GMAT Score Range: Where Do You Rank?
What is the possible GMAT score range? How do you interpret your own GMAT scores? How do your scores fit in with your fellow test-takers’? To set realistic goals for your test preparation, you’ll have to be informed.
Let’s sift through some of the rumors and delve into what’s really important: understanding your personal goals for your GMAT score and how it fits into your overall MBA application. I’ll go over the fundamentals of the GMAT score range, how average scores have changed in recent years, and average GMAT scores at a range of B-schools.
GMAT Score Range: The Basics
You’ll get an unofficial score report when you leave on the day you take the GMAT, but you should receive your official GMAT scores approximately 20 days after you take the test. The report will include five scores: Verbal, Quantitative, Integrated Reasoning, AWA (Analytical Writing Assessment), and the Total (comprised of your verbal and quant scores). Here are the possible score ranges in each section, as well as their mean scores over the last three years:
The Total Score—the scaled combination of your verbal and quant scores—is generally what we’re referencing when we say ‘GMAT score.’ Two-thirds of test takers score between 400 and 600. It’s calculated from your scores on the Verbal and Quantitative (Quant) sections.
As you can see, the Verbal and Quant sections both range from 0 to 60, but the expectations for scores in the two are actually quite different and can’t be compared one-to-one. Many students are significantly stronger in one section than the other. So don’t worry about getting comparable scores on each one. Just focus on doing the best you can in each individual section.
The AWA and Integrated reasoning scores are generally not as important as the the other three. They also have much smaller score ranges.
GMAT Percentile Rankings: What They Mean for Your Score
For each of your five GMAT scores, you’ll also receive a percentile ranking, which indicates how you did in comparison to your fellow test takers. The percentile ranking lets you know what percentage of the test taking population you did better than; for example, an 80% ranking would mean that you received a higher score in that section (or for your total score) than 80% of your peers, and 20% performed equally to or more highly than you. A 50% ranking would mean that half of your peers scored the same as or more highly than you in a particular section, and half received lower scores than you.
To get an idea of where various GMAT score ranges fall in the percentile rankings, let’s check out the most recent stats from the Graduate Management Admissions Council (GMAC):
Now, here’s a look at the percentile rankings of the individual Verbal and Quant sections from the last three years:
Remember, these are the percentile rankings from the last three years of GMAT scores. It’s important to know that GMAT percentile rankings change slightly over time. Every year, there is a different pool of GMAT test-takers and MBA applicants, and the percentile rankings shift along with that pool.
Percentile rankings are updated yearly based on the previous three years of applicants’ results. This means that while your percentile ranking may change from year to year (even if you got the same raw scores), your scaled scores—as in, your scores between 0 and 60 on the verbal and quantitative sections—will not.
GMAT Score Ranges at Business Schools
The mean total GMAT score is 551.94 as of 2016. However, a 550 is actually a fairly low score to get into business schools: at most competitive programs, average GMAT scores range from 600 to above 700.
At top MBA programs like Stanford, Harvard, Yale, NYU, and the University of Chicago, the expectations are especially high. At each of these schools, the average GMAT score of an incoming student is above 720. Most high-ranking business schools expect percentile rankings of 94% or higher in the total score and 80th percentile rankings in the individual sections.
Nonetheless, many great business schools with high post-MBA employment rates accept students with a wider range of GMAT scores. In particular, many part-time, evening, and/or online MBA programs (often geared towards working professionals) value significant work experience as much as or even more than the GMAT. Other schools place a priority on a commitment to diversity and community service in their MBA applicants. The point is, don’t worry: while the GMAT is important and you should score as high as you can, at the end of the day you’ll find an MBA program that suits you and your unique needs.
To give you an idea of the range, here are a few examples of recent average incoming GMAT scores for students at a variety of different schools, all of which are high quality and well respected:
GMAT Score Ranges and the Changing MBA Admissions Market
While we’re on the subject of change, let’s talk about how GMAT scores have changed in recent years and how that might affect your approach to the test.
In the last decade, MBA hopefuls from India, China, and other countries have flooded the U.S. business school admissions market. Often, students from these countries have higher Quantitative scores, so average GMAT Quant scores in particular have increased significantly over the last several years.
Pressure to move up in rankings has led many schools to offer more scholarship money and better financial packages to students with especially high exam scores. This means that in today’s MBA admissions pool, there are higher expectations for test takers. You’ll need to push the upper end of the GMAT score range to get into a top program.
The fact that today’s MBA applicants tend to perform more highly on the Quant section than on the Verbal is good news for top scorers in the Verbal section. In 2016, a Quantitative score of 45 would land you in the 65th percentile, while a Verbal score of 45 would snag you a spot in the 99th percentile amongst your peers.
So what does this mean for GMAT test takers? Work to improve your Verbal score as much as you possibly can. This will give you an edge above other students who struggle more with the Verbal section. Students tend to improve their Quant scores more quickly, so make sure that you’re sharpening your critical reading and writing abilities by reading high-level academic material and building those foundational skills well in advance of your test date.
What If I’m Not Happy With My GMAT Score?
First off, don’t panic if your score isn’t where you’d like it to be yet! Remember that most students prepare extensively for the GMAT, and students who prepare nearly always improve their scores significantly.
Remember, too, that your MBA application is a holistic process. While the GMAT is important, it’s not the only significant factor in your MBA admission. Your work experience, essays, letters of recommendation, interview, and GPA are all also taken into account.
Finally, even top business schools do admit students with lower GMATs every year. At top schools, GMAT scores range across a broader spectrum than you might think. Wharton admitted at least one student with a 570 to its 2018 MBA class, and Stanford accepted a 590 scorer in this year’s incoming class. However, don’t rely on exceptions: students admitted to top B-schools with lower GMAT scores are likely standouts in another area.
Make sure to highlight your unique strengths in your application and address any gaps. If you do poorly on the Quant section, for example, enroll in a calculus class and note it on your application. Highlight any significant academic or work experience you have that requires a high level of quantitative reasoning.
Wrap-Up: Setting a Target GMAT Score
Now that you know what the GMAT score range is and what it means, you might want to set a target GMAT score based on your individual needs, ambitions, and skill level. In setting your target GMAT score, it’s important to:
Know your goals. Do you want to complete your MBA while working part- or full-time to open up new opportunities in your current career? Or is a school that emphasizes entrepreneurship and building a company from the ground up more on your radar? Do you have your heart set on a top-ranked school, or do you want a wider range of possibilities?
Check out class profiles. As you explore, one of the best resources to consult when setting your target GMAT score range is the ‘incoming class profile’ on most MBA programs’ websites. There, schools provide information about their most recent accepted students’ average GPAs, years of work experience, and, of course, GMAT scores (and you can even get a range in many cases). Consult the incoming class profiles for every program you’re applying to. Your target score should be aligned with or higher than the average score at your intended schools. One or two ‘reach’ schools with higher average GMAT scores don’t hurt, either.
Be both realistic and ambitious. Challenge yourself to improve your score, but be realistic about the time you have to devote to prep before your test date.
For more a detailed guide to setting a goal score, check out our post on what a good GMAT score for you is.
If you’re still curious about the GMAT scoring scale, find out more in our complete analysis of GMAT percentiles.
For more in-depth information about how to score highly on each section of the exam, check our complete guide to preparing for the GMAT.
If you’re ready to sign up for the GMAT, check out our guide to choosing a GMAT test date.