Retaking the GMAT and the Law of Diminishing Returns

If you didn't get a GMAT score as high as you had wished, then you may think that retaking the test until you get your target score is a given. After all, a higher score will help you get into a more competitive program. While this thinking is rational and true on one level, this advice has a corollary: the law of diminishing returns.

There's a thin line between the positive and the negative.

When applied to the GMAT, the law of diminishing returns, a classic economic theory, implies that if you continue to put forth effort in the GMAT, you will eventually reach a point where your effort has negligible consequences (i.e. diminished returns). However, for the GMAT it could get worse. While retaking the GMAT over and over again may increase your GMAT score (which is positive), the actual retaking of the test could impact your application negatively.

So the question remains: How many times should you take the GMAT? At what point does your serial test-taking habit reflect negatively on you?

Admissions committees like to see effort go into raising a GMAT score that is way too low. When they see that an applicant has taken the GMAT twice, or even three times, they simply use the highest score and ignore the lower ones. But when they see that an applicant has taken the test five or six times, they don't generally see the student's persistence as a good thing. Instead they may conclude that the applicant has placed too much emphasis on just one element in the application. They may view many GMAT sittings as a sign of misplaced emphasis and poor judgment.

How important is the GMAT?

The GMAT is an important application component, but it is considered with the rest of a student's academic performance, essays, recommendations, and other profile elements. Too much focus on the GMAT could indicate that the applicant does not place enough importance on leadership, impact, or business skills--the elements that comprise a large part of an applicant's "fit" with a b-school.

Your goal should be to show that you are a well-rounded applicant. If after taking the GMAT two or three times, you still don't achieve your target score, you'll need to reevaluate your list of schools, and perhaps choose schools for which your scores will be more competitive.

Need a little bit more help pulling up your GMAT score? Find a GMAT tutor or test prep course.