If you’re hoping to get into a good graduate business program, a high GMAT score will be very important to your success. This is a fact known all over the world since even many MBA programs outside the US also factor in GMAT scores as part of their admissions criteria.
Of course, that begs the question: what is a good score for GMAT? Unfortunately, there is not just one answer to fit all, but it is possible to discover the a good score for you if you know the kind of program and which school you want to get into. Keep in mind that even a perfect 800 GMAT score doesn’t necessarily guarantee your acceptance in the MBA program you want to enter. At the same time, a low GMAT score may be the determining factor as to why you are refused admittance so it worth putting in time and money to prepare for the test.
The GMAT score can range from 200 to 800. The GMAT consists of four different sections. The sections are the Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA), Integrated Reasoning (IR), Quantitative, and Verbal.
|GMAT Section||Raw Score Range|
|AWA||0 – 6|
|IR||1 – 8|
|Quant||0 – 60|
|Verbal||0 – 60|
Your total GMAT score is actually a combination of your Quantitative and Verbal scores. It’s not really clear how GMAC (the institution that puts out the GMAT) converts the Total Score from the Quant and Verbal raw scores into the final score.
The exact formula isn’t highly publicized, but it’s clear that the Quantitative and Verbal score percentiles correspond to your Total Score percentile. But you can check out the GMAT score table here if you want to navigate this huge table.
The scores you get for the Quant and Verbal sections depend on these 3 factors:
- The number of “relevant” questions you answer correctly. In the Quant section, you get 31 questions. But only 28 of them give you credit for your Quant score. There are 3 “experimental” questions that don’t give you any credit whether you get them right or not. You just can’t be sure which of the questions are the experimental ones. With the Verbal, 6 of the 36 questions are experimental.
- The number of questions you try to answer. You’re penalized if you don’t complete the section within the given time. So answer each question—guess if you have to.
- The difficulty of the questions. The degree of difficulty changes when you get the answer right or wrong. Get the answer right for one question, and the next question is just a bit harder. Get it wrong, and the next one is easier. However, the more difficult questions give you more points.
With the Analytical Writing Assessment section, the 0 to 6 scores are in half-point increments. This means you can get a score of 5, 4.5, 3.5, etc.
Two readers who are specially trained college and university faculty members give a score to your essay. However, one of these readers may be an automated essay-scoring engine. This engine calculates the score by taking at least 50 structural and linguistic features of the essay into account.
The human readers take in the following factors when giving the score:
- Whether or not English is your first language
- The overall quality of the ideas you present in your argument
- Your overall skill in organizing, developing, and expressing these ideas
- The pertinent supporting reasons and examples you used in your essay
- Your control over the elements of standard written English
When the 2 scores differ by just a half-point, you tend to get the higher point. That means ratings of 5 and 4.5 give you a score of 5 for the AWA.
If there’s a 1-point difference, you get the average score. So if you get a 4 and a 5, the final AWA score is 4.5.
However, if the difference between the 2 ratings is more than a point, a third expert reader comes in to determine the final score.
Your Integrated Reasoning score can range from 1 to 8, and there are no half-points. Each question tends to require a complex answer, as you integrate the data along the way. You have to give all correct responses to get the full credit for the question. You don’t get partial credit for getting just some of the right responses.
Now that we know a little bit about how the GMAT is scored, let’s look at the percentiles and how scores translate into acceptance to schools. The average GMAT score for the top 50 business schools is about 660. Once you go past 700, you’re way ahead of the curve.
Here’s one way to look at GMAT scores:
|Score||Percentile Ranking||What It Means|
|800||99%||Top 10 business schools are at your fingertips|
|750||98%||Still above average for Wharton and Harvard|
|700||88%||A good chance with a top 25 business school|
|650||73%||You need to expand the search to the top 50|
|600||56%||Nothing special, just average|
|550||39%||Below average, so you need topnotch grades|
|500||27%||Still possible, though getting unlikely|
|450||17%||It’s like guessing the right roulette number|
|400||10%||At least you tried, but this score is useless|
|350||6%||Don’t even think about it|
|300||3%||Did you even try?|
|250||2%||Were you dying when you took the test?|
|200||0%||Were you even there?|
GMAT Scores: Percentiles
The GMAT isn’t a test you pass or fail depending on the number of right answers you get. It depends on how well you do, compared to how the other test-takers score. That’s why your GMAT percentile ranking is also part of the GMAT score report.
The percentile rankings are recalculated each year, based on the scores achieved by the test-takers over the last 3 years. Each year then, the score to percentile ranking may change, though the changes are often tiny and gradual.
You can see in the chart above how the scores and the percentile rankings correlate. As you may have noticed, the 50-point difference between a score of 800 and a score of 750 isn’t all that large. You only drop a single percentile ranking from 800 to 750.
It’s a different matter with the 50-point gap between 650 and 600. That’s a drop of 18 percentile rankings.
|Raw Score||Verbal Percentile Ranking||Quantitative Percentile Ranking|
Note how you can score 46 in the Verbal and remain in the 99th percentile, but that same score in the Quant drops you to the 60th percentile.
The reason for this is that a lot of GMAT test-takers are great with the Quant section since it’s mostly math and this is where their interest and expertise is. Many of the GMAT test-takers are international students, and English is often not their first language which makes the Verbal section more challenging.
|Integrated Reasoning Score||Percentile Ranking|
This table shows that 7% of the test-takers (about 1 in 14) get a perfect score for the IR section. If you get at least 6 here, that’s considered a “high” score and you’re in the top 30%.
|Analytical Writing Assessment Score||Percentile Ranking|
Usually, if you get a score of 5 here then you can congratulate yourself for getting a “high” score. 11% of the test-takers (about 1 in 9) get a perfect score on the AWA.
