Expert Guide to GMAT Percentiles & What Your Score Means
Just as getting into business school is competitive, so is excelling on the GMAT. Not only will you get section and total scores, but you’ll also see percentiles that compare your performance to that of everyone else. With average total and math scores on the rise, percentile rankings are more competitive than ever.
This guide will tell you everything you need to know to understand GMAT percentiles, along with some guidelines for what percentiles you need to get into various business schools.
Let’s start with the basics. What exactly are GMAT score percentiles?
What Are GMAT Percentiles?
When you get your GMAT score report, you’ll see percentile rankings for each of your section scores and your total scores. What do these percentiles mean?
Percentiles indicate the proportion of test-takers that you performed better than. If you score in the 75th percentile, then you scored higher than 75% of other people. The remaining 25% scored the same as or higher than you.
Scoring in a high percentile means that you performed better on the GMAT than the majority of other people. Scoring in a low percentile means that you scored lower than most other test-takers.
Your GMAT percentiles are based on data from students who have taken the GMAT over the past three years. Every summer, GMAT percentiles are recalculated.
If you took the GMAT in 2012, then your percentiles may be different today than they were when you first got your official score report. Because percentiles get updated each year, they could fluctuate slightly over time.
For the most part, GMAT percentiles have shifted down as average GMAT scores have increased. The following GMAT percentile charts are based on students who took the GMAT between 2013 and 2015.
GMAT Scores to Percentiles From 2013 to 2015
The charts below contain the most recent data released by the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC). These numbers are based on a sample of 750,000 students who took the GMAT between 2013 and 2015.
The first GMAT percentile chart shows how total scores correspond to percentiles from 0 to 99%. The next four charts show scores to percentiles in the Quantitative, Verbal, Integrated Reasoning, and AWA sections, in that order.
- GMAT Percentile Chart: Total Scores
The percentile chart below shows how total scores match up with GMAT score percentiles. Total GMAT scores range between 200 and 800. According to GMAC, the average score of all GMAT test-takers is 551.94.
To reach the peak GMAT percentile of 99%, you’ll have to score a 760 or above.
- GMAT Percentile Chart: Quantitative Section
Scores in the quantitative section range from 0 to 60. Since students very rarely score above a 51 or below a 6, GMAC only releases data on scores in this range.
The average quantitative GMAT score is 38.91. As you’ll see in the chart, you need top math scores to score above the 80th percentile.
Hope your math skills are up to scratch! You need a top Quantitative score to make it into a high percentile.
- GMAT Percentile Chart: Verbal Section
Like quantitative scores, verbal scores range from 0 to 60 and most students score between 6 and 51. This chart also shows how scores between 6 and 51 align with percentiles.
The average verbal GMAT score is 26.8, significantly lower than the average quantitative score. Because fewer people score highly on the Verbal section, the GMAT score percentiles are less competitive. A score of 45 and up falls in the 99th percentile in Verbal.
- GMAT Percentile Chart: Integrated Reasoning Section
The Integrated Reasoning section, introduced in 2012, is scored between 1 and 8. The average score in this section is a 4.23. A perfect score of 8 corresponds to the 92nd percentile, as about 8% of test-takers get this full score.
- GMAT Percentile Chart: Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA) Section
Finally, your essay will be graded between 0 and 6. You’ll see this score when you get your official GMAT score report, about 20 days after you take the test. The average AWA score is 4.37. A perfect essay score is considered 90th percentile, as about 10% of test-takers get a 6.
These percentile charts are based on the most recent data from test-takers between 2013 and 2015. If you looked at percentile charts from 10 or 15 years ago, you would see a different story. How have percentiles changed over time?
How Have GMAT Percentiles Changed?
If you look at score reports from the past 15 years, you’ll see that percentiles for Quantitative scores and total scores have gotten more competitive over time as average GMAT scores have gone up. In 2000, for example, a total GMAT score of 630 fell into the 80th percentile. That same score today? It only corresponds to the 69th percentile.
As more and more people score highly on the GMAT, particularly in the math section, it gets harder to score in a high percentile. According to The Wall Street Journal, percentile rankings in math have gotten especially competitive as more and more international students take the GMAT. As students from math-proficient countries like China and India make up a larger proportion of the test-taking population, it gets harder to rank in a top percentile.
On the flip side, it’s still rare for students to get high marks in the challenging Verbal section. If you get a 45 out of 60 in verbal or above, then you’ll still land in the 99th percentile. That same score of 45 out of 60 in Quantitative is considered 59th percentile.
