How many test or exam retakes should you allow? Part 2

John Kleeman HeadshotPosted by John Kleeman

In my last post, I offered some ideas about what to consider when determining your retake policy regarding a certification assessment measuring competence and mastery. Some of the issues to balance are test security, fairness, a delay between retakes and the impact of retakes on test preparation. In this conclusion to the post, I’ll share what a few other organizations do and how you might approach deciding the number of retakes to allow.

Here is how a few respected certification programmes manage retakes

SAP have the following rules in their certification programme:

No candidate may participate in the same examination for the same release more than three times. A candidate who has failed at an examination three times for a release may not attempt that examination again until the next release. 

Microsoft allow up to 5 attempts in a 12-month period and then impose a 12-month waiting period. They also have gaps of several days between retakes, with the number of days increasing for subsequent retakes.

The US financial regulator FINRA requires a waiting time of 30 days between exams, but if you fail an exam three or more times in succession, you must wait 6 months before taking it again.

What’s the right answer for you?

The right answer depends on your circumstances. Many programmes allow retakes but have rules in place to limit the delivery rate of the assessment in order to limit content exposure.

1. You should communicate your retake policy to participants and to stakeholders who see the results of the assessments.

2. If you release scores, you also need to decide whether you will have a policy  as to whether scores for all attempts are released, or (as many organizations do) only for the successful attempt. Section 11.2 of the the Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing states

“Test users or the sponsoring agency should explain to test takers their opportunities, if any, to retake an examination; users should also indicate whether the earlier as well as later scores will be reported to those entitled to receive score reports.”

3. You should not allow people to retake a test they have passed.

4. You should consider requiring a period of time to elapse before someone retakes an exam if they fail. This allows time for them to update their learning. You can easily set this up when scheduling within Questionmark software, for example the dialog below gives a 7-day gap.

Limit days between retakes

5. Unless special circumstances apply, you will usually want to allow at least one retake and probably at least two retakes.

6. You may want to consider some intervention or stop procedure after a certain number of failed attempts. A common number I’ve heard anecdotally is three attempts, but it will depend on each assessment program’s own individual factors and use cases.  If this is an internal compliance exam, you might want to organize some remedial training or job review. If this is a public exam, you might want to ensure a longer time period to allow reflection and re-learning.

Please feel free to comment below if you have alternative thoughts on the number of retakes to allow.

2 Responses to “How many test or exam retakes should you allow? Part 2”

  1. Doug says:

    Hi John,

    Great info, very useful! Are your recommendations on retakes based on the participant retaking the exact same exam? What if different but statistically equivalent exams are used, so the participant is seeing different questions in the retake – would that impact a retake policy? Does anyone you know of use this approach (different but statistically equivalent) for high-stakes assessments?


  2. Julie Delazyn John Kleeman says:


    There isn’t a single right answer on this, and each organization will have to consider its own policy based on the above, the issues in my earlier post and other factors they consider important. But I think allowing a retake of exactly the same exam is less common than for organizations do use different statistically equivalent “forms” for an exam or to use randomization to make each test/exam different for retakes.


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