Updated December 31, 2018
The GMAT (or Graduate Management Admissions Test) is a three-and-a-half hour computer-adaptive standardized test that is often used for acceptance to graduate-level business schools. It is accepted at over 2,300 schools worldwide, and is the only test accepted in many programs. It was designed by the GMAC (Graduate Management Admissions Council) and business schools to measure critical thinking and reasoning skills and to predict your academic success while in your MBA (or other graduate business level) program.
The GMAT is divided into, and individually scored in four sections:
- The 30-minute Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA) Section
- The 30-minute Integrated Reasoning (IR) Section
- The 62-minute Quantitative Reasoning Section
- The 65-minute Verbal Reasoning Section
How Is The GMAT Scored?
The GMAT has one comprehensive total score, and 4 individual scores.
GMAT Score Table:
|Overall test||200-800 points, scored in 10-point increments|
|Quantitative Section||0-60 points, in 1-point increments|
|Verbal Section||0-60 points, in 1-point increments|
|Analytical Writing Assessment||0-6 points, in half-point increments|
|Integrated Reasoning||1-8 points, in 1-point increments|
Each section is scored individually. Test takers often focus solely on the overall score, however the other scores offer valuable insight into your skills and abilities. Some schools weigh the different sections in different ways, so it is not only important to know the averages for your dream school, but also the different weights put on different sections of the exam. The highest GMAT score is 800 and the lowest score is 200. Your score is available for five years.
Below we break down how each section of the GMAT is scored.
GMAT AWA Section Scoring:
The GMAT’s Analytical Writing Assessment is one essay with a score between zero and six. It is scored at least twice, once by a computer and once by a human. The two scores are averaged to give you your final AWA score. If the two scores vary by more than one point, another reader will provide a third evaluation to determine your score. The AWA score is not part of your total score.
Integrated Reasoning Section Scoring:
The integrated Reasoning Section may have the most straightforward scoring system, with a score between one and eight. It is not adaptive, and is scored based simply on the number of questions answered correctly. Some of the questions have multiple parts, and you must answer all of the questions in each part correctly in order to get credit for that question. The Integrated Reasoning Section is also not a part of your total score, and is reported separately.
The Quantitative and Verbal Reasoning Sections Scoring:
The Quantitative and Verbal Reasoning sections are computer-adaptive. This means that the level of difficulty varies based on your ability. This allows the exam to better determine your skills. The first question of the Verbal and Quantitative section is of medium difficulty. Once you answer that question, the computer uses your answer to determine the level of difficulty of your next question, usually getting more difficult with correct answers. If you answer incorrectly, you will usually get an easier question.
The program continues to do this until you have completed the section, continually adapting to your performance, and evaluating all previously answered questions. All of this is to more accurately determine your ability in that subject and generate a score, somewhere between 0 and 60 points. Scores below 6 and above 52 are so rare, the GMAC doesn’t publish data on these scores.
Your score is based on three things:
- How many questions you have answered. If you do not answer all of the questions, your score will be based on how many you have answered. Each unanswered question will decrease the section’s and your total score significantly. It is imperative to finish the test.
- How many questions you have answered correctly.
- The difficulty of the questions you answered correctly. You will receive a higher score if you are able to advance to more difficult questions and continue to answer them correctly.
The Total GMAT Score:
Your total score is between 200 and 800 and is based on the Quantitative Reasoning and Verbal Reasoning Sections. Your Analytical Writing Assessment and Integrated Reasoning Scores are separate.
Total GMAT Score Percentiles:
Source: GMAT Total Score Analysis
Your GMAT Score Reports
Unofficial Score Report
Because the exam is computer adaptive, you will get a preliminary score immediately after finishing the exam. This unofficial score will include your overall score, and the individual Integrated Reasoning, Verbal Reasoning, and Quantitative Reasoning scores. Your Analytical Writing Assessment will be sent later with your official score.
The unofficial score report cannot be used to apply to schools but is valuable in helping you determine next steps.
