offices the scores of all the GMAT exams you’ve taken in the last five years unless you opted to cancel those scores. You aren’t going to earn any accolades for having taken the exam five times with essentially the same results.

If you are willing to put in the time to seriously improve your score, then taking the GMAT again is a wise choice. Often, people take the GMAT exam the first time to get a “feel” for the testing conditions and to establish a benchmark score. Schools expect that students will take the test a few times. Just be sure you make good use of the time between the tests. Simply looking over a few Data Sufficiency questions and a few Integrated Reasoning questions isn’t going to help you much. Target your weaknesses. Go over practice problems and take practice exams. Use study guides, apps, online resources, whatever works best for you.

Remember, the GMAT exam is just one part of your application. It’s not unusual for students to take the exam two or three times, but four or five times? Let’s do the math. It’s $250 per test –steep price tag, right? The test takes 3.5 hours. If you take the exam five times, it will cost you a total of $1,250 and you will spend 17.5 hours in the testing center, not to mention commuting times, check-in times, etc. Could your time and money have been better spent working on your essays? Perhaps.

A Few Final Words

Know the limits. GMAC allows you to take the test once every 16 calendar days in a 12-month period. They also recently imposed a lifetime limit of 8 times. Here’s hoping you aren’t considering taking the exam an 8th time!