The GMAT measures the quantitative, verbal and reasoning skills needed to complete the typical business school curriculum, and as previously discussed, schools use an applicant’s score as an indication of his or her possible success in the program. The GMAT also provides a way to compare an applicant’s ability in these areas to the level of ability of all other test takers for the past three years. This is shown as percentile rank.
No matter which school you plan on applying to, you should familiarize yourself with the scores of that school’s admitted students and how these scores compare to the majority of test takers as shown through GMAT percentiles. Knowing these numbers will give you an idea of how high you need to score in order to be seen as a viable applicant in the school’sadmission pool.
So what numbers should you look at when trying to figure out what counts as a high enough score for a particular school? The mean score of a program’s most recent admitted class is a good place to start, but it is only one number that is obtained from averaging all the scores of a class together. It says little about the range of scores that admitted students actually scored, and it may inaccurately suggest that anything below this score too low.
Most students do not score the exact average; instead, most score a bit above or a bit below the average. A better way to get a sense of the typical GMAT scores found at a school is to look at the middle 80 percent range.
If you were looking at a distribution of admitted scores to a top program — the example above uses the scores from Harvard Business School’s class of 2015 — with the lowest admitted scores on the left and the highest on the right, the middle 80 percent is the middle chunk of scores around the mean. In other words, this range of scores represents what 80 percent of admitted students scored on the GMAT, ignoring the top and bottom 10 percent.
The middle 80 percent range of scores gives a realistic view of a class because it eschews the scores of applicants with uncharacteristically low GMAT scores, who the university may have accepted due to an uncharacteristic strength in another part of their application, as well as the scores of the rare few who ace the test.
This chart lists the top 10 business schools for 2014 as ranked by U.S. News along with the schools’ middle 80 percent range for the class of 2015 and these ranges’ corresponding GMAT percentile ranks according to the latest data provided.
|Harvard||680 - 770||85% - 99%|
|Stanford||680 - 770||85% - 99%|
|University of Pennsylvania (Wharton)||690 - 790||87% - 99%|
|MIT||670 - 760||83% - 99%|
|Northwestern University (Kellog)||670 - 760||83% - 99%|
|University of Chicago (Booth)||660 - 760||80% - 99%|
|University of California—Berkeley (Haas)||680 - 750||85% - 99%|
|Columbia University||680 - 760||85% - 99%|
|Dartmouth College (Tuck)||670 - 760||83% - 99%|
|New York University (Stern)||680 - 760||85% - 99%|
As you can see from the data, scoring at least in the 80th GMAT percentile is the norm at these schools, which corresponds to getting a total score in the upper 600s. Focusing on the lower end of this range can provide more encouragement to those looking to apply to these programs than focusing only on the average score of an admitted class, which is always higher.
Even though the low end of the middle 80 percent is still high — a 670 is a notable accomplishment — it shows that you don’t have to be a GMAT ace to get into one of the most selective programs.