This guest post was written by Mike McGarry, resident GMAT expert at Magoosh.
The frustrating, short answer to this question is: it depends. If your three or four scores all hover around more or less the same point value, then the collection raises the obvious question: why did you bother? Why didn’t you stop after the first? Of course, taking the test repeatedly most obviously would be interpreted as an attempt to improve your performance significantly, and if you fail to do so, you may subtly convey the message that you are someone who has trouble achieving objectives and meeting goals. It makes you look like someone who hits a low ceiling and stays there: not a message you want to convey! One GMAT in the low 600’s looks considerably better than three or four scores in the low 600’s.
Similarly, if you get, say, a 610, then a 720, then a 660, that’s also potentially problematic. The improvement is great, but then you didn’t sustain performance at that level. This score distribution at least invites the interpretation that the 720 was a fluke, not in line with what is more representative of your abilities. Yes, you might be able to spin a story about why the second test was, in fact, most representative of the three, but understand that putting yourself in that situation is less than desirable. Don’t automatically assume that adcom will uncritically accept your best score and simply ignore the others, in the way colleges might with SAT scores. You are no longer a teenager, and much more is at stake in the grown-up world, so you may be held accountable for each and every time you sat for the GMAT.
Having said that, if you have one or two mediocre GMAT’s, then one that is considerably stronger, this is clearly evidence that you are able to wrestle with and eventually overcome a challenge. This is clearly the best retake scenario; really, the only good one.
The moral is: if you plan to retake the GMAT, this is in no way a decision you should undertake lightly. The very hard question you should ask yourself is: do you KNOW that you can perform considerably better on the retake than you did on the first time? While the payoff for big improvement is huge, understand that the potential downside for staying about the same or decreasing is much bigger than some people naïvely assume.
Suppose you have a GMAT or two with less-than-impressive scores. You want to retake to improve your score. What do you have to do, not just to have a reasonably good chance, but to guarantee that you will kick in the doors on the retake? Obviously, you should be using the absolute best GMAT resources.
Furthermore, a retake is best not taken in haste. Students often ask how long they should prepare for the GMAT. For a major change, say a 100-point leap, then three-months might be cutting things close: I would rather see a student study for six-straight months if she is aiming for as much as a 100-point increase. What’s true about a first time GMAT is even truer of a retake. The brain does not learn best on a binge-studying system: the brain learns best when there is repeated exposure over time, so it has time to integrate patterns at all levels. Many students rack up several mediocre GMATs, to their own detriment, because they are trying to schedule retakes to fix some agenda of theirs, and because they have blatant disregard for how the brain integrates information and codes into deep memory. Whether taking your first GMAT or a retake, I highly recommend allowing enough time to follow a proven GMAT study schedule.
It’s best to rock the GMAT in one try. If you do poorly and give yourself a second chance, it’s best to rock it on the next try. Keep in mind that the modern internet-driven business world is also not a world that generously hands out as many chances as you need in order to prove yourself.
For more advice on taking the GMAT, check out Magoosh’s GMAT blog.