All MBA candidates hope the GMAT exam will be a “one-shot deal,” but the fact is, many test-takers end up retaking the GMAT.
If you’ve spent any time on GMAT forums or the MBA subreddit, you’ve probably seen countless posts by test-takers soliciting advice on whether to retake the test. If you’re wondering whether retaking the GMAT is the right move for you, how long to wait to retake the test, or whether to focus on your applications instead of trying to improve your score, keep reading!
In this article, I’ll answer the most common questions about retaking GMAT exams and give you key guidelines for crafting a GMAT retake strategy that you can use regardless of your score goal or your target schools. I’ve outlined 8 common reasons to retake the GMAT (view my full article on Target Test Prep for a deeper dive.)
Before we dive into strategy, let’s review the GMAT retake policy.
GMAT Retake Policy: How Often Can I Take the GMAT?
So, how often can you take the GMAT? Test-takers can sit for the GMAT exam once every 16 days, but no more than 5 times in a continuous 12-month period and no more than 8 times in total.
Note that GMAT Online retakes are permitted only once, and that online retake follows the same scheduling guidelines as the in-person GMAT. So, if for example you sit for the online exam on June 1, you won’t be able to complete a GMAT Online retake until June 17. If you need another GMAT retake after that, you will have to sit for the in-person exam. And of course, all 3 of those exams will count toward your 12-month and lifetime GMAT limits.
Now, if you’ve taken the in-person GMAT but want to switch to the online GMAT for your second attempt (or vice versa), you DO NOT need to wait 16 days between exams. You can switch from the in-person to online GMAT (or vice versa) with no waiting period between exams.
Basically, you can sit for either the in-person or online GMAT in any order you like, and switch back and forth between the two, but the maximum number of times you’re allowed to take the GMAT Online over the course of your lifetime is 2. And, unless you’re switching test formats, you have to wait 16 days between exams.
Check out this article for more details on the GMAT retake policy. For now, let’s look at some common situations in which a GMAT retake is a good idea.
8 Common Reasons to Retake the GMAT
If you’ve been asking yourself, “Should I retake the GMAT?”, generally speaking, the answer tends to be YES. Now, there are of course some caveats, which I’ll discuss later, but more often than not, retaking the GMAT to earn a higher score is a wise strategy. In other words, if you think that you need a GMAT retake, you probably do.
Here are some common scenarios in which it’s wise to retake the GMAT as soon as you can:
1. Anxiety Got the Best of You on Test Day
Sometimes being well-prepared for the GMAT isn’t enough to quell your nerves on test day, and they get the best of you. Your heart feels like it’s racing, you’re sweating, your mouth is dry, and worst of all, you can’t think straight. Test anxiety is extremely common, and it can wreak havoc on your GMAT score.
If you think that nerves, or stress, or the pressure of the exam held you back from earning your highest score possible, the best thing you can do is get right back on the horse. Of course, you don’t want to run into the same issues on your second attempt at the exam. So, before you sit for your retake, it’s important that you practice some techniques for calming your nerves and refocusing yourself on test day and during your exam.
There are plenty of simple yet very effective strategies, from breathing deeply to reciting a mantra, that can help you combat nerves on test day. And if you’re prone to test anxiety in general, you may want to incorporate some stress-reduction strategies such as visualization into your daily life in the 16 days leading up to your retake.
If test anxiety took a toll on your GMAT performance, check out this article with 16 expert strategies for eliminating test anxiety. Then walk into your GMAT retake ready to kick some butt!
2. The Test Center Threw Off Your Game
While you should always do your best to approximate test-day conditions when taking practice GMATs, there is only so much control you have over how the test center environment is going to affect your GMAT performance. Maybe the temperature in the exam room was at arctic levels, or the person at the desk next to yours kept clearing his throat or tapping his fingers on his desk. Maybe a fire alarm went off in the middle of your exam, or there was a glitch with your computer that required the assistance of the proctor, or your markers kept running out of ink.
Any number of distractions and calamities at the test center could throw off your GMAT game, but that is no reason to give up! The best thing you can do is tell yourself that lightning will not strike twice, and schedule your GMAT retake for as soon as possible.
You may also want to seriously consider taking the online GMAT in the comfort of your home (provided you have the necessary space and equipment). Particularly if you feel as though the test center environment is somewhat distracting to you in general, the GMAT Online can be a great option.