What is a Good GMAT Score for Top Business Schools?
It’s not surprising that lower-ranked business schools don’t require GMAT scores to be as high as what the top business schools are looking for. Here’s a quick look at the average GMAT scores of the top business schools:
|Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania||732||730||730||732||728|
|Harvard Business School||730 (median)||729||725||726||727|
|Stanford Graduate School of Business||732||737||737||732||732|
|University of Chicago Booth School of Business||731||730||726||726||724|
|Kellogg School of Management – Northwestern University||732||732||728||724||713|
|MIT Sloan School of Management||728||722||724||716||713|
|Columbia Business School||732||724||720||715||716|
|Haas School of Business, University of California Berkeley||726||725||717||715||717|
|Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth||722||722||717||717||716|
|Stephen M. Ross School of Business (University of Michigan)||720||716||708||708||702|
|Yale School of Management (Yale SOM)||724||727||725||721||719|
|Darden School of Business (University of Virginia)||718||713||712||706||706|
|Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management (Cornell University)||699||700||700||697||692|
|Fuqua School of Business (Duke University)||704||702||695||696||690|
As you may have noticed, a score of 600 on your GMAT will not give you an edge over the other applicants for these top schools. You’re more likely to succeed with 700. In fact, you may want to aim for 720-730, especially with the schools are ranked in the Top 10.
Average GMAT Scores
Here, we’re talking about “mean”, which is the average you get by adding all the scores of the test-takers, and then dividing that sum by the number of test-takers. We’ve taken the results from the time period January 2015 to December 2017 to derive our figures. Keep in mind that this is the average score calculated from everyone who has taken the GMAT so it does not show the average score of those who were successfully admitted to business schools.
Average mean total GMAT score: 561.27
Verbal: 27.04 (out of 60)
Quant: 39.93 (out of 60)
What Is a Good GMAT Score for Me?
At this point, you’ve probably realized that you need to set an individual GMAT score to aim for. So how do you pick a target GMAT score? Here are the steps you need to take.
Use a Worksheet
You’ll need a spreadsheet or a table document. Record and write everything down, so you don’t forget anything.
List Potential Programs
If you’re practical, you should have several prospects regarding the business schools you want to get into. You can’t just go for your one dream school and hope you’ll make it there. However, good schools have lots of competition. It might be more realistic to look at several schools you really like, and maybe a few lower-tiered schools that don’t require overly high GMAT scores in case you have to adjust expectations.
List all of these options in one column on your table.
Find the Average GMAT Score Needed for Each Program
If you’re trying to get into an MBA program, the research for this should be easy. You can use our chart above for some of the top business schools or individually search for your school’s average score if it was not one of the programs we listed.
Put these average scores in the next column, corresponding to the business school program. If the school releases data regarding the average, then put it down exactly. But if the school instead gives you a certain range of scores, just put down the middle score or maybe go a bit higher to be safe. So if the school says the middle 80% GMAT score range is 680-750, aim for maybe 720 or 730.
Set Your Target Score
Now check the list of average GMAT scores for the MBA programs, and pick out the highest score. That’s now your target score. In fact, you may want to add maybe 20 or even 30 points to this, so that you are above average for the MBA of your choice.
How Can I Get A Higher GMAT Score?
So you got your GMAT and it didn’t meet your goal. You are willing to try again because you think you can do better. Here’s a quick list of tips to help you get that higher GMAT score.
Invest in a Tutor
It’s pretty much an accepted fact that experienced tutors can help greatly with score improvement. They know how to formulate a study plan for you, and they can identify the areas in which you need to focus more. They can explain concepts that you couldn’t understand from reading on your own.
Also, the fact that you’re paying for the tutor’s time means you can’t slack off. The accountability and help sticking to your schedule is a great motivator.
If you can’t afford a private tutor, try a reputable GMAT study plan with the right tools.
Take the Official GMAC Practice Tests
The first 2 of these tests are free. You’ll have to pay $90 for the next 4, but they’re worth every penny. These practice exams include questions that have previously been used for the past live exams.
These aren’t really for practice or to build your GMAT skills. Instead, these work as diagnostic tools to make sure you’re progressing in your studies. It’s not practical to use the actual live exams as your diagnostic tools since you can only take 5 of these each calendar year. You’re limited to just 8 live exams overall.
So take one of the official practice tests at the start of your studies. That should give you your baseline, which you ought to improve at the end. Every time you complete a major block of study, you can take another test to validate that you’ve improved.
Concentrate on Your Weaknesses
Review your previous GMAT experience and first practice test, and see in which areas you need to improve. What concepts were difficult for you? Did you have a problem managing your time taking the test? Did you make silly mistakes? Making mistakes is human—learning from your mistakes makes you a great student.
One common weakness among many test-takers is the Verbal section. Most people who take the GMAT come from a STEM background, and that’s especially true with the international students. If you’re one of these students, it will pay off to practice your English reading and writing skills in addition to the math portions of the exam.
Remember that scoring 46 out of 51 in the Verbal still gets you at the top 99th percentile. With Quant, scoring 46 out of 51 drops you to the 60th percentile.
So what have we all learned?
- First, a “good” GMAT score is the one that lets you into the MBA program you really want to enter. If you want to enter the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University, it doesn’t matter what GMAT grades are required for the Stanford Graduate School of Business.
- At the minimum, aim for at least a score of 650. Aiming for 720 or higher would be even better because you will still have some room for error.
- Study hard to get the good GMAT score you want.
Just keep in mind, the GMAT is important but it’s not the only requirement to get into the graduate business school of your choice!