What is the “80/80”? All schools look at your overall three-digit GMAT score (the one given on the 200–800 scale). In addition, a few of the very top business schools, such as Harvard, Stanford, and Wharton, look for the 80/80: an 80th percentile score or higher on the individual Quant and Verbal subsections. Essentially, if someone hits a 700 but does so by scoring 99th percentile in one subsection and only 60-something in the other, the schools might be concerned about the lower-scoring area. From their point of view, an “80/80” minimum ensures that you have got a solid base in both areas.
What if I score in the 75th percentile?
The 80/80 guidelines are just that—guidelines. The schools do not use these parameters as a hard cutoff. In other words, a score in the 70s is generally fine, as long as the overall score is also within a school’s desired target range. If, on the other hand, the overall score is a bit low, the GPA is a bit low, and one or both of the GMAT subscores are low… Well, you still might get in, but doing so just became a lot harder.
What if I score in the 60s?
Unless there is something else that is stellar in your profile and can therefore offset this lower score, the 80/80 schools will likely be concerned about a Quant or Verbal percentile in the 60s—particularly so for Quant. For Verbal, they have a whole host of other tools with which to assess your communication skills, starting with your essays. A 60s (or lower) Quant score, though, could indicate that you will have trouble handling the quantitative portions of the MBA curriculum. You might be able to offset this concern if you can demonstrate that your current job involves significant quantitative components; make sure that your recommendations highlight your quant skills. Alternatively, perhaps you excelled in quant-focused classes in school (calculus, accounting, physics, statistics), and your transcripts show A grades.
If not, then something needs to be done. Two paths are possible here, and you can follow just one or both. First, the no-brainer: take the GMAT again and get a score in the 70s (or higher!). I call that a “no-brainer” in the sense that there is no question that you should try to do this. You might not succeed, though. An alternative, then, is to take a calculus or accounting class at a local university. If you do this, you must get an A; getting a B at this stage will not inspire confidence in the admissions staff. In addition, taking such a class will involve a decent amount of lead time; these classes often run over a period of two to four months, so this is not a last-minute solution.
The big picture? Ideally, get the GMAT done well in advance of admissions season so that you have ample time to address unexpected or unwelcome surprises during the process.