Understanding Your GMAT Scores and Percentiles
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It assesses quantitative, analytical writing, reading and verbal skills. A candidate’s GMAT score is often the first thing an admissions committee will look at when considering their application.
In this article, we will focus on how the GMAT is scored, what is meant by GMAT percentiles, and the score reports you will receive.
The overall GMAT score ranges from a minimum of 200 to a maximum of 800 and is scored in increments of 10. The majority of test-takers (around 70%) score between 400 and 600 and the average GMAT score is 563.
Typically, only about 9% of students score 700 or more and only 1% score more than 760.
The scores required will vary between business schools, so ensure you know what score you are aiming for before taking the test.
There are four sections to the GMAT, each of which is scored separately:
Quantitative – This has a scaled score from 0 to 60; it is extremely unusual for students to score above 51 or below 6.
Verbal – Again, a scaled score from 0 to 60 with students very rarely scoring above 51 or below 6.
Integrated Reasoning (IR) – Scored on a scale of 1 to 8.
Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA) – Scored on a scale of 0 to 6, in half-point increments (2.5, 3, 3.5 and so on).
A candidate’s overall (or cumulative) score is calculated using just their scores from the Quantitative and Verbal sections. This is the score that students will most often refer to and is the one that admissions committees will use as their main consideration.
The Quantitative and Verbal sections of the GMAT are adaptive tests. This means that the difficulty level of the questions you are presented with will change depending on how you performed on similar questions previously.
Every candidate will begin by answering questions of average difficulty in each section. If they answer correctly, the following questions will increase in difficulty. When an incorrect answer is given, the following questions will go down a level in difficulty.
As you answer more questions, the increases and decreases in difficulty will become less marked, as the algorithm becomes more efficient at determining your level of proficiency.
The nature of the test means that your total GMAT score is based not only on how many questions you answered correctly, but also on the difficulty level of the questions you answered. So, answering higher-level questions correctly will give you a better score than someone who correctly answered the same number of lower-level questions.
The Integrated Reasoning and Analytical Writing Assessment tests are not adaptive and are scored differently:
In the Integrated Reasoning section, there are 12 questions, two to four of which are experimental and do not count towards the final score. The order and difficulty level of the questions is random. The candidate receives a raw score for the number of non-experimental questions they answer correctly, which is then scaled to a score from 0 to 8.
The Analytical Writing Assessment test is scored independently at least twice. One rating is done by a computer and another by a human assessor, and the two scores are averaged. If there is more than one point between the two separate scores, the test is evaluated a third time by an expert reader.
You cannot skip questions in the GMAT; you must answer all the questions presented to you.
You will be penalized if you run out of time and fail to complete the test. There is also a penalty for giving several incorrect answers in a row, as this indicates that the candidate is guessing blindly.
Good time management and thorough preparation are key. Read our tips and advice on developing a GMAT study plan.
The percentile ranking is used to show the percentage of other test-takers that you outperformed. So, if you are ranked in the 90th percentile, this shows that you scored better in the test than 90% of the other students who sat it.
Your overall GMAT score will be translated into a GMAT percentile, as will your score for each of the four subsections. The GMAT percentile helps admissions committees to see how your score compares to those in the most recent cohort of test-takers.
GMAT percentiles are recalculated every summer by the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), the body which administers the GMAT. The recalculation is based on data from the previous three years of test results.
Therefore, while your GMAT score will remain the same (although you can choose to retake the test), your percentile ranking may go up or down depending on the most recent GMAT percentile calculation. As average GMAT scores are generally increasing every year, GMAT percentiles have largely shifted down year on year.
Remember that your overall GMAT percentile is based only on your scores in the Verbal and Quantitative sections. Schools will have access to your percentiles for each section, but will mainly be looking at your overall GMAT percentile.
There are two types of GMAT score reports – unofficial and official.
As soon as you have completed the exam you will be able to see your scores for the Quantitative, Verbal and Integrated Reasoning sections, along with your total score. You will have two minutes to decide whether to accept the score or cancel it and retake another time.
If you choose to accept your score, you will be given a print-out of your Unofficial GMAT Score Report before leaving the test center. At this stage, you will not have a score for your Analytical Writing Assessment.
This score report cannot be used in your applications. If you change your mind, you can cancel your score within 72 hours of the exam’s scheduled start time, for a fee of $25. Admissions committees will not be able to see any canceled scores.
If you change your mind about a canceled score you have the opportunity to reinstate it within four years and 11 months of taking the GMAT.
If you choose to accept your score, you will receive an Official GMAT Score Report within 20 calendar days of sitting the exam. This will include:
- The scores given in your unofficial score report
- Your Analytical Writing Assessment score
- Your GMAT Percentile Ranking
The Official GMAT Score Report also includes the background information you provided when you set up your GMAT profile and reportable scores from any other GMAT exams you have sat in the past five years. Admissions committees will consider the highest score out of any provided on the report.
The Official GMAT Score Report is the one sent to your chosen schools or programs. On the report sent to you, any scores you have canceled in the past will be indicated with a ‘C’. They will not be seen by the business school.
For a fee of $30, you can also choose to purchase an Enhanced Score Report which provides you with a more detailed breakdown of your results and how you performed in the exam, including:
- Overall GMAT score and percentile
- Scores for each section and information on your time management
- Your level of accuracy during the test
- Your average time to answer questions, both correctly and incorrectly
- The average difficulty level of questions answered
If you have performed well in the GMAT, the ESR may not be relevant to you. However, if you are thinking about retaking the exam, it could give you valuable insight into your strengths and weaknesses – and help you to focus your test preparation on the areas that need most work.
The scoring system for the GMAT is fairly complex, with several different elements. However, you should not allow this to overwhelm you or affect your performance. Instead, focus on doing your best in the exam.
The key things to remember when it comes to GMAT scoring are:
- Your total score is based on the Verbal and Quantitative sections only. This will be the main consideration for any admissions committees.
- Your GMAT score will not change but your GMAT Percentile Ranking may go up or down.
- You can choose to cancel your GMAT score and retake the test, and schools will not be able to see any canceled scores.
- Schools will consider the highest score out of any included in your Official GMAT Score Report.