We often get asked by clients how many times they should take the GMAT before they move on to other components of the application. Of course this largely depends on your score, but if you find yourself disappointed with your initial test results, you will generally want to try again.
Broadly speaking, schools don’t really care how many times you take the test, and will only consider your highest score. Know that they won’t combine separate components into one score, but will consider your best overall score from one sitting as your “application score.” Having said that, it is also generally agreed upon that schools don’t want to see applicants taking the exam a dozen times. This can communicate negative qualities to the admission’s committee such as poor time management skills, slow learner syndrome, or good old fashioned poor judgment or misalignment of priorities.
So how many times? Three is the number we hear most often as acceptable or reasonable. Schools tend to think that if you haven’t achieved your max or close to it in three tries, you may be left behind in a typical b-school curriculum. Now, don’t panic if you have already taken the test four or five times. This is not the kind of thing that will get you rejected. If a candidate who has taken the GMAT five times is not admitted, I can almost guarantee it was for other reasons. Still, schools like to see folks practicing within conventions, just like they want to see that you can craft a one page resume or stay within the word count on an essay.
While the most common question on this topic is about how many times are too many, there can also be a big question around whether or not taking the exam only once is enough. This question must focus a bit more on one’s score. If you exceeded the average for the school to which you are applying, you’re “done with one.” But if your score came in under the average, or you felt you did worse than your true potential, you should consider re-taking. We don’t like to tell clients that the average GMAT score at a particular school is a mandatory hurdle, and actually point most often to the 80% range of scores at the schools as a better measure, but if you only take the test once and score noticeably below the average, it may be sending the message that you are not up for the challenge, or cannot manage your time well enough to prepare to do better.
In short, you should take the GMAT at least twice if your score is below your target school’s average, but no more than three times unless there are extenuating circumstances. If your score still falls short in your mind, it’s time to move on to other ways you can offset it in your application.
Scott Bryant has over 25 years of professional post undergraduate experience in the entertainment industry as well as on Wall Street with Goldman Sachs. He served on the admissions committee at the Fuqua School of Business where he received his MBA and now works part time in retirement for a top tier business school. He has been consulting with Vertias Prep clients for the past six admissions seasons.