As an admissions consultant, this is one of the most common questions that I am asked. The answer really depends on your individual profile, but here are some factors to consider when deciding whether or not to retake the GMAT.

  • Is your GMAT below the average for your target schools?

Let’s say you want to go to Stanford. The average GMAT for the class of 2015 was a 732. At Tuck it’s a 718. In order to yield a matriculating class with this average, the schools need to admit a cohort with an even higher average. (Some of the people they admit don’t enroll, and the people who say no are often at the higher end of the pool.) If your numbers are significantly below the average for your target schools you should think seriously about retaking the exam.

  • Is your GPA below the average for your target schools?

If so, you are at a definite disadvantage if your GMAT is also at or below the average. It is absolutely true that a strong GMAT can compensate for a lower GPA in this regard; schools can more easily justify absorbing a lower GPA if they are also getting a high GMAT to fold into their numbers.

  • Have you taken the GMAT more than once?

If not, unless your first score was astronomically high, you should probably take it again. Schools may even wait list you and ask you to retake the exam if your first score was good but not great. They want to see the effort, and this is a competitive process, with schools having numeric targets that they want to meet in order to do well in the rankings. Even if they love you, they may not admit you if your score brings down the average and you haven’t demonstrated sufficient effort to improve.

  • Beware the “outlier” score.

Have you taken the GMAT 3 or more times, and posted basically the same score each time? If so, even if you subsequently have a great test day the schools may be sort of skeptical, and might think that the lower scores are more indicative of your true academic potential. So, it might not be worth the fourth attempt. Furthermore, if you have several low scores and one higher one it is especially risky to take it again, for the same reason. If your score goes down the school will almost definitely think that your high score was a fluke.

  • Is your top score consistent with your best practice tests?

If not, you may not have reached your potential. This is a good reason to take it again – you want your score to reflect your abilities and doing well on practice tests but not on test day may indicate that your test scores are not yet indicative of your potential. Also, be honest with yourself about preparation. Have you been able to dedicate sufficient time to studying? Have you considered a prep course or private tutor, if self-study hasn’t yielded the results you want?

  • Remember that you are more than your GMAT score.

Standardized tests are just part of the admissions process. The best way to minimize their impact (or the leverage them) is to make sure that your entire candidacy is as strong and multifaceted as it can be. I have helped multiple students with GMAT’s in the mid 500’s gain admission to top MBA programs, so if all else fails and your test scores are not where you want them to be, focus on submitting applications that holistically convey your strengths.