Retaking The GMAT

The SBC GMAT Files

Retaking The GMAT – Why, When and How
Staff, Test Prep New York

With so much at stake tied up in your GMAT score, many prospective graduate business students approach the test with the intent that he or she will be done with it forever once they walk out of the testing center the first time. In many cases however, students find it necessary to take a second or even third stab at the GMAT for one reason or another, and have dramatically improved their scores in the process simply by applying some basic best practices and strategies for success. In fact, in the test prep industry, we tell students off the bat to plan on taking the test twice, as it’s our experience that most people perform their best when they know they have two dates they’re aiming for. If the first time they’re at or above target score, they can decide with their admissions consultant whether they can retake it or not. However, below we discuss the things to consider, and the ways to plan when you decide to take another shot at excelling on the test.

Why Make a Second, even Third Attempt?

The most obvious reasons you would to retake the GMAT would be because you were unhappy with your score on the first run, and/or felt it wasn’t accurately representing your abilities. Even after months of preparation, unpredictable factors such as illness, distraction (in or out of the test center), or stress can lead test takers to perform subpar on test day, making a second or even third attempt necessary. In addition, because students’ standardized test scores tend to increase as one completes a test multiple times, in some cases it pays to take the GMAT multiple times even if you are satisfied with your initial score, simply because your score may increase for no other reason than because you took the exam a second or third time (although that is a strategy you will only implement if you are extremely confident about your test taking skills!)

So if you have the time, can overcome the stress of enduring the GMAT again, and think a repeat attempt is necessary (or at least worth a try), go for it. Although the admissions officers of your target MBA programs will be able to see all of your GMAT scores when they receive your score reports, our experience is that they generally do not take negative views of students who take the GMAT multiple times, though they may see a red flag in someone who takes the exam an unusually high number of times (twice would not look unusual, six or seven times definitely would).  But just ask Stacy: her team will point you in the best direction whether to retake the exam. Regardless of whether you’re taking the GMAT for the first time or have taken it before, GMAC scores your test the same way, so aside from the $250 fee of paying for another test, there is no “penalty” for retaking the GMAT. It generally does not hurt, and likely, unless you’ve planned poorly, it might actually help.

Planning and Logistics

The GMAC allows you to take the GMAT as many times as you want, meaning you can always sign up for another shot at it. The only restriction is that you can only take the GMAT exam once every 31 calendar days and no more than five (5) times in a rolling 12-month period. If you take the GMAT test more often than allowed, your new scores will not be reported and you will forfeit the entire test fee. You may choose a test date later than one month after your last test date, but you may not choose one earlier. It will be important to schedule your target schools’ admissions deadlines with the GMAC’s date restrictions and your prep time, however, as was the case with your earlier attempt(s).
When re-booking your GMAT you will have the option to choose any Pearson Vue test center in your area (including the one you went to originally). By now, you have experienced Pearson’s charming testing procedures: they are highly standardized, meaning that the somewhat unnerving check in, security, and overall test taking procedures will be the same regardless of which center you choose (which, given your familiarity from your first attempt, probably means you will not be surprised when everything short of an Israeli guard with a rifle greeting you, is what you will see when you walk in to the center. Unless you had a negative experience with noise or computer malfunctions, etc., it is generally a good idea to book your retake at the same testing center you went to originally, simply because you already know where the center is, how much subway, bus, drive (and traffic), time to expect, and where the building’s amenities (such as restrooms, water fountains, and vending machines) are. Being comfortable with these formalities and logistics will eliminate the majority of the guesswork out of your test day, further reduce any ”˜preemptive’ stress and allow you to focus on getting the best score possible

Your First Considerations Immediately Following your Test

If your have any inkling that you might take the test more than once, you will want to have a brain dump immediately following your exam to identify what types of questions you had trouble with, so that you can address this in your study program. Whether you replicate the questions, hop onto blogs asking other test takers if they remember some of the questions you had trouble with, or simply grouping your trouble areas in categories, this kind of planning will help you whether you work individually or with a tutor. In fact, if you’ve already taken a class or studied alone, your efforts may be best served if you work one-on-one with a GMAT expert. They’ll streamline your efforts and teach you best methods in answering question types. They’re also experts (or should be) on what material is available and what might advance your score the quickest. While many companies offer private tutoring, be sure to work with someone who has been vetted for, and who doesn’t have to toe the party line when it comes to material. Often, third party material is lacking in the nuances that come with 700+ scores.

Making it Happen

Once you have your GMAT scheduled, you should immediately reevaluate and resume your preparation regimen to make good use of the time. Although it is tempting to devote all your time to the section or areas that were most challenging on your first run (if you’re aware of them), you should still seriously review all of the material that will appear on the test; the last thing you want to do is improve on one section but do worse on another! As always, work with as many practice questions as possible (authentic GMAC questions are ideal) and make your study environment as similar to your testing environment as you can (this part will actually be easier for you since you will have gone through the actual testing process). Budget your study time wisely, be disciplined, and work hard so you can make the most of your retake. In fact, you can create a schedule for yourself as to WHEN you’ll be studying each week, so as not to overbook other commitments such as happy hours and time to watch your favorite reality TV show.

Now, the Low Down on How Not to Have Stressed Out Repeat Performance

One of the most debilitating factors of impacting your performance is any iota of stress. While a smidgen of stress can be mistaken for excitement and may even help you focus (think of it as a ”˜natural’ Ritalin’), who can actually measure a ”˜smidgen’ and even if you could, only a Jedi master or Buddhist monk could likely get into that exact frame of mind on cue.

One easy way to mask the stress is to mentally walk yourself through the trip to the test center, and sitting through the test. Go through it in as many details as possible, but contrary to your feeling nervous, ”˜revise’ your history to feeling great and in control. Use whatever cues you automatically have when you ”˜revisit’ some aspect of your past. For some people, this may mean you see it like a movie. For others, you might just go through an emotional-feeling like experience, and others might have a soundtrack. However it is you recall events, become the conductor and imagine the situation on your terms: the way YOU’D like the experience to go. Do this up until the end where you see the score in front of you! Don’t be shy here: project what score you are aiming for. All the research points to this kind of visualization being potent and useful.

In support of this practice, you may have heard of the experiment done at University of Chicago with basketball players. Players were split into three groups and tested on the number of free throws they could make. After this, the groups were split into practicing different ways: the first group practiced free throws every day for an hour. The second group just visualized themselves making free throws and the third group did nothing. After 30 days, they were retested. The ones who practiced and the ones who visualized had virtually the same improvement: 24% and 23% respectively. The third group had no improvement. Dr. Blaslotto, who conducted the experiment, is known to have said, “As your brain conceives of an act, it generates impulses that prompt neurons to perform the movement being imagined.” These neural pathways in the brain program your body’s emotional and physical reaction/actions as if you actually performed the visualized activity. Thus: you stand to benefit greatly by imagining yourself going through taking the test, the way you’d like it to be.

Though taking the GMAT two or three times means twice the actual test time, it is important to remember that it does not need to mean twice, or triple, the stress. Your familiarity with the GMAT, the testing center, and the testing procedures your second time around will give you an important edge that can allow you to maximize your score, so it is important not to get discouraged or give up after a less-than-you-hoped-for first run test score; if nothing else, the first run gives you a dress rehearsal that can make a difference for your repeat performance. In fact, with the potent information here you can likely plan to go in twice on purpose. There is no such thing as a “bad” test, just opportunities to build on and learn from. With hard work and belief in yourself, taking the GMAT again can be just what you need to get noticed and hopefully snatched up, by your target schools.


© 2012, Test Prep New York

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