Wondering how GMAT exam scoring works? Or how your Verbal and Quantitative subscores equate to an overall GMAT score?
The current GMAT exam, taken primarily by applicants to MBA programs, consists of four sections: Quantitative Reasoning, Verbal Reasoning, the Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA), and Integrated Reasoning (IR). Subscore and section details are as follows, per GMAC:
How GMAT Scoring Works
The GMAT is a computer-adaptive exam, which means that your score is calculated via an algorithm that adjusts the level of difficulty of the questions you receive based on your performance as you proceed through the exam. In other words, you essentially receive increasingly difficult test questions as you perform better and less difficult ones when you answer questions incorrectly. In this way, the exam aims to identify your precise ability level.
Your final GMAT scores take into account not just how many questions you got correct and incorrect but also the difficulty level of each question you answered.
The score range for the individual questions in the Quantitative Reasoning and Verbal Reasoning sections is 6–51. A candidate’s total scores on these two sections (generally referred to as one’s Quant and Verbal scores) are combined to create the overall 200–800 score that is cited most often by test takers and business schools.
The AWA is scored separately on a 0–6 scale, and IR is also scored separately on a 1–8 scale. The AWA and IR sections do not affect or factor into that 200–800 score that most people focus on.
If we had to choose which of these GMAT score components is most significant in the MBA admissions process, it would be that overall 200–800 score. That is the score that is used to calculate an MBA program’s class average each season and the one the admissions committees generally analyze to predict an applicant’s success in their program. Although doing your best to maximize your score across all sections and areas is important, the GMAT Score Chart we linked to earlier in this post demonstrates that there are multiple ways to reach the same overall score, and some test takers might be stronger in Quant or in Verbal and achieve the same overall score.
That flexibility does come with some caveats, though. The MBA is a quantitative degree in nature, so a very low GMAT Quant subscore could become a red flag or concern for a candidate in a competitive application environment.
Determining a “Good” GMAT Score
Two key considerations factor into what makes a “good” GMAT score:
- Your percentiles
- The average scores at your target schools
To see how your GMAT overall score and subscores compare to those of other test takers, you can reference the latest percentiles, compiled by GMAC, the organization that writes and administers the exam.
Percentiles showcase how your score compares with those of everyone who has taken the exam globally. Scoring at the 50th percentile means you have scored higher than 50% of test takers. Currently, a 90th percentile score on the overall exam would equate to a 710 overall score, for reference. Average scores at the top U.S. full-time MBA programs (such as Harvard Business School, the Stanford Graduate School of Business, Wharton, and Columbia Business School) are approximately 730, which is the 96th percentile (meaning only the top 4% of test takers are scoring at this level).
Average GMAT Scores at Specific MBA Programs
In addition to checking percentiles, you should also research what the average test score is at your target programs. Your admissions chances will be higher if you score at or above the averages at your intended schools.
You can research average test scores in several places, including the Class Profile page of each program’s website.
What the GMAT Test Involves
Question types within the Verbal Reasoning section are Critical Reasoning, Reading Comprehension, and Sentence Correction.
Question types within the Quantitative Reasoning section are Problem Solving and Data Sufficiency. Quant section questions involve such topics as number properties, arithmetic, algebra, and geometry.
Question types within the IR section are Multi-Source Reasoning, Table Analysis, Graphics Interpretation, and Two-Part Analysis.
For the AWA, test takers evaluate an argument and write an essay discussing how “well reasoned” they find that argument.
Overall, the GMAT also tests your ability to analyze and use data, work with incomplete information, communicate, make decisions, and manage your time under pressure.
How Admissions Committees Use Applicants’ GMAT scores
Business school admissions committees look at an applicant’s GMAT scores, in combination with their undergraduate performance (their overall GPA and specifics on their transcripts), to predict how well the candidate should be able to handle the academic rigor of the MBA program.
MBA admissions decisions are holistic and take many factors into account, including an applicant’s test score(s), academic history, work experience, leadership potential, recommender insight, extracurricular involvement, career goals, and fit with the program. GMAT scores on their own do not often get applicants accepted, but scoring well below a program’s average can very well hold an applicant back and become a roadblock to acceptance. In addition, in a competitive environment, many other well-qualified candidates are also submitting strong test scores, so to maximize your chances, you want to attain the highest score possible for you.