After viewing your unofficial score report, you are able to decide if you want to accept or cancel your scores. If you accept your scores, they will be sent to the schools of your choice (up to five, entered before the exam begins). If you don’t decide in two minutes, your scores will be cancelled automatically. If you accept your score, you still have 72 hours to cancel them, if you change your mind. You should be ready to make this decision before you take the exam, determining a minimum score in advance.
If you cancel your scores, you will not get an official report via email, your selected schools will not receive your scores, and you will not be able to access your official report. You do have the option of reinstating a cancelled score, with a fee.
Determining if you should cancel your score should be based not only on your score, but also your timeline. If you have a looming application deadline, you may need to report your score. You are only able to take the GMAT five times per year, and only one time in any 16-day period, so keep this in mind when deciding whether to accept or cancel your scores.
Official Score Report
Within three weeks of taking the GMAT, you will receive your official score report. This report will include the AWA score, your percentile rank, as well as the scores on your unofficial score report. It is valid for five years.
If, in the last five years, you have taken the test and accepted the scores, the official score report will also include scores from those tests as well.
This is the report that your chosen schools will receive.
Optional Enhanced Score Report
You have the option of purchasing an enhanced score report. This report will give you access to a more detailed breakdown of your performance and help you improve your skills before taking the exam again, if necessary. It is designed to help you better evaluate your strengths and weaknesses.
The enhanced score report will offer the following insights:
- Your section and sub-section rankings
- Your average time per question
- How many questions you answered correctly
- How you compare to other test takers in terms of time management
- How you compare to other test takers
The rankings are in percentiles, rather than actual scores. It is the only option for a further breakdown of your performance.
The enhanced score report is $30, and can be purchased at MBA.com, the same site that you will get your GMAT scores from.
Interpreting Your GMAT Results
What’s A Perfect GMAT Score, An Average GMAT Score, and A Bad GMAT Score?
When I taught a GMAT prep course, almost everyone began the course saying their goal was to get a 700+. While this is a great goal, it is difficult, possibly unrealistic in short time frames, and often completely unnecessary!
Many excellent programs have average scores in the mid-600s, or value other application parts over the GMAT. This is especially true for part-time and professional MBA programs. However, most of the top-ranked MBA programs have averages well into the 700, and unless your application is otherwise stellar, this is where you will need to be to get into the likes of Harvard, Wharton, Stanford, and their peers.
According to US News and World Report, Among the fall 2017 incoming students of the 127 ranked business schools, the average score was 631. Of the ten schools with the highest GMAT scores, the average was 728, with Stanford having the highest average score of 737. Those schools with the lowest scores had an average of 504. The average of all test takers is about 556. GMAC (the maker of the GMAT) notes that two-thirds of all test takers fall between the 400 and 600 mark.
Realistically though, a good GMAT score is a GMAT score that gets you into the school of your choice, and that is it.
Doing a little research to determine what that number might be will help you determine what a good GMAT score for you is. Based on your goals and abilities, it could be anywhere from the high 500s to the mid to high 700s.
Different schools will look at and weigh different parts of the exam. And depending on where you want to go, where you are starting out, how much time you have to prepare, and your skills, a “good” score will vary quite a bit. Before determining what a “good” score for you is, you will need to look at the individual programs that you are interested in.
So, a good score is a score that is about or above average for the schools of your choice. Depending on the rest of your application package, you may be able to score a little lower or need to score a little higher. Most schools will publish the overall score averages pretty early on (right after the incoming class has been accepted and enrolled). Take a look at your chosen schools’ business school website for more information.
Determining if your schools of choice place an emphasis on a certain section is also important. Doing poorly overall, but having an excellent Quantitative Reasoning Section score, for example, could get you into some programs, while the overall score may be more valuable in others.
What are GMAT Minimum Scores?
In addition to the usually published averages, many schools have a minimum GMAT score. If you score below this number, most schools will not even review your application, no matter how exceptional it is. This is not usually published, but a quick call to the admissions office may get you the answer.
