This post first went up about a year and a half ago, and has been refreshed for reposting in Fall 2019.
We wrote about this way back in 2014 but times have changed. The most important change is one that you probably haven’t given much thought to at all: The GMAT lets you cancel your scores and the schools will never know.
This clandestine-cancel feature is, we believe, behind the sky-high scores that the top schools started reporting in class profiles about three or four years ago (Class of 2019). Almost every school you can name got a record high that year and it was the most competitive admissions seasons on record. We saw BSers with incredible apps get turned away right and left. Thankfully GMAT scores have marginally been leveling off since then — even dipping down slightly at a few schools, though the trend has been mostly sky=-high status quo.
Since many BSers are looking at GMAT scores and wondering if they need to take it again — or, sometimes, getting a little obsessive around scores and planning to take it again even if it probably is not necessary — we figured we’d talk about something that is not often discussed.
And that is, can you take the GMAT too many times?
How many tests is too many?
There are no absolutes in this math, but we do have to caution you that yes, it’s possible to test too many times. If you try the GMAT too often without improving your score substantially, then that can serve as a headwind against your candidacy. It’s not like three tests is fine and four is too many… But if you go to six tests in a short period of time? Yeah that can definitely work against you.
The GMAC people have also instituted a lifetime limit which is also a relatively new evolution in how the GMAT is administered. Now they only let you take the test five times within a rolling 12-month period, and eight times total. These seem like high numbers but obviously the limits were only implemented because people were getting excessive. (The lifetime limits prevent GMAT prep instructors from taking the test constantly so it could be seen as a competitive measure as well.)
The most important factor in determining your test strategy is remembering that even though you cancel a score and it’s not sent to the school, some adcoms want you to disclose the attempt. All schools word questions in their online apps differently so it’s something you’ll need to investigate when you fill out your dataset. However, certain schools do ask for the number of times you’ve tested — not the number of valid tests or the number you did not cancel. We know that some admissions consultants claim that you can just enter the number of valid test results there, but that is not what the adcom is asking when they’ve phrased the question that way.
Call us a silly snark, but we think you should answer truthfully in all aspects of the app.
Our threshold number of how many tests is appropriate in the current era of cancel policies is: 3 or 4 tests with 1 or 2 of them canceled.
If you first took the GMAT when you were still in college and now it’s several years later and you’re getting ready to apply for your MBA, then having 3 recent attempts on your record is fine, up to 5 or so altogether.
Everything is very case-by-case, but we start to get nervous when someone has already tested three times and they’re talking about taking it again.
Want to know our assessment of your specifics? Our Comprehensive Profile Review will go into all the details of your background and your score history and help you to understand advantages and possible payoffs for trying one last time.
If you’ve never taken the GMAT before, then we strongly suggest that you reject the advice we see from many GMAT instructors where you take the GMAT the first time intending it to be practice.
Only EVER take the GMAT for realz. Don’t wing it. Don’t use it as a dry-run. Make every one of your precious few opportunities be The One. You don’t want to take this thing multiple times. Don’t add up your test count for a ridiculous reason.
And if you’re thinking, “Yeah, I really should try one more time,” then go into it with guns a-blazin’. Hunker down with your studies and COMMIT. If you’ve taken it before, only take it again when you KNOW you’re ready and you feel confident (to the extent anyone can with this bugger of a test) that you’ll bump your score higher. If not, don’t go through the motions and pretend. Be wise to your game.
And answer those questions on the app truthfully. The adcom will respect you for it.