When to Take the GMAT and How Long to Prepare
GMAT scores are valid for five years, so even if you are not planning to apply to business school for several more years, taking the exam sooner rather than later can be beneficial. You should determine a time frame in which to prepare for and take the exam that works best with your professional and personal schedule.
Most candidates study for the GMAT over a two- to three-month period, and taking a preparation course and/or working with a tutor can be effective in strengthening your quantitative and verbal foundations and ultimately maximizing your score.
A thorough prep course will offer the following:
- Foundational content you need to review to do well on test day (e.g., number properties, algebra)
- Specific strategies for each question type and for times you get stuck
- Realistic practice through full-length computer-adaptive exams to ensure you are ready for the actual test experience
Test Prep Tips to Maximize your GMAT Score
- Commit two to three months to studying (on average, those who score above 700 prepare for more than 80 hours)
- Set a study plan and stick to it (e.g., two to three hours per day, four to five days per week, for two to three months)
- Take six to ten full practice exams before test day
- Do not study the day before the test (take a mental break)
When You Should Retake the GMAT
Retaking the GMAT is not something to be avoided because business schools will use your highest score when evaluating you for admission. We therefore recommend that you consider retaking the exam if you feel that you can improve your score and/or if you scored below your desired target for your intended business schools.
Taking the exam more than once is relatively common. Be aware that you must wait 16 days between exams, and build that into your timeline as you plan ahead.
If you have taken the GMAT exam and hope to improve your score, we recommend purchasing the Enhanced Score Report offered by GMAC, which will reveal the question types and subject areas in which you most need to improve.
Deciding Between the GMAT and GRE, Plus Exam Alternatives
Currently, the vast majority of MBA programs in the United States and around the world require either a GMAT or GRE score as part of your application. Schools generally do not have a preference between the two exams (GMAT or GRE), so you should take the exam on which you feel you would score higher and that would help present you in the strongest possible light as an applicant.
We recommend that you take a free online practice exam (available on each respective test developer’s website) early in your test preparation process to assess your comfort level with both exam options and generate a rough starting score, and then use that experience to determine which test to focus on. Note that some candidates actually take both exams to see which one they ultimately perform better on (there is a large proportion of overlap in the subject areas covered).
If you have taken a practice exam for both the GMAT and GRE and are still unsure about which one to focus on, or if you just need additional advice related to your test preparation, contact us to schedule a free 30-minute consultation with one of our experienced MBA admissions consultants, who can offer valuable input on your situation. We offer these complimentary advice consultations on a weekly basis across multiple time zones.
The Executive Assessment
A third admissions exam, the Executive Assessment (EA), is also accepted by a small but growing number of full-time MBA programs.The EA was created by the same organization that produces the GMAT and was initially intended for candidates applying for Executive MBA (EMBA) programs. The EA is an accepted alternative to the GMAT or GRE at several elite U.S. full-time MBA programs, including Columbia Business School, NYU Stern, UVA Darden, Duke Fuqua, UT McCombs, and Georgetown McDonough.
GMAT and GRE Test Waivers
Some MBA programs have begun offering test waivers for applicants who either cannot take an exam and/or feel that they have sufficient evidence to otherwise demonstrate their quantitative, analytical, and verbal reasoning skills. If you are considering applying for a test waiver, you must review the specific requirements outlined by the school in question because policies tend to vary widely. In general, you will need to provide sufficient evidence that proves your abilities via past academics, work experience, and/or certifications or other graduate degrees.
(*Subject to change; be sure to review each school’s policy for the most up-to-date info on its requirements and options.)
Changes Planned for the GMAT Exam
GMAC recently announced that major changes are coming to the GMAT exam’s format and structure, with a new version of the test—titled GMAT Focus Edition—to be initially offered later in 2023. (The current GMAT is expected to be offered through early 2024 but will then be discontinued.) Changes include the ability to return to prior questions within a section, the removal of the AWA section, and additional focus on data analysis.
If you have questions about your test plan or MBA application profile, sign up at your convenience for a complimentary 30-minute consultation with an experienced mbaMission consultant.