This post has been marked as OLD. EssaySnark's advice and strategies for winning MBA applications don't change from year to year, but some of the school-specific admissions policies, essay questions, or other information covered in this article may be outdated.
This is a less critical question for a small subset of the test-taker population this days. The GMAC (GMAT test people) announced a policy last year that actually prevents some wayward testers from shooting themselves in the foot with their own overenthusiasm for testing.
(Is that the first time in recorded history that the word “enthusiasm” or its derivatives has ever been used in the same sentence with the word “GMAT”?)
The policies for the GMAT have evolved over time. You used to have to wait a month between GMAT tests. Now you can retake the test after only two weeks (well, 16 days, to be more precise).
Even more important, as of this writing, there are now caps on how many times you can take the test :
Q: How often can I take the GMAT exam?
A: You can take the GMAT exam once every 16 calendar days and no more than five times in a 12-month period and no more than eight times total (lifetime limit effective December 17, 2016).
Taking the GMAT too many times can cause problems with your MBA application for the following reasons:
- You’re only retaking the test because you didn’t get the score you wanted. Too many repeated attempts without improving the score is like buying a total junker of a car, and then when it breaks down, pouring money into it again and again for repairs. If it’s not getting better, then it could be a systemic issue. You need to change tactics.
- Taking the test too many times without improving — especially if they’re all clustered together right before a round deadline — can make you look desperate and can create an impression that you’re unprepared
Taking the test repeatedly and getting the same (or worse) score over and over can reinforce some difficult perceptions for the adcom. It can convey the idea that you’re:
- Not really studying, even though that’s what any sane person would be doing in between test attempts
- Not changing your approach since the original methods you had tried to prepare aren’t working
- Not actually taking this process seriously
It’s fine if you have one low score on your score report, with a second score showing significant improvement. Lots of people do that; they take the test once either thinking “I got this” and not doing much in the way of prep, and then sort of bombing it. Or, they intentionally use an initial test as some kind of baseline, to get a feel for things and then plan their test strategy around that.
We are not fans of that approach, since it’s wasting one of your few test attempts.
But how many tests is too many for the purpose of your apps?
This post assumes that you’re taking the test multiple times and not canceling the score.
What we believe was probably happening once the GMAC people introduced the option of canceling a score, and then later changed it so you could cancel the score and the fact that you took the test at all was expunged from the record that the schools see, meant that some people were taking the test over and over, and just canceling their low scores each time.
That’s most likely where the introduction of a yearly cap came from.
If you take the test five times in a year, whoa that’s a lot. However you could now be taking it that many times, and only have one on your record that goes to the school. You could hide the evidence of you being reckless with your approach to the test. The adcoms would never see it (though as we’ve warned about before, some adcoms do ask how many times you’ve tested, without regard to cancel or not).
We’ve seen some edge cases where an applicant took the GMAT 10 times. It’s rare, but it does happen — or it used to. With an 8 test lifetime cap, the GMAT people will be saving test-takers from themselves. They will prevent you from pounding your head against that particular wall so many times that you reinforce the odds of never making it in to a top MBA program.
In the cases we’ve seen with double digit GMAT tests, those people were also reapplying to the same schools over and over, and that’s a whole separate topic. And problem. If you reapply one year, you’re actually at an advantage in most cases. Many schools are welcoming to reapplicants. If you’re reapplying another year beyond that, for three apps in a row, then it starts to cause problems, and you’re increasing the chances of rejection. Over and over again.
So how many times is too many times with the GMAT?
We like the number 3 on a score report, as a max number of uncanceled scores sent to the schools.
We like the number 4 as a total number of attempts. As in, total, ever, canceled or not, regardless of how many years passed in between. That’s just us though. If you’ve made 5 or 6 attempts over a longer span of time, then that may not raise questions in your adcom’s mind. Depending on the pattern of testing, and the ultimate performance revealed, that can be perfectly fine.
We like the number 2 as the total number of attempts to any one school. Sometimes people get rejected two years in a row, and then they take more time between tries, so they wait a year (or sometimes two is required) before falling out of the “reapplicant” status for that particular program, and then try again. This maybe can work, if you go live life for awhile and then come back and decide that the MBA still makes sense for you later on. Trying for bschool 3 times in succession is highly unlikely to result in a win. The only exception to this is if you actually were admitted in one of those prior times, and then had a good reason to let go of the admit and you didn’t end up attending.
The GMAT people have made it easy on applicants, with these annual and lifetime caps on the number of times you can test. They’re preventing certain people from making really bad mistakes in their MBA app strategy. Even with these caps though, we would start getting nervous if your test pattern meant you were beginning to bump up against the top numbers. Canceled or not, you need to be thoughtful with how you approach the test.