Business schools understand that percentiles fluctuate over time. While they don’t have a strict cutoff, they do consider your GMAT percentiles when evaluating your application. What role do percentiles play in the business school admission process?
Are GMAT Percentiles Important in Business School Admissions?
Business schools consider both scores and percentiles when evaluating your application. While they don’t typically publicize a cutoff score, schools will often look at your GMAT score report as the first part of their evaluation. The committee may make sure that you have a certain score before considering the rest of your application.
Percentiles give committees a sense of how your score compares to the population of other GMAT test-takers. Especially selective schools want competitive candidates, and high percentiles tell them that you tested better than the majority of other applicants.
Most students who get into top business score have their total scores land somewhere in the 90th percentile or higher. Let’s take a closer look at what GMAT scores and percentiles you need to get into graduate school for business.
What GMAT Percentile Do You Need for Business School?
Again, business schools don’t set a strict cutoff for scores or percentiles. Rather, they emphasize that their admissions process is holistic. Rather than just looking at grades and test scores, they also consider your previous education, work experience, essays, and recommendation letters.
That being said, your GMAT scores are still important for revealing whether you have the reasoning skills to excel in a business school classroom. Scores are often used as a jumping off point; a committee may not pay much attention to the rest of your application if your scores are too low.
The average GMAT score of all test-takers is around 552. Especially selective business schools tend to accept students with a GMAT score of 700 or above, which corresponds to the 89th percentile.
Accepted students at the top business schools, like Harvard Business School or the Wharton School at UPenn, average around 720 on the GMAT. Let’s look at the GMAT scores and percentiles of accepted students at the top 15 business schools in the U.S.
- GMAT Percentiles for the Top 15 Business Schools
Do you have your sights set on one of the top business schools in the country? What GMAT scores and percentiles do you need in your application?
The chart below shows the average (or in a few cases, median) scores and percentiles of the accepted class of 2017 at the top 15 business schools. They’re arranged in order of the highest average GMAT score to the lowest.
The average GMAT score for top schools falls around 719 and the average GMAT percentile is 95th percentile. These average scores are quite high, but remember that they represent an average. Some people got in with higher scores, and some got in with lower scores.
As you research business schools, how can you figure out what scores the schools want to see?
How to Determine Your Target GMAT Scores and Percentiles
Because percentiles shift from year to year, you should be most concerned with hitting a target GMAT score, rather than a target GMAT percentile. When figuring out what you want to score on the GMAT, you should research your prospective schools’ expectations.
Most schools release data on the average GMAT scores of accepted students. You can find this information on each school’s website. If you can’t track it down, you could call or email the admissions office directly for more insight. Once you know the average score, you can consult the chart above to figure out its corresponding percentile.
After researching business schools, take time to familiarize yourself with the GMAT, like how it’s structured and how it’s scored. Design a personalized study plan that will help you achieve your target score and present a strong candidacy to admission committees. If struggling to improve your score (or just looking for a bit more guidance in your prep), check out PrepScholar GMAT’s comprehensive online course. It’s an affordable option for students looking to quickly and efficiently get the score they need for MBA admissions.
In closing, review these last key points that you need to remember about GMAT score and percentiles.
GMAT Score Percentiles: What You Need to Know
Not only will your GMAT score report tell you how you performed on the test, it will also tell you how you performed in comparison to everyone else. You’ll get percentiles for your total scores and section scores, all of which indicate the percentage of test-takers you scored better than.
Your percentiles can actually shift a little over time, as the Graduate Management Admission Council crunches the numbers every summer. For the most part, you won’t see much change. If you look over the past 15 years, though, you’ll see that average scores have risen and percentiles have shifted down over time.
Average scores in the Quantitative section have especially increased, making it harder to score in a high percentile. Today, you’ll need a very high math score indeed to make it into the 80th or 90th percentile.
Fortunately, business schools understand that percentiles fluctuate over time. For the most part, they’re concerned with your GMAT scores. However, they do look at percentiles to get a sense of how competitive your scores are compared to everyone else’s.
As you prepare for the GMAT, you should do some research on the average GMAT scores and percentiles of accepted students at your business schools of interest. By researching your schools, you can set target scores for the GMAT. Once you have your target scores, you can begin to work toward them with a solid test prep plan and timed practice tests.
Are you ready to learn more about the GMAT? This full guide to the test explains the history of the GMAT, its purpose in business school admissions, and what skills you need for each section.
How is the GMAT scored? Learn about how each section of the GMAT is scored and what you need to know about adaptive testing with our complete guide to GMAT scoring.
Are you trying to figure out the best way to study for the GMAT? Check out this guide for a full GMAT syllabus and the best prep tips you need to know.
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