3. You Had a Bad Day
Bad days can happen to even the most well-prepared GMAT student. Maybe the morning of your exam, you feel like you’re coming down with a cold, or maybe you got a terrible night’s sleep the night before your GMAT. Maybe you had car trouble on test day, or the commute to the test center took longer than expected and you felt rushed once you arrived. Maybe, for whatever reason, you just felt “off,” and your test performance suffered as a result.
Even professional athletes strike out from time to time. But they don’t stop playing because of one bad day. The best thing you can do if test day becomes a bad day is try not to beat yourself up about it. Tell yourself, “Now that I got my bad day out of the way, I’m going to have a great day the next time I sit for the GMAT.” Chances are, you will!
Now that we’ve looked at some scenarios in which it’s generally a smart strategy to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and retake the test as soon as you can, let’s discuss some situations in which you may want to give yourself more than 16 days to prepare for your GMAT retake.
4. You Mismanaged Your Time During the Exam
Poor time-management on test day could be the result of rushing through questions because of nerves, worrying about previous or upcoming questions instead of focusing on the question in front of you, or implementing misguided strategies such as overinvesting time in the first 10 questions of the Verbal and Quant sections. Any of those issues could yield a GMAT score that doesn’t reflect your true knowledge and abilities.
However, running out of time in a section or leaving questions unanswered could be a sign of a larger issue that may require more than 16 days to address. Often, pacing issues on the GMAT are a sign that there are gaps in a test-taker’s GMAT knowledge, in which case further GMAT prep is necessary.
There is also the possibility that you simply did not devote enough time to honing your pacing strategies during your GMAT prep. Remember, pacing yourself under strict time constraints throughout a lengthy exam featuring multiple different question types is a skill in its own right — one most test-takers need significant time and practice to build.
So, if your GMAT score suffered as a result of poor time-management, the important thing to do is to evaluate why you were unable to properly pace yourself, and schedule your retake accordingly. Your ESR can help you see which sections tripped up your timing most and identify larger patterns that may have been particularly detrimental to your score, such as losing steam toward the end of each section.
If your poor-time management was a result of easily remedied bad habits or a misguided strategy, then you may be able to simply recognize those issues so you can avoid them in the future, and sit for your retake soon after your initial exam.
However, if your pacing problems were related to a lack of content knowledge in certain areas, you may need more than 16 days, or even 30 days, to prepare for your retake. Retaking the test right away with the hope that you’ll simply get “better questions” is not a realistic strategy.
Be very honest with yourself when analyzing the reasons for your pacing issues on test day, so that you don’t end up wasting time and money on retake that is going to produce the same result. Remember, you don’t have to retake the GMAT in exactly 16 days just because you can!
5. You Had Higher Scores on Practice Tests
There are numerous reasons why test-takers may earn lower scores on the actual GMAT than they earned on their practice tests. (You can read about those reasons in detail in this article about 10 common errors that cause a score drop and how to avoid repeating them.) Some of those reasons don’t require much time to address. For instance, maybe you burned yourself out cramming or taking multiple practice tests in the week leading up to your GMAT, in which case you could simply take a more measured approach to test week the next time around.
However, maybe you didn’t take enough practice tests during your GMAT prep to get an accurate picture of your GMAT readiness. For example, if you took only 3 of the 6 full-length, official practice tests available at mba.com, then perhaps your higher scores on those 3 tests weren’t indicative of your true GMAT skill. Perhaps if you had taken 3 more practice tests, you would’ve found that your score was more variable or trending lower.
In that case, ideally you would want to take the 3 remaining practice tests, leaving yourself enough time between each test to thoroughly evaluate the questions you answered incorrectly and return to your GMAT prep materials to shore up your knowledge in those areas. And 16 days may not be enough for you to complete that work.
Of course, that is just one scenario; as I said, a score drop on test day can happen for any number of reasons. So, just be sure to analyze the reasons for your score drop objectively, so you can determine a realistic amount of time to improve your score.
Whatever the reason, if you were consistently scoring higher on GMAT practice tests than you scored on your actual exam, a GMAT retake is probably your best bet, provided you have the time to correct your mistakes.
6. You Didn’t Use Thorough GMAT Prep Materials
If you don’t use comprehensive materials for your GMAT prep, you are very unlikely to be fully prepared for the GMAT, and your score will undoubtedly reflect gaps in your knowledge and a general lack of ease and efficiency in dealing with GMAT questions.
The fact is, there is a TON of content to master in order to perform well on the GMAT, content covering a broad range of topics and concepts. So, you need to use GMAT prep materials that teach all of that content in an in-depth way and provide ample practice, so you can apply all your knowledge and hone your skills at tackling all the different GMAT question types.