It is important to keep in mind that the published average scores are not the minimum scores, they are the average, with some students scored higher and some lower. It is also important to remember that the minimum score is usually nowhere near the average score, so may not be an important number to look at. Generally, the lowest acceptable score is not the score that will make you competitive, just the score that will get the admissions officer to consider your application. Unless there is another compelling reason to accept you, this score is likely not good enough.
Setting A Target GMAT Score
Your target score should be a “good” score for you and your goals. Schools will usually publish their average score or the range of scores that 80% of their incoming students received. Use these numbers to determine your target score. This is a “good” GMAT score for you. Keep in mind, that if the 80% range is just that, a range. If you score at the bottom of the range, there are 10% of incoming students that scored below you.
If you are looking at the top ten schools, you will likely need a score over 720. If you are looking at schools in the middle of the pack, you should work towards a score in the mid to high 600s.
If your schools of choice do not publish this information, take a look at the US News and World Report business school rankings, or search through GMAT forums to get an idea. You can also sometimes get this information by calling the school’s admissions office.
In addition to your chosen school’s average, you should consider the reset of your application when determining your target score. If you have an exceptional application package, including a very high undergrad GPA, a very impressive resume and letters of recommendation, and meaningful extracurricular activities, you may be able to get away with a lower GMAT score. If not, you may have to work a little harder on your GMAT to stand out from your competition.
Use your target score to prepare for the exam. Take a practice test early on in your preparation so you can determine what you need to do and come up with a test prep game plan.
What Does Your Percentile Ranking Mean?
Your GMAT percentile ranking tells you how you did compared to your peers, and may be more important than the actual fixed score. The number tells you what percentage of test takers that you outperformed. So, if you are in the 80th percentile, 80% of test takers did not do as well as you, and 20% did better. This is based on the past three years of test taking, and will vary as more students take the test. Your overall score will remain the same.
8 Steps to Getting A Good GMAT Score:
- Decide which schools you’d like to attend. This is the first step in determining your GMAT game plan. Once you’ve decided on a few schools, you should research their application requirements and GMAT ranges. There is no one good GMAT score, and each school will have a different range of what is competitive. A “good” score is the score that gets you into your chosen school. In order to be competitive, you are going to want to aim for a score that is higher than your chosen school’s average.
- Determine Your target score. Once you’ve determined your schools of choice and researched their application requirements and GMAT averages, you can determine your target score, the score at which you are competitive. This is based on the school’s averages and priorities, as well as the rest of your application.
- Take a practice test. Once you know what your target score is, take a practice test. This will help you figure out what needs to be done to get to your target score and how long it might take.
- Register for the GMAT test. Once you know what you are aiming for, register for the test. Try to give yourself enough time to retake it, if necessary, and still meet application deadlines. Give yourself plenty of time to prepare. Depending on how long you’ve been out of school and your skills, you may need more or less time. For recent graduates, this may only be a month or two. For those that have been out of school for longer and need refreshing on the basics, six months may be the right amount of time. I don’t recommend much longer than six months, because for most students, this just allows them to procrastinate, and they end up preparing for only one to three months anyway.
- Prepare! Diligent preparation can improve your score dramatically, and cannot be underestimated. Determine a game plan early on, and stick with it. Keep your target score in mind, as well as the priorities of your chosen school. Strengthen your weaknesses. Most students will benefit from a GMAT test prep course or program to help stay on track and learn helpful insights from a GMAT expert. Take a look at our reviews for a wide variety of courses to find one that fits your lifestyle, budget, and learning style.
- Take the GMAT. Eliminate distractions, have a positive attitude and confidence in your preparation and abilities, and take the test.
- Evaluate your score. You will receive your unofficial score immediately. At this point you can evaluate your score and determine your application game plan. Got or beat your target score? Great! Start the application process. Didn’t do as well as you hoped? Well… that brings me to step 8:
- Replan and retake, if necessary. If you did not do as well as you hoped on the GMAT it is not the end of the world. Now is the time to re-evaluate your application plan and potentially retake the GMAT.
