Ok people, so we get this question a lot and the party line stance on it (read: adcoms official position) is that it does not matter. Though the adcoms often publicly declare things that don't reflect their behind-closed-doors opinion, in this case they are telling the truth–there is no penalty for taking the GMAT/GRE multiple times.
Taking the test multiple times–if you need to–cannot harm you. In fact, if you can deftly braid your longtime tussle (and eventual triumph) with the GMAT/GRE into the texture of your essays, you can really fire that all important “I don't give up until I reach my goal” bullet right between the adcoms eyes.
Truth is, some of our clients had taken the exam up to four times before they came to us. Still, once they reached their target score on the fifth time, they applied with more confidence and their entire application–essays, recommendation letters, resume–reflected that confidence. Keep in in mind that nobody–least of all picky adcoms–likes to review an application that reads like an apology letter for why you didn't come through. So using your essays to “explain away” a soft GRE score is not a good strategy here, folks. Know what the adcoms want, show them you know what they want, then give it to them.
The message is pretty simple with this topic: retake the GMAT/GRE only if you are significantly out of your target school's average range. If you are slightly below, don't bother. If you didn't get it in, it wasn't your test scores that blew it for you–some other piece of your application didn't pass muster.
There is, however, one particular case in which we would discourage applicants from retaking the exam and that is in an attempt to hit a “threshold number” like a 700 on the GMAT or a 160 on the GRE. For the GMAT, if you've bagged a 670 and are shooting for a 700, don't retake it–it can only backfire. If you score lower, you have to retake it a third time; if you score higher, well, there is not that big a difference between a 670 and a 700 in the eyes of the adcoms to justify the risk of making your initial 670 look like a fluke with a lower score on your second try.
So, in sum:
- Don't sweat a redo of the GMAT/GRE.
- Never retake the exam just to hit “threshold numbers” (700 GMAT, 160 GRE).
- Prep properly for the exam the first time to ensure there won't be a second time.