If you devoted a lot of time and effort to your GMAT prep and still felt unprepared to solve many of the questions you saw on test day, there is a good chance that the prep materials you used aren’t sufficient for your needs, and you need to explore other resources.
Spend some time reading verified course reviews by GMAT students on reputable websites such as GMAT Club and Beat the GMAT. Sign up for trials to test out different courses for yourself (most trials are free or very low-cost). Most GMAT students don’t have an infinite amount of time to prepare for the test, so there is no reason to keep sinking more and more time into prep materials that aren’t working for you.
Often, students initially choose GMAT prep materials without giving it much thought — they simply went with a name they recognized or bought the first GMAT books they came across. But not all GMAT prep materials are created equal. Moreover, you can’t expect the same GMAT prep materials you’ve been using for the past 6 months to suddenly produce a different result if you just put in another month.
For example, I know a GMAT student who started with a baseline GMAT score of 560 and had a score goal of 720. After spending months working through a self-study course, he was shocked when he scored just 590 on the actual GMAT, only 30 points higher than his baseline. Luckily, he had given himself ample time to study before his deadlines, so he decided to retake the test. However, he didn’t want to continuing studying with the prep course he’d used for his first exam. After researching different courses, he decided to switch to the TTP course. He completed his TTP study plan and ended up scoring 730 on his GMAT retake, 10 points higher than his goal and 140 points higher than his first exam score. And there are many other GMAT students just like him.
So, if you really gave your GMAT prep your all, but you found yourself still at a loss on many questions on test day, consider investing in GMAT prep materials that are more comprehensive than the ones you used before, putting in more study time, and then retaking the GMAT.
7. You Received a Conditional Acceptance
Occasionally, business schools will request a higher GMAT score from an applicant or offer an applicant a “conditional” acceptance pending a higher GMAT score. Assuming you haven’t already been accepted to another school you’d rather attend, if a school would like a higher score from you, why not do everything in your power to provide it?
Of course, you will need to account for any deadlines the school puts in place for providing your updated score, but if you can wait more than 16 days to retake the test, you may want to, so that you can give yourself sufficient time to brush up your skills and improve your score.
8. You’re Targeting Scholarships
If you’re hoping to secure MBA scholarship funding, boosting your GMAT score can make you a more attractive candidate for merit-based scholarships. Particularly if you’re not too far from the GMAT score you need and you feel pretty confident that, with a little more studying, you could improve your score in the time you have before your deadlines, there really is no reason not to give the GMAT another shot.
As you can see, there are plenty of reasons to retake GMAT exams, but the one thing all students retaking the test have in common is this: they want or need higher scores.
Of course, the primary reason test-takers consider GMAT retakes is that they need higher scores to be competitive at their target schools. However, sometimes determining whether you really need to shoot for a higher score can be tricky.
With that in mind, let’s run through some possible scenarios and take a look at a real-life case study for determining whether to retake the GMAT if your situation isn’t quite as cut and dried as the ones we’ve already discussed.
GMAT Retake Strategy: Is a GMAT Retake Worth It?
Often, students fall into a “gray area” when determining whether to retake the GMAT and how long to wait to take it again. And since every person’s situation is different, decisions about GMAT retakes need to be made on a case-by-case basis. Nevertheless, it is helpful to look at some example scenarios in order to determine whether retaking the GMAT is the way to go. So, let’s analyze a few common, possible scenarios.
Read my full Target Test Prep article for more on this topic, including three typical scenarios you may be facing, when to stick with your score, and when does retaking “look bad.”
Want more advice?
To learn more about why the GMAT matters to top MBA programs and how to prepare, read our related articles:
- How to Increase Your GMAT Score: Tips from Test Prep Experts
- 7 Essential Tips for GMAT Prep
- GMAT Prep Strategies: How to Study While Working
- GMAT Prep: How to Score High On Verbal
- What MBA Candidates Need to Know About the Online GMAT
- How You Can Learn to Love the GMAT (and Why it Matters to B-schools
- Top MBA Programs Offering GMAT Test Waivers (Should You Ask for One?)
For a candid assessment of your chances of admission success at a top MBA program, sign up for a free consultation with Fortuna Admissions.
Scott Woodbury-Stewart is the founder & CEO of Target Test Prep. A passionate teacher who is deeply invested in the success of his students, Scott began his career teaching physics, chemistry, math, and biology. Since then, he has spent more than a decade helping students gain entry into the world’s top business schools, logging 10,000+ hours of GMAT instruction.