Improving Your GMAT Score
If you didn’t get the score you wanted, or your practice test scores are much lower than your target, you are in good company. My first practice test score was abysmal. But, time and preparation are usually all you need to increase your score, potentially 100 or more points (I increased mine about 150 points in three months. It did not come easy). Investing time, effort, and a little money should result in a dramatic score improvement.
The best way to improve a GMAT score is to determine where you are, and then prepare. Preparation cannot be underestimated.
Allow yourself enough time to prepare adequately, determine your strengths and weaknesses and then focus on improving your weaknesses.
Efficiently using your time, by tracking your progress, noting and addressing your weaknesses, rather than reaffirming your strengths, will result in the best outcomes.
Many students aren’t exactly sure where to start or what to study. If this is you, or if you are feeling overwhelmed by the prospect of the GMAT, a course with a personalized study plan might be right for you. If you are a student that needs a more formal classroom setting, take a look at a few different live GMAT prep classes. If you are able to self-motivate, but still need some extra guidance, take a look at our reviews on online GMAT prep courses.
What if I Get a Bad GMAT Score?
If you are starting to prepare for the GMAT, this is a question that may keep you up at night. Fortunately, if you score poorly on the GMAT, it is not the end of the world. You have a few options:
- Cancel your score. Sometimes test takers have a bad day. Sometimes they are not prepared. Whatever the reason, the first option for a bad score is to cancel the score and plan to retake the exam. Knowing your minimum acceptable score before you take the test will help make this decision easier.
- Be honest with yourself. The days after a poor GMAT performance are not the time to beat yourself up, but they are the time to self-reflect. Usually students do poorly on the GMAT for one of two reasons. The first is that something happened that day to throw them off, and they were not able to fully concentrate on the exam. The second, and most common reason for a bad GMAT score, is that the student failed to prepare as thoroughly as they should have. Now is the time to be honest with yourself and determine if you need more preparation.
- Plan to retake the exam. If you have determined that you did not adequately prepare or were not able to concentrate on the exam, plan to retake the exam. You can take it five times a year, but not more than once in any sixteen-day period.
- Prepare. Once you have decided to retake the exam, make a game plan, and stick to it. If you scored badly on the GMAT because you didn’t prepare as well as you should have, determine what you can and will change and stick to it. Evaluate your score, strengthen your weaknesses, and practice, practice, practice!
- Take a GMAT prep course. For some students, studying on their own is just not good enough. A test prep course might be right for you. Many prep courses have a score improvement guarantee. Take a look at our test prep comparison to find one that works for your study style, budget, and schedule. Need a discount? Take a look at our list of coupon codes.
- Take the GRE. While some people excel taking the GMAT, other people excel more-so taking the GRE. Make sure to research each exam thoroughly and learn which one plays more to your personal strengths. Check out the links below to learn more about the differences of these two exams.
- Improve the rest of your application package. The GMAT is only one part, albeit one important part, of your application package. If your score is not where you need it to be, look for other ways to stand out from your competition. Make your application so good that your GMAT score becomes less relevant. This could mean taking additional math classes, improving your resume, writing a compelling letter of intent, or getting stellar letters of recommendation. Talk to the admissions officers at your school and determine what might make a great application, and then send them one!
The GMAT is one of the most important piece of the MBA admissions package. Every school has a different standard for determining what score is a good score, and places a different weight on the scores of potential students. Determining your target GMAT score based on your goals, taking the time and energy to prepare, and then putting together a well-rounded and competitive application package will result in the best chance of success in getting accepted at the school of your choice.
Whether you are just now starting to determine your target GMAT score, are well into your study plan, or are weren’t happy with your results, preparation cannot be underestimated. Practice, patience, and a little guidance can be the difference between you and the school of your choice. Take a look at our GMAT test prep comparison to find a GMAT course that works for you, your timeline, and your budget. Most have score improvement guarantees, so there is little risk in trying one out, with a huge potential upside!
What is your target GMAT score? How did you determine it? If you got a bad score originally, what did you do to improve it? We’d love to hear about your successes, struggles, and questions in the comment section below.